Monday, March 30, 2020


Taking inspiration from the many Brazilian greats – Caetano Veloso, Arthur Verocai, Ivan Lins, Joyce, Hermeto Pascoal, Marcos Valle and Azymuth (to name a few) – who he has worked with as an engineer, assistant and producer, Ricardo Richaid melds his tropical heritage with his love for psychedelic music, jazz and rock.

As well as being heavily influenced by Brazil’s fabled Tropicalia movement, Richaid is the grandson of Brazilian actor, singer and Disney star Aurora Miranda (Carmen Miranda’s younger sister), so tropicalism is in his blood. Describing his sound as ‘Industrial Tropicalism’, Richaid’s music is undoubtedly a product of his environment. Just like Rio, it’s warm, hazy and beautiful. But reflecting the current mood of his homeland, there’s an ominous smog looming amongst its charm. Lamenting the political, economic and ecological crisis he sees engulfing Brazil, Richaid’s obscure, poetic lyrics touch on drugs, drones and darkness, emphasizing the importance of art to bring light in troubled times.

The unconventional time signatures and sunny jazz-folk meets post-punk aesthetic are adorned by Richaid’s studio smarts. Working day to day in Rio’s top studios, he developed a comprehensive knowledge of all aspects of the recording process. But seeking autonomy and total creative independence, Richaid went on an equipment finding mission in the USA. Upon returning, he set to work building his own studio in Rio’s Gavea district and began writing the tracks that would become Travesserio Feliz. Singlehandedly composing, producing and mixing everything himself, Richaid recalls the endless nights he spent working on the album, often sleeping on the studio floor. 

Travisseiro Feliz features a host of notable names from across Rio’s music spectrum, including percussion sensation Marcos Suzano (Gilberto Gil), experimental pop artist Ana Frango Eletrico, and vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Jose Ibarra, who has been lauded for his recent performances as part of Milton Nascimento’s touring group. On interlude track ‘Formigas’ we also hear a few verses of Ricardo singing together with his 7-year-old daughter, Nina Richaid.

Living with his grandmother Aurora Miranda until the age of seventeen (who featured in Walt Disney’s Three Caballeros film, and happens to be the first human being to kiss Donald Duck… really!), young Ricardo would listen with intrigue to his father playing chromatic scales and bossa nova melodies on the saxophone; his mother’s Brazilian classical piano; or his punk rock brother slamming the drums. This eclectic musical upbringing led a teenage Ricardo to learning his trade as the bassist in a short-lived hard rock band, which disbanded when Ricardo began to dig deeper discovering the likes of Os Mutantes, King Crimson, Frank Zappa and especially the ‘Clube De Esquina’ sound pioneered by Milton Nascimento and Lo Borges. Since then, alongside engineering some of his musical heroes in Brazil, Richaid has played in bands like Mara Rúbia and nitú, from Rio’s underground experimental psych and jazz scenes.


Sunday, March 29, 2020

Drummer Ted Poor Releases You Already Know

You Already Know, the New Deal/Impulse! debut from the acclaimed drummer Ted Poor-"a trustworthy engine in countless modern-jazz settings," per the New York Times-isn't your typical jazz drummer's recording, almost defiantly so. But if you're at all familiar with the Seattle-based Poor's explorative career-or the wide-ranging work of his principal collaborators here, the deeply influential guitarist-producer Blake Mills and the saxophonist Andrew D'Angelo-this should come as no surprise.

After all, Poor has proven equally brilliant in bands led by the visionary avant-jazz trumpeter Cuong Vu and the lauded indie singer-songwriter Andrew Bird. Whether he's on a club bandstand alongside a generation-defining improviser like the guitarist Ben Monder, or onstage at New York's historic Town Hall, backing Paul Simon as part of Chris Thile's trusted Live From Here band, Poor is a music-first drummer. His tremendous technical abilities behind the kit are inarguable-and no doubt serve him well as the Assistant Professor of Jazz Studies at the University of Washington in Seattle-but he places color, texture, sound and especially melody atop chops. "The songs that I write, and certainly the songs that appear on this record, are songs you can sing," Poor says, explaining how his time in the employ of renowned singer-songwriters has informed his own composing. "These are the songs I sing to myself as well."

For that reason, the minimalist You Already Know is a supremely listenable improviser's album, with an artful crossover appeal. It's easy to imagine it existing on the same inquisitive music fan's record shelf alongside LPs by other Poor collaborators-say, the keyboardist-producer Mitchell Froom, or the singer-songwriter wunderkind Madison Cunningham, whose recent Verve Forecast release, Who Are You Now, features Poor.

Take Poor's "Only You," which boasts a loosely propulsive, almost trip-hoppy rhythm-"my beat," as Poor calls it, chuckling-and long, true streams of melody from D'Angelo. (A critic's favorite among current jazz alto saxophonists, D'Angelo is no doubt an Ornette Coleman disciple, and that influence is communicated beautifully and directly here.) "It is very repetitive; it's very simple," Poor says of "Only You." "But there is a form and attention and emotion that grows out of that. And I love how all of the details-in the way that Andrew articulates his melody, and the intricacies of the drum part-have no choice but to be vaulted to the forefront of the sound."

D'Angelo's composition "New Wonder" is another highlight among the album's nine tracks, touting a "drum melody in which the beat has a form itself," Poor explains. Again, D'Angelo's elegant delivery of an infectious melody is remarkably slippery; you don't realize how meticulous his approach is because the sheer tunefulness of his playing strikes first. "Andrew is such a dynamic player," says Poor, who met the saxophonist around 15 years ago, when both were stalwarts on New York's avant-jazz scene. "His relationship to rhythm is so personal and special."

"New Wonder" is also indicative of the stealthy sonic inventiveness that runs throughout You Already Know. During the album's sessions at Los Angeles' legendary Sound City Studios, Poor recorded D'Angelo's melody on piano via the studio's echo chamber but then removed the actual

piano sound later on; the results resembled what Poor calls a "shimmery halo" of reverb and space. One of the project's most affecting tracks, "To Rome," homes in on Poor's melodic ingenuity behind the kit (and piano), and features Andrew Bird on violin and Blake Mills on guitar. On "United," a judiciously used overdubbed string section, courtesy of Rob Moose, fleshes out the duo ambience, and that newfound orchestral dimension pushes the album closer to chamber pop or contemporary classical than to any jazz-with-strings exercise. Throughout, inspired mixing by David Boucher (Andrew Bird, Randy Newman, Pixar) and mastering by Eric Boulanger (Neil Young, Rufus Wainwright, Green Day) grant the jazz-inspired project new angles in sound that come only with adventurous rock and pop studio experience.

An invaluable part of the album's smart, streamlined design can be attributed to producer Mills, the 33-year-old polymath and an heir to super-producer-musicians like Ry Cooder and Don Was. In fact, the very existence of You Already Know belongs to Poor's relationship with Mills. The two met and clicked in 2014, during the sessions for Bird's album Are You Serious, and began hanging out and playing together whenever Poor would visit Los Angeles. During one of those hangs, Poor played some working recordings of his duets with D'Angelo, and Mills was thrilled by them. The inception of New Deal, Mills' own imprint through Verve/Universal Music, set the wheels in motion.

"I was really appreciative of how reserved Blake was in his choices as a producer," Poor says. "There would often be times where I wanted to do more and more, or leave an element in longer, such as the strings or the piano. And Blake was very conscious of keeping the ear's focus on the main two instruments, and to get in and out as quickly as possible with the other stuff."

In some fashion, You Already Know is no different than the many gorgeous folk- and Americana-tinged singer-songwriter albums Mills has helmed. It's a folk album, but "not the genre of folk," Poor says. "It's more the idea of music as oral tradition-music as song."

Saturday, March 28, 2020

New Music Releases: Maysa (feat. Chris Davis, Phil Perry, and Kim Waters), M'Lynn, Torben Westergaard

Maysa (feat. Chris Davis, Phil Perry, and Kim Waters) - It's Gonna Be Alright

Celebrating an incredible quarter century of sultry, soulful hit making as a solo artist, Maysa delivers a crucial message of uplift and optimism for this new decade on her latest single “It’s Gonna Be Alright.” Over a dreamy-cool, old school atmospheric arrangement fashioned by producer Chris “Big Dog” Davis, the iconic R&B/jazz singer brings ample bursts of sunshine and hop while vibing beautifully with her male vocal equivalent Phil Perry and emotionally charged  saxophonist Kim Waters. Ideal for relaxing your mind, body and spirit while creating, meditating or romancing, the Barbara Perry penned track is  the second release of a series of songs from Maysa’s upcoming EP Music For Your Soul. A modern day mantra for the new year and new decade! ~

M'Lynn - Grounding

Establishing herself as a powerful new presence on the urban vocal side of Smooth Jazz with her previous singles “T.F.I.L.” and “Paralyzed,” jazz, blues and soul influenced vocalist M’Lynn shares an important message to the recently broken-hearted on her seductive and dreamy ballad “Just Take Time.” Originally appearing on her debut EP Grounding, the track was chosen the No. 2 Best Soul Song of 2018 by UK radio personality Franklin Sinclair of Mi-Soul Connoisseurs. While imparting wisdom to take things slow so that we can more effectively regroup and move on, she shares her silky, intimate vocal charms (think a contemporary version of Sade or Norah Jones) and colorful scat over a lush musical bed caressed with simmering horns and gospel-blues organ textures. ~ 

Torben Westergaard - The Gori Project

Coming just after the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Denmark and South Korea, The Gori Project brings together 2 renowned traditional South Korean musicians with 3 of Denmark’s most established jazz performers. Led by Danish bassist & composer Torben Westergaard, the album fuses together two diverse sets of instruments, styles, harmonies & melodies into a new cultural expression. “I’m fascinated by how we can use music in a wider perspective and in a more mindful way. How creativity and creation springs from the present moment and how to best facilitate that” – Torben Westergaard. Marking his 13th album as a bandleader, Westergard’s electric bass grooves and atmospheric synth lays the foundation, alongside two very different percussionists; the driving jazz-pop-sensibilities of Jacob Andersen and that of Byunggil Choi, specialist traditional Korean music. These three voices underpin the shimming, filmic lines of Nordic trumpeter René Damsbak and the traditional zither-like gayagum playing from Eunhee Choi. The result: a deeply intriguing set of music which seems to effortlessly mix and meld the two styles and make it its own. /

Friday, March 27, 2020

New York-Based Guitarist Alex Goodman Presents a Vividly Evocative Double Album, Impressions in Blue

Toronto-born, New York City-based guitarist Alex Goodman has the gift of synesthesia, his mind keenly associating various sounds with particular colors. With the vivid double album Impressions in Blue and Red – to be released on CD and digitally via Outside In Music on March 13, 2020 – he explores this uncommon facility in depth. Goodman fronts two distinct quartets, each especially attuned to its material: The “blue” disc sets the leader alongside Ben Van Gelder (alto saxophone), Martin Nevin (double-bass) and Jimmy Macbride (drums); the “red” disc features the guitarist with Alex LoRe (alto sax), Rick Rosato (double-bass) and Mark Ferber (drums). 

In addition to 15 evocative originals by Goodman, the album includes interpretations of Herbie Hancock’s “Toys” and the slow movement from a Baroque sonata by Johann Rosenmüller. Capping each disc is Goodman playing an impromptu solo version of a standard: “I’ll Never Be the Same” (Malneck/Signorelli & Kahn) on the “blue” disc and “If I Loved You” (Rodgers & Hammerstein) on the “red.” Impressions in Blue and Red is Goodman’s seventh album as a leader or co-leader, and his productivity in the studio has also included appearances on records by such notable peers as Remy Le Boeuf and Manuel Valera, as well as Mareike Wiening’s much-praised new Greenleaf release, Metropolis Paradise. That’s not to mention the guitarist’s performances as a sideman around New York with the likes of the Grammy-nominated Terraza Big Band, Lucas Pino Nonet, Roxy Coss Quintet and Mimi Jones. According to New York City Jazz Record, Goodman is a musician of “dazzlingly improvisational dexterity and engagingly smart composition.” 

Reflecting on color and its associative powers for him, Goodman spent much time reading and in museums, investigating the way visual artists – from the Renaissance era to Van Gogh and Picasso – have used color and its shades to expressive ends, eliciting a range of emotions in a viewer. On the album package, he quotes such figures as Goethe (who characterizes blue as “a stimulating negation… a kind of contradiction between excitement and repose”) and Wassily Kandinsky (who describes red as “ringing inwardly with determined intensity – it glows in itself”), as well as the philosopher/psychologist and aesthetician John Dewey, who said: “If all meaning could be adequately expressed by words, then the arts of music and painting would not exist. There are values and meanings that can be expressed only by immediately visible and audible qualities, and to ask what they mean in the sense of something that can be put into words is to deny their distinctive existence.” 

Goodman says: “What I like about that John Dewey quote is that it sums up how difficult it can be to capture in words the way music or painting – and their colors – can make you feel. I know it’s difficult for me. Music goes beyond language, certainly, and the way I associate color with music isn’t really something that I can explain – it’s based in mood, in feel. And that intuitive feel is the catalyst for the way I composed the music for Impressions in Blue and Red. The same goes for the interpretive material on the album. On the ‘red’ disc, for instance, the Rosenmüller piece’s Baroque harmony feels like a darker red to me, while Herbie Hancock’s ‘Toys,’ from his Speak Like a Child LP, implies a brighter tone.” 

Goodman’s coloristic associations extended to his choice of musicians for the album. “The players that I chose for each of the bands on the record was also an intuitive thing, but a strong one,” he says. “I associated the sound and personality of each musician with either blue or red.” For eight of the tracks on Impressions in Blue and Red, there are extended improvised intros, two by Goodman and one for each of his bandmates in turn. “Those intros were something that I incorporated as a way for each musician to reveal their expressive voices more fully, but I also think they heighten the flow of the album.” As a conceptual double-album, Impressions in Blue and Red stands out as Goodman’s most ambitious recording to date. “I conceived the two discs of Impressions in Blue and Red to be coherently of a piece both internally and in relation to each other,” he says. “Although each half has dominant associations with the corresponding colors, the two are meant to complement each other through not only their differences but also, at points, their similarities.”

Born in 1987 and raised in Toronto, Goodman has resided since 2012 in New York City, where he earned a Master’s degree in jazz performance from the Manhattan School of Music. In his time on the New York scene, he has played at all the city’s top jazz clubs, including the Jazz Standard, Smalls and Jazz Gallery, as well as at such venues as Lincoln Center and National Sawdust. The guitarist has also performed at Massey Hall in Toronto and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., as well as at such festivals as Winter Jazz Fest in New York, the Montreux Jazz Festival and Montreal International Jazz Festival and further afield in China, Ukraine and Bulgaria. Goodman’s quintet LP Bridges, released in 2011, was nominated for a Juno Award, Canada’s top recording honor, as the year’s best contemporary jazz album. In 2014, he won both First Prize and the Public’s Choice Award at the Montreux Jazz Festival International Guitar Competition.                 

In addition to his seven albums as leader or co-leader, Goodman is featured on recordings with such artists as John Patitucci, Dick Oatts, Joel Frahm, and Rich Perry. In addition to having performed with musicians like Charles Lloyd, Eric Harland and Ari Hoenig, the guitarist plays regularly in ensembles led by Manuel Valera, Lucas Pino, Martina DaSilva, Roxy Coss and Remy Le Boeuf, among others. Goodman has won an ASCAP Herb Albert Jazz Composer Award, and he has composed and recorded a book of solo guitar etudes, along with writing scores for jazz and chamber groups, orchestra, big band and string quintet.                     

Laila Biali's album Out of Dust

The last few years have been a roller-coaster for Laila Biali.
For nearly every major triumph-a highly acclaimed return to jazz, winning the JUNO Award for Vocal Jazz Album of the Year, touring the world-the singer-songwriter has faced private debilitating crises. In just a few short years, Biali lost a close friend to cancer, mourned a family member's suicide, and was diagnosed with two auto-immune disorders that threatened to upend her career. It was a period of change and heartache-but it was also a season of great inspiration and hope. The result is Biali's deeply personal new album, Out of Dust.
"These new songs took shape as I processed my own feelings of doubt and loss," Biali reveals. "I believe that nothing is wasted, that even life's greatest challenges can produce something meaningful, even if only to make us more aware of and empathetic to the struggles of those around us."
This hard-won optimism is apparent in the music. Instead of giving into the darkness, Out of Dustfinds Biali luxuriating in the light she found at the end of the tunnel. Co-produced by Biali and her husband, Ben Wittman, the album is a celebration of life; warm and uplifting even as it confronts her recent challenges (and the current political climate!) head-on.
The political is personal on the brassy album opener, "Revival." Transforming global tumult into an inspiring call-to-arms, she sings with the clear-eyed confidence of a warrior, "There's a fire underground / C'mon on down." This fervor animates the entire album, even its quieter, more personal moments: "Wendy's Song," a piano ballad dedicated to the friend she lost to cancer, turns the details of a single life into a powerful epic; "Glass House," which she wrote with her husband, frankly addresses the after-effects of a family member's suicide; "Take the Day Off," a lullaby written with her nine-year-old son, bluntly acknowledges the reality of healing with Biali singing that it's OK to "pull the sheets over your head" and "unwind" when you need to.
In addition to contributions from Biali's husband and son, Out of Dustfeatures multiple GRAMMY nominees and winners including Lisa Fisher, Alan Ferber, John Ellis, and Larnell Lewis.
"There's a line from a song by the indie gospel group, Gungor, that has become like an anthem to me," Biali says. "‘He makes beautiful things out of dust.' That's where the title for the album comes from, and as a songwriter and musician, my ultimate intention and hope is to spread a little more love."
Laila Biali's album Out of Dust will be released Friday, March 27, 2020.


Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Tanika Charles nominated for 2020 Juno Awards

Tanika Charles' sophomore album “The Gumption”, released last May 10th on Record Kicks, has been nominated for the 2020 Juno Awards - Canadian equivalent to the Grammy Awards - in the R&B/soul recording of the year category.

Amongst this year's candidates there are renowned artists such as Alessia Cara, The Weeknd and Shawn Mendes. This is not the first nomination for Tanika at the Juno Awards: she was selected in 2017 as well with her debut album "Soul Run". The ceremony will take place on March 15th.

With roots in Trinidad & Tobago, Edmonton raised Miss Charles has transformed from an emerging solo artist to a commanding performer and bandleader, a staple in the Canadian soul scene. Since emerging on the international scene with her first album "Soul Run", Tanika Charles has revealed herself to be one of the best kept secrets in soul music.

After the success of her debut album “Soul Run”, which brought her a Polaris Music Prize and a Juno Awards nomination vs The Weekend, “The Gumption” is the sophomore album by Toronto-based soul artist Tanika Charles. Greeted with enthusiasm by the press and largely supported by radios such as KCRW as “Best New Music”, KEXP, Radio France’s FIP and Craig Charles on his BBC Radio 2 and Radio 6 shows, “The Gumption” appears in the “15 Albums You Need To Hear” of CBC Network and earned her the first cover on the historical Blues & Soul Magazine.


Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Trumpeter John Vanore & Pianist Ron Thomas to Release Long-Lost Duo Recordings as Primary Colors

In the small, elite group of performing musicians better known as composers, arrangers and bandleaders, the trumpeter John Vanore has carved out a uniquely brilliant niche. Vanore, who was still a teenager when his life’s mission was made clear after he heard the great Oliver Nelson, is best known for helming Abstract Truth, an innovative, long-running ensemble combining the flexibility of a combo with the might of a big band. Over the past four decades, he’s earned the kind of gushing press rare for any jazz artist—much less one who directs an unconventional little-big-band. “Vanore’s touch with ensemble texture and color, and his sense of narrative timing, recall Gil Evans,” wrote Stereophile, before going on to call Vanore’s Easter Island Suite “a musical portrait of wonder.” JazzTimes has chosen hosannas like “hauntingly beautiful,” “well crafted,” “stirring orchestration” and “edgy.”

Now, after so much acclaim for his signature ensemble, Vanore is releasing Primary Colors, a compelling collection of seven sonic adventures that he recorded with the keyboardist and composer Ron Thomas in 1984 and ’85. Captured just outside the musicians’ native Philadelphia, these duo-logues provide a fascinating snapshot of both Vanore’s career and improvised music in the midst of an underrated era when so much about jazz was in flux—the music’s aesthetics, its culture, even its technology. As a showcase for Vanore the masterful trumpeter—a veteran of Woody Herman’s hard-touring band, and a devoted pupil of John Coltrane’s Philly-based mentor, guitarist Dennis Sandole—Primary Colors is at once a stunning time-capsule piece and a harbinger of more elastic, more compact and increasingly player-centric Vanore music to come.

Thomas was a sophisticated user of the (at the time) cutting-edge Yamaha DX7 synth, whose idiosyncratic sounds are the stuff electronic musicians and hip-hop producers continue to seek out. Those timbres, like the rest of Primary Colors, are an emblem of a golden pocket on jazz’s timeline when improvisation, pop, R&B and jazz-rock coalesced in wild and wonderful ways. “There was a lot going on,” Vanore says today with a chuckle, looking back on the heady period that bore Primary Colors. “There were really a lot of things converging.”

For years he’d been a first-call trumpeter on live shows and studio dates, but those opportunities were starting to slow down, waylaid by the discotheque and the increasing computerization of music production. Suddenly Vanore had time and energy to spare, and he channeled the surplus into Abstract Truth and his snowballing interest in large-ensemble writing and direction. Galvanized by Nelson’s vibrant orchestrations, Vanore architected an unusually brass-focused lineup of horns, plus a rhythm section that achieved fresh colorations by swapping out piano for guitar.

Thomas, however, had no problem bringing a bold new palette into Vanore’s fold. A visionary player with whom the trumpeter had gigged around town, Thomas crafted lyrical improvisations with an orchestrator’s attention to the structure of his lines—he was, after all, a direct pupil of Stockhausen as well as a lifelong disciple of Bill Evans and Miles. Vanore shared similar sensibilities, and the two friends began joining up to play exploratory duets. The setting was a rehearsal room at Widener University, Vanore’s alma mater and the institution where he made his career as an educator. Vanore was gradually outfitting the room with recording equipment, and Terry Hoffman, the trumpeter’s gifted and knowledgeable go-to engineer, played producer, refining the music’s textures by facilitating overdubs and judiciously applying then-state-of-the-art delay and reverb units. Hoffman “mixed at will,” Vanore writes in his liner notes, “creating the cinematic sound environment appropriate for the pieces to realize their emotional impact.” Vanore recovered most of the music when he was reorganizing his basement in the summer of 2019 and came across some old cassettes. He completed the extensive necessary audio restoration in his home studio.    

The sessions’ only real protocol was a willingness to experiment, in the way of sound, song form and more. “We weren’t approaching this stuff like head/solos/head,” Vanore recalls. “Our approach was more compositional.” Spontaneity was also paramount, and while there may be multiple overdubbed layers at various points, a single-take ethic was honored throughout the informal sessions. In the end, the reason Primary Colors sounds so extraordinary—daring in its sonics yet intimate and empathetic in its interplay—is that it was never supposed to be a commercial release to begin with.

The seven tracks that make up this eavesdropped gem are distinctive environments with their own otherworldly charms. Thomas’ “Final Dawn” features Vanore’s thoughtful, singing flugelhorn lines atop elegiac piano. On the DX7, Thomas overdubs fleet, watery organ-sounding choruses. He also adds a percussive element via small cymbals and tiny drumsticks, which Vanore recalls as being “almost like chopsticks.” Through Hoffman’s close mic placement and a dollop of reverb, the metal has a crisp, potent presence.

“Lady,” the Lionel Richie-penned smash, is reinvented as the kind of ethereal tour de force you might expect to hear on an unsung classic from ECM’s thrilling early years. Vanore first dug the melody while working a commercial gig. Soaked through with overdubs, he says, “it became a tapestry of sound with the trumpet, flugelhorn and piano making interactive comments in and around the melody.” “Yesterdays” and “A Time for Love” underscore the duo’s imaginative and seemingly telepathic way with standard repertoire.

“Origins of Rude” arrives like a thunderbolt of crude funk. Vanore had Thomas play a beyond-funky 7/4 bassline on Fender Rhodes, which became an analog tape-loop foundation for one-take multi-tracks. The trumpeter plays blasts and bleats reflecting the rough-and-tumble phrasing of electric Miles, as Thomas offers zany stabs of DX7, conjuring up B-movie soundtracks as well as the avant-garde wing of ’80s fusion and funk. Vanore’s overdubbed snare hits provide an off-kilter kind of thrust and momentum. The tune’s title reflects its status as a sketch or seed for “Rude,” a fleshed-out work that would appear on Abstract Truth’s 2010 album, Curiosity. Even on an album filled with sounds that are so dated they’ve become strikingly fresh, “Origins of Rude” stands out as supremely evocative. When Tarantino needs score for a bar scene in a cyberpunk blaxploitation flick, this delightfully weird cut should be it. Vanore and Thomas find their way back to more elegant fare with the former’s “Return,” a gorgeous conversation between flugelhorn and Rhodes, and a creative take on “Secret Love.” With Thomas’ quirky DX7 timbres and swinging cymbals, the latter track approaches the energy and muscle of a combo at full mid-to-uptempo tilt. 

Primary Colors also provides Vanore with an opportunity to counter the very good predicament he’s created for himself. After so many extolled sessions in which his writing and arranging have defined his identity, and his playing has been tastefully submerged in his ensemble’s hues, it’s a pleasure to hear him just open up and blow again. His fluid virtuosity will remind listeners of his lifelong devotion to Miles, Freddie Hubbard, Art Farmer and other greats. His playing also highlights his post-collegiate months on the road with Woody Herman, and his extensive studies under Philadelphia guitarist Dennis Sandole, a mentor to John Coltrane. Vanore is an “intriguing trumpeter [who] pushes expressive possibilities,” DownBeat wrote in one article; in another, the jazz bible praised Vanore’s strength as a player and his “pristine melodic sense.”

Ultimately, Primary Colors points a way forward. “I want my next project to be more oriented to improvisational playing,” Vanore says, “rather than subordinating that side of myself.”

Monday, March 23, 2020

Naama Gheber Visits The Great American Songbook On "Dearly Beloved," Her Debut Album

Naama Gheber Dearly Beloved Noted vocalist Naama Gheber makes her auspicious, radiant recording debut with Dearly Beloved, to be released April 10 on Cellar Music Records, preceded by the release of two singles -- the title track on February 14 and "So in Love" March 13. 

The New York-based singer (by way of Beér Sheva, Israel), who first turned heads during her yearlong residency at Manhattan's Mezzrow Jazz Club, engages the superb trio that has long supported her at that residency (pianist Ray Gallon, bassist David Wong, and drummer Aaron Kimmel) for a dozen interpretations of classic jazz standards. She is given a further helping hand from esteemed vibraphonist Steve Nelson, who features on five tracks.

Gheber fell in love with the singers and tunes from the Great American Songbook while studying at the Center for Jazz Studies in Tel Aviv. "I immediately felt at home with standards and worked on finding my own voice within them," she explains. "I was just trying to sound like myself." When it came time to make an album, she chose the ones for which she felt the deepest personal significance. "Recording songs that I feel strongly connected to was a way to bring myself to the album."

There can be no doubt about those strong connections in Gheber's singing of "So in Love," infusing it with pitch-perfect mood and intimacy, or in her fond playfulness on "Just Squeeze Me" and "I Can't Give You Anything But Love." Her feeling for the material also allows her to give sophisticated expression to them, as in her charming mix of ruefulness and romance on "Since I Fell for You" or the astonishing compound of joy, tenderness, and a tinge of longing on "Good Night My Love."

The impact of Nelson's presence on Dearly Beloved is difficult to understate. He is a vibraphonist of considerable prowess, which he honed through years of work with the likes of Dave Holland, Mulgrew Miller, and Donald Brown. But for all his virtuoso chops, he improvises behind Gheber using first and foremost his gift for memorable, lyrical melodic statements (as on his solo on the title track, and both his solo and luminous fills on "You Stepped Out of a Dream"). Likewise, Gheber has formulated a powerful chemistry with the trio of Gallon, Wong, and Kimmel, clearly evident in the delight and aplomb the quartet lend to the swinging "'SWonderful."

Naama Gheber was born in Beér Sheva, Israel on January 2, 1991. Though she primarily grew up in the city in the Negev Desert, she spent four of her early childhood years living in Baltimore, Maryland, while her parents attended Johns Hopkins University. It was the start of a lifelong bond with America and American culture.

The child of a musical family, Gheber sought to be a singer from her youth. Instead, she trained as a classical pianist until her final year of school, when a graduation gift from her grandparents enabled her to take voice lessons from legendary Israeli singer Riki Gal. She learned Gal's Hebrew songs, but it was on an unusual attempt at Ray Charles's "Hit the Road, Jack" that both Gheber and Gal realized her gifts were uniquely suited to American music.

Thus inspired, she enrolled in Tel Aviv's Center for Jazz Studies after completing her mandatory military service, where she first encountered such singers as Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and Helen Merrill. "I was seduced by their urbane lyrical style," she recalls; Gheber had found her creative direction.

She left Tel Aviv for New York in 2015, after receiving a scholarship to study music at the New School. (She graduated in 2017.) Though she was a stranger in a strange land, she began frequenting jazz clubs to ingratiate herself with the scene, drawing on her experiences in Baltimore to relate to her new acquaintances. She soon developed a network of connections -- not least among them pianist Ray Gallon, bassist David Wong, and drummer Aaron Kimmel, a relationship that was solidified when they began accompanying her in regular late-night sets at Mezzrow in Greenwich Village. (She'll next be performing there Tues. 3/3, and Tues. 4/14 [10:30]. Gheber's CD release show is set for Sat. 5/9 [8:30] at Cafe Bohemia, NYC.Upcoming European shows include Hot Club, Lyon, France, 3/26; Clarence Jazz Club, Malaga, Spain, 3/28; Ultamar Jazz Club, Girona, Spain, 4/2; La Boveda, Zaragoza, Spain, 4/3.)

"The creation of this record has been a yearlong adventure," says Gheber. "I feel like I went through a full range of experiences -- failure, success, excitement, anxiety, disappointment, and fulfillment. In the end, this process, like this album and, really, like life itself, is a lot of everything. What makes it mine is the unique balance within these factors. A balance that is only true to me." 

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Eclectic Music Ensemble Deep Energy Orchestra Releases Second Album "The Return"

The Return, the highly anticipated second recording by the eclectic music ensemble, Deep Energy Orchestra will be released on February 21, 2020 on Trey Gunn's 7D Media record label. Deep Energy Orchestra blends sounds and rhythms from Prog Rock, Classical, funk, Indian, and Flamenco styles and showcases the compositions of Jason Everett aka Mister E.

Featured artists on the record include, Fareed Haque (Billy Cobham, Zawinal Syndicate), V. Selvaganesh (Shakti with John McLaughlin), Trey Gunn (King Crimson), Neyvili Radhakrishna (Jonas Hellborg), Ujwal Nagar (Advaita), Suhail Yusuf Khan, and the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra.

Following the acclaimed first release, Playing With Fire, Jason was commissioned by the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra to score his music as well as pieces from Ravi Shankar, Anoushka Shankar, and Paco de Lucia for a full-length concert called “From Spain to India” and one of the pieces from that concert series is included on The Return.

Another piece on The Return is an example of Jason's compositional “sonic-storytelling” called “Moksha: The Elimination of All Duality.” This nearly 17-minute piece is in four movements and tells the story of a soul, from starting in a traditional village, to a battle with death, to a liberated soul, and then the Return to this world with musical echoes of the past and present.

Jason Everett is a performer, composer, and producer who plays a variety of stringed and percussive instruments with his primary instruments being his seven-string fretless bass and acoustic six-string bass. Jason attended Northern Arizona University on a full scholarship for bassoon and started playing jazz professionally at sixteen years old.

Jason has played music outside of the mainstream for most of his career including with the avant-garde space-jazz ensemble, Little Green Men; Flamenco fusion groups, Machete', Deseo Carmin, and Acoustic Fantasy; world fusion groups, Avaaza, Tarana, and Andre Feriante; and Kirtan artists, Gina Sala’ and Girish. Jason has also been recently performing and recording with Bay Area world jazz fusion groups, Facing East and Ancient Future. Jason has created his own groups including Taal Maya, a Shakti inspired Indian fusion project and Pandamonium, which is described as “Prog Rock Jazz Funk.”

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Jazz Guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel Releases Angular Blues

Wolfgang Muthspiel, whom The New Yorker has called "a shining light" among today's jazz guitarists, returns to the trio format with Angular Blues, his fourth ECM album as a leader, following two acclaimed quintet releases and his trio debut. Like Driftwood - the 2014 trio disc that JazzTimes dubbed "cinematic" and "haunting" - Angular Blues finds the Austrian guitarist paired with long-time collaborator Brian Blade on drums; but instead of Larry Grenadier on bass, this time it's Scott Colley, whose especially earthy sound helps imbue this trio with its own dynamic. Muthspiel plays acoustic guitar on three of the album's tracks and electric on six more. Along with his characteristically melodic originals - including such highlights as the bucolic "Hüttengriffe" and pensive "Camino" - he essays the first standards of his ECM tenure ("Everything I Love" and "I'll Remember April"), as well as his first-ever bebop rhythm-changes tune on record ("Ride"). Angular Blues also features a single guitar-only track, "Solo Kanon in 5/4," with Muthspiel's electronic delay imbuing the baroque-like rounds with a hypnotic glow.

Muthspiel, Colley and Blade recorded Angular Blues in Tokyo's Studio Dede after a three-night run at the city's Cotton Club. The album was mixed with Manfred Eicher in the South of France at Studios La Buissonne, where Muthspiel had recorded his two previous ECM albums, Rising Grace and Where the River Goes (both of which featured pianist Brad Mehldau and trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire). Each of the groups that Muthspiel has put together for his ECM recordings has had a special rapport. About his new trio, the guitarist says: "Scott and Brian share my love of song, while at the same time there is constant musical conversation about these songs."

The Louisiana-born Blade has been a member of the Wayne Shorter Quartet since 2000, along with recording with artists from Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Daniel Lanois and Norah Jones to Charlie Haden, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea and Joshua Redman. Since the mid-'90s, Blade has also co-led the gospel-infused Fellowship Band. Regarding the subtly virtuoso drummer, Muthspiel says: "Brian is famous for his sound and touch, that floating way of playing, how he creates intensity with relatively low volume. It's also a great pleasure for me to witness how sensitively Brian reacts in his playing to whether I play acoustic or electric guitar. I've done a lot of concerts and productions with him over the years, including in our guitar-drums duo, Friendly Travelers, as well as on Driftwood and Rising Grace. He always offers complete interaction and initiative, as well as his individual sound. To play uptempo swing on something like 'Ride' with Brian was really luxurious, a gift."

After being mentored by Charlie Haden, Colley was the bassist of choice for such jazz legends as Jim Hall, Andrew Hill, Michael Brecker, Carmen McRae and Bobby Hutcherson, along with appearing on albums by Herbie Hancock, Gary Burton, Pat Metheny, John Scofield, Chris Potter and Julian Lage. Colley, a native of Los Angeles, has released eight albums as a leader. "Scott and Brian have also played a lot together over the past few years, so they know each other well," Muthspiel notes. "I performed with Scott in New York in the '90s, and I've always felt that he was an extremely giving musician, who - with his warm tone and his flexible, dancing rhythm - simultaneously animated and supported the music. I wrote the bass melody of the new album's first tune, 'Wondering,' especially for him. His sound develops a flow and harmonic movement that is inviting to play on."

After "Wondering" - which includes extended soloing by Colley that embroiders on Muthspiel's melody beautifully - comes the album's title song, the highly trio-interactive "Angular Blues," so titled for its "rhythmic modulations and strange breaks," the guitarist explains. "Somehow Chick Corea's album Three Quartets was an association, but so was Thelonious Monk." Those first two tracks, as well as the album's third, "Hüttengriffe," feature Muthspiel on acoustic guitar, his sound on the instrument both warm and extraordinarily fluent. After that - on "Camino," "Ride," "Everything I Love," "Kanon in 6/8," "Solo Kanon in 5/4" and "I'll Remember April" - he plays electric. Muthspiel's ever-liquid electric phrasing buoys both an emotionally rich original such as "Camino" and the two different turns on his kaleidoscopic "Kanon," the trio version in 6/8 and the solo, mostly improvised rendition in 5/4.

About his first-time inclusion of jazz standards on one of his ECM albums, Muthspiel says: "I was inspired to record standards with this trio because everything about the way the group plays feels so free, open and far from preconceived ideas, but at the crucial moment a jazz language is spoken, what we do does justice to these tunes. I learned 'Everything I Love,' the Cole Porter song, from an early Keith Jarrett album, and I first came to know 'I'll Remember April' from a Frank Sinatra recording. In that latter song, I hardly play solo. It's more about the head and the vamp-like atmosphere that prevails from the start and is savored again in the end. As in many moments with this trio, it's about playing with space: leaving it, creating it, filling it."

Friday, March 20, 2020

Laila Biali - Out Of Dust

The last few years have been a roller-coaster for Laila Biali.

For nearly every major triumph-a highly acclaimed return to jazz, winning the JUNO Award for Vocal Jazz Album of the Year, touring the world-the singer-songwriter has faced private debilitating crises. In just a few short years, Biali lost a close friend to cancer, mourned a family member's suicide, and was diagnosed with two auto-immune disorders that threatened to upend her career. It was a period of change and heartache-but it was also a season of great inspiration and hope. The result is Biali's deeply personal new album, Out of Dust.

"These new songs took shape as I processed my own feelings of doubt and loss," Biali reveals. "I believe that nothing is wasted, that even life's greatest challenges can produce something meaningful, even if only to make us more aware of and empathetic to the struggles of those around us."

This hard-won optimism is apparent in the music. Instead of giving into the darkness, Out of Dustfinds Biali luxuriating in the light she found at the end of the tunnel. Co-produced by Biali and her husband, Ben Wittman, the album is a celebration of life; warm and uplifting even as it confronts her recent challenges (and the current political climate!) head-on.

The political is personal on the brassy album opener, "Revival." Transforming global tumult into an inspiring call-to-arms, she sings with the clear-eyed confidence of a warrior, "There's a fire underground / C'mon on down." This fervor animates the entire album, even its quieter, more personal moments: "Wendy's Song," a piano ballad dedicated to the friend she lost to cancer, turns the details of a single life into a powerful epic; "Glass House," which she wrote with her husband, frankly addresses the after-effects of a family member's suicide; "Take the Day Off," a lullaby written with her nine-year-old son, bluntly acknowledges the reality of healing with Biali singing that it's OK to "pull the sheets over your head" and "unwind" when you need to.

In addition to contributions from Biali's husband and son, Out of Dustfeatures multiple GRAMMY nominees and winners including Lisa Fisher, Alan Ferber, John Ellis, and Larnell Lewis.

"There's a line from a song by the indie gospel group, Gungor, that has become like an anthem to me," Biali says. "‘He makes beautiful things out of dust.' That's where the title for the album comes from, and as a songwriter and musician, my ultimate intention and hope is to spread a little more love."

Laila Biali's album Out of Dust will be released Friday, March 27, 2020.           

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Dee Dee Bridgewater Announced as Detroit Jazz Festival's 2020 Artist-in-Residence

The Detroit Jazz Festival Foundation proudly presents the GRAMMY® and Tony Award-winning jazz vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater as its Artist-in-Residence for the 2020 Detroit Jazz Festival.

As the 2020 Artist-in-Residence, Bridgewater will support Detroit Jazz Festival Foundation educational clinics for students and community engagements across the region throughout the year in addition to leading multiple diverse performances during Labor Day Weekend.

“Dee Dee Bridgewater’s timeless voice, legendary career accomplishments and indomitable spirit are what makes her such a special selection for our Artist-in-Residence this year,” said Chris Collins, president and artistic director of the Detroit Jazz Festival Foundation. “We’re excited to have Dee Dee, a true and treasured jazz vocalist, headline what will be another exceptional showing of Detroit’s jazz gift to the world.”

Over the course of a multifaceted career spanning four decades, iconic jazz giant Dee Dee Bridgewater has ascended to the upper echelon of vocalists, putting her unique spin on standards, as well as taking intrepid leaps of faith in re-envisioning jazz classics. Ever the fearless voyager, explorer, pioneer and keeper of tradition, the three-time GRAMMY® winner most recently won the GRAMMY® for Best Jazz Vocal Album for Eleanora Fagan (1915-1959): To Billie With Love From Dee Dee.

Bridgewater’s career has always bridged musical genres. She earned her first professional experience as a member of the legendary Thad Jones/Mel Louis Big Band, and throughout the '70s she performed with such jazz notables as Max Roach, Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordon and Dizzy Gillespie.

Bridgewater also pursued a parallel career in musical theater, winning a Tony Award® for her role as “Glinda” in the The Wiz in 1975. She recently completed a run as the lead role of Billie Holiday in the off-Broadway production of Lady Day, for which Bridgewater received the British Laurence Olivier nomination for best actress in a musical. Her other theatrical credits include Sophisticated Ladies, Black Ballad and Carmen.

As a Goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Bridgewater continues to appeal for international solidarity to finance global grassroots projects in the fight against world hunger.

The Detroit Jazz Festival will be held in downtown Detroit on September 4 – 7.

Damien Sneed Releases ‘Classically Harlem’

Composer and pianist Damien Sneed has released his full-length classical debut CD, Classically Harlem, on Friday, February 7, 2020, to commemorate the centennial of the Harlem Renaissance (1920-2020). Classically Harlem features two special guest artists from The Metropolitan Opera’s roster: Brandie Sutton and Justin Austin. Also, violinist Randall Goosby from the Juilliard School of Music is featured on four songs. Classically Harlem is a collection of meaningful classical works by Bach, Mozart, Chopin, Strauss and several contemporary African American composers including Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Mark Fax, and Hale Smith, with an original composition by Sneed. For a complete track listing, click HERE. Classically Harlem is available on digital retail and streaming platforms everywhere, including iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Spotify, and Tidal.

“After World War II, Harlem [NYC] became the nexus of brilliant creativity for African Americans,” says Sneed. “Therefore, in honor of the great creative giants who birthed the Harlem Renaissance back in the 1920s, I chose to dedicate my first classical offering to commemorate its 100th anniversary. From solo piano repertoire to chamber music featuring the violin, to art songs to lieder and the operatic aria, this project celebrates well-known composers from the Western Music tradition as well as other prolific composers who emerged on the scene during the last century.”

Throughout years, the multi-genre artist has been paired with his longtime friends and collaborators Brandie Sutton, J’Nai Bridges, and Justin Austin on numerous projects. On February 4, Sutton (soprano) made her Metropolitan Opera debut as Clara, singing “Summertime” in the revival of George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. In May 2019, Sutton joined Sneed as a special guest artist at the 2019 Pulitzer Prize ceremony in a 20-minute set to celebrate and honor Aretha Franklin, who was awarded a Special Citation, marking the first time the Pulitzer board incorporated a musical performance into their annual ceremony. To view the performance, click HERE.

Austin (baritone), an award-winning artist will star in two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage’s Intimate Apparel, which has been made into an opera with music by Ricky Ian Gordon. This is the first of Nottage’s award-winning plays to be turned into an opera. Intimate Apparel will premiere off-Broadway at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi Newhouse Theater, a Metropolitan Opera/Lincoln Center Theater New Works production, February 27 through March 23, 2020. Sneed accompanied Austin on his Carnegie Hall debut at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall in October 2017. This year, Sneed will produce Austin’s debut album.

Bridges (mezzo-soprano) recently made her Metropolitan Opera debut as Queen Nefertiti in Phillip Glass’ opera AKHNATEN. Bridges also performed with Sneed, who was the musical director for Jessye Norman’s funeral and accompanied her on his arrangement of “Heaven/Oh What A Beautiful City,” for both the October 2019 funeral and Norman’s Celebration of Life concert at the Metropolitan Opera in November 2019. For Black History Month, Sneed and Bridges performed on the CUNY TV show “Black America” with Carol Jenkins. For a preview of their performance, click HERE.

Sneed has a series of classical projects scheduled for the Spring and Summer 2020 season, including his new chamber opera Marian’s Song, commissioned by the Houston Grand Opera, with the libretto by Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton. Focused on the life of Marian Anderson, it will have its world premiere on March 5-6, 2020, at the Cullen Theater at the Wortham Center in Houston, TX. Sneed was recently commissioned to compose a symphony in honor of the Tuskegee Airmen that is also slated for the 2020-2021 season.

This summer, Sneed will join the community-based organization the Harlem Chamber Players, to conduct Nathaniel Dett’s The Ordering of Moses as part of the 100th Anniversary of the Harlem Renaissance at The Cathedral of Saint John the Divine on June 4th in New York City. The concert will feature Brandie Sutton and Justin Austin, along with Raehann Bryce-Davis (mezzo-soprano), Issachah Savage (tenor), Sneed’s 100-piece choir Chorale Le Chateau, and an orchestra comprising members of the Harlem Chamber Players and other New York City-based musicians. Sneed will also present the world premiere of his arrangement of “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” for chorus and orchestra on that evening.

This past year, Sneed was invited to participate in several high-profile concerts and performances, including Wynton Marsalis’ critically-acclaimed Abyssinian Mass with the famed Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and Chorale Le Chateau for a three-night engagement during the 10th Anniversary of Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival in November at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater.

In October 2019, the Sphinx Media of Excellence recipient premiered his new opera, “We Shall Overcome – Our Journey: 400 Years from Africa to Jamestown” at Carnegie Hall’s Isaac Stern Auditorium/Perelman Stage for the Sphinx Organization Performance and Gala. He also wrote the libretto for the piece, which showcases musical styles from the African American diaspora, including African rhythms, spirituals, gospel and jazz, all interwoven with the classical genre. He was joined by fellow Sphinx Medal of Excellence recipients J’Nai Bridges and Will Liverman of the Metropolitan Opera, along with Chorale Le Chateau and the Sphinx Virtuosi Orchestra, who brought his ground-breaking opera to life during the evening’s finale performance.

Within the past year, Sneed has appeared on Jessye Norman’s final recording, Bound For The Promised Land. He also recorded and released three projects on his label, LeChateau Earl Records, including Damien Sneed: We Shall Overcome Deluxe Edition (January 2020), Jazz in Manhattan (September 2019), and Damien Sneed: We Shall Overcome (January 2019). Other recordings include The Three Sides of Damien Sneed: Classical, Jazz and Sanctified Soul (July 2018), Broken to Minister: The Deluxe Edition (March 2015), Spiritual Sketches (June 2013), and Introspections LIVE (January 2010).

Currently, Sneed is on his 40-city North American tour, “We Shall Overcome: A Celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” which is making stops at concert halls and universities in the U.S. and Canada. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Saxophonist Wayne Escoffery Releases "The Humble Warrior"

Saxophonist Wayne Escoffery is renowned for his fiery, muscular and virtuosic tenor playing, but his explosive sound is paired with a soft-spoken and thoughtful demeanor off the bandstand. In many cases both of those aspects of his personality can be credited to the same inspirations, giants of the music who paired estimable talents and imagination with rock-solid integrity.

On his latest album, The Humble Warrior, Escoffery pays homage to those figures with his most ambitious and wide-ranging set to date. While Escoffery himself strives to represents the tenets of a Humble Warrior, it would be easy for him to act otherwise given his stand-out career and ample accolades. A Grammy Award and DownBeat Critics Poll winner, he has performed with a who’s who of jazz including Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Abdullah Ibrahim, Al Foster, Billy Hart, Eddie Henderson, Wallace Roney and others. He has been a member of the Mingus Dynasty, Big Band and Orchestra since 2000 and toured and recorded with Tom Harrell for over a decade. In addition to his Quartet, Escoffery co-leads the Black Art Jazz Collective along with other leading voices of his generation and the next.

Due out April 10, The Humble Warrior marks Escoffery’s leader debut for Smoke Sessions Records, where he’s previously recorded with the trombonist Steve Davis. The album features the return of Escoffery’s stellar quartet featuring pianist David Kikoski, bassist Ugonna Okegwo and drummer Ralph Peterson. Trumpet great Randy Brecker and guitarist David Gilmore supplement the band for Escoffery’s breathtaking arrangement of Benjamin Britten’s Missa Brevis in D.

That piece of unexpected repertoire is a way of bringing Escoffery’s own story full circle. As influential as the “Humble Warriors” to whom the album is dedicated have been on the saxophonist’s musical life, he looks back at his early experience as a member of the Trinity Boys Choir in New Haven, Connecticut as foundational to that existence. A native of London, England, Escoffery and his mother had moved often immigrating to the United States before finally settling in New Haven where she took a job at Yale University.

Since 2016, Escoffery accepted a position at the prestigious institution as Lecturer of Jazz Improvisation and ensemble coach, teaching in the same room where he took his first saxophone lesson. But his love of music was born from singing with the city’s renowned choir and contributed to the lyrical and singing quality that always accompany his sterling virtuosity. It also introduced him to an aural tradition of musical education that carried through into his studies with the legendary Jackie McLean. The Britten piece was one of his favorites, and now represents a time when he was discovering himself as a person and as a musician.

“The Missa Brevis was one of the most beautiful pieces that we performed,” he recalls. “Those beautiful but intricate melodies always stuck with me.”

To parallel the three-part harmony of the original, Escoffery enlisted Brecker and Gilmore to add their voices to the mix, while his 11-year old son Vaughn provides angelic vocals for the “Benedictus” – significantly, Escoffery was the same age when he joined the Trinity Boys Choir.

The Humble Warrior opens with one of two Escoffery originals on the album, which was inspired by his return to Yale. Born from his interactions with his students, “Chain Gang” is the saxophonist’s imagining of a modern-day work song. To trace the roots of jazz and the blues back to their origins, he plays students samples of work songs and field hollers sung by enslaved people and incarcerated field workers. “Chain Gang” was inspired by musicologist Alan Lomax’s recording of the work song “I Be So Glad When the Sun Goes Down,” sung by Ed Lewis and a group of prisoners at the infamous Parchman Farm.

It’s telling that on an album that stretches out in so many bold directions, Escoffery chooses to dedicate the date to those who have gone before. As inspiration, he cites such personal mentors as Mulgrew Miller, James Williams and Jackie McLean, but also those peers and forebears who have passed on – many far too soon – in recent years.

“We lost a lot of really great musicians in 2018 and 2019,” he says. “People like Roy Hargrove, Harold Mabern, Larry Willis, Richard Wyands, Lawrence Leathers, and, most recently, Jimmy Heath. I would describe all of those musicians as Humble Warriors. I have a lot of admiration and respect for them; they were all great warriors of the music but always allowed the music to keep them humble. They all exemplified the utmost humility and integrity despite their superior abilities. I hope to maintain those same traits in my musical endeavors.”

The title track, Escoffery’s other composition for the album, amply illustrates that concept, simmering with a latent strength but shot through with a steely nobility. It also showcases, as does The Humble Warrior as a whole, the profound cohesiveness and depth of feeling shared by Escoffery with his bandmates. While he shares relationships stretching back at least two decades with each of them, the quartet came together in 2016, when Escoffery decided that his 40th birthday would be the occasion to form his ideal band, one that he could evolve with in the years to come.

“We’re a strong unit,” he says. “We know each other’s playing backwards and forwards because we’ve played together in so many different contexts. It’s a real band, and one that pushes me to different places. I like strong personalities with a lot of power, but I also like maturity.”

The quartet certainly embodies those factors, as Escoffery purposely chose collaborators who all have more years of experience than his own. He and Okegwo toured the world with the brilliant trumpeter Tom Harrell for a decade, and both have performed in bands led by Peterson. Kikoski and Escoffery have shared the stage countless times under the auspices of the Mingus Big Band.

The band is at its most elegant on the little-known ballad “Quarter Moon,” a composition by pianist Gildo Mahones originally recorded by saxophonist Charlie Rouse. Familiar from his indelible association with Thelonious Monk, Rouse remains an under-sung pioneer but one that Escoffery cites as a primary influence. Another hero, George Cables, is responsible for the laid-back “AKA Reggie,” which Escoffery and Okegwo performed with the pianist as a trio. Okegwo composed the airy, sinuous “Undefined,” which features some of the band’s most dazzling playing, while Kikoski offers the blistering finale, “Back to Square One.”

The Humble Warrior finds Wayne Escoffery coming full circle, returning to where his musical life began, and fulfilling the promise of the talented young boy who got his start in New Haven and at Yale. He’s the teacher now, instead of the student, guiding a new generation of musicians to become stronger improvisers with a deeper appreciation of the art, while setting a new artistic standard for himself with the powerful set of music contained herein.
"The Humble Warrior" was produced by Paul Stache and Damon Smith and
recorded live in New York at Sear Sound's Studio C on a Sear-Avalon custom console
at 96KHz/24bit and mixed to ½" analog tape using a Studer mastering deck.
Available in audiophile HD format.


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