Tuesday, November 24, 2020

South Florida Jazz Orchestra - Cheap Thrills: The Music Of Rick Margitza

Cheap Thrills: The Music of Rick Margitza,via Summit Records, convenes the Miami jazz scene’s finest players to explore the compositions of Bergeron’s lifelong friend and collaborator

Two lifetimes of master musicianship, three decades of friendship and fifteen years of one of the country’s finest undersung big bands all converge as bassist/bandleader/educator Chuck Bergeron and his versatile South Florida Jazz Orchestra present a wide-ranging program showcasing the music of saxophone great Rick Margitza. Featuring eight original compositions and a sumptuous arrangement of a timeless standard, Cheap Thrills: The Music of Rick Margitza (due out August 28, 2020 via Summit Records) is a document of warm camaraderie and profound respect, mutual admiration and engaging individuality.

The compositions chosen for Cheap Thrills span Margitza’s remarkable career, one that has included notable collaborations with Miles Davis, Maria Schneider, McCoy Tyner and Chick Corea, among countless others. The saxophonist’s journey has led him from his beginnings near Detroit to studies at the University of Miami and formative years in New Orleans before a move to New York City led to a fruitful tenure on Blue Note Records. He’s spent most of the last 20 years in Paris, where he’s forged relationships with such European jazz greats as Martial Solal, Jean-Michel Pilc and the Moutin Brothers.

Throughout the years Margitza’s path has crossed multiple times with that of Bergeron, beginning in the bassist’s native New Orleans, where the saxophonist moved in 1984 for a gig at the World’s Fair. It was at Margitza’s urging that Bergeron applied to the University of Miami, where he pursued his graduate studies and has gone on to join the faculty. In between those two stints in Florida, the two both moved to New York, where they roomed and performed together. Bergeron also appears on Margitza’s first outing for Blue Note, two songs recorded for the 1989 compilation New Stars On Blue Note, which announced a bumper crop that included the saxophonist along with labelmates Dianne Reeves, Eliane Elias and the soon-to-be all-star ensemble OTB.

“When I first met Rick, he was just an amazing tenor player from Detroit,” Bergeron recalls, marveling at the distance (actual and metaphorical) both men have traveled over the course of their 30-year friendship. “He’s one of the greatest musicians I’ve ever worked with, the kind of player that raises the level of all the musicians around him. For me, it’s always been a real special treat to get to play music with Rick.”

 That individual artistry and collaborative spirit made Margitza the ideal guest to invite for the 15th anniversary of Bergeron’s South Florida Jazz Orchestra. The stellar ensemble brings together the most exceptional players on the South Florida jazz scene, many of them Bergeron’s fellow faculty members at the University of Miami. The band featured on this recording includes pianist Martin Bejerano, guitarist John Hart, drummer John Yarling, and Grammy-winning trumpeters Brian Lynch and John Daversa. The various members share deep roots in big band playing and came together initially to celebrate that tradition. Modeling themselves on the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra (later known as the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra), the SFJO undertook a residency at Miami’s now-defunct Arturo Sandoval Jazz Club, with the full support and occasional collaboration of its namesake trumpeter.

Margitza has his own history with big bands, from his early opportunity touring with Maynard Ferguson to his years playing in the renowned Maria Schneider Orchestra. As he writes in the album’s liner notes, Cheap Thrills thus represents “the culmination of a process that started years ago.” Upon receiving Bergeron’s invite, Margitza sent the bandleader a number of charts to choose from. “To my pleasant surprise,” he recounts, “[Chuck] asked if I would be interested in doing an entire album of my music. Needless to say, I immediately said yes.”

Some of the tunes chosen for the date take on additional meaning given the two men’s history. “Widow’s Walk,” for instance,” was one of the two songs documented for New Stars On Blue Note. “It’s one of the tunes that I most equate with him,” Bergeron says. “To me, it’s signature Margitza. We recorded it with a small band when he was first starting out, so it as very nostalgic and special to revisit it with him and my big band all these years later.”

The simmering “Brace Yourself” is another early tune, originally recorded on Margitza’s Blue Note debut Color. “Sometimes I Have Rhythm” was previously rendered by the Motor City Jazz Octet, while “Walls” dates back to the saxophonist’s 1991 date Hope. The album’s sole standard, “Embraceable You,” is simply a lifelong favorite, here arranged by Dan Gailey. “That’s a tune that Rick always loves to play with small groups,” Bergeron says. “Rick comes from a family of classical musicians, and the way the melody of ‘Embraceable You’ is presented, it’s almost a little violin concerto.”

The album’s biggest challenge came via Margitza’s intricate, nearly 10-minute composition “Premonition.” After rehearsals, Bergeron and producer John Fedchock had decided to divide the challenging piece into three sections in order to master it. As the band recorded, they reached the agreed-upon stopping point – and kept right on going, mastering the song, beginning to end, in a single take. Afterwards, there was complete silence in the room, until Fedchock’s voice whispered, “What did you think about that?” Bergeron’s voice bellowed in response: “I love this f-ing band!”

Born and raised in New Orleans, Chuck Bergeron has been an in-demand bassist for four decades. Chuck studied at Loyola University and the University of Miami before joining the bands of Woody Herman and Buddy Rich. After the breakup of the Buddy Rich Band, Chuck moved to New York and embarked upon a 15-year career as a bassist, performing, recording, and touring worldwide with a host of jazz luminaries, including Stan Getz, Dave Grusin, Randy Brecker, Sheila Jordan, Dee Dee Bridgewater, John Abercrombie, Tom Harrell, James Moody, Matt Wilson, Terell Stafford, Stanley Jordan and Elvis Costello. As a leader, Chuck has released eight albums, four of them at the helm of the South Florida Jazz Orchestra. In 2000, he accepted a teaching position at the University of Miami and relocated to South Florida, where he currently runs the Jazz Bass Studio and serves as Director of the Jazz Pedagogy Program at UM’s Frost School of Music.

Guitarist Tom Guarna Leads an All-Star Quintet on his progressive-minded “Spirit Science”

Tom Guarna – a guitarist praised by DownBeat for the “emotion, tension, surprise and passion” in his music – has assembled yet another “dream team” of a band for Spirit Science, his second release for Destiny Records and his eighth overall.To realize a vision steeped in Pythagorean ideas of the science “sacred geometry,” the New York-based Guarna convened a group of venturesome, virtuoso peers: reed player Ben Wendel, keyboardist Aaron Parks, bassist Joe Martin and drummer Justin Faulkner. These top-flight musicians richly complement Guarna’s textured guitar work, which blends his characteristically glowing electric guitar tone with otherworldly guitar synth and light-as-air steel-string acoustic.

The story Guarna spins on Spirit Science is that aforementioned fascination with “sacred geometry, those laws that drive everything in existence,” the guitarist explains. “It’s where math and science meet with spirit and matter – ideas that humans have studied since the ancients, from Pythagoras to Da Vinci. Exploring that changed my perspective on music, really. It’s inspiring to see how science reveals the patterns and shapes in everyday life, the patterns behind everything we experience from nature to architecture to music. Once you’re aware of it, you see those implications everywhere. With Spirit Science, I wanted to evoke those primary, essential shapes – spirals, circles, squares – in my compositions.”

DownBeat critic and guitar aficionado Bill Milkowski  called Guarna “an audacious chopmeister,” adding praise for his writing and arranging skills with tunes from the “kinetic” to the “evocative.” Highlights on Spirit Science include the burning opener “The Trion Re” (guitar and sax intertwining melodies), the magically limpid “Platonic Solids” (marked by guitar-synth sorcery) and the album-capping “Lullaby for Lena,” which departs from the album concept in a quiet, tuneful tribute to Guarna’s beloved rescue dog. The Spirit Science sessions, produced by the guitarist, were captured by veteran engineer George Shalda at New York City’s Sear Sound.

Guarna, born in 1967 in Brooklyn and raised on Staten Island, grew up playing rock ’n roll and idolizing Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page. He eventually turned his attention to jazz and started listening to Charlie Christian and Barney Kessel for the roots of the music, then exploring the likes of Allan Holdsworth and John Scofield for their modern phrasing and expressive vocabulary. A graduate of The Juilliard School, Guarna has become a guitarist’s guitarist on the scene, receiving acclaim for a sound marked by “fluid runs and a gorgeous tone” (Rochester City Paper). His hook-heavy Destiny album of 2017, The Wishing Stones, was lauded by All About Jazz for representing “a step forward in overall sophistication for Guarna as a composer and, consequently, as a player by challenging him to raise his own game.” The Wishing Stones saw him in league with an extraordinary group of musicians: keyboardist Jon Cowherd, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade.

Guarna’s ever-evolving artistry on Spirit Science sees him emphasizing a sense of song. “I think my solos have become more compositional,” he says. “And the writing itself places an emphasis on melody and space. I have become more comfortable with being more concise, resisting the desire to fill all the space with notes. I’m more patient now, I think, and drawn to the idea of song, including not only a certain kind of tunefulness but also a sort of emotive storytelling in instrumental music.”

Most of the song titles on Spirit Science relate to these scientific and spiritual concepts. “A Trion Re,” for instance, refers to the sixth Platonic solid whereby light is an object. “Of course, you don’t have to know any of that to like the music,” Guarna notes, “the same way you can rock out to any song without knowing anything about the concept of the album the song came from.” The inspirational concepts behind the new music also came into play during rehearsals. “The band was really interested in knowing where the pieces were coming from,” the guitarist says. “Aaron, especially, because he already knew a lot about these things. We discussed the subject in relation to the song titles and the musical material and was motivated to choose just the right mix of keyboard sounds to bring out what I was after in the music.”

Spirit Science represents perhaps the broadest sonic palette Guarna has conjured on record. Along with Guarna’s layered mix of electric, acoustic and guitar-synth tones, Wendel – who plays tenor saxophone on most of the record – plays distinctive bassoon on the memorial piece “A Reflection in a Reflection (for Kofi Burbridge).” Guarna says: “I wanted to incorporate another melodic instrument on this record – that’s why I chose Ben and his horns. This is the first time I’ve worked with Ben, although I knew his band and solo work.  I use so many effects with my guitar that I really wanted an organic sound, too – and his straight saxophone tone was ideal for that.”

The members of the Spirit Science band pitched in with creative input, particularly Parks with his ideas for different sounds and background elements, even for suggesting form changes for some of the solo sections. “Aaron isn’t only an excellent player – he’s very conscious of the subject matter of a song and full of inventive arrangement details, something I knew from his own records,” the guitarist says. “As for Joe Martin, I’ve played with him a lot, from trios to larger bands. I love his bass sound and his choice of notes – he has great ears. I had never performed with Justin before, though I knew his playing with Branford Marsalis. I had the idea that he and Joe would be good together, and I was right – their hookup was fantastic, so musical and sensitive to the compositions.”

At a time when so many people are looking to science to save us from our global plight, the concepts of Spirit Science may have special resonance. “Science and natural laws drive every part of our lives whether we recognize it or not, there in the background making up our world and our experience of it,” Guarna says. “As I said, you don’t need to know a thing about it to enjoy this music, but I hope the song titles are at least evocative food for thought. Mostly, I hope that listeners experience the album as an imaginative sonic journey that they can take from the safety of home.”

Tom Guarna - Over the past decade-plus, guitarist Tom Guarna has established himself as a distinctive instrumental voice and bandleader on the New York jazz scene, rightly judged by the stellar company he keeps. Prior to Spirit Science, the guitarist released the dream-team quartet album The Wishing Stones (Destiny, 2017), with Jon Cowherd, John Patitucci and Brian Blade. DownBeat, pointing to the impact of The Wishing Stones, said: “Guitarist Tom Guarna’s days of flying just below the radar might be ending,” with the four-star review going on to note how “Guarna’s slick and dusky guitar sound finds a welcoming home alongside three of the best players in the business.” The guitarist’s previous album, the hard-grooving Rush (Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records, 2014), also garnered praise, with Guarna leading a quartet featuring Joel Frahm (saxophone), Danny Grissett (keyboards), Orlando Le Fleming (double bass) and Johnathan Blake (drums). All About Jazz said about Rush: “An unequivocally modern record that focuses on both Guarna’s compositional acumen and broad textural palette.” 

Leading up to Rush was a stepwise sequence of five albums on the Steeplechase label: Bittersweet, from 2011 (with pianist Peter Zak, bassist Paul Gill and drummer Willie Jones III); Major Minor, from 2009 (with Zak, bassist Dwayne Burno and drummer Billy Drummond); Wingspan, from 2007 (with Frahm, Gill and Jones); Out From the Underground, from 2006 (with keyboardist George Colligan, bassist John Benitez and drummer E.J. Strickland); and Get Together, from 2005 (with Gary Versace on organ and Mark Ferber on drums). Rochester City Paper said about the guitarist’s music-making: “Tom Guarna wastes no time in drawing the listener into a musical vision as complex as it is catchy.”

A graduate of The Juilliard School, Guarna has collaborated with a wide range of artists. He was part of the Grammy Award-nominated 2012 album New Cuban Express by pianist Manuel Valera. For the 40th anniversary of the epochal Bitches Brew album by Miles Davis, Guarna joined a supergroup with Wallace Roney, Lenny White and Victor Bailey to perform the music at the Smoke club in Harlem. The guitarist has also performed with such top musicians as Stanley Clarke, Mark Turner, Branford Marsalis, Randy Brecker, Mulgrew Miller, Billy Hart, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Greg Hutchinson, Javon Jackson, Les McCann, Gary Bartz, Fred Wesley, Mike Clark, Tim Hagans, Greg Tardy, Bob Dorough, Craig Handy, Uri Caine, the Yellowjackets, Buddy DeFranco, Gary Smulyan, Joe Locke, the Mingus Orchestra, the Allman Brothers, Helen Sung, Tessa Souter, Jimmy Herring, Rodney Holmes, François Moutin, Vincent Gardner, and most recently Oteil Burbridge. Along with jazz, Guarna has figured in studio sessions and concerts of music from funk/R&B, Latin and pop to Broadway, gospel and film scores. The great drummer Lenny White has said: “I sing praises to unsung guitar hero Tom Guarna. When you listen to his music and playing, no doubt you will, too.”

Jazz pianist RICK SIMPSON presents ‘Everything All of the Time: Kid A Revisited’

There’s a wealth of detail to discover, and surprises at every turn. ’Everything in Its Right Place’ sets the scene, with the horns framing a beautifully constructed solo from Simpson, leading into the hushed piano intro of ‘Kid A’ that builds and builds towards a dramatic finale of controlled chaos.

‘The National Anthem’’s fractured groove coalesces around a powerful bass figure, spontaneously created by Whitford: “Dave earths the whole thing, with his beautiful, massive amazing sound”. ‘How to Disappear Completely’ shimmers with banks of violins, ‘Treefingers’ is an oasis of stillness, and ‘Optimistic’ pulls the listener forward with its impetuous rhythmic rush.

‘In Limbo’ has a typically unique statement from Freestone, and ‘Idioteque’ allows Allsop to unleash his fearsome baritone sax chops: “Tori - she’s so free: she goes for it and doesn’t hold back, and she never plays any clichés. Her and James are such an amazing pairing - his baritone playing is some of the darkest, vibey playing I’ve ever heard.”

‘Morning Bell’ features a prodigious solo from drummer Will Glaser. “Will is such a complete musician: he completely understands the right thing to do in any situation. He’s a little demon!” ‘Motion Picture Soundtrack’ ends the journey with a hushed, contemplative ballad reading.

Simpson’s imaginative, free-flowing arrangements give his superb band space to unleash their own individual voices. Sometimes sticking closely to the original melodies, sometimes re-purposing elements as the jumping-off point for radically new explorations, he leads his creative cohort to create a thrillingly uncategorizable musical experience. This record takes the listener on a journey through an ever-changing landscape of powerfully emotive moods and textures, while still preserving the concise, focussed energy and emotional directness of the original.

A regular performer at Ronnie Scotts, the 606 Jazz Club, Pizza Express Dean Street, The Vortex and The Bull’s Head, Simpson has also performed at the Royal Festival Hall. In 2008, Rick won a Yamaha Scholarship Prize for Outstanding Jazz Musicians and has also appeared on the front cover of Jazzwise Magazine.

Jeff Cosgrove takes a new direction to celebrate the music of William Parker on "History Gets Ahead of the Story"

Drummer and composer Jeff Cosgrove uses his sixth album as a leader to celebrate the music of former collaborator, bassist/composer William Parker. On History Gets Ahead of the Story, via Grizzley Music, the drummer offers a unique take on the bassist’s long-standing quartet repertoire by rearranging it for the classic organ trio.  Saxophonist/composer Jeff Lederer (Matt Wilson Quartet and Bobby Sanabria’s Multiverse Orchestra) and organist John Medeski (Medeski, Martin & Wood and Hudson) push the boundaries to put their signatures on some of Parker’s most recognizable compositions. This is the first album to feature William Parker’s music without Parker providing the undercurrent with his singular bass sound.

This is a different kind of record for Cosgrove. Although the majority of the drummer/ bandleader’s recording catalog has focused on spontaneous composition, he is no stranger to celebrating innovative composers in their lifetime. Motian Sickness – The Music of Paul Motian, Cosgrove’s critically acclaimed 2011 debut as a leader, was released shortly before Motian’s passing. Much like the Motian Sickness project, where Paul Motian was instrumental to Cosgrove in helping with charts and giving him unlimited freedom in working with his music, Parker was involved in providing charts and guidance to the drummer. “I remember talking with William about his quartet music as we were walking to dinner one night and what an influence that band and music were on me,” says Cosgrove.  “He chuckled and simply replied: ‘those guys were pretty good at reading my mind.’”  Over the course of a couple of years, Parker provided musical scores to the drummer knowing little of how the project would take shape.     

Cosgrove released two critically acclaimed recordings featuring William Parker and long-standing collaborator, pianist Matthew Shipp – Alternating Current (2014) and Near Disaster (2019). With the encouragement of Parker and Shipp, the drummer began to really push the boundaries with these performances and recordings, understanding how to bring form to the formless. It was in this time working with Shipp and Parker that the idea for this album came to Cosgrove and started to germinate. 

“There is no denying William’s place at the vanguard of creative music,” says Cosgrove of his former rhythm section mate.  “But, he is also an inspiring composer which I feel often gets overlooked.  He writes beautiful and very tuneful pieces that leave a lot of room for improvisational excitement.”  Parker’s long-standing quartet with Lewis Barns, Rob Brown, and Hamid Drake had a huge impact on Cosgrove’s development. “When I first took notice of that band in college in the late 1990s, I was instantly hooked. The way that Hamid and William connected was the first thing to draw me in. As I got deeper into the music, the seamless communication between the quartet inspired a lot of my musical development.”  Cosgrove felt that this project was almost like a calling. “I wanted to do something with this music because it meant so much to me personally, but I couldn’t see the point of merely recreating it. There is so much flexibility in the way William writes that I felt like the music could take a different approach. I’ve always loved that classic organ trio sound but had never played in one.”

Jeff Lederer is one of the most recognizable saxophonists on the jazz scene today.  He continues to show up at the top of critics and readers polls. The drummer and saxophonist have played together for several years in various configurations and Cosgrove knew Lederer was the key to this project. “I began to be inspired by Lederer’s sound when I first checked out the Matt Wilson Quartet,” says Cosgrove. “He makes the music feel so comfortable with his huge sound and musical knowledge.” The saxophonist lent his ears to the early ideas of the project, as well as  the mixing process. Lederer is also the musical director for the Visionary Youth Orchestra, part of Arts for Art, a non-profit co-founded by William Parker.   

Organist John Medeski showcases his musical versatility and stunning sound on this album, confirming his musicianship is beyond classification. He embraces the classic organ trio while pushing convention. Lederer and Medeski have a history through drummer Matt Wilson. “Medeski, Martin & Wood were another band that appeared on my radar in college and really shook up my idea of what was musically possible,” says Cosgrove. “I knew I wanted John for this project from the beginning but had no idea what a huge impact his playing would have on the music.” The drummer and organist had never met in person prior to arriving at Applehead Studios in upstate New York. Medeski was unstoppable from the very first note.

The international jazz community continues to pick up on Jeff Cosgrove’s inviting sound and unexpected musical combinations.  He carves a unique path in jazz and creative music by choosing rural surroundings – primarily in West Virginia and now in Middletown, Maryland. The open space lends itself to a not-so-subtle connection to the drummer’s distinctive sound, one that is uncluttered, leaving melodic lines the freedom to develop under Cosgrove’s loose direction on the music.

Cosgrove creates opportunities to play with innovative musicians while never having been a part of a major city jazz scene and leads a variety of ensembles to push his levels of creativity.  Cosgrove’s working groups include an improvisational based trio featuring pianist Matthew Shipp and alto saxophonist Rob Brown, a trio focused on his compositional efforts with saxophonist Noah Preminger and bassist Kim Cass, and his longstanding projects featuring multi-instrumentalist Scott Robinson and bassist Ken Filiano, and saxophonist Jeff Lederer and bassist Mark Lysher. Cosgrove does not show any signs of slowing down. History Gets Ahead of the Story marks another chapter in his musical development, showcasing bold ideas and the drummer’s unique sound.    

Soulful Jazz Duo ARIELLA Open Hearts and Minds with “Terrified”

With a fervor for blues, jazz and vintage soul, enigmatic duo, ARIELLA, passionately transcend boundaries, transporting listeners to the heart of what makes music timeless. It’s a fluid daydream, seeping.

With elegant vocals by the charismatic Ariella McManus, a singer with emotional depth and a songwriter rich with breadth, she eloquently combines stunning melodies with infectious grooves to create a catchy, immersive sound. Teamed with guitar maestro, Nicolaas Kraster, a talented wunderkind from Fredonia, NY that’s been compared to Ottmar Liebert, Paco de Lucía and Pat Metheny, the pair effortlessly craft an engaging path to the spiritual promised land.  

Flush with poetic imagery and musical intimacy, ARIELLA’s recent releases, (“Joy” & “Terrified”), are a great example of their sonic vision, one with increasing definition of the human condition. As she matter-of-factly emotes on “Joy,” "I don’t need you to make me complete. If I don’t make life better, it’s time for me to leave,” Ariella captures pain and hope with each passing note. With apt comparisons to the transcendent fragility of Etta James, Patsy Cline and Amy Winehouse, tenured jazz critic, Jonathan Widran, dubbed their repertoire, “Raw and soulful…beautifully combining a sense of defiant assertiveness and wounded vulnerability” while Skope Magazine lauds McManus, "By going for her own unique style, she is without peer. References to her performance recall the best of Adele and Alicia Keys. Everything about her delivery reflects a sense of true care and compassion."

With growing acclaim making waves, the group caught the ear of Internationally renown bassist/educator Victor Wooten (Béla Fleck and the Flecktones), who recognized their intangible chemistry, “ARIELLA is one of my all-time favorite bands. I love their music and their live performances. There’s no way to not enjoy them.”

It’s a palpable reciprocity. On their exhilarating 2019 EP, Live at the Hideaway Café, recorded during a St. Pete heatwave, the blistering set finds the pair excavating the essence of the classics, while delivering a cascading storm of substance and sustenance, bringing to mind a late night soiree with Antônio Carlos Jobim and Astrud Gilberto trading stories with the Buena Vista Social Club.

As the twosome continue to refine their sound, they enlisted award-winning engineer, Fabrice Dupont (“Fabulous Fab”), known for his work with Queen Latifah, Jennifer Lopez, Andre 3000, Shakira, Les Nubians, Bebel Gilberto, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo, to add his deft touch to the new material. Meeting at the annual NAMM confab in Anaheim, Dupont effused, “ARIELLA has the very rare ability to deliver pure emotion every time she sings. She’s a classic voice for our modern times.”

Both as a duo, and with their larger Latin-infused ensemble, Ari and the Alibis, Nic and Ariella play to packed rooms in Tampa, Sarasota, and throughout Central Florida, while also touring in Canada, the UK and across the U.S., including a recent debut at NYC’s infamous Blue Note night club.

New Music Releases: Clifton Davis, Milie Jackson, Mistura Pura

Clifton Davis | 'Never Can Say Goodbye"

It’s not easy to choose which of Clifton Davis’ many accomplishments is most noteworthy, although writing “Never Can Say Goodbye,” made famous by The Jackson 5 and recorded by dozens of other artists, may be the one most people are familiar with. Now, after a long and enviable career, the singer, songwriter, actor, and minister can chalk up another success, because he is finally releasing his debut jazz album entitled Never Can Say Goodbye. Davis teamed up with Beegie Adiar and her trio for this project. Adair is among the biggest sellers in the jazz genre. With 2 million albums sold and sold out performances internationally, the Beegie Adair Trio is one of the most successful working groups in the world. Also joining Davis are the renowned vocal group Take 6, who backs up Davis on the title tune, and vocalist Monica Ramey, who sings a duet with Davis on “Two for the Road.” Mark Kibble, from Take 6, also adds backup vocals on several tunes. Never Can Say Goodbye comprises three songs penned by Davis, a tune by Adair, and several standards. The album is lush and romantic, burnished by Davis’ smooth, warm voice and Adair’s laid back, virtuosic piano playing. String arrangements add to the music’s dreamy sonority.

Millie Jackson | "21 Of The Best – 1971 to 1983"

Fantastic work from Millie Jackson – a singer so great, it's hard to say that even 21 tracks could make up her "best"! Jackson first emerged at the start of the 70s as a really fresh voice in southern soul – one that was partly tied to the heartbreaking style of the decade before, but who also soon found her voice as a bolder, more self-possessed woman – bridging a gap between weepy soul and unabashed desire that makes her work on this collection so powerful! Producer Brad Shapiro was one of Millie's guiding forces in the studio – and together, they really helped reset the female voice in soul music with these recordings for Spring Records in the 70s – a great lineup of cuts that includes "Kiss You All Over", "Do You Wanna Make Love", "Loving Arms", "Bad Risk", "It Hurts So Good", "My Man A Sweet Man", "Ask Me What You Want", "Keep The Home Fire Burning", "I Feel Like Walking In The Rain", "It's Gonna Take Some Time This Time", "Never Change Lovers In The Middle Of The Night", "All The Way Lover", and "If You're Not Back In Love By Monday".  ~ Dusty Groove

Mistura Pura | "Blue Bus"

Mistura Pura, aka Federica Grappasonni, is as much of a vinyl collector as a producer and musician – and that depth of musical interest really comes through in this double length set! The tracks have lots of elements that draw on styles from the 60s and 70s – but the beats are often quicker, and the overall sound a bit clubbier – yet still has a vibe that's very original overall, and which hardly sounds like easy remix remakes of tracks from back in the day! There's lots of live instrumentation throughout – Fender Rhodes, Hammond, acoustic bass, flute, tenor, and plenty of percussion – all reworked by Federica, who adds in more percussion and keyboards too. Titles include "Midnight For Tommy", "Artistry In Rhythm (Mistura Pura rework)", "Stop Into The Bossa", "Summer Breeze", "Puerto Rican Blues (Mistura Pura rework)", "Street Beat", "African Circles", and "A Prayer For Odara". ~ Dusty Groove

Swedish Keyboardist Mattias Roos and American-Danish Smooth Jazz Star Michael Lington are teaming up on "Bring It Up”

A Scandinavian smorgasbord of the tastiest kind, Swedish keyboard player Mattias Roos has teamed up with Danish American sax-man Michael Lington for a fresh new take on the wonderful “Bring It On” that first appeared on Roos’ 2019 recording “It Goes On and On”.

This vibrant, groove laden and totally memorable number is not only everything that mid tempo smooth jazz should be but also one of four bonus tracks that can be found on a deluxe edition of “It Goes On and On” which was released in October on the Skytown Records label.

As well as “Bring It On” (that is included both as the album version and the radio edit) this deluxe offering also features a stunning high-octane remix of the Mattias Roos composition “Masterpiece” and the brand new never previously recorded “River of Love” that underscores the skill Roos has for fusing smooth jazz grooves with an authentic old school vibe.

Although a solo artist and ‘go-to’ keyboard player for several top-flight Swedish performers, many will know Mattias Roos as a founding member of the band Soweco that he formed in 2011 with drummer Peter Gustavsson. Roos has carried some of that distinctive Soweco sound into what is now a burgeoning solo career but with critically acclaimed projects such as “My Story”, “Movin’ Up” and most recently ”It Goes On and On” he has fashioned an identity that is very much his own.

As for Michael Lington, since relocating to Los Angeles from Denmark in 1990 he has built a reputation for being one of the most soulful sax players in smooth jazz. He is also a tremendous live player and early opportunities in this respect came when he joined Bobby Caldwell’s renowned touring band. He has also performed as part of a sold out, coast to coast Barry Manilow tour and as Manilow himself put it "Michael Lington is one hell of a sax player. He absolutely brought down the house every night.”

As a recording artist Lington’s 1997 eponymous debut set the standard for what was to come and now, ten albums later, he is still essential listening for all those who like their smooth jazz spiced with a modicum of soul

Matt Berninger's Solo Album "Serpentine Prison"

Serpentine Prison, the debut solo record from Matt Berninger—frontman of critically acclaimed group The National—is due October 2. The album, produced by famed Memphis multi-instrumentalist Booker T. Jones will be released via Book Records, a new imprint formed by Berninger and Jones in conjunction with Concord Records. In celebration of the upcoming release—the first on the new imprint—Berninger is premiering the video for the album’s title track today. Directed, shot and edited by Tom Berninger and Chris Sgroi, the video was filmed at Earthstar Creation Center, Venice, CA.

The album features contributions from a wide array of notable artists, including Matt Barrick (The Walkmen, Jonathan Fire*Eater), Andrew Bird, Mike Brewer, Hayden Desser, Scott Devendorf (The National), Gail Ann Dorsey (David Bowie, Lenny Kravitz), Booker T. Jones, Teddy Jones, Brent Knopf (EL VY, Menomena), Ben Lanz (The National, Beirut), Walter Martin (The Walkmen, Jonathan Fire*Eater), Sean O'Brien, Mickey Raphael (Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan), Kyle Resnick (The National, Beirut), Matt Sheehy (EL VY, Lost Lander) and Harrison Whitford (Phoebe Bridgers). Additional production on the album was provided by Sean O’Brien.

Berninger, known for his distinctive voice and expansive live performances, has won praise from NPR Music for his “whiskey-soaked baritone” while Uproxx hails Berninger as “a master class in how to front a band.” According to The New Yorker, “fans of The National have had plenty of time to acclimate to Berninger’s voice, a heady, lumbering baritone, yet it’s worth reiterating its singularity. Listening to it, I often think of a deep-sea diver, weights slung low on his hips, being tugged toward the ocean floor. Berninger uses his instrument in artful and elegant ways.”

“The song ‘Serpentine Prison’ was written in December 2018 about a week after recording The National’s I Am Easy to Find,” Berninger explains about the new track. “For a long time I had been writing songs for movies and musicals and other projects where I needed to get inside someone else’s head and convey another person’s feelings. I liked doing that but I was ready to dig back into my own garbage and this was the first thing that came out.”

Berninger continues, “The title is from a twisting sewer pipe that drains into the ocean near LAX. There’s a cage on the pipe to keep people from climbing out to sea. I worked on the song with Sean O’Brien and Harrison Whitford and recorded it about six months later with Booker T. Jones producing. It feels like an epilogue so I named the record after it and put it last.”

In addition to his duties as frontman of acclaimed rock group The National, with whom he won the Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album for 2017’s Sleep Well Beast, Berninger also collaborated with Brent Knopf (Ramona Falls, Menomena) under the moniker El Vy for the 2015 release Return to the Moon. In 2019 Berninger appeared in Between Two Ferns: The Movie and teamed up with Phoebe Bridgers to contribute the song “Walking on a String” to the film’s soundtrack.

The Tibbs | “Another Shot Fired”

Record Kicks proudly present the The Tibbs new album “Another Shot Fired” coming out on CD – LP – Digital November 20th. Recorded at Electric Monkeys in Amsterdam, produced by Paul Willemsen (Lefties Soul Connection, Michelle David & The Gospel Sessions) and mastered in Nashville by Soul veterans Bob Holsen, who used to cut vinyl for Motown back in the day.

“Another Shot Fired” is the second studio album from the Dutch soul combo and introduces a new singer to the project, the young super-talented Roxanne Hartog who penned the lyrics of most of the songs on the album.

On the new album the formula remains the same employed by classic soul record labels like Stax and Motown: a super tight house band, first class production, some wicked arrangments and a signature vocalist. Think- The Marvellets, Booker T and the MGs, James Brown, The Supremes.

From the smashing opener “The Main Course” to the last dark instrumental groover “Circeo” the 12 tracks of the new album prooves that The Tibbs can do no wrong. The sound is vintage, gritty and raw with some extra doses of RNR on the bluesy number “Mama Says” and even throws in some sun soaked reggae vibes in their title track “Another Shot Fired”. Roxanne is perfectly at ease and brings the heat as she sweats her way through each number while the rest of the band deliver their unique super tight blend of garage soul.

Based around Amsterdam, The Tibbs took off in 2012 – fronted by Elsa Bekman – covering a lesser-trodden path, combining special soul classics with rare beat instrumentals. Their increasing popularity quickly led to a natural desire to expand their repertoire, beyond the confines of others’ thinking outside the traditional box and creating their own unique soulful creations.

Working right from the start with producer Paul Willemsen (Beans & Fatback, Lefties Soul Connection, Michelle David & The Gospel Sessions), the first EP “Cleaned Out” debuted in 2014. Later that year, the German funk label Tramp Records released their debut single – “Footprints In The Sand/Cleaned Out”. Two years later, The Tibbs’ first LP, “Takin’ Over” marked their debut with Milan based imprint Record Kicks. The singles “Next Time” and “The Story Goes” received critical acclaim on radio stations throughout Europe and North America and the 45s flew out the door in record time.

The release of “Takin’ Over” delivered the band far richer rewards. Playing sold-out venues in both Milan and Frankfurt. The Tibbs’ profile rose further still with wonderful festival performances in Germany and Hungary, followed by a successful sold-out tour of Spain. In late 2018, Elsa decided to follow her heart and focus on a solo career. The Tibbs duly began their search for a truly worthy successor, bringing astonishing vocalist Roxanne Hartog and the band together for the first time.

With new recordings in the bag and a great new album about to be released, The Tibbs are once more ready for lift off.

DW3 | “DW3”

To borrow from a classic quote about the late great James Brown: DW3 is today’s hardest working band in soul business, working fans into a dance and romance frenzy with their R&B, old school funk, jazz and Latin-fired magic via a whirlwind of nearly 250 live performances a year throughout the U.S. and beyond.

Since 2003, brothers Eric and Billy Mondragon and close family friend Damon Reel have set the high energy mood on cruises (Smooth Jazz Cruise, Dave Koz Cruise, Soul Train Cruise & 80’s), at jazz festivals, showrooms and clubs, including hundreds of performances at their longtime home base of Spaghettini in Seal Beach, CA. They also played a key role on Dave Koz and Friends’ Grammy nominated Summer Horns project.

With four Billboard charting hits – including “I Got You” (featuring Gerald Albright) and “Let the Music,” “I Can’t Tell You Why” and “California Dreamin’” from their hit 2013 & 2015 albums On the Floor & Vintage Truth – DW3 have also established themselves as a popular national recording group. The three chose to self-title their latest Woodward Avenue Records recording to reflect the culmination of their steady and inspiring evolution from ultimate, first call party band to multi-faceted artists, songwriters and producers fulfilling their own singular musical vision.

While their previous albums were produced by greats like Paul Brown (On the Floor, 2013) and the late Ricky Lawson (Vintage Truth), DW3 marks a major breakthrough as the first time Eric (vocals, keyboards), Billy (vocals, percussion) and Damon (vocals, engineering, editor) have helmed an entire project themselves. Since the release of Vintage Truth, the group has spent their rare down time from the stage building their own state of the art recording studio (complete with rehearsal space and a listening room) in El Monte, CA with the help of the Rico Caudillo, owner of ESS Labs, a prominent headphone and speaker company DW3 endorses.

To help them flesh out their vision, they invited high-octane urban jazz power to the mix with guest saxmen Boney James, Richard Elliot and Eric Darius and some of the world’s biggest studio guns. These include Bryant Siono (bass, guitar), Steve Carias (bass, keys, drum programming), Charles Streeter (drums), Carnell Harrell (keyboards), Rick Marcel (guitar), Brandon Brown (bass), Bobby Avila (harmonica, guitar, bass) and the three piece C-town Horns. Siono, Carias, Streeter and Harrell also served as co-writers and/or co-producers. The project also features a guest lead vocal by R&B Soulstress Rebecca Jade. Along with Rocky Padilla, co- producer of “Straight from the Heart” and Eric’s son Eric Mondragon, Jr. co-engineering.

“We’re really excited about this album,” Damon says. “It took a lot of hard work and perseverance to get this amazing studio up and running and dive into the process. We’re grateful for everyone who worked with us to get us to this point. After years of being known just as a “Party Band” On the Floor was our intro to the Smooth Jazz world and earned us a lot of respect from that community. Ricky’s production on Vintage Truth took us to the next level, and now we’re able to take our artistry even further as writers, producers and arrangers.”

“Sonically, our concept was to capture the same types of vibes we convey onstage,” Billy adds. “We’re a high energy live ensemble that also love lush, sensual ballads, and we kept that in mind when we were recording these new songs. We’ve had a lot of success with covers, and when we do our cover tunes, we’re all about the 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s, and our original material captures those eras with a fresh flavor. The album’s got a lot of grooving dance beats with some cool, smooth stuff in there to create the perfect balance. Our challenge was to integrate our old style with a fresh new sound and contemporary melodies. We still love doing classic songs, but the whole point of composing is to draw from those influences to move forward creating our own unique flow.”

The set list for DW3 offers a perfectly artful balance between smooth, seductive ballads and up- tempo dance/funk jams. If you’re in the late night, slow swaying candlelight zone, the band’s got your number with the silky and sensual, blues tinged ballad “Like There’s No Tomorrow” (featuring Rebecca Jade) the hypnotic, slow simmering “Your Body” (featuring a silky solo by Boney James), the sexy and sultry “Groove With You” (also spotlighting Jade), and two compelling versions of DW3’s re-imagined Con Funk Shun classic “Straight from the Heart” – the second a stripped down, nearly a capella version featuring DW3’s sparkling vocal harmonies and the passionate sax intensity of Eric Darius. When you’re ready to groove, hit the 80’s spiced, synth-funk driven “Now That I’ve Found You,” the spirited, high octane party anthem “Let’s Have Fun Tonight” (featuring Richard Elliot on sax and EWI), and “Never Gonna Stop,” which Billy calls the band’s “El DeBarge meets Michael Jackson with a new hip, fun flavor to it.”

Hailing from East L.A, California and growing up in the Los Angeles areas of El Sereno and Lincoln Heights, Eric and Billy began their musical careers in high school by playing club dates with their parents; their father is a bass player, and he and their mom are singers. DW3, an outgrowth of that original family band, which took the Mondragon’s sound and professionalism to the next level, has been an evolving collective of musicians since then. Damon, born in South Central L.A, also had musical influences by his parents. His mother and father have been playing and singing in the church for over 40 years. The core (Down With 3) members since 2003 are Eric, Billy and Damon. They became an integral part of the contemporary Urban Jazz scene in 2004 when they played on the first Warren Hill Smooth Jazz Cruise and were subsequently booked as resident performers at Spaghettini. Their first independent album release was Live at Spaghettini (2006), which they followed in 2008 with Life, Love and Music.

While performing everywhere from the Newport Hyatt Jazz Festival, Mallorca Jazz Festival Brian Culbertson’s Napa Valley Jazz Getaway to Bagdad, Iraq for the US troops. DW3 has expanded their harmonic horizons performing with and singing background for numerous jazz and R&B legends and popular contemporary artists including, Marcus Miller, Brenda Russell, Patti Austin, Bobby Caldwell, Sheila E, Jonathan Butler, Jody Watley, Brian McKnight, David Pack, Evelyn “Champagne” King and the late great George Duke.

“We are so blessed to have worked with so many incredible artists and musicians over the years,” Damon says, “and that continues on our new album with Boney, Richard, Eric, J. Lo’s drummer and bass player and guitarist who have played with The Jacksons, Kool & The Gang and many others. The three of us are particularly proud of this new album because it was a homegrown effort, with all songs joining together to form a cohesive vision while also having its own thing.”

Billy adds, “I love all the different styles we’ve got. Sometimes when you listen to full albums, you’re hearing the same thing over and over, but here, we’re still interested from one song to the next. It’s definitely not the same old thing. Echoing his band mates, Eric says, “That’s why we wanted so much variety and chose only the best of all the songs we had. We wanted to keep everyone as excited listening to it as we were recording it. So many artists these days only release individual tracks or EPs with streaming in mind, but we’re fortunate to have the opportunity to provide full length CDs to our fans and totally embrace the old school charm of a full-on album project.”

Thursday, November 12, 2020

New Music Releases: Takuya Kuroda, Bootsy Collins, Jeff Ellwood

Takuya Kuroda | "Fly Moon Die Soon"

A fantastic chapter in the continuing evolution of trumpeter Takuya Kuroda – a great musician who's got equal parts jazz and soul in his makeup, and who serves up sounds with a nicely cosmic vibe! The set's funky at times, soaringly soulful at others – almost as if Takuya's trying to compete with the CTI 70s spirit of Freddie Hubbard, but with a vision that's all his own – a style that makes Kuroda one of the best of the new generation of genre-breaking soul jazz players who've sprung up in the wake of the Robert Glasper generation – always brimming over with new ideas and fresh styles! The set features vocals on a few tracks by Corey King – a great singer who's a great match for the sonic qualities of Kuroda – and other musicians include Craig Hill on tenor, Takeshi Ohbayashi on keyboards, and Takahiro Izunmikawa on Fender Rhodes – on titles that include "Moody", "Fade", "TKBK", "Fly Moon Die Soon", "Do No Why", and nice remakes of "Tell Me A Bedtime Story" and "Sweet Sticky Thing". Japanese CD features a bonus remix track!  ~ Dusty Groove

Bootsy Collins | "The Power Of One"

The Power Of The One is Bootsy Collins’ new album. Produced, written and arranged by Collins, it began before the pandemic at Sweetwater Studios and was completed during lockdown at his own Bootzilla Studios in Cincinnati. “In these tragedies and in these storms is when the most beautiful messages can come out,” says Bootsy. “You also realize you can’t do everything on your own. We need each other. One Nation under the groove.” Includes: Funk Formula 1; The Power Of The One; Slide Eazy; Creepin'; Jam On; Lips Turn Blue; FUNKSHIP Area-51; Bewise; Soul Not 4 Sale; Club Funkateers; WANTME2STAY; FUNKTROPOLIS; Wishing Well; Bootsy Off Broadway; STARGATE; and Stolen Dreams.

Jeff Ellwood | "The Sounds Around The House"

Known as a consummate improviser with a compelling approach to the tenor saxophone, Jeff Ellwood has earned the respect and admiration of the heavyweights in the Southern California jazz community. Pianist Alan Pasqua has said that Ellwood “is one of my favorite tenor saxophonists on the planet," while Grammy-winning pianist Bill Cunliffe says that Ellwood “is his own man who always brings a fresh perspective to any project." Although Ellwood appears on at least a dozen CDs and has performed on stage with Tony Bennett, James Moody, Joe Zawinal, Randy Brecker, Christian McBride, and Stevie  Wonder, to name just a few, he had never released an album as a leader despite the urging from fellow musicians and fans. It took a promise to a dying friend for Ellwood to release The Sounds Around The House, his debut CD. The compositions are all of recent provenance by contemporary composers except for the title track, “The Sounds Around the House,” by Alec Wilder. Ellwood gathered some of the top West Coast jazz players for this album, and the level of musicianship on The Sounds Around The House is first class. Each of the players is a world-renowned leader in his own right. It is a level of musical excellence that befits a debut CD for a jazz artist as creative and inventive as Ellwood.

New Music Releases: Robert Glasper, Brandi Disterheft Trio with George Coleman, Ada Bird Wolfe

Robert Glasper | “Dillalude Suite” (2020 Japan Record Day Release)

A really special record from Robert Glasper – as you might guess from the reference to J Dilla in the title! The record is just an EP, but it brings together some of Glasper's hippest moments of the past few years – as the set features the three part "J Dillalude", with Robert on piano, Vincente Archer on bass, and Damion Reid on drums – acoustic instrumentation, but given a very strong inspiration from hip hop – with lots of crackling beats, and spare piano that gets nicely spaced out in the production! There's also a great blend of two cuts from Herbie Hancock and Radiohead – "Maiden Voyage/Everything In Its Right Place" – again with the trio, but done with energy that's very much in the world past jazz that Glasper was reaching right from the start! ~ Dusty Groove

Brandi Disterheft Trio with George Coleman | "Surfboard"

"The cover's got a great look on the front – and the album's got a great sound within – surprisingly bold basswork from Brandi Disterheft on the album's leadoff version of the bossa groover "Surfboard" – then a mix of modes on a nice variety of tracks – some of which feature Brandi on vocals, and a few with some excellent guest tenor from the great George Coleman! The rest of the group features Klaus Mueller on piano and Portinho on drums – the latter of whom creates all these criss-crossing rhythms with the bass that are really wonderful – complex, but organic, and really keeping the upbeat tunes crackling nicely. Titles include "Portrait Of Petro", "Surfboard", "Coupe De Foudre", "Manhattan Moon", "Nana", "Pendulum At Falcon's Lair", and "Del Sasser".  ~ Dusty Groove

Ada Bird Wolfe | "He & Me"

He & Me, the newest project by singer and lyricist Ada Bird Wolfe, is a duo album featuring the esteemed pianist and arranger Jamieson Trotter performing jazz standards and original tunes. He & Me follows Wolfe’s 2018 release, Birdie, named one of the top 10 albums of 2018 by C. Michael Bailey in All About Jazz.  Dick Metcalf of Contemporary Fusion Reviews called Birdie "a superb jazz vocal adventure." And Dodie Miller-Gould of Lemonwire said: "Birdie is a joyous compilation of songs that shows off the singer’s vocal range and scope of moods." Wolfe has a rich, alto voice with a warm, intimate timbre. She eschews melisma and vocal gymnastics to tell her stories through inventive phrasing and subtle variations on melody. Trotter is a first-call accompanist for vocalists who are serious about their craft.  He possesses an expansive musical vocabulary and the ability to listen closely and react with his own imaginative turns of phrase. He and Me provides a glimpse into the creative process of two musicians whose tastes and aesthetics are completely in synch. They build tunes organically by listening closely to one another and weaving tapestries of sound that create new and unexpected aural images.

New Music Releases: Dave Koz, Peter Leitch New Life Orchestra, Max Haymer

Dave Koz | ”A New Day”

With every producer and participating musician contributing while quarantined, Dave Koz’s multi-faceted album A New Day – his first set of original songs in ten years, marking 30 years since his self-titled debut – is extraordinary on every level, musically, technically and logistically. Flush with creativity in the months before COVID-19, he adapted to the new norm, joining forces with a cadre of greats – including first time collaborators David Sanborn, EWF percussionist Ralph Johnson, Meshell Ndegeocello, David Mann and Vulfpeck’s Antwaun Stanley – to build bridges from gentle wistfulness to bursts of optimism. The result is most purposeful, empowering and exhilarating musical statement of his career. ~ smoothjazz.com

Peter Leitch New Life Orchestra | “New Life”

Diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in 2012, Peter Leitch was forced to give up a decades long career as a a guitarist and band leader because of his treatment. Although he is unable to play his instrument, he is still driven to create music. Leitch has re-invented himself as a composer, arranger, and director of a 15-piece orchestra. Celebrating this transformation, he has released New Life, the debut, 2-disc recording by the eponymous Peter Leitch New Life Orchestra. It took Leitch two years to compose, arrange, and orchestrate the 17 pieces that comprise this project. In search of a personal voice in writing for a medium-sized ensemble, he was looking for something that sounded like a bigger band but had the freedom and looseness of a small group. The 2-disc set corresponds to 2 sets of music in a club or concert. Although Leitch misses the in-the-moment aspect of being an improvising musician, he has found a new outlet for his endless creativity. His original melodies range from hauntingly beautiful to classically inventive to playful. His orchestrations also have a wide range of colors and textures, from dense and dissonant to light, airy and contrapuntal. His music is fun and challenging for the musician, but more fun for the listener to absorb it all.

Max Haymer | “Whirlwind: Live At Sam First”

Pianist and composer Max Haymer’s newest release as a leader, Whirlwind: Live At Sam First,  is a testament to his muscular, inventive playing style and his gift for creating sophisticated, dramatic compositions. Whirlwind follows his 2008 release, Pickpocket Witness, a production of all original tunes. It has taken 12 years for Haymer to release this new project because he’s been so busy touring as a longtime member of Arturo Sandoval’s band as well as leading his own popular trio and acting as West Coast accompanist for singer Jane Monheit. Haymer is an athlete and attended UC Irvine on a soccer scholarship, where he spent four years playing Division 1 soccer. His approach to the piano reflects his athleticism. While Haymer’s  approach to playing the piano embodies his innate physicality, his aesthetics have been largely influenced by his years with Arturo Sandoval. Whirlwind was recorded live, before the pandemic shut down live shows, at Sam First, an L.A. club known for world class modern and straight-ahead jazz. Haymer and his trio have performed there many times over the years, and he thought it was the perfect place to capture the energy of a live performance. WHIRLWIND is a high energy album that befits its title. The album comprises six original tunes by Haymer and three standards. For Haymer, music is a dramatic art, where conflict and passion are expressed in a narrative framework. Whirlwind is a series of stories brought to life by three A-list musicians.

New Music Releases: Adrian Younge & Ali Shaheed Muhammad with Azymuth, James Saxsmo Gates, Jules Hay

Adrian Younge & Ali Shaheed Muhammad with Azymuth | “Azymuth: Jazz Is Dead 4”

A fantastic combination of funky grooves – the studio talents of Adrian Younge & Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and the Brazilian-tinged fusion of the legendary Azymuth! The jazzy trio are in great form here – tunes that are lean, and which really offer up all the best aspects that the group brought to their music back in the late 70s and early 80s – spun with a slightly different format by the lineup of Alex Malheiros on bass, Ivan Mamao Conti on drums, and Linklon Kiko Contentino on Fender Rhodes and keyboards – but handled perfectly by Adrian and Ali in the studio – with just the right sort of sound to avoid some of the slicker production that the group had on some of their other American recordings from years back. All tunes are new originals – and titles include "Pulando Corda", "Friendship Samba", "Apocolyptico", "Cat Jump", "Fall Afternoon", "Ao Redor Do Samba", and "Sumare". ~ Dusty Groove

James Saxsmo Gates | “Stepping Out”

Closing in on 30 years as a recording artist, Richmond, VA based saxophonist James Saxsmo Gates offers timely words of wisdom to accompany his sonically bold, sweetly sensual and intensely funked-out new album Stepping Out. The Founder of the Dr. Billy Taylor Jazz Studies Program at Virginia State University writes, “Together we can make it if… we Keep Jazz Alive!” Six years in the making, the faith-driven project pairs Gates’ steamy, igniting horn fire with a batch of multi-talented collaborators (including guitarists Alan Parker and Freddie Fox) to create the perfect party mix of anthem-like originals and soulful pop covers. ~ smoothjazz.com

Jules Hay | “From London To Little London”

British jazz fusion guitarist Jules Hay follows his passion for Brazilian music from his home in London, UK, to the Brazilian city of Londrina – aka ‘Little London. Immersing himself in the local music scene, his collaboration with the musicians there was captured across several days at 3 em 1 studios and was released on the 17th July.The set of 10 original compositions bring together infectious Brazilian rhythms and grooves with a modern jazz fusion sensibility. In Thiago Ueda (keys), Diogo Burka (Bass), Roger Aleixo, Elthon Dias (drums) and Duda de Souza (percussion), Jules has brought together 5 in-demand musicians from the Londrina scene who add their own joyful playing and improvisations to the proceedings. Originally slated for March 2020 as an 8-track release, Jules took the opportunity of being locked down in the city to compose and record 2 bonus tracks for the album. From London to Little London is an uplifting journey for fans of fusion and Brazilian music alike.

Thursday, November 05, 2020

New Music Releases: Spiritual Jazz 13, Dee Lucas, Zbonics & Nigel Hall

Spiritual Jazz 13: NOW! - Modern Sounds for the 21st Century

The first 12 volumes of the hugely popular Spiritual Jazz series have unearthed a wealth of historic recordings in the genre, collating a variety of works from the ‘50s to the ‘80s by artists from all around the world. And so, with Volume 13, the attention is turned to what’s happening NOW. Over the course of 24 tracks and spanning 2 x 2LPs, the Spiritual Jazz series we presented an overview of the contemporary exponents of Spiritual Jazz; musicians who are intent on bringing something personal to the table, as much as they recognize the importance of those who have paved the way for them. It featured music recorded within the past 20 years and from 15 different countries, including modern

classics from veterans Steve Reid and Idris Ackamoor, providing a vital link between the past masters and the enlightened new generation. It’s pioneers such as John Coltrane, Sun Ra, Pharoah Sanders et al, with their innovations in reaching another plane of consciousness that was and remains uppermost in the minds of exponents of Spiritual Jazz. Fittingly, several of the artists featured on this compilation, such as Cat Toren and David Boykin, are practitioners of the art of music therapy and sound healing, and have absolute conviction in the role of song as solace. The pioneers may no longer be with us, but their saintly selves loom large, shining a light in the darkness, inspiring many a brave new disciple today, as this album will testify: the new wave of jazz is gathering pace and still sounds fresh, vibrant and as relevant as ever.

Dee Lucas | "The Time Is Now"

The bio page of Dee Lucas’ website boldly declares “The Rebirth of Smooth Jazz” – and anyone who’s been following the sonically inventive, continuously grooving saxophonist since his emergence in 2004 knows his vibe is always on the cutting edge. That trailblazing streak continues on his latest EP, The Time Is Now, which balances balmy, easy flowing vibes and fiery, high impact pairings with bassist Darryl Williams, pianist George Freeman and guitarists Blake Aaron and David P. Stevens. Helping bring Lucas’ fresh licks and infectious melodies are two of Smooth Jazz’s top producers, Adam Hawley and Lew Laing, Jr. We predict that the time is Now for Dee Lucas… and once the festivals return, he’ll be in demand! ~ smoothjazz.com

Zbonics & Nigel Hall | "Eternal Blues"

Zbonics create a sonic staycation on the soul side of town in “Eternal Blues.” Enlisting Nigel Hall as their co-pilot, Zak Najor tapped into the archive of songs he and Karl Denson penned in 2004 and found the sentiments to still resonate in present times. The journey takes listeners into the realms of the dreaded “friend zone” and speak to coping with the fear and pending rejection lingering around the corner. Production-wise, the song will teleport the audience back to the 80s with rotund, but tight production; AC/DC-esque drums; and the polished, natural swagger of Prince. This is the third single off of the group’s upcoming record ‘Keep On Walking’ to be released on Color Red in early 2021. Najor's studio project finds himself corralling old friends and musical comrades for tunes rich in collaboration stacked with heavy-hitting rosters of musicians. In addition to Hall, "Eternal Blues" features: Karl Denson (saxophone), Cochemea Gastelum (saxophone), Robert Walter (electric organ & synthesizers), Brian Teel (talkbox, bass), Brian Jordan (guitar), Chris Stillwell (baritone guitar), and more. Zbonics will release their second full-length record 'Keep on Walkin' on Color Red in February 2021. 

Wednesday, November 04, 2020

Billy Childs | "Acceptance"

There have been two hallmarks—standards, if you will—that have been a part of every Billy Childs album. The first is the journey he’s traveled as a composer. He has always written music and to great acclaim: he has received five GRAMMY® Awards and 16 nominations, many for composition and arrangement. Presently in continual demand for symphonic and chamber commissions, he has also innovated a collection of compositions for jazz instrumentation and strings that is unique in the American music lexicon: a genre he refers to as jazz/chamber music.

But for the second hallmark, Childs has always been a player, too—having cultivated his jazz voice in the working bands of trombonist J.J. Johnson and trumpeter Freddie Hubbard. “On my first Mack Avenue recording, Rebirth (Childs’ 2017 album on Mack Avenue Records which won a GRAMMY® Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Album), I wanted to return to a focus on my jazz piano playing,” Childs states. “Acceptance is an extension of that, and the musicians make it very comfortable for me.” Childs thrives on group improvisation and has recruited fellow master musicians—saxophonist Steve Wilson, bassist Hans Glawischnig and drummer Eric Harland—as the core ensemble for this collection: Acceptance. Elena Pinderhughes on flute; vocalists Alicia Olatuja, Aubrey Johnson and Sara Gazarek; and percussionists Rogerio Boccato and Munyungo Jackson complete the stellar lineup on this recording.

Growing up in a household replete with eclectic musical recordings—in fact, during a time (the 60s and 70s) in Los Angeles’ culture which was rife with musical diversity—Childs’ musical influences are wide ranging. One of the genres that connected with Childs early on was Brazilian music; his parents had records by Antônio Carlos Jobim and Stan Getz, João Gilberto, and Sérgio Mendes and Brasil ’66. It is on these recordings that Childs first heard the songs of Brazilian composer Dori Caymmi, with whom he later became close friends. “Dori’s a big influence on my writing,” he stresses, “so I wanted to dedicate this song to him.” “Dori” is a samba, utilizing Baião and Partido Alto rhythms.

The title piece on this album is a contemplative, poignant track, which slowly builds in affirmation before a quiet piano resolution. By this point in his life, Childs has seen his way through some major life transitions, including the loss of his parents. Considering his musical contemporaries, he wistfully notes, “A few of us have passed away, or are about to pass away. But I’ve learned that healing only comes when you accept what has happened.” That kind of self-awareness and wisdom only comes with age and experience. As Childs has noted elsewhere, acceptance does not mean resignation.

Leimert Park was a fountain of musical inspiration in the 1990s. “You could go down there any Saturday night and hear poets, rappers and jazz—at 5th St. Dicks and the World Stage. That place was alive!” Childs acknowledges the experience in “Leimert Park,” which he composed with bassist Paul Jackson and drummer Mike Clark, the innovative and groundbreaking rhythm section on Herbie Hancock’s “Thrust” in the early 70s. “Paul played a really funky 4/4 bassline,” he notes, “and Mike put down that broken Oakland rhythm against it.” That ultra-funky feel was recaptured beautifully by Eric Harland and Hans Glawischnig, on this track, which also features Munyungo Jackson adding a great conga pattern that gives the tune an African and urban sound.

“Do You Know My Name?”—a meditation on human trafficking—is a Childs song. “I tend to think of it as lieder,” he points out, “or as an excerpt from a larger work, like an opera or an oratorio. Alicia Olatuja was incredible in her interpretation of the piece. Her deep connection with the words, combined with virtuosic training on her instrument, made her able to perfectly communicate the silent anguish and pathos of the character in this human trafficking story.”

Childs first heard the Gershwin standard “It Never Entered My Mind” from his close friend, Mulgrew Miller, who was playing it, at the time, in a small Glendale club called Clancy’s Crab Shack. “What Mulgrew played on the tune was so beautiful, I knew I had to learn it,” he relates. “So, I to asked him to show me the tune after the show, which he graciously did; we were like brothers. Now every time I play this song, I think of Mulgrew.”

A Langston Hughes poem inspired “Quiet Girl,” which Childs recorded on his first album, Take For Example This…. “If you want to understand my career,” he reveals, “how I developed and arrived at my jazz chamber music concept, my first four Windham Hill Jazz albums are an excellent document of that journey. It’s a shame that these recordings are out of print and not easily accessible because that means that a large gap of my recording history is essentially deleted. So, it’s great to get an opportunity to recast songs like ‘Quiet Girl’ and ‘Twilight is Upon Us’ in a new light.”

“Twilight is Upon Us” is a piece which has many influences, from Egberto Gismonti to the Mahavishnu Orchestra, but the most profound influence was the Pat Metheny Group, specifically Lyle Mays. Childs heard the Pat Metheny Group in 1989 and was stunned at the well-conceived pieces and the tremendous improvisation. “It changed my whole concept,” Childs states. “I decided I wanted to achieve, in my music, that deep connection with the audience which Metheny and Lyle Mays did that night. So, I started writing pieces which explored longer forms, with more layered counterpoint and sonic environments. One of the first was ‘Twilight is Upon Us.’ Years later, I was playing at the Jazz Standard in New York, and Aubrey Johnson, who is the featured vocalist on this track, introduced herself as a singer who appreciates my music. Turns out, she’s also Lyle’s niece, so the history of ’Twilight is Upon Us’ comes full circle.”

“Oceana,” the improvised piece that concludes the album, is a study in simultaneous group composition. “A narrative kind of evolved, as we were recording the improvisation, which had to do with the ocean. Steve started us off with the whale sounds, and we just followed that cue and ended up painting a picture about the sea.”

Shanachie Entertainment Announces Signing Of Multi-Instrumental Wiz Kid Justin Lee Schultz

13 Year Old Prodigy To Be Joined On November 2020 Recording Debut By Bob James, Harvey Mason, Najee, Jonathan Butler, Gerald Albright, Pieces Of A Dream & More

Born in Johannesburg, South Africa and based in Durham, NC, musical wonder-kid Justin Lee Schultz is the good news you did not even know you needed. He is joy personified. The multi-instrumental wizard who has dazzled audiences on TV shows Harry, Little Big Shots and American’s Most Musical Family, is a prodigy in the fashion of his idols Stevie Wonder and Herbie Hancock. His talent is exceptional not merely because he is young but also due to his melodic, harmonic and technical maturation. While his peers are learning the latest Tik Tok dances and amassing kills on Fortnite, Justin prefers studio time and woodshedding for hours. While social distancing has most people jamming at home with their families, Justin has literally been jamming with his musician father and bassist Julius and 16-year-old sister and drummer Jamie-Leigh. “Music brings me joy because I can express myself when I play. I can also get creative when I’m improvising,” shares the amiable, cherub faced and charismatic 13-year old who has aspirations to one day share the stage with Wonder and Herbie Hancock, as well as Bruno Mars, Charlie Puth, Jacob Collier, Cory Henry and Robert Glasper. Justin, who plays piano, guitar, bass guitar and talkbox, devotes five to seven hours each day to his musical craft. His anticipated Shanachie Entertainment debut will be released November 2020.

Shanachie VP of Jazz A&R Danny Weiss, who was instrumental in producing another young prodigy, the pioneering jazz-fusion guitarist Larry Coryell states, “The words prodigy and genius do not do him justice. The warmth, the maturity, the feel, the brilliance... these are qualities that only a handful of artists can hope to attain, regardless of their age.” Justin Lee Schultz’s anticipated label debut will unite him with some of the biggest names in contemporary jazz including Bob James, Harvey Mason, Najee, Gerald Albright, Jonathan Butler and Pieces of A Dream, among others. Justin also welcomes his friend and fellow prodigy, youthful Brazilian bassist Michael Pipoquinha on a track, and his sister, drummer Jamie is featured on four tracks. While Justin and his father share the producer hat for much of the recording, they did enlist help from such heavyweights as Jeff Lorber, Paul Brown and Kim Waters, who lend their Midas touch and perfectly showcase Justin’s dazzling talents.

Within 30 seconds of experiencing Justin in his musical element, it is apparent that he was born with a gift. His father Julius shares, “When Justin was five, I called him and Jamie up on stage together to play at one of my concerts. It was then that I knew I had something special. It wasn’t my intention for my kids to play music, but when they showed interest and started playing and showing incredible potential, I knew I had something special on my hands. Every time I hear them play, I’m super proud.” Justin cites his dad as his main inspiration. “God blessed me with my musical gift but my dad guided me and nurtured it!” he says.

With a new CD on the way, Justin Lee Schultz has high hopes. “The ultimate dream is to win or even get nominated for a Grammy!" exclaims Justin. “I also hope that I can give people feel joy and happiness when they listen to my music!”


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