Thursday, September 30, 2021

Alchemy Sound Project | "Afrika Love"

Alchemy is defined as "a seemingly magical process of transformation, creation, or combination"(Oxford English Dictionary). It's hard to imagine a word that more aptly suits Alchemy Sound Project, a collective in which five esteemed composers and bandleaders - pianist Sumi Tonooka, woodwind players Salim Washington and Erica Lindsay, trumpeter Samantha Boshnack, and bassist David Arend - form a potent ensemble greater than the sum of its parts. A synergy that seems almost supernatural, especially given the far-flung home bases from which these artists converge, is evident throughout Afrika Love, the band's third album, via Artists Recording Collective.

Alchemy Sound Project formed in 2014, two years after the group's members met in Los Angeles at the Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute, where, over the course of a week, they learned to utilize Western classical music concepts and orchestration techniques. "We were five friends and colleagues who had all these similar connections," Tonooka recalls, "and I wanted us to be able to extend what we do together musically, instead of leaning on other projects or other commissions - to set up our own small chamber group to play and record. "What resulted is a diverse, eclectic group that makes powerful, original music meant to blur the boundaries between notated composition and improvisation.

Sessions for Afrika Love took place in January 2018 in Conshohocken, PA. But the album's title, borrowed from the composition that Washington contributed to the album, reflects the band's keen awareness that this recording arrives in the wake of one of the most tumultuous years in recent U.S. history - a pivotal period in which race relations and social justice protests have taken centerstage.

According to Tonooka, the band found the title" appropriate in terms of what's happened with the BlackLivesMatter movement, and with what the country still has to deal with in terms of conversations about racism and he aftermath of slavery, and the fact that we still haven't gotten it together to really heal, because no one seems to talk about it in a way that is healing." Seen in that light, the multi-gendered, multi-racial makeup o Alchemy Sound Project in itself offers an understated, buoyantly positive example of cooperation and mutual regard.

Craig Taborn | "Shadow Plays "

Ten years have passed since Craig Taborn’s Avenging Angel album was released, bringing strikingly fresh ideas to the solo piano idiom. “It reflects Mr Taborn’s galactically-broad interests,” said the New York Times, “along with his multifaceted technique,” while the Guardian saluted Craig’s “world of whispered, wide-spaced figures, ringing overtones, evaporating echoes and glowering contrapuntal cascades”. 

In the interim Taborn has appeared in ECM contexts large and small. We’ve heard him in his trio with Thomas Morgan and Gerald Cleaver on Chants and in his Daylight Ghosts quartet with Chris Speed, Chris Lightcap and Dave King. He’s played piano duets with Vijay Iyer on The Transitory Poems, performed Ches Smith’s music on The Bell, contributed to Roscoe Mitchell’s AACM tribute Bells for the South Side, and to Chris Potter’s music for ensemble and strings on Imaginary Cities. Alongside all of these activities, the solo music has continued to gather strength.

 Over the last decade Taborn has refined and developed his approach, attaining new high ground with Shadow Plays. For Craig the recording is “part of the same continuum as Avenging Angel. Where that was a studio recording, this one is live, but that process of spontaneous composition goes onward.” The new album is a stunning live recital from the Mozart-Saal of the Wiener Konzerthaus, where the programme was headlined Avenging Angel II. In this fully improvised concert, Craig explores sounds and silences, swirling colours, densities and forms, creating new music with both poetic imagination and an iron grip on his material. His control of his craft as he unerringly creates narratives and structures from the hint of a revealed pattern, following where intuition and experience lead him, is extraordinary. 

“When you improvise,” Taborn told writer Adam Shatz, in a New York Times interview, “you’re observing and creating at the same time. To make the next move, you have to get really close to what’s going on.” 

“Free improvisation” can mean many things. For Taborn, in this context, this is not a matter of automatic writing or stream-of-consciousness self-expression but of keeping in focus both the larger frame of the concert and the concise statements shaped from the moment-to-moment detail of the music. “A lot of my interests revolve around trying to extend the boundaries you can create in…” Craig Taborn has noted. “Rather than simply free-flowing as I travel from Point A to Point B, I am really trying to construct and to organize the material as it emerges, in real time. And what is created in this way feels different to music using pre-composed elements.” 

Taborn is a great improviser in any context, and highly regarded for his capacity to get to the heart of the music, whatever the setting. In the solo work connections to ‘jazz’ are not always self-evident, but in the flux of the piece retrospectively called “Conspiracy of Things”, allusions to the history of the music from stride piano onwards seems to flash past at lightning speed. In all pieces, ideas are explored, at multiple levels. Emotions too – tenderness and fierceness co-exist in pieces thoughtfully titled “Discordia Concors” and “Concordia Discors,” concepts that reflect the notion of unity through diversity. “I name the pieces,” Taborn said in a recent interview with Bomb magazine, “after they are finished and in consideration of their programmatic position – in a way the titling is the final stage of composition. And I intend the titles as invitations to extend the musical experience into other areas.” The inclusiveness of his work – subtly informed by music and art of many traditions – invites new associations and open responses. 

Born in Detroit in 1970, Craig Taborn studied at the University of Michigan. He first came to wider attention in the groups of saxophonist James Carter. His first ECM appearance was with Roscoe Mitchell’s Note Factory on the album Nine To Get Ready (recorded 1997). 

Currently on the road in Europe with cellist Tomeka Reid and drummer Ches Smith, Craig Taborn undertakes a solo piano tour in February 2022 with dates including Tampere, Finland (February 1), Live Lab, Helsinki (February 2), Nasjonal Jazzscene Victoria, Oslo (February 3), Musikförening, Vanersborg, Sweden (February 4), Halmstad, Sweden (February 5), Fasching, Stockholm (February 6), Sendesaal, Bremen (February 7), Domicil, Dortmund (February 10), Birdland, Neuburg (February 11), Son d’hiver Festival, Paris (February 12) and Bimhuis, Amsterdam (February 13). More details at 

Craig Taborn’s Shadow Plays, produced by Manfred Eicher, was recorded live at the Wiener Konzerthaus on March 2, 2020.

Christian McBride & Inside Straight | "Live at the Village Vanguard"

Christian McBride & Inside Straight Live at the Village Vanguard is Christian McBride’s twelfth release with Mack Avenue Music Group. This recording can be thought of as a companion to the GRAMMY® Award-winning Christian McBride Trio Live at the Village Vanguard album released in 2015. Inside Straight is the quintet that inaugurated McBride’s collaboration with Mack Avenue Records (releasing Kind of Brown in 2009). Both live recordings of the bassist leading these two ensembles occurred in a consecutive two-week period in December of 2014 – a rare engagement offered to only the most venerated jazz artists by the most venerated jazz club in America.

There is no doubt that McBride is one of the most versatile musicians on the scene today. His artistry has been documented in recordings and performances with the widest possible range of musicians in the most varied settings and genres one might imagine. His collaborations have been as diverse as duets with the revered classical bassist Edgar Meyer and avant-garde composer and violinist Laurie Anderson; performances with iconic artists like Sting and James Brown; ensembles with his fellow native Philadelphian, Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson, of The Roots; not to mention a host of jazz masters from Sonny Rollins and Freddie Hubbard to Pat Metheny and the late Chick Corea.

It was in fact this nomadic journey that provided the inspiration for McBride to return to leading a more conventional straight ahead acoustic jazz ensemble. So, in 2007 McBride recruited his former bandmate in Freddie Hubbard’s group, drummer Carl Allen, saxophonist Steve Wilson, pianist Eric Reed (who subsequently was replaced by Peter Martin) and an amazing young musical prodigy who had enrolled in McBride’s summer camp program Jazz at Aspen, Colorado, vibraphonist Warren Wolf. They played one week at the Village Vanguard with the intention of each musician returning to his other respective projects at the end of that engagement. But the entire week sold out. The proprietor of the Vanguard, Lorraine Gordon, who had very high standards and a reputation for not being easy to please, was ecstatic. Legendary A&R executive Bruce Lundvall, who had come down to hear the band after attending a Ron Carter concert at Carnegie Hall, sat down with McBride after the set and in discussion with the bassist reaffirmed that this ensemble was something special. Some six months later, McBride signed with Mack Avenue Records.

Although the Inside Straight band has made two prior studio recordings for Mack Avenue Records, Kind of Brown and People Music, the band has not, until now, released a live recording – the milieu in which this ensemble was originally created. Represented herein are compositions by three of the five band members. The album opens with a rip-roaring performance of Warren Wolf’s soulful tune “Sweet Bread” and later in the set includes his vibraphone feature “Gang Gang.” Alto and soprano saxophonist Steve Wilson contributes a paean to Maya Angelou. The remainder of the compositions are McBride’s; two of which similarly celebrate the work of jazz greats James Williams and Cedar Walton and provide fertile ground for the aforementioned accomplished pianist Peter Martin. The other two McBride tunes, “Fair Hope Theme” and “Stick and Move,” showcase the quintet engaged in powerfully deep swing with the rapidly shifting rhythmic and harmonic phrasing that kept audiences at the Village Vanguard on the edge of their seats.

November of 2021 marks the 64th anniversary of the very first live recording from the Village Vanguard made by Sonny Rollins. It is a high point in any musician’s career to have performed and become part of a commercial release that has been “recorded live at the Village Vanguard.” One need only listen to any of the legendary recordings made there ranging from Rollins and John Coltrane to Barbra Streisand to hear the magic those performances yield. Except for 2020, the Inside Straight quintet has played at the Village Vanguard every year since 2009. Finally, with Christian McBride & Inside Straight Live at the Village Vanguard, music fans the world over have a chance to hear what all the fuss is about.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Futurenot | "Be The Change"

For many, the COVID-19 pandemic presented a “glass half empty” outlook mourning the loss of canceled tours and gigs. For Jason Cressey and Peter Daniel, two household names in  Seattle’s funk, soul, and jazz scene, their outlooks shifted to “glass half full.. if not pouring over” upon the realization that there was now an abundance of time to make a record with their newly-formed cinematic, jazz-inspired hip-hop crossover project FUTURENOT. 

The project is rounded out by fellow trailblazers in the Seattle music scene: Tim Kennedy (Big Tooth, keyboards), David McGraw (True Loves, drums), Cole Schuster (big bad thoughts, guitar), and Mark Hunter (The Dip, bass). Building on the success of their debut single “Let Us In (ft. Moe Betta),” which kicked down sonic doors and perked up the ears of music aficionados and casual listeners alike, FUTURENOT has released their second single titled “Be the Change."

“Be the Change” is the first song that Cressey and Daniel wrote together. Inspired by hanging out at the park, it draws musical inspiration from the sounds, vibrations, and attitude of the Nat & Cannonball Adderley Quintet. “It’s our attempt at a jazz standard,” the duo explained to legendary radio DJ Abe Beeson. The song is based around a simple melody in the horns but basks in the glory of the rhythm section that creates an amazing vibe and context for the melody to melt on top of. The horns and the rhythm section feed off of each other’s vibrations in both melodic and rhythmic capacities and you can hear the feel-good, nearly telepathic chemistry that resonates with the strong influence of the Adderley brothers.

The single prefaces the band’s upcoming album Greatest Hits which drops on November 19, 2021, via Color Red. The album title seems like an oddity for a brand new group releasing their debut LP, but as the group explained in a feature piece with Abe Beeson of KNKX’s ‘The New Cool,’ it “represents the ‘greatest’ moments from several dozen musical ideas they've been working through even before FUTURENOT was formed.” While eclectic, Greatest Hits presents Cressey and Daniel as musical mixologists crafting a cohesive concoction that incorporates elements of “Theme from Shaft”-like anthems, vibey cinematic soundscapes, and conscious, yet lighthearted hip-hop impressions that appeal to fans of high-profile cross-over projects like Roy Hargrove's ‘The RH Factor,’ Robert Glasper’s ‘Black Radio’ and crate diggers mining for old instrumental soul 45s alike. It’s vintage-inspired music realized through a modern lens.  

For those in Seattle, FUTURENOT's second show will take place on Friday October 22nd at Drunky's Two Shoe BBQ in White Center. 

FUTURENOT is vintage-inspired music realized through a modern lens. It is about being in the present, creating music for the here and now while incorporating the experiences and influences of our past to move towards the future. The band blends elements of hip hop, jazz, soul and pop with vocals, backbeat and a generous dose of strong melodies that will require you to roll your windows down and turn the volume up.

"Greatest Hits" is the culmination of work that Jason Cressey and Peter Daniel began in 2013. The two met performing together in the horn section for local Seattle legends Funky2Death and quickly started collaborating on original music. Over the years as their respective careers have blossomed, they've continued to find themselves performing together, making time to stay friends and write music. The title of the album is more than just a tongue-in-cheek joke about a first release; it is a reference to how we drew from that material to create this collection.

Jason and Peter have been fortunate to perform together, and separately, with Macklemore, Odesza, Father John Misty, Monophonics, Durand Jones & the Indications, True Loves, Skerik, Stanton Moore, Nikki Glaspie, Ghost Note, Soul Rebels, Paper Boys, Liv Warfield, Polyrhythmics, Khu.eex and Lucky Brown.

FUTURENOT debuted to the world on March 10th 2020 opening for Neal Francis at Barboza in Seattle hours before COVID quarantine orders were issued. We then spent the better part of 2020 creating this album in anticipation of a future beyond the pandemic, when we can bring these soundwaves to an orbit near you.

Annabelle Chvostek | "String Of Pearls"

Blending the Canadian singer-songwriter tradition and her Slovakian heritage with a long-standing connection to Uruguay, the musically adventurous Annabelle Chvostek’s new album String of Pearls  was co-produced in Montevideo by longtime collaborator Fernando Rosa, who gathered a variety of Uruguay's world-class jazz, classical and tango musicians to create a new-old pop sound flavored with the tough tenderness of 1930s tango, vaudeville cabaret and Hot Club jazz. Toronto producer David Travers-Smith oversaw the Canadian and Uruguayan tracking, which included helping hands by members of Toronto's lively Jazz Manouche community. String of Pearls will be available on all music services. 

Cascading vibraphones, snappy brush drums, brisk guitar chops and Chvostek’s richly nuanced vocals grace the album’s opening “Je t'ai vue hier soir” (I Saw You Last Night), setting the tone for un melange sonique that swirls folk, cabaret, classical and Chvostek’s own Slavic musical roots with vintage swing-jazz. The title track’s Django-esque acoustic guitar, wailing clarinet and Chvostek’s multitracked Andrews Sisters-style choral backing make for ultra-bouncy instrumental textures that play lightly off the song’s somewhat weightier lyrical content. 

“‘String of Pearls’ is about getting through difficult things, defiantly transforming them and coming out on top,” says Chvostek (chuh-VOSS-tek). “It’s a pep talk to a self that’s struggling through difficulty, a reminder that the struggle can make beauty, too.” 

Other songs reveal fascinating connections between the disparate musical genres Chvostek churns together in her search for a new sonic space, with her super-flexible vocal cords navigating the fragrant musical ether so naturally you might be unsure what exactly it is you’re hearing –– though that shouldn’t matter. The easy-shuffling vibe of “Cannabin” features tubas and banjos that reside comfortably in the American jazz and pop of the ‘20s and ‘30s, with the shadow of Bix Beiderbecke hovering nearby. In sharp contrast are the dramatic vistas of the album’s string-laden first single, “Walls.”

initial arrangement, Fernando Rosa and I had laid on several electric guitars and made it Pink Floydian [laughs], and then we decided to orchestrate it more so we could float these epic feelings and let them fly. It felt timely. It was written before the pandemic, but with the pandemic, it was a moment of rethinking the meaning of the lyrics and letting them be about this.” The song’s video, filmed in Toronto during the pandemic, features a group of socially-distanced professional dancers, with Annabelle making a cameo appearance. 

Annabelle credits her Uruguayan life partner Ximena Griscti’s love of Dadaism and punk rock with bringing out the best in what Chvostek calls her “scribbly box of ideas.” Griscti’s collages are seen in the String of Pearls artwork, and the video for “Belleville Rendez-vous” is based around ideas that Griscti developed to visually support the themes of the album as they emerged. 

Chvostek credits producer Rosa with helping her bridge the subtle but substantial cultural minefields that international musical collaborations often have to negotiate. 

“From the first time I went to Uruguay,” she says, “I could recognize the Eastern European sounds within the tango, like the way the violin moves and the way the bandoneon is so expressive, all these things. I come from a songwriting tradition that’s very, like, let’s celebrate things, and if we’re moving through difficulty, wrap it up with a tidy bow at the end, and it resolves. Fernando helped deepen my understanding of tango, however, emphasizing that tango is gritty and dirty and full of pathos and unresolved anxiety. It’s about complex emotions, about people having room to complain about how hard life is, and expressing it.”

Born and raised in Toronto, Canada, Chvostek was immersed in Montreal's eclectic arts scene in the 1990s and early 2000s, performing regularly at Le Boudoir, a queer, feminist 1920s-inspired cabaret series, and self-releasing four full-length albums between 1997 and 2003. In 2004 Annabelle joined The Wailin’ Jennys and wrote four songs on the band’s Firecracker album, which won multiple awards including the North American Folk Alliance Award for “Best Contemporary Album” in 2007. After departing from the Jennys, she released the album Resilience (2008), produced by GRAMMY and Academy Award nominee Roma Baran (Laurie Anderson) and Vivian Stoll; Rise (2012); and Be the Media (2015). Rise was nominated for a JUNO Award in the Roots and Traditional Album of the Year category, and both Rise and Resilience were nominated for Contemporary Album of the Year at the Canadian Folk Music Awards. Annabelle also co-wrote two songs with Bruce Cockburn for his JUNO-winning album A Small Source of Comfort (2011).           

In 2015, Annabelle was forced to put the brakes on her musical adventures due to a series of health crises, including an ongoing struggle with severe hearing loss and tinnitus in her left ear, triggered by a feedback blast during a soundcheck in England in 2008. To aid her more accurate aural perception of the music she was recording, Chvostek’s producer David Travers-Smith remixed String of Pearls in mono (mono mixes and stereo mixes are available on Annabelle’s Bandcamp site). 

“Mixing is this beautiful moment where you try to find the sweet spot for each sound and get rid of any excess that might overlap with other things,” says Chvostek. “The beauty of the mono mix is it cleaned up the input of all the instruments. David was able to find their essential sonic space.” 

It’s the joyful exploration of her very own and very personal musical world that keeps Annabelle Chvostek in search of the lost chord and ready for new discoveries –– come whatever obstacles that may. As she croons so coolly in String of Pearls’ title tune, “I’ll grow a pearl, this grain of sand got under my skin/if I evolve, revolve and spin/I’ll grow a pearl.”

Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga | "Love For Sale"

LOVE FOR SALE, the new collaborative album from Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga, will be released on October 1st via Columbia Records/Interscope Records. This historic album will be Tony's last studio recording, showcasing the Cole Porter songbook of classic popular music with both duet and solo selections from both artists. Their duet, "I Get A Kick Out Of You," will be the first single. Tony Bennett celebrates his 95th Birthday today and appropriately will be at Radio City Music Hall tonight performing the songs he has spent a lifetime singing and sharing the stage with Lady Gaga, a cherished musical collaborator. ONE LAST TIME: AN EVENING WITH TONY BENNETT AND LADY GAGA sold out both Radio City performances for August 3rd and 5th within a day of going on sale to the public. MTV will exclusively air the global premiere of Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga's new video "I Get A Kick Out Of You" on Friday, August 6th at 12PM ET. The video will make its broadcast premiere on MTV, MTV Live, MTVU, across MTV's worldwide network of channels in 180+ regions and the ViacomCBS Times Square Billboard.

LOVE FOR SALE featuring Cole Porter's songbook was an idea the two performers discussed shortly after their first album, CHEEK TO CHEEK, debuted at #1 on the Billboard album charts upon its release in 2015. Recorded at Electric Lady Studios in New York City, the album features a mix of jazz ensemble, big band and orchestral arrangements.  At the time of the sessions, Bennett had already been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, a condition the family made public in a disclosure earlier this year.  LOVE FOR SALE will be available in both a standard, deluxe and vinyl configurations as well as a highly collectible box set edition. 

In celebration of Tony's 95th Birthday, Lady Gaga has invited fans to post videos naming one thing they love about Tony to their Instagram Reels using the hashtag #Tonys95thBdayCard. She will choose her favorites and edit them together for a video highlighting 95 Reasons she and her fans love him. 

Monday, September 27, 2021

Glenn Leonard | "Can We Talk"

A Washington, DC native, vocalist Glenn Leonard successfully established three groups by the time he was in his early 20s: The Chancellors, The Instant Groove, and The True Reflections. He was also a member of another popular and successful recording group from Washington called The Unifics. Glenn recorded his first record with his first group, The Chancellors, on Cap City Records, a subsidiary of Scepter Records, and later his third group, The True Reflection, on Atlantic Records. Leonard first came to the attention of the world-famous Motown quintet, The Temptations, in 1975. He had a successful career as their first tenor and lead singer from 1975-1983 encompassing ten albums with the supergroup. His most noted songs include "I’m on Fire," "Go for It," "The Best of Both Worlds," "Eyes," "Ever Ready Love," and "Silent Night" from their Christmas Album.

After parting ways with the group in 1983, Leonard became a born-again Christian, entered into full-time ministry and was licensed in 1986. He became ordained and received a doctorate degree in the early 1990s. Leonard established his own Temptations revue, also featuring former Temptations bass singer, Joe Herndon. This revue has toured extensively throughout the world including Europe and South America since approximately 2000. 

Glenn was proudly inducted into the R&B Hall of Fame in 2013 and is still very active with many recording projects, most notably his critically acclaimed solo album titled " Then & Now" featuring guest vocalist Jean Carne. The stand-out track “Can We Talk,” was featured on that album. Producer Butch Ingram has remixed the Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds and Daryl Simmons-penned track, breathing new life into Leonard’s stellar take, which inexplicably wasn’t released as a single in its original guise. The release presented here also features the instrumental version of the remix and the usual fine backing from members of INGRAM and The Society Hill Orchestra.

New Music Releases: Anthony Hamilton, Arturo O'Farrill, Francisco Mela with Matthew Shipp & William Parker

Anthony Hamilton - Love Is The New Black

Anthony Hamilton's got a very classic look on the cover – and he definitely turns in a classic set here – the kind of righteous, well-crafted soul record that really takes us back to the golden age of the 70s! And yet, the music's not retro at all – it's very contemporary in both soul and spirit, just maybe a maturation of everything that Anthony's been giving us over the years – really knocked out of the park here, with a sense of confidence and power that we never would have guessed at the start of Hamilton's career – and trust us, we sure liked those records a lot! The set features guest appearances from Rick Ross and Lil Jon – and titles include "White Hennessy", "Coming Home", "You Made A Fool Of Me", "Mama Don't Cry", "Safe", "Mercy", "Threw It All Away", "I'm Ready", "Superstar", "I Thought We Were In Love", and "Love Is The New Black".  ~ Dusty Groove

Arturo O'Farrill - Dreaming In Lions

The Blue Note debut of Latin Jazz pianist Arturo O'Farrill – and a set that may well be some of his most ambitious material to date! Arturo's often got an ear towards wider levels of expression than standard jazz or Latin – but here, he really steps out strongly on two extended suites – both done to accompany the movements of a dance troupe, who are features in shimmering images next to O'Farrill on the cover! The music is very different than any sort of traditional Latin dance modes – as Arturo seems to draw on a wide array of historical impulses to mix with Afro-Cuban elements at the core – really keeping things moving forward, but also complex and sophisticated too – with solo passages on tenor, trombone, soprano sax, and trumpet. The set features two long suites – "Despedida" and "Dreaming In Lions" – both of which take inspiration from writers, Jorge Luis Borges and Ernest Hemingway, respectively. ~ Dusty Groove

Francisco Mela with Matthew Shipp & William Parker - Music Frees Our Souls Vol 1

Pianist Matthew Shipp and bassist William Parker are long-running musical partners that you're likely to know well – and here, they join under the leadership of drummer Francisco Mela, a player who's more than able to keep up pace with the improvising giants! Case in point is the album's first long track, "Light Of Mind" – a number that's awash in the kind of dynamic piano work that Matthew Shipp first hurled at the world in his early years, taken at a clip that also has Parker moving faster than usual – a quality that's balanced out nicely by the following shorter track, "Dark Light" – which has William up a bit more in the mix, and working a sense of spare magic that's wonderful! All three players brew together in a very heady way on the long "Infinite Consciousness", which concludes the record – a performance that has us wondering if the three have more to give us in the near future. ~ Dusty Groove

Agustín Pereyra Lucena | "La Rana"

Far Out Recordings is releasing Argentinian guitarist Agustín Pereyra Lucena’s 1980 album La Rana. Recorded in Oslo, La Rana features Agustín’s stunning takes on compositions by Ivan Lins, Antonio Carlos Jobim and Agustín’s friend and musical hero Baden Powell. In addition to these, and a number of Agustín’s own compositions including the fifteen-minute masterpiece “Encuentro De Sombras”, the album’s title track is an idiosyncratic version of João Donato’s “A Rã” (Eng: The Frog/Esp: La Rana) from his 1973 album Quem É Quem. 

Forming the rest of the quartet are two fellow Argentinians who were also Agustin’s bandmates from the group Candeias: bassist and multi-instrumentalist Guillermo Reuter and flautist Ruben Izarrualde; with Norwegian drummer Finn Sletten on drums and percussion.

Throughout La Rana we hear not only Agustín’s fabled guitar playing, which ascended him to share stages with the likes of Vinicius de Moraes, Dorival Caymmi, Toquinho, Maria Bethania, Chico Buarque and Quarteto Em Cy, but also his talent as a vocalist. He also provided the heartening illustration for the cover art, which perfectly fits the cordial, inviting tone of the music. Inspired in equal measure by South American rhythms and Norwegian glaciers, mountains and waterfalls, La Rana is filled with the warmth, humility and sincerity of a man seizing a joyful moment in life through music.

Hiromi | "Silver Lining Suite"

2020 was a year in which dark clouds gathered early and threatened never to dispel. Silver linings were hard to come by amidst the torrent of bad news, but Hiromi was determined to find one. She found it on the stage of the Blue Note Tokyo, which she helped bring back to life after it was silenced by the pandemic. Dreaming of a quintet with piano and strings she composed Silver Lining Suite, which finds hope in the most trying of times while exemplifying the exhausting range of emotions evoked by the world’s year in quarantine. 

Due out October 8, 2021 via Telarc (with 2-LP release set for December 3), Silver Lining Suite pairs Hiromi’s virtuosic and emotive piano with a string quartet assembled by violinist Tatsuo Nishie, concertmaster of the New Japan Philharmonic. The results blur the lines between classical music and jazz, crafting a vibrant hybrid possessed of the fervent, rock-inspired energy and cinematic beauty that Hiromi has always instilled in her music. 

Watch Hiromi’s spectacular teaser video for Silver Lining Suite here: 

As the pianist/composer says, “I think there are only two genres: the genre which moves my heart and the genre that doesn’t. So I don’t really mind where this album gets categorized… I’m just playing the music which moves my heart.” 

Hiromi found herself back in her native Japan after a U.S. tour was suddenly cut short last March. “I had just finished performing in Seattle and had traveled to San Francisco when the state of emergency [was declared],” Hiromi recalls. “We could tell something was starting to happen in Seattle. At night it was a ghost town; people still came to the show, but everybody was so cautious. I couldn't even hug the sound engineer like I always do. Then there was such a weird vibe at the airport. I decided to come to Tokyo to wait and see what would happen, but the situation got worse and worse.” 

Suddenly cut off from her lifeblood, music, Hiromi was stunned by the unrelenting stream of horrific events affecting lives and livelihoods in the wake of the coronavirus. The devastation wrought on the music business in particular hit close to home. “It was weird, worrying and uncertain in the beginning, full of negative emotions,” she says. “Shows stopped and a lot of venues closed, some of them for good, unfortunately. Whenever I heard that kind of news, I was down. I thought a lot about my friends who work in the music industry, and I started trying to find something positive I could do under this situation.” 

She found an ideal partner in the Blue Note Tokyo, whose stage usually hosts renowned jazz artists from across the globe. Once venues started to cautiously reopen, Hiromi suggested a series of limited capacity, live-streamed concerts that she dubbed “Save Live Music,” eventually performing a remarkable 32 solo concerts over 16 days in August and September 2020. 

With a second series scheduled for December and January, Hiromi didn’t want to play alone again. With her usual bandmates an ocean away and unable to travel, she puzzled over what form these concerts would take. She’d befriended Tatsuo Nishie after performing with the New Japan Philharmonic, so the idea of a piano quintet began to take shape. “I’ve always had a passion for writing for strings,” she explains, having studied composition while a student at Berklee College of Music. “I put four chairs on stage near the piano and something clicked in my head. I saw that setting, piano and four empty chairs, and I started to hear something. I knew it was going to work. I called Tatsuo before I even wrote any music.” 

Nishie was tasked with finding musicians who could play Hiromi’s classically inspired compositions while being able to veer into jazz vocabulary. He enlisted violinist Sohei Birmann, violist Meguna Naka, and cellist Wataru Mukai – the latter a particularly vital choice, called upon to play pizzicato walking bass lines. 

The suite begins with “Isolation,” an emotional state that everyone became intimate with during the course of the pandemic. A single voice is soon joined by others in a determined, graceful dance that sparks a flurrying solo from Hiromi, sounding as if the floodgates of her creative imagination were suddenly flung open. Dark and agitated lines scatter and converge on “The Unknown,” depicting the fear and unpredictability that marked the progress of the last year. 

Those sensations left many feeling adrift, lost at sea, a notion captured beautifully on the melancholic “Drifters.” Emotions had a way of ping-ponging from one extreme to another throughout the experience, and Hiromi and the quartet regroup with the steely “Fortitude,” a testament to the resilience of the musical community that has weathered this terrible storm. “Uncertainty,” which opens with an introspective solo turn by the pianist, was a late addition to the suite. Hiromi composed the tremulous piece after her January series was postponed to March by a return to lockdown conditions in Japan, as a portrait of the moment and a gift to the audiences who patiently reconvened in the spring. 

The three remaining pieces are expanded compositions from Hiromi’s “One Minute Portrait” series, in which she played virtual duos with long-distance collaborators on her Instagram page. Determination turns to hope on the resolute “Someday,” originally played with bassist Avishai Cohen, which seems to insist that an end will, eventually, arrive. The lively “Jumpstart,” initially a fiery pairing with pianist Stefano Bollani, predicts the renewal that will come with that long-anticipated moment. And the tango-inspired “Ribera del Duero,” from a duo with harpist Edmar Castaneda, is named for Hiromi’s favorite wine, something she looks forward to once again sharing with friends. 

Finally, “11:49PM” is reprised from the 2012 trio album Move, inspired by a quote from Shakespeare’s Macbeth: “The night is long that never finds the day.” The line gave Hiromi hope that she would one day play in front of adoring audiences once again. 

“The morning will come,” she insists. “The sun will rise again. That's why I kept writing music. It shows my emotional journey through the pandemic.” 

In the summer of 2021, Hiromi was invited to perform for the opening ceremonies of the Tokyo Olympics.

Dee Brown | "Deep Secrets"

Faith and loss. As they did on his 2018 breakthrough album, “Remembering You,” faith and loss continue to be groove jazz guitarist dee Brown’s inspiration. After losing his mother a couple of years ago, he leaned on his faith as he began composing material for his newly released “Deep Secrets” album. The Detroit-area musician reteamed with Grammy nominated producer Valdez Brantley to write and produce his fifth collection of R&B, jazz, soul and gospel music that includes production and mixing assistance from Billboard chart-topper Blake Aaron, multiple Grammy nominee Darren Rahn and Nate Harasim. 

Brown frequently quotes The Bible in conversation, particularly when discussing the subjects of his songs. The album title itself comes from a quote from Corinthians: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him. But it was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit. For his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets.”

Brown recorded “Deep Secrets” remotely during COVID-19 quarantine with his band and collaborators emailing their tracks to him and Brantley (piano, keyboards, strings and programming). Throughout the recording process, Brown issued singles to whet listeners’ appetites for the album, with each preview earning most added status on the Billboard chart. “Love You Too,” released last March, has received over 100,000 YouTube views. Using his nimble electric guitar fretwork to orate expressively, Brown contemplates passion, habits, purpose, the spiritual path, God’s will, and even his first grandchild on “Deep Secrets.” Reviewers have hailed the seven-minute “Praise Is What I Do,” a sprawling gospel classic that Brown blesses with an orchestral opening, Gerard Brooks’ soul-stirring croon, a gospel choir and Merlon Devine’s soaring soprano sax.

Since dropping his 2007 debut album, “No Time To Waste,” Brown has performed or shared the stage with Aretha Franklin, Al Jarreau, Jeffrey Osborne, BeBe Winans, Ohio Players, Bob James, Spyro Gyra, Gerald Albright, Brian Culbertson, Najee, Paul Taylor, Paul Brown, Mindi Abair and Alexander Zonjic, among others. 


Chick Corea Akoustic Band with John Patitucci & Dave Weckl LIVE

On September 24, 2021, the legendary pianist Chick Corea posthumously released a spirited live album by his beloved Akoustic Band with bassist John Patitucci and drummer Dave Weckl - the first Akoustic Band outing in more than 20 years. The 2-CD set, recorded in January 2018 at SPC Music Hall in St. Petersburg, Florida, serves as a celebratory reminder of Corea’s singular genius.

Under any circumstances, Chick Corea Akoustic Band LIVE would be a welcome addition to Corea’s prodigious discography. With the news of his passing still so fresh in listeners’ minds, its release comes as an opportunity for fans to bid farewell while cherishing the communal energy and playful vigor that made the pianist a favorite of jazz lovers around the world for nearly 60 years. And the reunion of the Akoustic Band is emblematic of the esteem in which Corea held his fellow musicians, as he made sure to express in his final statement.

“[To] my amazing musician friends who have been like family to me as long as I’ve known you,” he wrote. “It has been a blessing and an honor learning from and playing with all of you. My mission has always been to bring the joy of creating anywhere I could, and to have done so with all the artists that I admire so dearly—this has been the richness of my life.”

Brian Culbertson | "The Trilogy, Part 1: Red"

Hitmaker Brian Culbertson never imagined hanging with fans online would lead to something of a collaborative masterclass spawning an album trilogy, but that’s how “The Trilogy” was conceived. The first album in the series, an intimate, passion-themed set titled “The Trilogy, Part 1: Red,” dropped Friday from BCM Entertainment. Written, produced and performed by Culbertson, the multi-instrumentalist credits members of his Hang Club with helping him craft the tracks, title the songs, and even assist with the cover artwork via weekly members-only YouTube Live sessions.

As viewership for Culbertson’s Friday night Facebook Live show, The Hang, took off in the spring of 2020 while he was unable to tour, he hatched the idea of creating The Hang Club, providing exclusive perks and behind-the-scenes opportunities for tier two members and above, including access to smaller Monday and Wednesday night live streams via YouTube unlisted. The Monday night sessions evolved into somewhat of a masterclass at which “Professor BC,” as Hang Club members dubbed him, wrote songs with immediate input from the Hang Club.

“What was cool about it was I truly got instant fan feedback of what they were digging and what they may not like. I got to bring them along, educating the fanbase on what an early demo sounds like, which is nothing like a finished record. I had to educate everyone’s ears to understand where it starts - the beginning, middle and end - after it’s mastered and how it really transforms over time and gets better and better and better slowly. That’s been a fun part both from my side and for them,” said Culbertson about Hang Club members.

As he wrote more material, Culbertson began to notice that the songs emotionally fell into three distinctive categories: passion, melancholy and hope. Then he envisioned assigning a color scheme to each theme: red, blue and white.

“When I first started the process, I did not have ‘The Trilogy’ in mind. I was just writing new songs at that point. I started writing a bunch and it slowly came into focus that they all sounded sonically similar in terms of the production style. However, the feeling that you would get from the songs became clear in three distinct groups. For instance, on ‘Red,’ all those songs were clearly about passion and love. Some of the songs were melancholy, sad – really made you think…introspection. Then, the third section of songs were more fun, happy and hopeful. ‘The Trilogy’ mirrors a relationship arc. ‘Red’ is the steamy beginning, ‘Blue’ is the rocky middle, and ‘White’ is the ‘and they lived happily ever after.’”

“The Trilogy, Part 1: Red” is an alluring, atmospheric listen. The rhythmic grooves churn seductively as deep bass and captivating melodies bathe and caress body, mind and soul. Romantic and desirous, steamy and intense, sultry and sexy.

Keeping with the cozy nature of the material, Culbertson plays most of the instruments himself, including piano, keyboards, Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer, Hammond B3 organ, bass, drums and percussion, trombone, and even some guitar. The record includes contributions by guitarists Isaiah Sharkey, Randy Bowland and Darnell “Showcase” Taylor; bassists Alex Al and Rishon Odell, and vocalist Micaela Haley. Culbertson also surprises with dreamy, layered vocalese on “Infatuation” and a full lead wordless vocal on “Lost in You.” In fact, the latter made it onto the album at the urging of the Hang Club.    

“I was messing around trying to write a cool-sounding track, thinking maybe one day someone would put lyrics to it. I had it in the vault for a while. One night, I played it for the Hang Club, and they freaked out. They loved it and said it should be on the record,” said Culbertson, who revealed that his vocalese will appear on all three parts of “The Trilogy.”

The first track from “The Trilogy, Part 1: Red” issued as a single is “Feel the Love,” a sensual instrumental R&B groove that opens the album and sets the mood for what’s to come.

An element that stands out while listening to the lavish sonicscapes that Culbertson constructed for his 23rd album is the lofty production qualities. The tracks are textured tapestries, intricate and lush yet still full of space. As a producer, Culbertson is in constant pursuit of new sounds, growing, evolving and elevating the listening experience of his albums with each successive recording.

“I’m trying to make music that is fresh sounding and hopefully has sounds that you have never heard before. But of course, it’s mixed with sounds you are familiar with, like my piano, Rhodes and organ…whatever it may be. But all the extra stuff around it, that’s where you can get really creative and look for unique and exciting sounds that take you somewhere new or somewhere else,” said Culbertson who has tallied close to forty Billboard No. 1 singles as an artist, songwriter and/or producer.

Culbertson is about seventy percent through the second and third parts of “The Trilogy” and will continue to rely on the Hang Club’s input to help complete the sets. The “Blue” album is slated to release on January 14, 2022, and the “White” album will drop on May 6, 2022. That will make it three albums – 30 songs – in an eight-month span. A challenge inherent with being so prolific is how to present all the music live.

“I will have released four new albums since I last toured (“Winter Stories,” “XX,” “Music From The Hang” and now “The Trilogy, Part 1: Red”), five if you count the ‘Soundscapes’ EP (a nature-themed foray into film music released last March). Therefore, I have a lot of new music to play on tour. The show is going to be full of songs that you know and love, plus some songs from the newer albums. Basically, a mix of the classics and a handful of the new stuff,” said Culbertson who just finished his third annual Chicago Jazz Getaway festival and will be out on a three-week concert trek in November throughout the South, Mid-Atlantic and the Midwest.

Avi Wisnia | "Catching Leaves"

Philadelphia songwriter Avi Wisnia is pleased to announce ‘Catching Leaves,’ his first full-length album in more than a decade, out November 5th. Produced by acclaimed bassist/conductor Ken Pendergast (Melody Gardot, Macy Gray), the collection follows the passing of Wisnia’s brother, who first introduced him to the joy of music, and grandfather, a singer and Holocaust survivor who helped him rediscover its communal power. Wisnia writes with a gentle touch, reflecting on love and loss as he crafts a tender ode to living in the moment, to surrendering to forces beyond our control and finding peace in growth, change, and acceptance. The arrangements are similarly honest and intimate, mixing hints of jazz, roots, and the Great American Songbook together into an organic swirl that’s at once beautiful and bittersweet.

“In order to make this album, I had to learn to lean into my grief and sadness and all the feelings of loss and uncertainty I was dealing with,” Wisnia explains. “I had to examine the moments that felt so overwhelming and learn to see the beauty in them.” 

Each track on ‘Catching Leaves’ is its own little sonic universe, singular in its delivery yet inextricably tied to the greater whole by Wisnia’s rich, compelling vocals, which feel equally at home floating atop lush strings and horns as they do anchoring spare, meditative moments of piano and guitar. The result is a moving, intimate album shaped by the power of human connection and community, a riveting collection that calls to mind everyone from Rufus Wainwright and Teddy Thompson to Ron Sexsmith and Gabriel Kahane as it navigates darkness and doubt, faith and family, pain and resilience. 

As the son of a rabbi and grandson of a cantor, Wisnia learned to be comfortable onstage in front of crowds at a young age. Born and raised in Princeton, New Jersey, he gravitated towards music from the start, composing melodies on the piano as soon as he was tall enough to reach the keys. At five, he enrolled in classical lessons, and by the time he finished high school, he’d landed a spot at NYU to study theory and composition. Spurred on by the sea of songwriters and storytellers that surrounded him in New York, Wisnia began taking his songs to open mic nights and booking club shows, honing his chops as a writer and performer at popular venues like Rockwood Music Hall, The Living Room, and The Bitter End. After graduation, he returned to New Jersey to record his debut EP, ‘Avi Wisnia Presents,’ in the sanctuary of his father’s synagogue. Sold-out release shows in New York and Philadelphia followed, as did Wisnia’s critically acclaimed full-length debut, ‘Something New,’ which landed him tour dates around the country and abroad, including performances alongside artists as diverse as Ani DiFranco, The Roots, and Arturo Sandoval.

Just as things were beginning to take off, though, tragedy struck, and Wisnia was forced to say goodbye to his brother, who was not only a frequent collaborator, but his best friend. The loss hit hard, and for a time, Wisnia walked away from writing and performing altogether, uncertain how he’d return until 2015, when he received an invitation to sing with his grandfather. 

“My grandfather was a singer and a holocaust survivor,” Wisnia explains, “and while he wasn’t one to really talk about his emotions, he always spoke through his music, using it to help tell his story. Performing with him helped me find my purpose again. He taught me that we can carry a lot of pain and grief with us and still see the joy and the beauty in life; that it’s okay if we are unable to move on from loss, because we can always find ways to move forward with it.” 

Inspired by his grandfather’s example, Wisnia reconnected with the power of music to bring people together. He relocated to Philadelphia, where he immersed himself in city life, spending long, introspective afternoons in the South Philly neighborhood where his brother used to live, sitting and writing in Palumbo Park (the album’s cover art was shot there in front of a large-scale mural titled “Autumn Revisited”). 

When it came time to record his new album, Wisnia convened a band of Philadelphia talent at Morning Star Studios just outside the city in East Norriton, PA, where they laid down the core elements of the album with a series of tender, precise performances. Sticking primarily to acoustic instruments, he aimed to keep things grounded and timeless, drawing on the likes of Chet Baker and Vince Guaraldi as sonic touchstones before returning to the city for finishing touches with Pendergast, whose inventive approach incorporated everything from Wisnia’s childhood Fisher Price xylophone to the clacking keys of a vintage typewriter. 

Album opener “Catching Leaves” sets the scene, with shuffling drums and jazz-tinged piano giving way to a gorgeous meditation on the power of being present, on sitting still and observing the mysterious splendor of the world around you. Like much of the collection, the track draws heavily on naturalist imagery, examining the turning of the seasons and the weather as metaphors for the passage of time and the kind of change that inevitably ushers us along. 

“The weather and the seasons, particularly the autumn, helped color all of the songs I was coming up with at the time,” he explains. “In nature, there are so many things that happen that are entirely beyond our control, and I think it’s good to be reminded of your place in the world.” 

It is particularly poignant given the recent loss of his grandfather, but if there’s one thing Catching Leaves has taught Wisnia, it’s that music binds us, both in life and in death. It keeps our memories alive, it keeps our hearts full, and it keeps us connected to one another. Even when we feel like we can’t move on, the music helps us find a way to move forward.

Monday, September 20, 2021

The Gold Souls | "94 Chevy"

The Gold Souls are bringing the driving grooves of funk, the rich textures of soul, and the compelling storytelling of the blues to the Northern California scene and beyond. Drawing from a wide range of influences and experiences, they deliver captivating lyrics and fresh arrangements over a vintage sound.

Led by the dynamic Juniper Waller, the group is made up of young talent hailing from the Bay and Sacramento areas. With Darius Upshaw on guitar, Alex Severson on the keys, Billy D. Thompson on the drums, and Avery Jeffry on bass, each member has a hand in writing and song composition, making The Gold Souls a truly collaborative effort.

“‘94 Chevy is a fun and upbeat funk about an imaginary police chase in our actual tour van,” says co-writer and drummer Billy D. Thompson. “It’s a musically adventurous song that moves through different sonic scapes to emphasize the twists and turns of the story.”

“Our van took us up and down the West Coast and all the way out to New Orleans and back, so we felt it deserved its own single,” adds lead singer and co-writer Juniper Waller.

The Gold Souls burst on the Sacramento music scene in early 2017 and are swiftly becoming one of the most promising new talents in the area.

They released their self-titled five song EP in May of 2017, and toured down the California coast soon after in support of the fresh blues, soul-funk EP. Their next single, “Nobody,” was released in late 2017 and was featured on Apple Music Blues’ Hot Tracks list. They released their full-length album “Good to Feel” in June of 2018, an album that stuck to their core oath to never sacrifice the groove.

Their next single, “True Blue” was produced/engineered by multi-Grammy winner Timothy Bloom (Smokey Robinson) and was released in February of 2019. That April, the band went on tour through southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and New Orleans.

“Strongman” was released in the Summer of 2019 as a single that promotes a story of female-empowerment through rich soul textures and a vintage-inspired sound. The release was accompanied by a visually stunning lyric video in October of that year. After their performance at the Joshua Tree Music Festival, The Gold Souls toured up to the Pacific Northwest and wrapped 2019 with a NYE show with their fans at The Palm Playhouse.

2020 hardly slowed the Souls down, as they spent the year working on their forthcoming second album and live-streaming many concerts to their fans as they sheltered in place. They released their latest single, “Got It” in May of 2020 which promoted a message of community empowerment and unity. The single was accompanied by a collaborative music video with animation from artists all around the world. 

2021 and beyond look promising for the band, as they get back to their busy schedule of traveling around Northern California and rocking stages for the live music-starved masses. 

Moving forward, The Gold Souls will be releasing their New full Album. On Oct. 29th and they will be hitting the road with a Tour set for the first two weeks of November.  

Eric Krasno | "Always"

On “Silence,” the new single from songwriter-producer Eric Krasno’s forthcoming solo album ‘Always’ (2/4, Mascot Label Group), Krasno explores the emotional havoc that a lack of communication can wreak on the human psyche. “Silence is a song I wrote a number of years ago about the torture of not knowing,” he explains. “I sing about how the silent treatment can make your mind spiral into the darkest place where you assume the worst situation is inevitable. This was the first track I worked on with Otis McDonald for the album. The original track I sent him had just acoustic guitar, piano, and vocals. As we built the track, I think it set the tone and feel for the album as a whole.”

On his fourth full-length solo album, ‘Always,’ Krasno consecrates, commends, and celebrates the permanence of family. Across ten tracks with inimitable instrumentation, eloquent songcraft, and raw honesty, the Soulive and Lettuce co-founder, singer, multi-instrumentalist, and two-time GRAMMY® Award-winning artist defines himself as not only an artist, but also as a husband, father, and man. “Before 2020, I was having a good time, but I wasn’t grounded at all,” he explains. “I was going from gig to gig. I was always running around without a purpose. During the last year, I found my people in terms of my wife and son. I’ve created a family who will always be there for me. That’s what the album is about.”

Something of a musical journeyman, Krasno’s extensive catalog comprises three solo albums, four Lettuce albums, twelve Soulive albums, and production and/or songwriting for Norah Jones, Robert Randolph, Pretty Lights, Talib Kweli, 50 Cent, Aaron Neville, and Allen Stone. As a dynamic performer, he’s shared stages with Rolling Stones, Dave Matthews Band, John Mayer, and The Roots. Out of seven nominations, he picked up two GRAMMY® Awards for his role as a songwriter and guitarist on Tedeschi Trucks Band’s ‘Revelator’ and guitarist on Derek Trucks Band’s ‘Already Free.’

But as the Global Pandemic changed the world’s plans, he found himself thinking a lot and writing just as much. At the suggestion of old Lettuce bandmate Adam Deitch, he connected with musician and producer Otis McDonald and collaborated on a version of Bob Dylan’s “The Man In Me,” a song that had taken on a deeper significance for Eric in recent years. “My wife and I got married, bought a house, and had a baby,” he recalls. “I had heard the song many times before, but it had never quite hit me the way it was hitting me. I recorded it with just acoustic guitar and vocals, and I loved what Otis did to it. He sent it back to me, and I thought, ‘This is exactly how I want to make my next record’.”

Recording first virtually and then at the Bay Area’s legendary Hyde Street Studios, famous for 2Pac, Grateful Dead, and Digital Underground, Krasno and McDonald tapped into a shared spirit as co-producers, ultimately forming Eric Krasno & The Assembly with Otis on bass, Wil Blades on keys and organ, Curtis Kelly on drums, and James VIII on guitar and vocals. The release of “Silence” follows “So Cold,” an icy beat bolts down the groove as Eric’s soulful intonation cools the tense riff. In the wake of a hummable hook, a bluesy guitar solo takes hold as each bend wails.

“It’s about a relationship,” he explains. “This girl takes out her anger on other people, and the guy is trying to get to the bottom of what’s wrong and why she’s so cold. You’re trying to leave dark things behind and move into a more positive place. It has a hopeful tone because I’ve gotten past it.”

In the end, Eric welcomes everyone to be a part of his family on ‘Always.’

“If you take away a message of love and the Always concept, that’s great,” he leaves off. “Most of all, I want to put you in a happy place. In the past, I personally just felt like I was a guitarist, songwriter, and a producer. Now, I feel like a fully formed artist.”

Friday, September 17, 2021

Ray Obiedo | "Latin Jazz Project Vol. 2"

Ray Obiedo: Latin Jazz Project Vol. 2 on Rhythmus Records, is the 10th release by the Bay Area guitarist and composer. This project is a collection of Obiedo’s original Latin Jazz compositions, including one jazz standard by composer/arranger Gerald Wilson. Obiedo enlisted some of the music industry's top musicians and longtime cohorts for the project. Yellowjackets’ reed man Bob Mintzer, percussionist extraordinaire Sheila E., flutist Norbert Stachel, trumpeter Mike Olmos, percussionist Peter Michael Escovedo all make significant appearances. Santana members: keyboardist David K. Mathews, trombonist and arranger Jeff Cressman, and percussionist Karl Perazzo also contribute their expertise. 

This collection also features Tower of Power drummer David Garibaldi, Hungarian pianist Peter Horvath, steel pan player Phil Hawkins, vocalists Lilan Kane, Sandy Cressman & Jenny Meltzer and Dutch brothers Marc and Paul van Wageningen on bass and drums. Obiedo has 5 previous releases on the Windham Hill Jazz label. Latin Jazz Project Vol. 2 is the 4th release on his Oakland-based Rhythmus Records label. The music on Latin Jazz Project Vol. 2 is a highly-energized and rhythmically-hypnotic soundscape that reveals all the passion, flavor, color and style of the San Francisco Bay Area that nurtured and inspired Obiedo's latest musical venture.

Cathy Segal-Garcia | "Social Anthems"

Cathy Segal-Garcia is one of the most prolific recording and performing jazz artists on the scene today. An impresario, teacher, and jazz champion, she is a friend and linchpin for many singers and musicians on the Los Angeles jazz scene. Her newest album, Social Anthems, Volume 1, is her 14th CD as a leader. As an artist, Segal-Garcia is always looking for new avenues of expression. She forms each of her projects around a different theme, instrumentation or musical style, and Social Anthems is no different. This time, she moves the needle forward by looking back to the past by singing memorable songs of social import with sparkling new arrangements. These songs are originally outside of the jazz genre, but Segal-Garcia and her superb band reinterpret them with soulful, contemporary jazz arrangements. Segal-Garcia always surrounds herself with top musicians.

For this recording, she works with a few mainstays on the Southern California jazz scene, as well as New York vocalist Paul Jost, who is widely known as one of the best male jazz vocalists since Mark Murphy, and vocalist Mon David, who is known for his stirring, heartfelt vocals and imaginative, improvisatory vocal approach. Segal-Garcia chose each of the songs on Social Anthems because they resonated deeply with her. Her clear, cool voice and ability to convey lyrics with warmth and sensitivity, combined with her jazz chops, are always the main attraction of her albums. But when you add the innovative arrangements by Josh Nelson and Anthony Wilson and the superb contributions of Jost, David, and the entire band, Social Anthems is Segal-Garcia’s most compelling album yet.

Soul-Jazz Artist Ragan Whiteside Scores Her Seventh Consecutive Billboard Top 10 Career Record

Contemporary Soul-Jazz phenomenon Ragan Whiteside scores her seventh consecutive Billboard Top 10 career record. Her current single, “Off The Cuff,” lands at No. 9 on the Contemporary Jazz chart. Co-written by Whiteside with her husband, noted producer Dennis Johnson, and veteran producer and keyboardist Bob Baldwin, “Off The Cuff” will be featured on her February 2022 yet-to-be-titled album. The single is also No. 2 on Radiowave’s Groove Jazz Music chart. “Off The Cuff” is now among Whiteside’s winning streak of Billboard Top 10 records, including “JJ’s Strut,” “Reminiscing,” “Jam It,” “Early Arrival,” “See You At The Get Down,” and the Billboard No. 1 “Corey’s Bop.”  

The top-charting instrumentalist says, “This is a dream come true, especially during a time where there is an abundance of great music hitting the airwaves. I’m so grateful.”

While continuing to impact the music charts, Whiteside is featured on Ashford and Simpson’s classic anthem, “I’m Every Woman,” with an instrumental rendering featuring flutists Althea Rene and Kim Scott. She co-wrote with her production partner Dennis Johnson, Bob Baldwin’s new single, “B Positive.” This week, “B Positive” is No. 1 most added for two consecutive weeks and No. 1 most increased spins. Whiteside is also featured on Contemporary Jazz artist Jarez’s current single, “This Time Around,” which is gaining positive momentum on the charts, and is the fourth single from his current project, J Funk City. 

As the host of her four-hour Saturday morning radio show on Atlanta’s WCLK 91.9 FM, Ragan Whiteside’s show is growing exponentially with an increase of listeners and supporters. There are also upcoming plans to expand her platform on the show in 2022. On Saturday, October 1, Whiteside will be in her native New York City, where she will be a featured headliner at Yonkers Riverfest on the Waterfront Stage. 

To date, the composer, vocalist, and instrumentalist has released five albums, including the 2020 five-track EP Five Up Top, 2017’s Treblemaker, 2014’s Quantum Drive, 2012’s Evolve, and 2007’s Class Axe. She was also a finalist for the Smooth Jazz Network’s Artist of the Year for two consecutive years.

Chuck Owen and The Jazz Surge | "Within Us"

Composer and bandleader Chuck Owen celebrates the 25th anniversary of his Grammy-nominated big band The Jazz Surge on stunning new album Within Us, due out September 17, 2021 via Summit Records, reconvenes Owen’s vibrant 19-piece big band along with special guest vibraphonist Warren Wolf to commemorate the band’s silver anniversary and the resolute spirit that steered it through the past year.

With the 25th anniversary of his groundbreaking big band, The Jazz Surge, swiftly approaching, Florida-based composer and bandleader Chuck Owen saw an obvious theme for the ensemble’s upcoming seventh album. It’s an impressive landmark for any large ensemble, of course, but especially worth commemorating for one that’s been hailed as “riotous and joyous” (JazzTimes) and “rapturous” (DownBeat), earned seven Grammy nominations, and led its founder to such high-profile opportunities as composing and arranging for the WDR Big Band.

 As a global pandemic interfered and delay after delay pushed back the planned recording session, however, a new theme began to emerge. Once this tight-knit group of musicians emerged from quarantine and reunited in the studio in May, there were far more important ideas to express than the mere passage of time. The remarkable new album that emerged, Within Us, is a testament to the vibrant collective identity forged by the band over the past quarter-century.

“For almost everybody in the band, it was the first time they’d recorded with actual people in the same room since the beginning of the pandemic,” Owen recalls. “Just being together became such a joyous occasion. There was an amazing sense of community. Within Us really seemed to represent this sense of what we’d all been through and the inner strength, especially collectively, that drove us through it. We all felt that was worth celebrating once we were on the other side of it.”

Due out September 17, 2021 via Summit Records, Within Us features a stellar 19-piece ensemble, including several members who have been with the Surge since its self-titled 1996 debut, with vibraphone great Warren Wolf joins the band as special guest.

Within Us takes its title from an uncharacteristically hopeful quote by the typically darker-toned author and existentialist Albert Camus, from his essay “Return to Tipasa.”

“In the midst of hate, I found there was, within me, an invincible love. In the midst of tears, I found there was, within me, an invincible smile. In the midst of chaos, I found there was, within me, an invincible calm. I realized, through it all, that . . .In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.”

Owen paraphrased the quote, changing the “within me” to the more communal “us,” characteristic of his collaborative nature. The Jazz Surge itself was not originally planned to be a vehicle for his own work, but an extension of his teaching at the University South Florida, an institution from which he’ll retire this summer after 40 years. He’d written an article stressing the importance of jazz repertory in music education, so decided to put his words into action with the founding of the South Eastern Repertory Jazz Ensemble – or, SERJE. After an initial rehearsal using some of his own charts he realized how much fun it was to hear his music played by such a gifted band, and the SERJE ceased being an acronym and became the soundalike Surge.

Owen’s joy in hearing his compositions brought to life by the band remains evident 25 years later. Opener “Chelsea Shuffle” brims with that excitement, even given its somewhat tragic origins. Legendary pianist Chick Corea was originally slated to be the album’s special guest, so Owen arranged this Corea composition to feature him. The pianist’s untimely death leaves the tune as a fittingly exuberant send-off.

It was Corea’s longtime partnership with Gary Burton that turned Owen’s thoughts to the vibraphone, leading to Wolf being recruited as the date’s special guest. His agile playing graces both “Chelsea Shuffle” and Owen’s lush “The Better Claim,” revisiting a piece from the Surge’s 2013 suite River Runs. “Milestones,” of course, is a holdover from the album’s original title. Owen’s arrangement of the Miles Davis classic fuses it with “Surge,” the first composition he ever wrote expressly for the ensemble, bridging the band’s past and present in the span of one tune.

Other pieces look nostalgically back while gazing resolutely forward with a tentative optimism, befitting both the album’s status as an anniversary celebration as well as its tribute to the band’s strong resolution. “Trail of the Ancients” and “Apalachicola” both ruminate on Owen’s love of and concern for the environment, while “American Noir” is a cynically hopeful recap of recent political turmoil inspired by Chinatown soundtrack composer Jerry Goldsmith. “Sparks Fly” and the title track (subtitled “An Invincible Summer”) are both more direct tributes to Owen’s dedicated bandmates. 

“I'm incredibly grateful to be commemorating 25 years with this band,” Owen concludes. “It really changed the trajectory of my career and gave me a newfound focus for my writing. I now had specific people that I was writing for, and through them I discovered so many things. Ultimately it’s allowed me to take more artistic risks based on the fact that I have wonderful musicians that are willing to go on the ride with me.” 

Central Florida-based Chuck Owen has been a revered composer and bandleader as well as a committed, passionate and nationally respected jazz educator for over 40 years. Thoughtful, creative, evocative, and intensely personal, his compositions and arrangements are steeped in the jazz tradition but draw liberally and often playfully from a diverse array of additional influences that include contemporary classical, American folk/roots music, Latin, funk, hip-hop and even country music. Since founding it in 1995, Owen’s primary creative outlet has been the 19-piece Jazz Surge, and he has served as conductor, primary composer/arranger, and producer of all of its highly feted releases, which have garnered seven GRAMMY nominations. His compositional talents have also been recognized by a Guggenheim Fellowship. During its history the Surge has hosted such special guests as Chick Corea, Joe Lovano, Randy Brecker, Bob Brookmeyer, John Clayton, Dave Douglas and Gerald Wilson, among many others.

Masabumi Kikuchi | "Hanamichi"

The final studio recording from the late Japanese pianist Masabumi Kikuchi, Hanamichi is the culmination of a lifetime of musical exploration and discovery.

Six revelatory tracks by the late Japanese pianist Masabumi Kikuchi are featured on Hanamichi, the debut release by Red Hook Records, due out April 16, 2021, in digital, LP, and CD formats. Recorded over a two-day New York session on a magnificent Steinway, the music marks a divergence from the mostly free improvising Poo (Kikuchi’s nickname), who died at age 75 in 2015, practiced during his final years. Kikuchi’s radiant playing sparkles with melodic exploration and expression in renditions of lesser-known tunes and popular standards.

As Kevin Whitehead writes in these excerpts from the album’s liner notes:

“I don’t have any technique,” Kikuchi protested to the New York Times’ Ben Ratliff, a year and a half before recording Hanamichi. More accurate to say he’d developed his own. He played with fingers curved, hands moving crablike or poised banana-bunched. Sometimes his palms drooped below the keyboard, and sometimes he played with hands crossed or overlapping. You can hear the resultant sonic knots on “Improvisation” and the first “My Favorite Things”: churnings from which instant melodies suddenly arise.

For Hanamichi, producer Sun Chung nudged him toward playing tunes, in addition to his free improvisations. That proved to be a good idea. Poo didn’t bring music or a setlist, calling selections in the moment. One is a personal standard, a staple of  his sets since 1970, the ballad for his daughter “Little Abi.”

You can measure how radically Kikuchi transforms Mabel Wayne’s brisk Spanish waltz “Ramona” by the seven-second gap between the first and second notes of the melody once he finally gets around to it. Languid tempo lets him build, and the final melody statement in a new key is freighted with accumulated feeling. That tempo lets us hear Kikuchi’s command of pedaling and of overtones at the margins: the high thin sheen of ringing harmonics that persists through changing chords.

While some pianists who ride sustain pedal overplay, Kikuchi pares back, choosing notes with extra care for clarity. Humming piano harp is a shifting backdrop to present action, not a heavy curtain descending on it. Kikuchi’s “Summertime” announces the melody with playfully ambiguous barroom tremolos and distorts the graceful timing of Gershwin’s internal cadences. All those dynamics he minds are on display: piano rings in many ways, across the registers — another zone of dynamic variation. In the performance’s back half, an overflight of chattering birds/dissolving high chords unhatches Poo’s eerie buzzard voice. Other pianists sing along with their right hands; Kikuchi’s keening would beam in from beyond, an independent voice. On Hanamichi, his utterances are few and surprisingly on point, intensifying musical effect.

Two radically different “My Favorite Things” confirm Hanamichi’s improvisatory spontaneity: two days, two perspectives. Taking his time on the longer take, Kikuchi finds implications in the melody and harmony that skirling modal versions gloss over. As on “Abi” he strikes hammered-anvil chords, dynamic alloys of timbre, harmony and attack. They signify, and remind us, that Masabumi Kikuchi’s piano music is not about rippling over the keys but making the instrument sound.

Masabumi “Poo” Kikuchi (October 19, 1939 – July 6, 2015) was a Japanese jazz pianist and composer. Born in Tokyo, he studied music at the Tokyo Art College High School. He worked with a diverse range of musicians, including Lionel Hampton, McCoy Tyner, Mal Waldron, Elvin Jones, Miles Davis, and Gary Peacock. His vast discography covered a wide range of styles, ranging from straight-up post-bop and vanguard classical to fusion, synthesizer, and digital dub. After winning a DownBeat magazine contest for overseas musicians, he won a full scholarship for Berklee College of Music, playing piano for Sonny Rollins’ Japanese tour before departing for the United States. He gained renown as a leader, sideman, and featured guest, recording albums and touring with jazz music’s top players. Over the decades he experimented with electric music, synthesizer, improvisation, and new forms. In 1990 he released the Bill Laswell-produced Dreamachine and began his significant, longtime collaboration with drummer Paul Motian. He continued to play and release new music until his death in 2015.


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