Thursday, December 23, 2021

Ann-Margret & Sonny Landreth | "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree"

It has been awhile since one of Hollywood's brightest lights and star of the film classics such as Bye Bye Birdie and Viva Las Vegas, Ann-Margret, has gifted the world with new musical recordings. So what better time than Christmas for the woman once dubbed the “female Elvis Presley” to return to the medium that launched her epic career? Ann-Margret is happy to announce the release of her brilliant and vivacious new version of “Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree” today on all digital platforms. With special guest, southern blues icon Sonny Landreth, joining in the fun, these two artists have crafted a vibrant rendition of a holiday favorite that seems tailor-made for Ann-Margret's sultry voice.

The track presages a new full-length album that Ann-Margret has been hard at work on and will be released in 2022. The project will pair her with several stellar guest artists including Bobby Rydell (who co-starred in Bye Bye Birdie), Blondie's Clem Burke, Wrecking Crew member Don Randi, rockabilly superstar Danny B. Harvey and more!

Also, for those in the Los Angeles area, Ann-Margret will be making an appearance at a special private engagement on January 13 at the Montalban Theater with special guest Rydell!

Fred Hersch | "Breath By Breath"

Iconic pianist/composer Fred Hersch was an early adopter of new technologies and new ways forward when the pandemic hit in early 2020. But he’s also been among the most eager to return to live performance and collaboration now that life has begun to resume some semblance of normality. In August he returned to the studio to record one of his most ambitious projects to date: Breath By Breath, his first album ever pairing jazz rhythm section with string quartet. 

“I’ve put all my streaming gear away,” declares Hersch, whose lockdown months started off with daily performances on Facebook and culminated in last year’s solo release Live From Home. “It was great while that was what it was, and now I'm in this place where it's live or nothing.” 

Due out January 7, 2022 via Palmetto Records, Breath By Breath draws inspiration from the pianist’s longtime practice of mindfulness meditation, centered on the new eight-movement “Sati Suite.” But while the album is certainly contemplative and lustrous, it’s far from being merely an ambient backdrop for blissful relaxation – the music on Breath By Breath is as fully engaged and emotionally rich as any that Hersch has made over the course of his remarkable career.

In part that’s due to the musicians Hersch has enlisted for the album. Bassist Drew Gress was a member of the pianist’s first trio and has been an inspiring bandstand partner for more than three decades. Jochen Rueckert is one of the most in-demand drummers on the modern scene, having played with such greats as Kurt Rosenwinkel, Mark Turner, Melissa Aldana and Pat Metheny. The Crosby Street String Quartet, named for the NYC address where they first rehearsed with Hersch, combines four of the city’s busiest freelance string players: violinists Joyce Hammann and Laura Seaton, violist Lois Martin, and cellist Jody Redhage Ferber. 

“String quartets have been some of my favorite music to listen to my whole life,” Hersch explains. As he writes in the album’s liner notes, “I grew up listening to string quartets as a very young musician in Cincinnati. My piano teacher was the wife of the cellist in the famous LaSalle Quartet. I used to lie on the rug in their living room as an elementary school student while they rehearsed, quietly following along, hearing how the viola part meshed with the first violin, or the second violin and the cello. And ever since I started studying composition at age eight, almost all of my music has always focused on four melodic parts - so string quartets are a natural musical configuration for me.” 

The string writing on Breath By Breath spotlights the broad scope of Hersch’s compositional imagination. With each piece the quartet seems to take on a new role in relation to the piano trio: a lush background on one tune, an equal partner in dialogue on the next, an abstract instigator on yet another. “It was important to me that we record live with the strings so I could interact with what they were playing,” Hersch says. “I didn't want to lay down the music and then have them come in later and overdub. I felt like the fun of the project was to do it live.”

“Sati” is a Pali word meaning “mindfulness” or “awareness,” an idea that is central to Hersch’s meditation practice – which itself took on an even more profound importance during the pandemic. “It basically saved me,” he says with no hint of exaggeration. “Meditation is not about not emptying your mind; it's about observation. The phrase I like to use is, ‘relax, allow and observe.’ When I meditate it’s about recognizing sensations or thoughts as they come in and out, observing them and realizing that they're just phenomena. The brain thinks, and there's nothing wrong with that.”

The first movement, “Begin Again” references the cycle of renewal that begins fresh with each moment. Other pieces touch on different aspects of the process. “Know That You Are,” the composition that initiated the suite, refers to the foundational instruction, “When you sit, know that you are sitting and when you breath, know that you are breathing.” The often frantic activity of a mind struggling to be at rest is the subject of “Monkey Mind,” while “Mara,” which features a guest appearance by percussionist Rogerio Boccato, is the name of the god who tempted Buddha with wine, women and wealth.

Bringing meditation to the forefront of his music brings Hersch full circle in a sense, as he recognized when he began the practice decades ago. “When I started, I realized that in a way I've been meditating my whole life – but on a piano bench. I close my eyes when I play and I go into in that world. Occasionally I get distracted, but I don't get wrapped up in it. Instead of my breath being an anchor, the anchor is the sound that I get, the tactile feeling of my fingers on the keys, hearing the space around the music, and leaving that space for other musicians to contribute.”

Breath By Breath, then, is a recognition that meditation has been a way for Hersch to align his daily existence with the enlightened state he reaches while playing the piano. With the release of this captivating new recording, the rest of us are fortunate enough to glimpse that place and to feel its life-affirming impact on our own hearts and souls. 

A select member of jazz’s piano pantheon, Fred Hersch is an influential creative force who has shaped the music’s course over more than three decades. A fifteen-time Grammy nominee, Hersch has long set the standard for expressive interpretation and inventive creativity. A revered improviser, composer, educator, bandleader, collaborator and recording artist, Hersch has been proclaimed “the most arrestingly innovative pianist in jazz over the last decade” by Vanity Fair, “an elegant force of musical invention” by The L.A. Times, and “a living legend” by The New Yorker. For decades Hersch has been firmly entrenched as one of the most acclaimed and captivating pianists in modern jazz, whether through his exquisite solo performances, as the leader of one of jazz’s era-defining trios, or in eloquent dialogue with his deeply attuned duo partners. His brilliant 2017 memoir, Good Things Happen Slowly, was named one of 2017’s Five Best Memoirs by the Washington Post and The New York Times.

Charlie Peacock | "Blue For You"

Grammy® award-winning record producer Charlie Peacock adds another Jazz entry to his discography, an acoustic quintet set titled BLUE FOR YOU. Players are: ERIC HARLAND/drums, JOHN PATITUCCI/upright bass, CHRIS POTTER/tenor saxophone, MARCUS PRINTUP/trumpet, and Peacock on piano. The quintet performs Peacock’s compositions, “Refuge of the Wild”, “Blue For You”, and “Up Jumped Freddie.” 

While Peacock is known for his music production prowess, he has recorded with a long list of prominent jazz artists and musicians. 

Peacock followed his 2005 jazz debut, Love Press Ex-Curio (featuring Ravi Coltrane, James Genus, and Joey Baron) with Arc of the Circle (2008), an improvisational duets record with saxophonist Jeff Coffin featuring contributions from Marc Ribot and Derrek Phillips. Peacock’s solo piano outing, Lemonade, was released in 2014 and peaked at #4 on the Billboard Jazz Chart. All of Peacock’s jazz recordings have charted Top 5 on iTunes and Amazon, including 2018’s When Light Flashes featuring Jeff Coffin, Ben Perowsky, Felix Pastorius, Hilmar Jensson, and Matt White. In 2020, Peacock collaborated with bassist Steve Swallow on the single, “After All These Years” and yMusic Ensemble members, CJ Camerieri and Gabriel Cabezas on “Surprised Me Too.” In 2021, Peacock recorded “Brooklyn Brother Bond” with John Patitucci and Go Light, Go Free with the Turtle Island String Quartet.

Short Bio: Charlie Peacock is a Grammy Award-winning, multi-format performer, composer, and record producer. Peacock's production credits include Americana successes such as The Lone Bellow, Holly Williams, Ben Rector, Brett Dennen and "Misery Chain" for Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell featuring Joy Williams, from the soundtrack to the film, 12 Years A Slave. Peacock composed the title theme to the AMC drama Turn: Washington’s Spies featuring Joy Williams and The National’s Matt Berninger. Peacock founded the Commercial Music Program at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee and served as Director of the School of Music.

Nicholas Payton | "Smoke Sessions (Remixed)"

Though it’s never simple (or advisable) to pin Nicholas Payton down to a particular genre or style, the renowned trumpeter, keyboardist, and composer’s two recent releases for Smoke Sessions Records have found him in relatively traditional acoustic trio mode. He was accompanied by the powerhouse rhythm section of bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington on 2019’s live Relaxin’ With Nick, then with the generation spanning trio of drummer Karriem Riggins and legendary bassist Ron Carter on 2021’s acclaimed Smoke Sessions.

But Payton, it turns out, had more transformative intentions in mind for the latter session. On his new EP Smoke Sessions (Remixed), due out March 8 via Smoke Sessions Records, he turns the raw material of four of the album’s tracks over to Riggins and the rising star multi-instrumentalist producer Tomoki Sanders to create remixed versions of the tunes refracted through the lens of the hip hop generation.

This post-modern hybrid approach to what others may view as disparate genres is central to much of Payton’s discography, so it certainly makes sense that he would hear the potential for such electronic reimagining in the music he recorded with Carter and Riggins. “Many of my projects have a remix component built into them already,” he explains. “I felt giving those types of production treatments to an all-live acoustic session would speak more to the times in which we live. It gives the folks a bit of both worlds.”

Riggins, the drummer for the original Smoke Sessions album, puts on his producer hat for three of the four tracks on the remix EP. It’s a role he’s as comfortable playing as the one he essays behind the drumkit – he’s done production work for many of hip hop’s most creative artists, including Common, The Roots, Erykah Badu and Kanye West.

“Production and mixing [are] a significant part of Karriem’s body of work,” Payton says. “I hired him as the drummer on the session with this in mind.”

For his part, Riggins refers to Payton as, “one of those geniuses… He set the bar high and it’s always super inspirational being around him and playing music with him."

The original “Levin’s Lope” already brought inspiration full circle, taking a Ron Carter-inspired bassline from Payton’s “Cyborg Swing” and giving it to the man himself; the oft-sampled Carter now provides robust inspiration for a new Riggins beat and swirling melody. Payton’s Rhodes playing on “Gold Dust Black Magic,” which also featured guitarist Isaiah Sharkey, ripples out into a cosmic dub beat in Riggins’ hands, while guest saxophonist George Coleman’s sultry tenor sound is shrouded in stark, airy new atmospherics until a bold, funky new beat hammers into place.

The EP’s final track is another case of ricocheting inspiration. The young, uncategorizable multi-instrumentalist Tomoki Sanders, who Payton calls, “one of my favorite up and coming musician/producers,” provided a beat that helped inspire the original version of “Hangin’ In and Jivin’;” his remix amplifies and reconstructs the muscular groove at the heart of the tune.

While he insists that, “it’s never my intent to decide what anyone gets from my music,” Payton does hope that Smoke Sessions (Remixed) helps cement in listener’s minds his notion that all music co-exists in a continuum, and that genre classifications are inherently limiting. It’s an argument that on these four tracks he makes through the most enticing and infectious of means.

“I hope it highlights there’s not such a disparity between more traditional styles and current ones,” he says. “It’s all just music.”

Wednesday, December 08, 2021

Randy Brecker & Eric Marienthal Score Grammy Nomination for "Double Dealin'"

What do you get when you pair two visionaries who happen to be kindred spirits? You get an ace in the hole! Multi Grammy award-winners trumpeter/flugelhornist Randy Brecker and saxophonist Eric Marienthal, join forces for an unforgettable journey on their Shanachie Entertainment debut, Double Dealin'. It’s all aboveboard as Brecker and Marienthal opt not to follow suit, but rather let the spirit of the moment be their guide as they draw some wild cards and beautifully fuse the finer elements of traditional and contemporary jazz. Randy Brecker, who was a key player in numerous ground-breaking fusion bands like Blood, Sweat and Tears and Larry Coryell’s The Eleventh House states, “Duke Ellington said ‘There are only two kinds of music, bad and good' and we both love the latter!” Double Dealin’ marks Brecker and Marienthal’s first co-led recording and unites the dynamic duo with keyboardist and producer George Whitty, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Dave Weckl.

Brecker and Marienthal have built careers being musician’s musicians. Randy Brecker has remained at the forefront of creative music for over six decades, collaborating with everyone from Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, Horace Silver, Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, The Brecker Brothers (with his late tenor titan brother, Michael Brecker), Bruce Springsteen, Parliament/Funkadelic and Steely Dan. Saxophonist Eric Marienthal’s equally impressive career has allowed him to captivate audiences alongside everyone from Chick Corea’s Elektric Band, Patti Austin, Lee Ritenour, Elton John, Billy Joel and Stevie Wonder, among others. Longtime comrades on and off the stage, Marienthal and Brecker credit one thing for bringing them together- “Pizza!” exclaims Brecker, who won a Grammy this year for his album with the NDR Big Band. Laughing he adds, “We dig each other's playing and personalities. We also like each other’s families. Eric and I have played together many times throughout the years with different ensembles including Jeff Lorber, The GRP Big Band and always 'clicked' as a section, so we were long overdue in doing a project together.” Marienthel adds, “Yes, definitely pizza! Besides being one of the world’s great musicians and trumpet players, Randy is a very open and cool guy. Getting to play with Randy is like getting to make a pizza with Mario Batali! You just know that no matter what you do it’s going to end up being great.” 

R&B-jazz guitarist Blake Aaron's second Billboard No. 1 hit of the year "Feels So Right"

It sounds like a bright ray of sunshine. Brimful of hope, optimism and positivity, R&B-jazz guitarist Blake Aaron’s “Feels So Right” vaulted into the No. 1 spot on the Billboard singles chart before Thanksgiving, notching the Innervision Records artist’s second No. 1 single of the year. Illumined by a vibrant horn section and swatches of soulful vocal improvs, Aaron’s ebullient electric guitar melodies and rhythmic riffs set an exuberant tone for the smile-inducing tune that he wrote with hitmaking producer and keyboardist Greg Manning.

Aaron last topped the Billboard chart in June when “Sunday Strut” became the third single from his “Color and Passion” album to go No. 1 on the industry bible’s chart. The fretman went right back to work, entering the studio to begin writing and recording his seventh album that will be titled “Love and Rhythm.” “Color and Passion” was completed during last year’s coronavirus quarantine thus the material was purposely injected with upbeat vibes to provide promise and escape. Aaron knows that the struggle continues for so many people and he wanted to wrap the year by writing a melody exuding joyous anticipation for what’s to come.

“The initial inspiration for ‘Feels So Right’ came from the great track sent to me from amazing collaborator and producer Greg Manning, which inspired me to write the melody,” said Aaron, who will include his latest chart-topper on his forthcoming album.

“In this day and age of remote internet collaboration, especially during COVID-19 restrictions, it was rewarding to create ‘Feels So Right’ old school. Greg and I actually sat together in person and collaborated in his studio. I wanted to match the feel-good vibe he already had on the track and with the vocals, composing a melody that would capture the innocence of a woman dancing outside in the sun ‘like nobody is watching,’” said Aaron, explaining the image that adorns the single cover.

The “Feels So Right” rhythm track is anchored by bassist Alex Al and drummer Eric Valentine. David Mann constructed the horn arrangements, playing saxophone alongside trumpeter Trevor Neumann and saxman Jimmy Reid. It’s Ken Turner’s vocal embellishments that provide a soul-powered touch.

Typically, Aaron records and releases a handful of singles before making them the foundation of an album, a practice that he anticipates will continue with “Love and Rhythm.” Expect the collection to be another amalgam of R&B, jazz, pop, Latin, funk, fusion and rock.

This year marked Aaron’s return to the concert stage where he played clubs, theaters and festival dates, including such marquee events as the Berks Jazz Festival and the Mallorca Smooth Jazz Festival. Aaron will end the year by performing a Christmas-themed concert on December 17 at Vibrato in Los Angeles where singers Erin Stevenson and Derek Bordeaux will join him.    

Big Chief Monk Boudreaux --- Grammy Nominated Regional Roots Album

Big Chief Monk Boudreaux's album, Bloodstains & Teardrops has been nominated for a Grammy in the 'Best Regional Roots Album' category. The album, released on May 21, 2021, by Tab Benoit’s Whiskey Bayou Records, was produced by Benoit and Rueben Williams.

The oldest living Mardi Gras Indian Chief, Boudreaux is the elder of elders in a tradition dating back to the 1880s. He is a cultural hero,a recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Award, and a well-loved American musical legend. His vast discography includes many records with the Golden Eagles, collaborations with Anders Osborne, Galactic, John Gros and 101 Runners. Nodding to history but clearly thriving in present day, this living legend has performed on Saturday Night Live with Robbie Robertson and has currently been enjoying airplay on Sirius XM's B.B. Kings Bluesville station. 

On Bloodstains & Teardrops, the Caribbean cultures of Jamaica and New Orleans collide. The island and the swamp, both find inspiration from the music of the slaves in New Orleans Congo Square. Chief Monk demonstrates its similarities in lyrical, musical, and cultural content. On his journey from the island​ ​to​ ​the​ ​swamp ​he​ ​is​ ​joined​ b​y an array of musical legends including Tab Benoit, Michael Doucet, and Johnny Sansone as well ​as a host of Jamaican​ ​and​ ​Louisiana​ ​musicians​.​ 

For this project, Monk traveled to Jamaica, finding his Reggae groove with local island musicians. "My manager Rueben Williams suggested we go to Jamaica and make a record, when I got there, I found that Bob Marley had been a fan of mine for many years."

Monk recorded with the reggae band and a toasting-style backup vocalist at Tad’s International Limited studio in Kingston. The six songs he cut, reflected on the inspiration he received from being in Jamaica and seeing the parallels to his New Orleans home. The lines between blues, swamp music and reggae become blurred as Monk developed his songs.

Bloodstains & Teardrops is a beautifully produced album from a near-octogenarian cultural and musical icon. On this recording, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux successfully blurs the lines between blues, swamp music and reggae, imparting wisdom along the way.

Monday, December 06, 2021

The Temptations | "TEMPTATIONS 60"

The Grammy Award®-winning Temptations announce their much-anticipated new album, TEMPTATIONS 60.  Released by UMe, a leading global music company, the new album consists of nearly all-original songs that are both modern and classic in feel and sound. In addition to tracks produced by group members, the album brings the iconic group together again with some of its beloved producers, including the legendary and award-winning Smokey Robinson and Narada Michael Walden. Dr. Otis Williams, the group's founding member and the album's executive producer, said, "Our new album carries with it, our legacy, our love of music and our hope that through our music we can uplift and bring people together. Most of all, we want fans to enjoy it and share it with family and friends around the world. It's a thank you gift from our hearts to all of our fans, past, present and future."

As The Temptations have done throughout their career, their latest album balances love songs with topical tracks, showcasing their enduring strength across the generations. Williams co-produced, with Dennis Nelson and Thomas "TC" Campbell, five of the album's 12 tracks, including the harmony-infused ballad, "Calling Out Your Name" and the up-tempo tracks "You Don't Know Your Woman" and "How Do You Spell Love." Williams also co-produced an updated version of "Come On," a song that had been the first recording by Otis Williams & the Distants, a precursor to the Temptations, in 1959, and features a special monologue about the group's history.

The first single released from the album, "Is It Gonna Be Yes Or No," is written and produced by and features Motown superstar Smokey Robinson. In all the years Robinson has delivered such timeless Temptations' hits "The Way You Do the Things You Do," "My Girl," "Since I Lost My Baby," "Get Ready" and more, the duet marks the only time he and The Temptations have sung lead together, save for a recording of "The Christmas Song" in 1989.

TEMPTATIONS 60 also features two brand-new songs produced by Grammy-Winning Narada Michael Walden, who produced their last platinum-selling album, Phoenix Rising; he delivers the biographical beauty, "When We Were Kings," available now, which sums up the Temptations legacy to this point, and "Breaking My Back," a love song that evokes the classic Tempts' catalog.

Longtime Temptation leading vocalist and songwriter Ron Tyson, and Thomas "TC" Campbell produced two tracks, including "Time For The People," a powerful statement addressing modern issues – a "Ball of Confusion" for the 21st Century – and the island-flavored love song, "I Want It Right Now." Dave Darling, who produced the group's last album, All the Time, brought to the album a stunning cover of the Vintage Trouble song, "My Whole World Stopped Without You."

Reflecting the rich musical influences of the third decade of the 21st Century, the album opens with a uniquely contemporary track "Let it Reign," featuring Queens New York, Hip Hop artist K. Sparks.  Much in the way "Cloud Nine" marked a bold update in the group's sound back in the late 60's, so too does this song, a modern-day shift from the group's vintage roots, that weaves together the powerful fusion of hip-hop, smooth jazz and soulful flavors.

The Temptations are today one of the most iconic, bestselling brands in the entertainment world; Billboard magazine named them "The No. 1 R&B Artist of All Time." With original member Dr. Otis Williams, the group's track record of continuing to sell decades worth of history-making music is breathtaking.

The Temptations are commemorating their 60th Anniversary. The national anniversary campaign launched this summer and will run through 2022, in a celebration befitting one of the most revered and prolific musical institutions of all time. The year-long campaign includes the new album in 2022; a national concert tour through fall of next year, including a trip abroad in fall of 2022; remastering of their music videos, including "Standing on the Top" with Rick James, and their No. 1 hit "Stay;" a new content series; the Imperial Theatre re-opening on October 16, 2021, of the Broadway musical, Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations, based on Otis Williams's personal journey that was nominated for 12 Tony Awards®, including Best Musical, and won the Tony Award for Best Choreography at the 73rd Tony Awards ceremony in June 2019 and whose UMe cast album was GRAMMY®-nominated; the national launch of the musical's touring company; and celebratory events along the way including Dr. Otis Williams' 80th birthday, which was on October 30, 2021. Their Emmy® Award-Winning Television mini-series, The Temptations, which first aired to rave reviews in 1998, is still on air or streaming every day somewhere in the world. Williams' critically acclaimed autobiography, Temptations, was released as an audiobook edition for the first time in 2020, with a new introduction by Williams.

Reflecting on The Temptations' legacy, and the new album, Dr. Otis Williams said:

"Delivering our 60th anniversary album is a special moment for me. Being back in the studio this time filled me with so many memories of my journey and reminded me of how long and rewarding a journey it has been. I get emotional every time I think about it, because we poured every ounce of our heart and soul into making this album extra special, and only when we were satisfied that it was in keeping with our unique style, did we put our stamp on it. I can proudly say it showcases brand new songs that reflect the best of what's vintage, and modern, in our music. A capstone of my career, this album represents generations of unique melodies, lyrics and songs, distinctly our own. Some of the new songs echo our original ballads and love songs, while others capture current, topical vibes of the 21st Century. It also includes new songs that reflect the times we are living in now.

It brings together again several great producers we have worked with in the past, including Smokey Robinson, Narada Michael Walden, Dennis Nelson and Thomas "TC" Campbell.  Now, as divine grace would have it, we got another chance to collaborate again."

The Temptations presence across multi-media platforms has never been more vivid, and their popularity is ever-increasing. Most recently, adding to their dozens of sampled tracks, their hit "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone," was used as the foundation of the Migos smash hit, "Avalanche."

The Temptations rank No. 1 in Billboard magazine's most recent list of Greatest R&B/Hip-Hop Artists of All Time, and the group appears in the magazine's list of 125 Greatest of All Time Artists. Rolling Stone magazine commented that the Temptations are "Indisputably the greatest black vocal group of the Modern Era…," and listed the group's Anthology album among the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. The group has five GRAMMY® Awards, including Motown's first-ever statuette, awarded to the Tempts for "Cloud Nine" for Best Rhythm and Blues Performance by a Duo or Group, Vocal or Instrumental and a GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award. The group's No. 1 hits "My Girl" and "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone" are in the GRAMMY Hall of Fame.  The group has been inducted into the Rock & Roll, National Rhythm & Blues Music, and Vocal Group Halls of Fame, and they have a star on both the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the Apollo Theater's Walk of Fame.

The Temptations were among the first African American musical artists to crossover into mainstream America and appear on popular, national mainstream television programs.  In 1968, and 1969, respectively, Diana Ross and the Supremes and The Temptations starred in primetime network television specials "TCB (Taking Care of Business)" and "G.I.T. (Getting It Together) on Broadway." Never before had two contemporary African American groups headlined their own #1 nationally rated television specials, all produced by Motown, an African American owned company. The "TCB" special was named the #1 rated variety show in 1968 and received an Emmy nomination. The original cast soundtrack album, TCB, reached #1 on Billboard's Top 200 Albums chart. At the time, this was an unparalleled accomplishment for African American entertainers. The Temptations helped change the face of primetime television and fueled the growth in the performing arts and entertainment world for African Americans artists forever.

Throughout the group's evolution, they have released countless gold, platinum and multi-platinum chart hits, many of which are considered American masterpieces. They have 16 No. 1 R&B chart albums, 44 Top 10 R&B chart hits, including, 14 No. 1 R&B singles, plus four No. 1 Hot 100 singles.

Track List

Let It Reign featuring K. Sparks  2:43

When We Were Kings  4:51

Is It Gonna Be Yes Or No featuring Smokey Robinson  4:11

Time For The People  5:25

 Elevator Eyes  4:07

My Whole World Stopped Without You 4:04

You Don't Know Your Woman (Like I Do)  4:00

How Do You Spell Love  4:10

Calling Out Your Name  5:34

I Want It Right Now  4:21

Breaking My Back  4:04

Come On   6:17

Executive Producer: Otis Williams

Track 1: Produced by Dan Bishop & Es-K

Tracks 2, 11: Produced & Arranged by Narada Michael Walden

Track 3: Produced by Smokey Robinson

Tracks 4 and 10: Produced by Ron Tyson & Thomas "TC" Campbell

Tracks 5, 7, 8: Produced by Otis Williams and Dennis Nelson for Left Hand Corner Productions

Track 6: Produced by Dave Darling

Tracks 9, 12: Produced by Otis Williams & Thomas "TC" Campbell

New Music Releases: Muriel Grossmann, Paolo Rustichelli, Tasha, Lyn Stanley With Her Big Band Jazz Mavericks

Muriel Grossmann - Union

Completely stunning music from the marvelous Muriel Grossmann – a saxophonist who's become one of our favorite jazz talents over the course of the past decade – thanks to deeply spiritual work like this! The album's got a Hammond organ, something you're not as always likely to see in a session like this – played by Llorenc Barcelo with these open lines that are filled with mystical currents and colors, and which provide a perfect accompaniment to Grossman's well-crafted solos on tenor and soprano sax! Guitarist Radomir Milojkovic grounds the sound with some slightly straighter lines, but still with a rhythmic pulse to match the modal vibes of the tunes – a quality that's driven forward deeply by the drums of Uros Stamenkovic. If you've not heard the music of Muriel Grossman before, you're in for a treat – and if you have, your collection of really special albums just got one record bigger! Titles include "Happiness", "Traneing In", "Sundown", "African Dance", and "Union". ~ Dusty Groove.

Paolo Rustichelli - Changes

A dynamic force in chillout music who has brought progressive energy to Smooth Jazz since the mid-90s, Italian born, L.A. based keyboard maestro Paolo Rustichelli has mesmerized everyone from Miles Davis and Carlos Santana with his mystical jazz-funk productions. His latest single “Changes” is an infectious, atmospheric urban jazz funk romp whose colorful blend of piano and synth textures – with a fiery touch of sax - is rooted in a fascinating serendipitous jam with fellow synth lover Stevie Wonder. In the late 80s, Rustichelli was testing new synths and amps at a West L.A. store when Stevie heard his funky grooves and began improvising on another amplified keyboard. Decades later, Rustichelli brings that memory to life with the fresh, spontaneous joy he felt in that magic moment. ~

Tasha - Tell Me What You Miss The Most

Tasha hails from Chicago, but she's got a sound that's very much her own – a quality that's instantly personal, and a way of putting over a tune that's a bit unlike anyone else we can think of! Her voice can lilt on high notes, but also has a very down to earth quality too – one that's augmented by the album's strong use of acoustic guitar, which often gets touched up with other light instrumentation, and the occasional more forward-moving rhythm. But throughout it all, the voice is center stage – a striking quality that might remind you of the first time you heard a singer like Tracey Thorn, or Bjork – but very different than either of them too. Titles include "Bed Song", "History", "Perfect Wife", "Sorry's Not Enough", "Love Interlude", "Year From Now", "Burton Island", and "Lake Superior". ~ Dusty Groove

Lyn Stanley With Her Big Band Jazz Mavericks - It's Magic

Does a Christmas-themed album strictly need only holiday-specific songs to make it official?  Novel Noel, A Jingle Cool Jazz Celebration successfully challenges this idea with the wonderful addition of It's Magic. This 1949 Academy Award nominated song by Jules Styne and Sammy Cahn (written in 1947) was popularized by Doris Day in her film debut, Romance on the High Seas.  It was Lyn's thought that special things happen at Christmas time, creating a magical feel to the holiday season.  She and her band broke with traditional delivery as well when they decided this song would be more romantic under a smoldering Latin rhythm - a rumba – aimed at bringing couples closer. Lyn's tender, heartfelt vocal expresses the mystical intimacy and connection that only love can bring. Los Angeles area's KKjz-88.1fm jazz programmer, Saul Levine, proclaimed upon hearing the song, "It's a hit!!"   

Tim Carman Trio | "Blues For Bob"

Boston-based drummer, Tim Carman pays tribute to his first drum teacher, mentor, and legendary drummer Bob Gullotti, in “Blues for Bob.” Carman devised the idea for his latest project, Tim Carman Trio, in 2020 while quarantining in a New Hampshire cabin and revisiting records Gullotti presented him during his formative years as an aspiring jazz drummer. As he went down the rabbit hole and took advantage of time off the road with his primary project GA-20, Carman formulated the idea for the project. Tim Carman Trio is no-frills, timeless, B3 organ jazz Inspired by 60s icons such as Jimmy Smith, Brother Jack McDuff and more. “Blues for Bob” is an original composition and the opening track off of the group’s forthcoming debut LP ‘Key Lime’ coming out worldwide via Color Red in 2022. Eddie Roberts, founder of Color Red and guitarist/bandleader of The New Mastersounds, touts Carman’s songwriting and proclivity to the organ trio format as “soul jazz how it’s supposed to sound.”

Gullotti passed away suddenly in 2020 and was a staple in the Boston jazz scene for over five decades. In addition to being a longtime professor of percussion at the esteemed Berklee College of Music, he was best known for his co-founding the free-spirited jazz trio Fringe in 1972. He toured with the likes of J.J. Johnson, Joe Lovano, and John Patitucci and would make frequent sit-in appearances with Phish over the course of his career. He collaborated with Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio on his free jazz side project Surrender to the Air. Carman enlisted Steve Fell on guitar and Ken Clark on organ to round out his trio and "Blues for Bob" was written in the studio and recorded in one take capturing the spirit of Guilotti.

Key Lime, the group's forthcoming debut LP, will be released in 2022 and harkens back to an age where blues, gospel, jazz, and soul music combined and vigorously simmered in smokey barrooms across the country. 

Based in Boston, MA, Tim is an international touring musician, session drummer, educator, and published author with both Alfred Music and Hudson Music. “One of Boston’s most accomplished percussionists can be found in local Tim Carman,” Andrew Maroney of Vanyaland writes, “…If his name sounds familiar, then you’ve probably seen him on the back-line of a number of tremendous Boston groups the past few years. From GA-20 to Julie Rhodes, Carman leaves his indelible imprint on some of Boston’s most illustrious jazz/blues acts.” Tim’s session work earned him a nomination for “Session Musician of the Year” by the Boston Music Awards in 2020. Tim currently performs and tours with GA-20, an electric blues trio signed to Karma Chief/Colemine records. He also leads two of his own projects: Tim Carman & The Street 45s—a world-groove inspired funk band—and the Tim Carman Trio—a vintage organ jazz trio (à la Jimmy Smith) rounded off by locals Ken Clark and Steve Fell. 

Michael Weiss | "Persistence"

You can tell a lot about a musician by the company he keeps. The star-studded resume that pianist and composer Michael Weiss has quietly assembled over the past 40 years proves that some of the greatest names in jazz have long considered Weiss one of the best in the business. Heavyweights Johnny Griffin, George Coleman, Charles McPherson, Benny Golson, Lou Donaldson, Jimmy Heath, Art Farmer, Frank Wess, Bill Hardman, Junior Cook, Slide Hampton, and Jon Hendricks have all tapped Weiss for their working bands.

“Michael is very inventive and creative, and he has been for a very long time,” says tenor saxophonist George Coleman. “He’s harmonically adept and has a fantastic right hand. He’s gifted. He deserves more attention.”

Alto saxophonist Charles McPherson puts it this way: “Michael has done his homework. He has a real understanding of the language, has really good taste, and he has a great feel and touch. He’s also got a sense of artistry as well as craft, and he’s got dimension and range. He understands not only the bebop language but other music that grows out of that. He’s comfortable in more than one world, and not everybody is like that.”

Persistence — Weiss’ fifth recording as a leader and first on the Cellar Live label — brings together all the qualities that have made him such a valued member of New York’s jazz community since the 1980s. Deeply swinging and emotionally rewarding, the recording features four vibrant originals by Weiss that are rich with memorable melody, harmonic color, rhythmic vitality, savvy pacing, and expressive detail. Weiss also arranged four standards that reveal his ability to put a thoughtful individual stamp on diverse material by Thelonious Monk, Fats Waller, Antonio Carlos Jobim, and Jimmy Van Heusen.

Weiss’ improvisations sparkle. Keeping head and heart in perfect balance, his spontaneous ideas flower organically from the distinctive seeds of each composition and arrangement. When he cedes the spotlight, his attentive accompaniment lights a fire under his bandmates. His first-rate quartet, including the exciting tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, and the cohesive bass-and-drum team of Paul Gill and Pete Van Nostrand, illustrates Weiss’ ability to project a band in his own image. These veterans have worked together for years, and the group sound pulsates with the same brand of authenticity and casual mastery that has earned Weiss the respect of his storied elders. Rooted in the bebop tradition but not limited by it, the music hits the air with the fresh relevance of the morning headlines.

“This recording is a snapshot, like any night on a gig,” says Weiss. “I’m satisfied with the way the band interpreted and contributed to the songs and how everything comes across. It’s one thing to write, arrange, and organize the material, but it’s another thing how it’s all realized.”

For a quick primer on Weiss’ approach, listen to his “Après Vous.” (The title refers to the song’s harmonic foundation, based on the standard “After You’ve Gone.”) The pianist roars out of the gate, improvising fluently for 16 bars with bass and drums right on his tail. Then comes a piano vamp with an animated written bass line and Latin rhythms on the drums. The vamp and bass line continue as Alexander plays Weiss’ instantly hummable melody. The alternating swing and Latin rhythms, counterlines in the bass, alluring harmony, and numerous stop-time rhythm section hits all wink at one of Weiss’ first heroes, pianist-composer Horace Silver. Note, too, the fine detail of Weiss playing some of the melodic breaks in unison with Alexander’s tenor. And don’t miss how the tenor solo comes shooting out of the melody like a canon.

“Michael’s compositions sound totally natural, but they are challenging to play because there’s such a specificity to them and a complexity too,” says Alexander. “It’s hard to sight read a Michael Weiss composition, but it’s easy to listen to a Michael Weiss composition for all the same reasons.”

Each of the tracks on Persistence rewards close listening. The title track scampers along with an enigmatic melody supported by evolving harmonies that grab the ear. “Second Thoughts” is a playful line that unfolds at a relaxed, irresistible medium groove. “Paul and Pete are really in the pocket,” says Weiss. The pianist turns in one of his best solos on the date. Beautifully realized melodies snake through the harmony, snapping with syncopation, swing, and soul. You can hear his affinity for pianists like Bud Powell, Barry Harris, and Sonny Clark, but Weiss never sounds like a copy. He plays himself.

“Only the Lonely” opens a window on the more reflective and vulnerable side of Weiss’ personality as he offers a gorgeous trio version of Jimmy Van Heusen’s beautiful song — one of many that the composer and lyrist Sammy Cahn created for Frank Sinatra. Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz” and Jobim’s “Once I Loved” reinvent familiar songs with savvy plotting. Note how on the latter, Weiss uses the tenor sax only to deliver the vamp that frames the melody. Weiss’ solo builds in waves, winking occasionally at McCoy Tyner, and Alexander gets in a few licks over the concluding fade out. The quartet delivers Monk’s “Epistrophy” with elan, capturing the composer’s jubilant spirit. The finger-popping “Birthday Blues” concludes the recording with freewheeling soloing over one of the fundamental forms of jazz — a fitting coda to an expansive recital.

One additional reason Persistence emits such a glowing warmth is that it was taped at the studio built by legendary engineer Rudy Van Gelder in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. This was Weiss’ first trip back to Van Gelder’s studio since the pianist’s debut LP, Presenting Michael Weiss (Criss Cross) in 1987. “There’s a vibe there,” says Weiss. “It’s comforting and inspiring.” 

The striking quality of Persistence brings up a question: Why has it been so long since Weiss’ last recording as a leader, the critically acclaimed Soul Journey (Sintra) in 2003? Weiss turned down multiple opportunities because the terms were not ideal. Cellar Live provided the necessary conditions and creative freedom to showcase his art. The results are worth the wait. 

Since arriving in New York in 1982, pianist and composer Michael Weiss has forged a formidable career working in the bands of jazz legends Johnny Griffin, Art Farmer, Charles McPherson, George Coleman, Jimmy Heath, and Lou Donaldson. He was a longtime member of the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra and toured with the Jazztet and Mingus Epitaph Orchestra. Weiss’ 15-year association with Griffin yielded four recordings and annual tours throughout the USA and around the world. Weiss has also performed with Joe Henderson, Woody Shaw, Clark Terry, Clifford Jordan, Gary Bartz, Phil Woods, Pepper Adams, Joe Lovano, Nancy Wilson, Randy Brecker, Tom Harrell, Wynton Marsalis, Al Foster, and Pete La Roca Sims. 

Weiss’ previous recordings as a leader are: Presenting Michael Weiss (Criss Cross), Power Station (DIW), Milestones (SteepleChase), and Soul Journey (Sintra). In addition to his recordings with Griffin, Weiss appears as a sideman on recordings by Charles McPherson, Frank Wess, Steve Grossman, Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Ronnie Cuber, Louis Smith, Dick Oatts, and others. 

As a bandleader, Weiss has headlined at every major New York jazz venue, including the Village Vanguard, Blue Note, Jazz Standard, Birdland, Bradley’s, Iridium, Sweet Basil, and Smoke. He has also headlined at the Detroit Jazz Festival, Smithsonian Institution, and George Wein’s Kool Jazz Festival in New York. Weiss has toured as a leader throughout America, France, and Italy. Wayne Shorter presented Weiss with the grand prize of the 2000 BMI/Thelonious Monk Institute's International Composition Competition. Weiss was also a 1989 prizewinner in the Thelonious Monk Institute's International Piano Competition. 

Thursday, December 02, 2021

New Music Releases: Gregory Porter, Norah Jones, Makaya McCraven, Johnathan Blake

Gregory Porter - Still Rising

A really special sort of collection – one that features a fair bit of new material mixed in with some of the key cuts from the Blue Note years of singer Gregory Porter – an artist who started in jazz, but who's clearly had a huge impact on the world of soul music in recent years too! Porter's got a hell of a voice, and a majestic way of presenting his music – as you'll hear on the wide variety of work included here! The first half of the record features four new tracks, a few new arrangements and covers, and some older Blue Note material – titles that include "Dry Bones", "Illusion", "Real Good Hands", "Love Runs Deeper", "It's Probably Me", "No Love Dying", "1960 What", "Concorde", "If Love Is Overrated", "Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad", and "Bad Girl Love". CD2 features duets – some freshly recorded, others that use studio work to add Porter's voice to now-passed singers – a lineup that includes songs with Jamie Cullum, Ella Fitzgerald, Moby, Julie London, Lalah Hathaway, Lizz Wright, Nat King Cole, Lisa Fischer, Dianne Reeves, and Renee Fleming. ~ Dusty Groove

Norah Jones - I Dream Of Christmas

Norah has been a steady voice of warmth and reassurance for nearly 20 years since her cozy 2002 debut album Come Away With Me became a familiar musical companion for millions of people around the world. Now the 9-time GRAMMY-winning singer, songwriter, and pianist has released I Dream Of Christmas, a delightful and comforting collection of timeless seasonal favorites and affecting new originals that explore the complicated emotions of our times and our hopes that this holiday season will be full of joy and togetherness. “When I was trying to figure out which direction to take, the original songs started popping in my head,” Norah says. “They were all about trying to find the joys of Christmas, catching that spark, that feeling of love and inclusion that I was longing for during the rest of the year.” Among the album’s many pleasures are Norah’s playful reinvention of The Chipmunk’s “Christmas Don’t Be Late,” which is given a languid beat and swaggering horns. Other highlights include sublime versions of “White Christmas,” “Blue Christmas,” “Winter Wonderland,” “Christmas Time Is Here,” and “Run Rudolph Run.” Norah’s version of “The Christmas Waltz” is also available exclusively on Amazon Music as part of their Amazon Originals series.

Makaya McCraven - Deciphering The Message

A really special album from our hometown hero Makaya McCraven – a set that's the drummer's debut on Blue Note, and which also has him bringing that label some of the magic that he's been cooking up for International Anthem! If you know Makaya's other records, you'll know that he works in a blend of jazz instrumentation and editing – a style that's much more sophisticated than previous "jazz remix" modes – as McCraven always has live jazz instrumentation at the core, but then uses editing to rework ideas after the performance. Here, the music is a blend of older classics from the Blue Note catalog, juxtaposed with contributions from Joel Ross on vibes, Jeff Parker and Matt Gold on guitar, Greg Ward on alto, Marquis Hill on trumpet, and De'Sean Jones on tenor and flute – a really well-chosen array of players who flesh out Makaya's ideas in a beautiful way. Titles include "Wail Bait", "Frank's Tune", "Slice Of The Top", "Sunset", "Ecaroh", "Black Rhythm Happening", "Monaco", and "Mr Jin". ~ Dusty Groove

Johnathan Blake - Homeward Bound

Johnathan Blake—the remarkable Blue Note Records debut by drummer, composer, and bandleader Johnathan Blake—signals shifting tides for a career that’s yet to crest. The album features Blake’s quintet Pentad with alto saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins, vibraphonist Joel Ross, keyboardist David Virelles, and bassist Dezron Douglas. Blake has released the third single from the album, “Shakin’ the Biscuits,” a feel-good groove-based tune by Douglas that features a lively dialogue between the five musicians. It follows the previous singles “LLL,” a dedication to drummer Lawrence “Lo” Leathers, and “Homeward Bound (for Ana Grace),” a celebration of the life of Ana Grace Marquez-Greene. Blake assembled Pentad with the intention of composing for a fuller, more chordal sound than his past projects have featured. The result is a wildly intuitive, tight sound that embraces spontaneity and relies on trust. “The name represents us as five individuals coming together for a common cause: trying to make the most honest music as possible,” he says. “I wanted to create a record where people would get inside my head. I want them to see the story I was trying to tell. That’s my hope.”

Michael Mayo | "Bones"

NYC-based rising vocalist, songwriter and instrumentalist Michael Mayo has released his genre-defying, highly personal debut solo album Bones on via Artistry Music/Mack Avenue Records about embracing his truth of being bisexual. Though classically trained, Mayo’s original music is a seamless blend of alternative and neo-soul elements, as evidenced on the album’s introductory singles “The Way” and “You and You,” released in 2020, and recently released single “20/20”.  Each of the songs on Bones represents a learning experience for Mayo, the building blocks (“Bones”) that made him the person he is today.. In many ways, the collection serves as a letter to himself after years of lying to others about who he truly was and felt. Bones affirms you can live authentically, and not be afraid to express it. Having no black bisexual role models growing up, Michael hopes he can be that person for someone now and that one day we won’t have to “come out” but coexist with our differences. 

A diehard New Yorker for the past five years, Mayo was born and raised in Los Angeles surrounded by music, and love, as the son of “first-call” session and touring musicians. His father, Scott Mayo, currently the musical director for Sergio Mendes, was a saxophonist for Earth, Wind & Fire, while his mother, Valerie Pinkston, now a back-up vocalist for Diana Ross, has also sang with Beyonce, Luther Vandross, Ray Charles, Whitney Houston and Morrissey. The final track on Bones, “Hold On,” features his mom, who wrote the lyrics, singing on the first half and his dad providing background vocals, bringing Michael’s life full circle. In addition to his influential parents, Michael also studied at the prestigious New England Conservatory of Music and the Thelonious Monk Institute -- now named after Herbie Hancock, who mentored Mayo, helping him discover the link between sound and technology through a looper pedal, while showcasing him as a featured vocalist on a tour of South America in 2018. 

19th Annual Panama Jazz Festival

In 2022, Panama Jazz Festival celebrates its nineteenth edition in a hybrid format. After the challenges the festival faced in 2021 they managed to virtually gather more than 170,000 people from 70 different countries. For the 2022 edition, Panama Jazz Festival returns with hopes to see the public, fans, and students come together during the week of the festival, to continue their mission of inspiring lives.

Unesco Artist for Peace, Cultural Ambassador of Panama, 2021 Doris Duke Artist Award recipient, and Artistic Director of the Panama Jazz Festival, Danilo Perez returns with recharged force to continue demonstrating the teamwork that is imperative for the social change in Panama and the rest of the world.

"The Festival is a cultural project that over 18 years has managed to consolidate creativity, exchange, and talent, with a strong commitment to education and social welfare in Panama. It is the largest cultural event in the region, which has had the participation of thousands of artists and public from all over the world, adding more than 300 thousand attendees in its 18 past editions,” says Danilo Pérez.

The Panama Jazz Festival, now in its nineteenth year, will pay tribute to Panamanian pianist Frank Anderson. Born on January 24, 1929, in Bocas del Toro, Anderson grew up with a solid music education and began to play with many established musicians in Panama. In September of 1948, he made the move to New York where he built a distinguished career performing with some of the best Latin musicians of our times including Marcelino Guerra, Israel “Cachao” López, and Arsenio Rodríguez. He also performed with jazz master Clark Terry, created his own Caribbean Big Band, and recorded with Lena Horne, Mahalia Jackson, Harry Belafonte, Chico O'Farrill, Hubert Laws, Woody Shaw, Kenny Burrell, among many others.

A cornerstone of the Panama Jazz Festival is to honor the legacy of jazz music in Panama. This festival’s edition will celebrate the concept of “Playing the Route”, which highlights the historical connection of our Isthmus with popular American music. This relationship is seen from the construction of the Transoceanic Railroad in 1850, to the development of the Banana industry in the late 1800s, and the construction of the Panama Canal in 1903. All of which allowed for Panama to be linked to the main jazz foci, New York and New Orleans, making our isthmus a protagonist and an essential part of jazz history.

This year features an abundance of renowned artists: Kurt Elling (United States); Borderlands Trio, featuring Canadian Pianist and Composer Kris Davis with Eric McPherson and Stephan Crump; Renowned Alto Saxophonist Antonio Hart (United States); Danilo Perez’s Global Messengers; PZ-533 Global Jazz Womex; among others. From Panama, the talent of great legends to new generations, such as the Panamanian star Solinka, the much-loved Lady of Jazz Idania Dowman, Mayra Hurley and Panama Connections.

A week of enriching clinics and concerts will kick off with the great gala night held at the National Theater. Concurrently, the 10th Latin American Music Therapy Symposium will bring together music therapists from Panama, Chile, the United States, and beyond. The Panama Jazz Festival is also pleased to welcome participating schools: Berklee College of Music through the Berklee Global Jazz Institute, The New England Conservatory, and New York Jazz Academy.

The nineteenth Panama Jazz Festival will have the Ciudad del Saber as its educational venue, and the official hotel is the Wyndham Panama Albrook Mall Hotel & Convention Center. All activities will ensure compliance with all biosecurity measures, including the mandatory use of masks and social distancing between seats, according to the Ministry of Health (MINSA) provisions.

The festival is produced by Panama Jazz Productions to benefit the social programs of the Danilo Pérez Foundation with the help of the Presidency of Panama, Panama's Ministry of Culture, Panama City Mayor Office, City of Knowledge, Copa Airlines, Alamo Rent a Car, Cable and Wireless, and many others.

Sara Serpa | "Intimate Strangers"

There’s no better way to connect with the humanity of a stranger than to hear their stories and to share our own. On their poignant and striking new collaboration, Intimate Strangers, the extraordinary vocalist-composer Sara Serpa and the Nigerian writer Emmanuel Iduma traverse the African continent, sharing the author’s personal journey and collecting the tales of fellow travelers and migrants he meets along the way. Through Iduma’s insightful text and Serpa’s transcendent music, the lens widens to explore the struggles and emotions experienced by anyone who’s left their roots behind to seek the uncertain promise of a distant horizon.

Due out December 3, 2021 on Biophilia Records, Intimate Strangers draws from Iduma’s 2018 book A Stranger’s Pose, which recounts the writer’s travels through more than a dozen African cities, combining travelogue, memoir and meditations on migration and displacement. The album also continues a narrative that Serpa began with her 2020 release Recognition: Music For a Silent Film, which grappled with the legacy of Portuguese colonialism in Africa via her own family’s history. Intimate Strangers is, in a way, the mirror image of that project, gazing back at colonial powers from the vantage point of Africa itself.

“There were a lot of stories in Emmanuel’s book that really resonated with me,” Serpa explains. “While Recognition dealt with my country's past relationships with Africa, I felt like his book presents a much-needed perspective of what borders actually mean. Through his travels and encounters with so many people just trying to cross into Europe, Emmanuel raises all these questions about traveling, migrating and leaving your home behind.”

Commissioned by John Zorn, Intimate Strangers premiered at Brooklyn’s National Sawdust in November 2018 as a multi-media performance combining Serpa’s music, Iduma’s narration, and photographs  from the author’s book. In recorded form, Intimate Strangers remains evocative, conjuring mental images in the listener’s mind as vivid as that projected footage. It helps that Serpa gathered a stellar collection of musicians able to craft such bold imaginary landscapes: she is joined by fellow vocalists Sofía Rei and Aubrey Johnson (Rei is a bandmate from Zorn’s a cappella quartet Mycale; Johnson has been a collaborator since attending NEC with Serpa), along with pianist Matt Mitchell (Tim Berne, Dave Douglas) and modular synth player Qasim Naqvi (Dawn of Midi).

Iduma writes in the liner notes that, “My collaborative performance with Sara brought me closer to understanding how words worked in a pre-literate time, when writing was yet to be invented – when stories were passed from mouth to mouth, from memory to memory… Sara’s composition distills A Stranger’s Pose to its essential groove and vital ballad.”

“I am always inspired by Emmanuel’s insight and his writing,” adds Serpa. “We share a very deep mutual respect for each other's work. Of course, we come from different backgrounds, but we share the same concerns regarding humanity and hospitality. So we thought a lot about how to combine our art to convey this message and honor both our skillsets.”

The two were further bonded by shared grief, as both lost their fathers within a few months of each other. José Luis Serpa, who passed away just three days after the premiere of Intimate Strangers, provided the vibrant collage that graces the album’s cover art.

The album is itself a journey, beginning with Iduma’s self-reflections and continuing close to home with encounters in Nigeria. It soon ventures farther, over the Moroccan border and through the desert in Bamako, Mali. In the Senegalese town of Kidira the writer is reminded of his relatively privileged status when a passport means a world of difference between him and the unnamed stranger whose life briefly becomes linked to his own. The Morocco-based Cameroonian poet Onesiphore Nembe recites a piece in French, about things left behind – a mellifluous echo of past colonialism.

At journey’s end we cast our eyes back to its beginning. “For You I Must Become a Tree” poetically conveys the reflection of the migrant on the loves and home from which they’ve embarked, now far away but always heart-achingly close. “In the mind of the traveler, those who love you don't want you to go. So that person has to become a tree, which means having your roots in one place [with branches reaching far away].”

Serpa weaves a mesmerizing sonic tapestry from the sparse instrumentation and especially the stunning vocal harmonies, which serve at times as gorgeous atmosphere, at others as ethereal storytellers, still others as a lush Greek chorus. “The main character is always Emmanuel,” Serpa describes. “The singing voices are sometimes spirits, sometimes ghosts, sometimes witnesses and sometimes joining him as narrators.”

While Intimate Strangers tells Iduma’s story, and those he gathered along the road, it is no less personal a piece for Serpa. “As a migrant myself,” she says, “albeit a privileged migrant, I recognize the feeling of being a foreigner and a bit of an outsider. As a European and someone who has been following the news of the world’s various refugee crises, I feel that the book offers a human, crucial and urgent side to the stories that continuously happen at every border. That's what attracted me to it.”

Lisbon, Portugal native Sara Serpa is a vocalist-composer and improviser who implements a unique instrumental approach to her vocal style. Recognized for her distinctive wordless singing, Serpa has been immersed in the field of jazz, improvised and experimental music since first arriving in New York in 2008. Described by the New York Times as “a singer of silvery poise and cosmopolitan outlook,” and by JazzTimes magazine as “a master of wordless landscapes,” Serpa started her career with jazz luminaries such as Grammy-nominated pianist Danilo Perez, and Guggenheim and MacArthur Fellow pianist Ran Blake. As a leader, she has produced and released ten albums. The latest is Recognition, an interdisciplinary project that combines film with live music in collaboration with Zeena Parkins, Mark Turner and David Virelles. Serpa was voted  #1 Vocalist of the Year by the 2020 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll, Musician of the Year 2020 by Portuguese magazine and Female Vocalist-Rising Star 2019 by the DownBeat Magazine Critics Poll. She has collaborated with Ingrid Laubrock, Erik Friedlander, John Zorn, Nicole Mitchell, André Matos, Guillermo Klein, Linda May Han Oh, Ben Street,  and Kris Davis, among many others. Serpa currently teaches at The New School, New Jersey City University and is Artist-In-Residence at Park Avenue Armory. She is the recipient of Chamber Music America New Jazz Works Grant 2019, New Music USA 2019, New York City’s Women’s Fund 2020, USArtists Grant from Mid-Atlantic Foundation for the Arts, and the 2021 Herb Alpert/Ragdale Prize in Composition. Serpa has been active in gender equity in music and is the co-founder (along with fellow musician Jen Shyu) of Mutual Mentorship for Musicians (M³), an organization created to  empower and elevate women and non-binary musicians.

Emmanuel Iduma is the author of A Stranger’s Pose, a book of travel stories which was longlisted for the RSL Ondaatje Prize. His essays and art criticism have been published in The New York Review of Books, Aperture, Artforum, and Art in America. His honors include a Creative Capital/Warhol Foundation grant for arts writing, the inaugural Irving Sandler Award for New Voices in Art Criticism from AICA-USA, the C/O Berlin Talent Prize for Theory, and a Silvers Grant for Work in Progress. I Am Still with You, his memoir on the aftermath of the Nigerian civil war, is forthcoming from Algonquin (US), and William Collins (UK).

Keith Oxman / Frank Morelli | "The Ox-Mo Incident"

Jazz and classical music have crossed paths myriad times over the decades, but rarely is the meeting as unconventional yet congenial as this unlikely partnership between Denver-based tenor saxophonist Keith Oxman and bassoon virtuoso Frank Morelli. On their debut release, The Ox-Mo Incident, the two gifted instrumentalists turn the novel conjunction of two strange bedfellows into an intoxicating sound and a charming conversation between like-minded souls.

The pairing is a first for both Oxman and Morelli, and perhaps for jazz itself (if not, it’s beyond doubt a true rarity). The Ox-Mo Incident marks Morelli’s initial venture as a soloist into the world of jazz, a step he takes with swinging grace and agility. It proved challenging for Oxman in different ways, who had to darken his sound to share the frontline with such an unfamiliar partner. The two are expertly accompanied by three of Oxman’s Denver compatriots – pianist Jeff Jenkins, bassist Ken Walker and drummer Todd Reid, who also joined the saxophonist for his 2018 album Glimpses with sax legend Dave Liebman.

The album’s title makes a playful reference to Walter Van Tilburg Clark’s 1940 western novel The Ox-Bow Incident and its cinematic adaptation starring Henry Fonda. But where that dark story finds a pair of drifters meeting a lynch mob in pursuit of suspected cattle rustlers, this chance encounter ends with decidedly happier results. 

While their warm, casual rapport makes Oxman and Morelli seem like old friends, they in fact barely knew each other prior to the 2019 session that yielded The Ox-Mo Incident. The saxophonist’s wife, visual artist Susan Oxman (who provides the album’s liner notes) had studied bassoon with Morelli at the Hartt School and Manhattan School of Music. The two, whose birthdays fall just one week apart, would call each other each year during their respective celebrations. It was during one of these phone conversations that Morelli cracked a half-joking remark about the possibility of recording with her husband.

“Frank is just an unbelievable musician,” Oxman enthuses. “So I was really excited when he suggested this. Even though jazz might not be his musical field, good musicians are good musicians. And when somebody's as good as Frank, there's got to be something there.”

In choosing material for the session, the duo devised a clever way to find middle ground between their respective comfort zones. Many of the tunes selected were penned by songwriters familiar from the jazz repertory – Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe – but the particular pieces represented here were, in many cases, derived from classical compositions. 

For instance: an old favorite, “Baubles, Bangles and Beads,” written by Robert Wright and George Forrest for the 1953 musical Kismet and performed by everyone from Frank Sinatra and Antonio Carlos Jobim to Sarah Vaughan to Gerry Mulligan, is based on a theme from Alexander Borodin’s String Quartet No. 2. The sultry version here borrows the bossa feel from the Sinatra-Jobim rendition. The same source yields the classic “Stranger in Paradise,” its enticing melody essayed by Morelli with stunning charm and dexterity.

“Full Moon and Empty Arms,” best known for Sinatra’s 1945 version but also explored by countless artists from Erroll Garner to Freddie Hubbard to Bob Dylan, is similarly based on a classical composition, Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2, and is given a swooning, romantic treatment by Oxman and Morelli. “Three for Five” is a take on Brahms’ Third Symphony that eloquently showcases Morelli’s expressive suppleness on his instrument as well as Oxman’s emotional range, while “Poor Butterfly” takes flight from Puccini’s opera into smoky noir balladry. Gabriel Fauré’s well-known “Pavane” shines another spotlight on Morelli’s mesmerizing virtuosity, as he flawlessly renders the melancholy melody before yielding to Oxman’s soulful interpretation.

“I think we both had to endure each other's teaching a bit,” says Oxman with a laugh. “I'm not a classical player and Frank didn't see himself as a heavy jazz guy, so between the two of us we were like the blind leading the blind in some ways. But we were both thrilled with the results.”

For the remainder of the non-original material, the pair delved more into the jazz songbook. The album opens with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Happy Talk,” a spirited jaunt that sets the upbeat tone for the project as a whole. The same songwriting team contributes “Surrey with the Fringe on Top,” echoing the classic Miles Davis version. The album closes with the wistful “I Could Have Danced All Night,” which seems to look excitedly forward to another meeting.

Oxman also contributes two original tunes to the setlist. The title track was written for the occasion and makes ideal use of the singular tonal pairing, while “A Wasp in Search of a Hart and Lung” sticks to the jazz-meets-classical theme, albeit in a more tongue-in-cheek fashion. The eyebrow-raising title pays homage to Oxman’s one-time violin teacher, Sarah Hart, and her husband, Eric Lung. “I wasn't a very good violin player, but I practiced every single day,” Oxman explains. “My family endured it, but you can't pick that instrument up in your 50s and do much.” During one lesson, a wasp flew into the studio; Hart called out to her husband for help, who simply responded, “Just tell Keith to start playing – it'll leave!”

With all of the challenges that Oxman and Morelli faced in recording The Ox-Mo Incident, the major factor in their favor was the warm chemistry that they forged together, one that they hope to revisit soon. “The friendship that developed was so special,” Oxman concludes. “I've suddenly got this friend who I feel like I've known my whole life. We worked really hard, but in the end I was just excited to be working with somebody who I admired that much.”

Keith Oxman’s burnished tenor sound is born of a love of classic players like Sonny Stitt and Charles McPherson, with both of whom he’s played, along with greats like Art Blakey, Buddy Rich, Jack McDuff, Phil Woods and Dave Brubeck. Having learned directly from these masters, Oxman passes that torch along to his students at Denver’s East High School. In recent years he’s collaborated with the likes of Curtis Fuller, David Liebman and Houston Person and reunited with his iconic Denver band the Jazz Worms to release the quintet’s first new album in nearly three decades.

Bassoon soloist, chamber musician and teacher Frank Morelli studied at the Manhattan and Juilliard Schools of Music and was the first bassoonist awarded a doctorate by the Juilliard School. A member of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and the woodwind quintet Windscape, he has also made nine appearances as a soloist in Carnegie Hall. He serves on the faculties of The Juilliard School, Yale School of Music, Manhattan School of Music, SUNY Stony Brook and was recently named Distinguished Lecturer in Woodwinds at the Aaron Copland School of Music, Queens College, CUNY.

Nick Maclean | "Can You Hear Me?"

This double album, a debut solo piano release from award-winning Toronto pianist Nick Maclean, takes influences from jazz piano greats such as Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett, and Brad Mehldau, as well as that of his two divergent ensembles: Snaggle and Nick Maclean Quartet. Maclean, whose groups have frequently been lauded for the strength of their collective improvisatory vision, continues here in that unconstrained spirit with courageous risk-taking and musical exploration springing from in-the-moment inspiration. Shaped by Maclean's respect and trust in producer Brownman Ali’s impactful, omnipresent guidance, Maclean delivers rich and prismatic interpretations of originals, standards, and other spontaneous contemplations. Thus, this solo pianistic odyssey's completion represents Maclean's most vulnerable, personal, and intimate recordings to date.

Can You Hear Me? - Nick Maclean's debut 18-track, double disk solo album - features 7 Maclean-penned compositions, 8 standards, and 2 spontaneous improvisations, all recorded at the renowned Chalet Studio in Uxbridge, ON. Produced by internationally acclaimed trumpet player and producer Brownman Ali, this new double album was released in Canada on Oct 31, 2021, and will be released internationally on Dec 10, 2021 on Browntasauras Records. This is Maclean's fourth release for Browntasauras, following those by his two award-winning ensembles, Snaggle (The Long Slog & Christmas Tune, 2016) and Nick Maclean Quartet (Rites of Ascension, 2017).

Roddy Ellias Free Spirit Ensemble | "Not This Room"

When music transcends the notes, it connects our inner and our outer lives, and takes us to another place. It’s a place you’ll want to inhabit for a while, and Not This Room will get you there. These nine songs combine the unique melodic artistry of composer and guitarist Roddy Ellias with unforgettable lyrics by Canadian writer Sandra Nicholls. Sung by Juno award- winning vocalist Kellyee Evans, with the help of eight other musicians, the songs are a stirring testament to the power of creativity in the face of isolation, a musical light from the darkest days of the pandemic, a jazz-infused message of hope.

Ellias is a composer whose work defies a simple definition, and his musical journey has taken him from his early roots in pop and R&B bands, to the improvised world of jazz, through African and other world beats all the way to the classical world, even writing an opera, and everything in between. The songs on this latest album move seamlessly through different moods and styles, echoing the shifting experience of the pandemic itself. From the simple folky power of Prayer to the hypnotic beat of The Street, from the haunting, melancholy lyricism of the title track, Not This Room, to the luminous harmonies of Draw Me a Circle, the songs on this album linger on long after you first hear them.

This is not his first collaboration with Nicholls, an award-winning poet and novelist, but they consider it their most important, with songs they hope will connect people in a time of profound disconnection. In addition to Ellias and Evans, the album features New York pianist Marc Copland, Juno-winner Petr Cancura, Richard Page, Pierre-Yves Martel, Guy Pelletier, Justin Orok, Chris Pond and Jose Garcia. It was recorded in the beautiful ambient setting of Mackay United Church in Ottawa.

Not This Room will be released on Friday, December 17th 2021.


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