Friday, December 08, 2023

Lisa Hilton | "Coincidental Moment"

"I love the way jazz tugs at our emotions in a way no other music can: it can calmly seduce your soul or prompt you to dance," states the award-winning composer and acclaimed pianist Lisa Hilton in the liner notes for her latest release, Coincidental Moment (Ruby Slippers Productions 1029), out December 1, 2023. “The music here reflects the cool energies and history of jazz, but definitely sounds like today.”

The nine original compositions and two cover tunes are laced throughout with rich blue tones augmented by modal flights all shimmering and swinging with Hilton's expressive touch on the piano. Coincidental Moment gracefully shares the spotlight with quartet mates Igmar Thomas on trumpet, Luques Curtis on bass, and Rudy Royston on drums and percussion.

Royston's drum mastery is evident throughout the album, but his delightful and catchy bongo rhythms are also featured on tracks Jagged Lil' Blues and Blue Tropics. Jazz traditionalists will enjoy the retro vibes of Happily Go Luckily and Anxiety Society with their cool grooves and snappy trumpet improvisations by Thomas. The entire quartet shines on the evocative Spanish-tinged Enigmatic Adventure and infuse Everyday Anthem with a stirring gospel energy.

The inclusion of the iconic Miles Davis/Bill Evans track Blue In Green shows the breadth of this band – Thomas's moody muted tones, contrasting but blending with Hilton's fluid piano, are underscored by Curtis's deep bass timbre and Royston's delicate touch on cymbals. An interesting choice was the inclusion of West Coast, written by singer/composer Lana Del Rey: the quartet easily turns this pop track into a darker and very expressive experience. Curtis is a vital contributor throughout, especially on the trio track Multiple Perspectives, which blends jazz rhythms and classical interludes with agility. Hilton's skill in composing intimate ballads is apparent on the title track - performed as a trio – and on Uncommon Poetry, which closes the album as an eloquent solo piano piece.

Saturated with lush harmonic ideas and brimming with textures and emotions, the album Coincidental Moment is jazz just right for any moment.

The music of Lisa Hilton draws on classic American jazz greats such as Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Horace Silver, and Count Basie, as well as blues heroes Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson. She is a prolific composer who records and performs with many of today's jazz luminaries. Her 27 albums sit regularly at the top of the Jazz Week and other radio/streaming charts for the last two decades, drawing millions of plays on streaming services and appearing regularly as an Amazon #1 New Jazz Release. Hilton has performed at venues such as Carnegie Hall, The Smithsonian Institution, UCLA's Royce Theatre, San Francisco Jazz, and Chicago's historic Green Mill. Hilton is also the creator and co-author of the popular children's book If Dinosaurs Were Alive Today (Price Stern Sloan), which she co-wrote with her sister, Sandra L. Kirkpatrick. The book was recently updated and published as a digital version by the same name. 

The Lisa Hilton Quartet 2024 Tour Dates:

  • March  6, 2024 Raitt Recital Hall 7:30 pm at Pepperdine University, Malibu, CA
  • March  7, 2024 SF Jazz 7 pm and 8:30 pm, San Francisco, CA
  • March 12, 2024 The Jazz Showcase 6:00 pm, Chicago, IL
  • March 13, 2024 Weinberg Center for the Arts/New Spire Arts 7:30 pm, Frederick, MD
  • March 14, 2024 Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall 8 pm, NYC, NY
  • March 15, 2024 Jazz Upstairs at Miller Symphony Hall, 7:30, Allentown, PA

Craft Recordings and Jazz Dispensary announce ‘Top Shelf’ reissue for Johnny Lytle’s ‘People & Love’

Craft Recordings and Jazz Dispensary are thrilled to announce the first-ever vinyl reissue of Johnny Lytle’s long-sought-after soul-jazz gem, People & Love. Full of soaring, funky jams and heady grooves, the latest release in Jazz Dispensary’s acclaimed Top Shelf series showcases the legendary vibraphonist’s talents as a songwriter, musician, and bandleader, as he guides his fellow musicians through five sublime tracks, including extended, soulful covers (“People Make the World Go ’Round,” “Where Is the Love?”) and groovy originals (“Libra,” “Tawhid,” “Family”). The 1973 session also boasts a stellar line-up of players, including Daahoud Hadi (formerly Butch Cornell) on the electric piano and organ, Bob Cranshaw on the electric bass, and harpist Betty Glamann.

As with all titles in the album-centric Top Shelf series—which reissues the highest-quality, hand-picked rarities—People & Love features (AAA) lacquers cut from the original tapes by Kevin Gray at Cohearent Audio and is pressed on 180-gram vinyl at RTI. Rounding out the package is a tip-on jacket, replicating the album’s original art. Out of print for half a century, People & Love makes its return on February 16th and is available for pre-order today—exclusively via

Touted by the great bandleader Lionel Hampton as “The Greatest Vibes Player in the World,” Johnny Lytle (1932 – 1995) began his career as a drummer, playing with the likes of Ray Charles, Gene Ammons, and Jimmy Witherspoon before switching to the vibraphone in the mid-’50s. By the end of the decade, he was leading his own group and caught the ears of producer/record executive Orrin Keepnews, who promptly signed the dexterous musician. A consummate showman, whose fast-paced performances earned him the title of “Fast Hands,” Lytle built a significant following in the ’60s—recording for Keepnews’ Jazzland, Riverside, and Milestone imprints, among others.

Brenda Russell returns with "What Will It Take"

In casual conversation reflecting upon Brenda Russell’s epic four-and-a-half- decade career as a multiple Grammy nominated singer/songwriter and Tony nominated and Grammy winning co-composer of The Color Purple musical, one of her songwriter friends casually uttered a phrase that captures the essence of her extraordinary multi-faceted artistry: Songpainter. Gearing up to record her highly anticipated first solo album in 20 years, Brenda knew that would be the perfect title – not only defining the impact her songs have had on the world over the years but forging a creative mission statement for all the dynamic works to come. 

The project’s first lead single “What Will It Take,” dropping November 17, is more than just another grand addition to her repertoire of infectious hit singles for herself and other iconic artists. Co-produced with Stephan Oberhoff, whose discography ranges from works with Burt Bacharach, Quincy Jones, Stevie Wonder and Al Jarreau to Brenda’s 2000 release Paris Rain, the song is an uplifting and unifying, globally conscious anthem for our time. 

Driven by a sonic fusion of pop, R&B, a rhythmic world music aesthetic and a rousing gospel-flavored backing chorus, “What Will It Take” is a clarion call for humanity to reach a higher consciousness that boldly asks, “What will it take for us to be as one?. . .One human race under a mighty sun/What will it take to let the children grow?. . .Into a world where love is all they know?” In the second chorus, Brenda sings lines that ring like both a universal prayer and demand for concrete action: “Let’s take the hate, the war, the poverty. . .and give it up for all humanity.”

The 2023 release of “What Will It Take” is one of those serendipitous cases of a song truly meeting the perfect moment in this post-pandemic era, where political strife has left people more divided than ever, there is a collective anxiety about our future as a democracy and our news feeds are dominated by two horrifying wars. Ironically, though Brenda’s incisive but hopeful message seems tailor made for our time, she originally wrote the song in the mid-90s, a few years after she hit the Billboard Hot 100’s Top Ten with her breakthrough trademark hit “Piano In the Dark,” which earned Grammy nominations for Song of the Year, and Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals. Her album Get Here was also nominated for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female; in 1991, Oleta Adams’ 1991 recording of the title track “Get Here” was a massive global hit, reaching #5 in the U.S. and #4 in the UK.  

Despite Brenda’s great career momentum at the time – which also included hitting the Top 30 in the UK with her 1993 album Soul Talkin’ – a young publisher who heard her demo for “What Will It Take” failed to appreciate its potential at the time. As she does with many of her songs, the prolific Brenda filed it away but never forgot it. A few years ago, when Brenda began talking about recording again, her astute assistant suggested she revisit some of her older great songs that she had never recorded. When the singer revisited her original home demo of “What Will It Take,” she knew immediately she had to record it - and called Oberhoff to bring his studio magic and develop it with her. 

“Stephan’s a genius and heard everything I wanted to do, with the way he added strings and filled out the production with so many amazing details,” Brenda says. “I feel as though I wrote it for the whole world and so the world music vibe fits beautifully. It reminds me of Peter Gabriel’s big, powerful productions that I’ve found so inspiring over the years, just that grand, powerful feeling of hope and positivity. Having enjoyed long careers, when Stephan and I feel something, we don’t doubt ourselves. We just go for what we know and create it first for ourselves and our own joy, with the hope that it will then lift and excite others. I hope ‘What Will It Takes’ inspires and touches people. That’s what I always love to do with my music.”  

Almost like an on-cue blessing from the universe, the gospel children’s choir element of the song – which features Brenda’s 11-year-old granddaughter Kailah Walker and kids from Brenda’s neighborhood in the Austin TX area – reached fruition through a seemingly chance meeting. Attending a Patti Labelle and Gladys Knight concert, the singer struck up a conversation with the lady next to her, who told Brenda that she was a local music teacher who worked with kids. Brenda ultimately chose four of them to elevate the session, which was coordinated by Brenda’s daughter, singer Lindsay Walker, who has toured with Smokey Robinson and is a member of the local group The Country Worms.   

One of the unique and enduring blessings of Brenda’s professional life has been her Tony and Grammy Award winning collaboration (with fellow hit songwriters Stephen Bray and the late Allee Willis) on the musical The Color Purple. The musical, whose original Broadway production ran from 2005 to 2008 and earned eleven Tony nominations, is based on Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize winning 1982 novel and its Steven Spielberg-directed 1985 film adaptation. Brenda earned a Tony nomination for Best Original Score. A critically acclaimed Broadway revival in 2015 earned two Tony Awards – including Best Revival of a Musical and Best Actress in a Musical (Cynthia Erivo). Brenda won her first Grammy for Best Musical Theatre album in 2016. 

Brenda, Stephen Bray and Grammy winning, twice Oscar nominated songwriter Siedah Garrett (taking over for the departed Willis) recently joined forces to work on updated versions of several songs (including “Shug Avery Coming ToTown”) for the upcoming musical film adaptation of The Color Purple. The film, set for a Christmas 2023 release, is directed by Blitz Bazawule and produced by Spielberg, Quincy Jones and the stage musical producers Scott Sanders and Oprah Winfrey. The film’s stars include Taraji P. Henson, H.E.R. and Fantasia Barrino, who is reprising the role she played on Broadway in 2007-2008. 

“Thirty-five years ago, in the middle of me doing my thing as a pop singer and songwriter, my mom suggested I write a Broadway show,” Brenda says. “I said, ‘Sure, mom,’ never thinking the opportunity would arise many years later. What a joy it was to work with Allee and Stephen. The most exciting part of being involved in The Color Purple was watching these young performers rehearse our songs and their dances. It was so amazing and exhilarating to watch them work so hard. It was also a major challenge compared to being a pop songwriter, because artists who want to record your songs don’t usually request constant rewrites and changes – and the art of rewriting is what Broadway composing is all about!”

When people assess Brenda’s overall career, her success as an artist – which began with her self-titled debut and Billboard Top Ten Adult Contemporary Hit “So Good So Right” in 1979 – and with The Color Purple often overshadows the songs she wrote that were hits for other artists. Beyond Oleta Adams’ “Get Here,” Brenda’s songs have been recorded by Luther Vandross (“If Only for One Night”), Donna Summer (“Dinner with Gershwin”), Babyface, The Manhattan Transfer, Patti Austin, Ruben Studdard and Ramsey Lewis. Her tunes have also been sampled by everyone from Janet Jackson and 2Pace to Chance the Rapper and Ariana Grande. In 2000, Brenda was tapped to write an English lyric to tune by Ivan Lins tune that was part of a Jason Miles produced all-star tribute album A Love Affair: The Music of Ivan Lins. The track, “She Walks This Earth,” earned Sting a Best Pop Vocal Grammy in 2001.

“As a singer, songwriter and musical composer, I want to be remembered for being uplifting. People have enough to be depressed about in this life and I just want them to hear my songs, feel good and rise up. I’m excited that ‘What Will It Take’ will now have the opportunity to do just that.”  

Wednesday, December 06, 2023

Jim Piela | "It Come With The Territory"

Alto and soprano saxophonist Jim Piela has explored the art of the quartet from a number of angles. His 2016 release Non Fiction paired saxophone and Fender Rhodes, while Out of Orbit and the four-track EP Force of Habit showcased him in a chordless environment with alto and trumpet. On his new outing, It Comes With the Territory, Piela enlists guitarist Mark McIntyre, whose full, clean-toned harmonies and burning lead work help ground this set of six original compositions, while also creating space within them. “Mark is the beating heart of this group,” Piela says. “His guitar speaks so clearly from his core. Once he joined the project, his unique musical voice permeated my entire concept for the record.”

Bassist Nick Jost and drummer Peter Kronrief complete a lineup that is versatile, alert, open to discovery. “Peter was the first hire,” Piela continues. “I’ve worked a lot of tour dates with him and I know he can meet any moment. And if Peter is the unstoppable force, Nick is the unmovable object. His playing has this amazing combination of lyricism and that deep rhythmic ‘thump’ that anchors the entire band. When I first heard him with Peter, I knew this was a special connection.”

For a good while, Piela had contemplated something like a love letter to Wayne Shorter’s 1966 Blue Note masterpiece Speak No Evil, and though the theme is somewhat disguised, It Comes With the Territory is that love letter. “It’s not a ‘cover’ or a tribute or a ‘reimagining,’ Piela clarifies, “but more like my guiding light.” The beautiful ballad “Crow Hill,” for instance, was inspired by the tempo, and only the tempo, of Shorter’s “Infant Eyes.” The arpeggiated intro to “Glass Cannon,” Piela explains, grew out of the intro to “Witch Hunt,” “but where ‘Witch Hunt’ is an exclamation point, I ended up coming from an intimate place. These little nods or interpretations are all over this record.”

Piela discerns a similar process at work in Shorter’s writing. The intervallic movement in “Fe-Fi-Fo-Fum,” for example, borrows from “Giant Steps,” but in a uniquely Shorterian way. Referencing the famous quote (attributed to Picasso) that “good artists borrow, great artists steal,” Piela muses: “There’s more to it than that, isn’t there? Great artists trust their process and their intuition enough that no matter the ‘input,’ the output will always be original to them.”

Many other, more personal elements inform the writing and playing on It Comes With the Territory. Piela’s home in Brooklyn, his upbringing in the Midwest, “the vibrant and the quiet parts,” Piela says. “I wanted to capture those moments with this music.” The “territory” in question, then, could be understood in a literal and metaphorical sense.

Having defined the territory, one may ask what is the “it”? Quite simply, it is “all of the sacrifices we make as creative professionals in New York, things that might seem totally at odds with the outside world,” Piela offers. Factor in the elusiveness of artistic inspiration and the challenges only mount. “It almost feels like structuring your life around potential energy,” adds the saxophonist. “There’s a dissonance in building future plans around something that’s not yet there, or standing on stage not knowing what’s going to happen next, of trusting yourself and your artistry. To many this dissonance is uncomfortable, even scary, but to creators that live it, it comes with the territory.”

Along with “Crow Hill,” the mellow and lyrical “Off Course” features the leader’s authoritative voice on soprano sax, with a powerfully centered bass solo from Jost leading off the rotation. Piela follows with the first of three standalone alto saxophone improvisations — short contrasting transitional pieces that set the stage for the yearning waltz “Hinterlands,” the aforementioned “Crow Hill” and the funky, rocking set closer “We’ll Burn That Bridge When We Get to It.” The playing throughout is solidly swinging, tonally rich, informed by sensitive listening and a unified band spirit.

“I knew I wanted to approach this record in a different way,” Piela says in sum. “Usually, I reflect on my hopes, on the world I want to see, and the player I want to be. Instead, for Territory, I wrote a single word at the top of all my charts: ‘Execute.’ Do what you do, play how you play, be who you are. It became a mantra of self-acceptance. Just execute — play the music I love to play. I had this very specific goal to stop thinking, stop trying to be overly technical. It Comes With the Territory speaks to loving who you are today, but knowing that there are infinite possibilities ahead: the next day is yet to be lived, just as the next phrase is yet to be played.”

R&B/jazz singer Erin Stevenson lights up the season with "Christmas Time With You"

R&B/jazz singer Erin Stevenson has a joyous holiday treat for listeners filled with cinnamon kisses and time spent with loved ones. The Innervision Records artist wrote and produced the finger popping, swinging, bluesy, retro sleigh ride “Christmas Time With You,” a cheerful new single boding to become a seasonal standard. Now available from iTunes, Amazon and other major retailers, “Christmas Time With You” which began collecting playlist adds on November 27.

All year round, Stevenson radiates the energy and excitement of Christmas morning thus composing and recording her own standard feels apropos. Inherent in her glee is a sense of gratitude, strong sentiments that permeate the single’s lyrics.

“‘Christmas Time With You’ offers a happy slice of real life packaged as a classic Christmas song guaranteed to make you smile and get you in the holiday spirit. It will make you feel a tad bit closer to the ones you love,” said Stevenson who recruited keyboardist Christopher Thomas, guitarist Kay-Ta Matsuno, bassist Keith Eaddy and drummer Arthur Thompson to decorate the festive track.

Stevenson has been working on her sophomore album, “CoverGirl Uncovered,” which is slated to drop next April. She jokes that “Justin is financing the album,” a reference to the breaks she takes from recording to perform with Justin Timberlake, one of the many A-listers she has toured and performed with, including Pharrell Williams, Duran Duran, Nicki Minaj, John Legend, Jennifer Lopez, Janet Jackson, Ciara, Rihanna and Camila Cabello. Her solo recording career has been on an upward trajectory, having most recently peaked at No. 14 on the Billboard chart with the single “Smooth Soul.”    

“My career has been taking off and I believe it’s primarily due to my live performances. I don't take for granted that my band is a critical component to that, which is why I put them on my records and in music videos. I'm happy, Christmas makes me happy, and my band makes me happy. That’s exactly what you get on ‘Christmas Time With You,’” said Stevenson.

Hailing from Houston and now based in Southern California, Stevenson debuted as a solo artist in 2006 with the Billboard top 5 dance music single “Sweat.” She dropped her first album, “Naked,” in 2017, paced by the British top 10 single, “Hangin’.” A series of singles followed – “Make It Last Forever,” “You Gotta Be” and “Never Too Much” - the latter of which won Stevenson a People’s Choice Indie Soul Award in 2021.       

Although she’s effervescent and jolly, Stevenson knows this time of year can be challenging for others. Her sense of empathy and compassion is why her message in “Christmas Time With You” resonates.

“For some, the holiday season is dreadful because everyone else is so doggone happy. Whether it’s a lack of finances, loneliness, or family problems, some people lose sight of the gifts right in their midst. It’s true, the best gifts in life are free - like time and living in the moment. I'm a strong believer that if you want to be happy, only do things and surround yourself with people who make you happy,” Stevenson said.

Spiritually grounded, Stevenson keeps sight of the true meaning of Christmas by maintaining a humble outlook that reflects her feelings of appreciation.

“Jesus will always be my reason for the season, but that also comes with lots of good food, good wine, and, of course, my family. Anything more is simply a bonus.”  

Jazz/R&B singer-songwriter Ashleigh Smith releases “I Can’t Help It”

The title of singer-songwriter Ashleigh Smith’s new single, “I Can’t Help It,” aligns with her identity as an artist. Her recordings are unapologetic and unabashed amalgams of straight-ahead jazz cadences and soulful R&B grooves with sophisticated pop appeal that when knitted together, result in genre-defying tracks best labeled modern vocal jazz. Her newly released TopCat Records single is an act of defiance in itself because there’s no question that it’s a straight-ahead jazz cut yet that radio format doesn’t release singles. That little detail wasn’t going to prevent Smith from issuing her version of the tune penned by Stevie Wonder and Susaye Greene, which she produced and arranged with bassist Nigel Rivers.

Clearly Smith is comfortable in her own skin. She studied classical music on a full scholarship in college, won the 2014 Sarah Vaughan International Vocal Competition, which demonstrates her remarkable skills as a jazz singer, and grew up in a musical household where she fell in love with classic R&B and pop as performed on “real instruments.” Each element adds to the distinctive alchemy that converges organically to form her own unique brand.

While “I Can’t Help It” is a song about romantic love, for Smith, the lyrics serve as affirmations, declarations empowering her individuality. Floating her emotive croon atop the brisk straight-ahead jazz rhythms constructed by Rivers’ elastic basslines and Mauricio Barroso’s staccato percussion beats, Smith’s single is illumined by the astute piano and Rhodes keyboards from Daniel Marandure and Pete Clagett’s probing trumpet. Adding melodic touches to the track are Max Townsley (guitar), Chelsea Danielle (vibes) and Jordache Grant (keyboards). Smith has been performing “I Can’t Help It” in her live set for years with many of the musicians on the recording.

“After years of performing it with my band, different sections and parts of the arrangements started to form organically. Honestly, it was only decided that it would be a single because of audience demand. After every show, fans ask where they could purchase that arrangement. So, I decided we would give the people what they wanted. One of the qualities that I’m most proud of when it comes to my music is that everything I do is always organic and natural. Even down to the musicians I choose to record with. The musicians on this record, and on all of my recordings, are musicians I play with regularly. They are people who have been a part of my musical journey from the beginning, so the synergy is a given. I love that everything I put out is made with love with people I genuinely love,” said the Dallas-based Smith who grew up in Augusta, Georgia.

“I Can’t Help It” previews Smith’s sophomore album, “In The Rain,” which is due to arrive next spring. Although this single is a reimagination, all the other songs on the collection are originals that Smith had a hand in writing. She debuted in 2016 with the “Sunkissed” album that was released by Concord Records, which offered a mix of originals and covers.

Tuesday, December 05, 2023

Drummer-Composer Reggie Quinerly Releases "The Thousandth Scholar"

The rich straightahead jazz of Reggie Quinerly gets an Afro-Caribbean spin with The Thousandth Scholar, to be released January 19 on his own Redefinition Music. Quinerly’s fifth album finds the drummer-composer seasoning his musical recipes with what Jelly Roll Morton called “the Spanish tinge,” a sometimes-subtle Latin flavor that he achieves without sacrificing his distinctive soulful sound—and with the help of an ace quartet including pianist Manuel Valera, bassist Matt Brewer, and percussionist Samuel Torres.

The form of the quartet, featuring both drums and hand percussion, is a crucial element of Quinerly’s exploration. It was inspired by two of his favorite albums—Herbie Hancock’s 1963 classic Inventions and Dimensions and Ahmad Jamal’s more recent (2012) masterpiece Blue Moon—both of which feature a similar quartet. “With every album, I explore different aspects of my influences,” Quinerly explains.

In the case of The Thousandth Scholar, that list of influences has Valera’s name near the very top. Quinerly worked closely with the Havana-born pianist, who arranged the drummer’s compositions and coproduced the album. “The connection between melody and rhythm is pretty profound in Afro-Cuban and African music,” says Quinerly, “and Manuel helped me with that.” Additionally, percussionist Torres is a native Colombian, providing another important perspective on the Latin jazz tradition.

Even so, those perspectives are not always easy to detect. Tunes like Valera’s “Invernal” and Quinerly’s “Children Song #10” make gentle use of clave beats and conga textures, while on the waltzing “Sam from Brooklyn” Torres’s whispery shakers are the only surface signifier of Afro-Latin influence. On other tunes, however, that influence is in no doubt: “Folk Song” is carefully built around the groove Torres establishes in his solo introduction, “Ray’s Tune” is a fierce mambo, and “Skain’s Blues” comprises a taut set of interlocking rhythms from all four musicians.

Some of the songs, as their titles suggest, are nods to influences of Quinerly’s outside the Latin jazz rubric. “I’m so fortunate to have been in the presence of so many great people,” he remarks. “I wouldn’t be who I am otherwise.”

“Sam from Brooklyn” expresses Quinerly’s fondness for an old mentor, drum and percussion teacher Sam Dinkins; “Ray’s Tune” celebrates the brilliant and steady hand of pianist Ray Bryant; and the harmonically complex “Skain’s Blues” gives the nod to trumpeter, composer, and educator Wynton Marsalis.

Ultimately, though, that combination of influences only goes so far. It’s Quinerly himself who integrated them into himself to forge a unique voice and musical conception. Even as they’re newly steeped in Latin rhythms and textures, it’s that voice and conception that are of course front and center on The Thousandth Scholar.

Reggie Quinerly was born November 16, 1980, in Houston, Texas, one of the garden spots of 21st-century jazz. Fittingly, he took an early turn in that direction. Lester Grant, who played drums in the Pilgrim United Church of Christ (where Reggie grew up), was a jazz master who became the young musician’s first mentor. Grant not only taught him to play but sent him on an odyssey of discovering the great musicians of jazz past and present.

The odyssey took Quinerly first to Houston’s famous High School of the Performing and Visual Arts, then to the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York, and finally to the Juilliard School for his Master’s in Jazz Studies. There, his circle of mentors widened to include Jimmy Cobb, Lewis Nash, and Kenny Washington.

Shortly after completing his degree at Juilliard, Quinerly recorded and released his first album, 2012’s Music Inspired by Freedmantown. It started him down a fruitful artistic pathway that has also brought forth 2015’s Invictus and 2018’s Words to Love, critically acclaimed albums that helped raise Quinerly’s profile in the jazz world. Last year’s New York Nowhere represented his farewell to the jazz capital and the start of a new creative chapter in Los Angeles. It was in the City of Angels that Quinerly conceived and developed the music that became The Thousandth Scholar.

The enigmatic album title, Quinerly explains, “represents the idea that the journey of learning and discovery is endless. The numerical concept represents the many musicians that have come before me. In acknowledging their sacrifices, I hope to be a continuation of their artistic excellence.”

Reggie Quinerly will be performing the music of The Thousandth Scholar at Sam First, 6171 W. Century Blvd. #180, Los Angeles (Live Stream tickets available on the website on Thursday, 3/21/24.

R&B/jazz keyboardist Vassal Benford releases "Dedication Song"

R&B/jazz keyboardist, Vassal Benford, wrote and produced a new single, “Dedication Song,” that captures his feelings of appreciation. The Benford Jazz Label release mixed by Billboard hitmaker Greg Manning is the most added new single on Billboard’s Mediabase chart two weeks running.

Benford has played a role in the creation of more than 58 platinum-selling records as a Grammy nominated producer, songwriter, musician and record executive in pop, R&B, hip hop, rock and dance music. He’s worked with a veritable who’s who list of superstars, yet jazz remains his humble muse and he’s determined to put his distinctive imprint on the genre. Playing piano to foster feelings of intimacy and emotional connection, “Dedication Song” plays like a danceable and sensual R&B groove. Steamy undertones provide contrast to the poetic notes emoted eloquently from Benford’s melodic and agile piano. At its essence, the single is an offering of love reflecting thankfulness.

In the accompanying “Dedication Song” video ( that already has nearly 700,000 views in four days, Benford dedicates the song in loving memory to one of his mentors, the “Godfather of Black Music” Clarence Avant, along with an extended list of family members, friends and several of his longtime clients.

“‘Dedication Song’ is a heartfelt song for all occasions, but this year we’re bringing it out for the holiday season. While composing and tracking it in the studio, it filled me with immense feelings of gratitude, especially for my family and my loved ones. We are in strange times and every moment of love counts. Every act of love counts. I now find myself noticing every smile and recognize that each moment of peace is a blessing. The world needs love, so I dedicate this song to everyone with love,” said Benford about the second single from his forthcoming album, “Melody Man,” which is due to arrive in April.

Benford is a prolific producer of music, film, television, concert events, revolutionary technology and sporting projects that have generated billions of dollars and billions of spins, streams, downloads and views. He got his start as a teenager in Detroit writing songs for jazz legends Ramsey Lewis, Stanley Clarke and Nancy Wilson. His discography now boasts collaborations with DJ Diplo, Toni Braxton, NAS, Flo Rida, Queen Latifah, Mariah Carey, Rick Ross, Deborah Cox, Sheryl Crow, U2, Jade, Bobby Brown, New Edition, Lil’ Kim, Patti LaBelle, Faith Evans, Chanté Moore, Oleta Adams, Lisa Stansfield, Tramaine Hawkins, and The Fine Young Cannibals among others.

The Benford Company manages boxing champ Manny Pacquiao and Benford serves as the chairman of The B.B. King Estate. He is executive producing a documentary film about King and is assembling the accompanying soundtrack that features rapper Quavo of Migos. In movies, Benford is partnered with former studio head and blockbuster producer Mark Canton (“300”) on the “After” film trilogy (“After,” “After We Collided” and “After We Fell”), which has generated over $300 million at the box office, and created the television series “Power.” They currently have two Marvel films in the pipeline.

While making Hollywood megadeals is an everyday occurrence for Benford, at his core, his passion remains jazz and instrumental R&B music. Last year, he tested the waters by releasing the title track to “Melody Man,” which sounds totally unique and unlike anything in the contemporary jazz space. “Dedication Song” provides a second glimpse into what’s to come from what bodes to be an innovative collection that features Benford collaborating with Grammy-winning guitarist Norman Brown, eight-time Grammy nominated saxophonist Gerald Albright, and singer-songwriters Aloe Blacc and Moore.

R&B-Jazz saxophonist Shawn Raiford releases “Santa Baby”

Mesmerized by Eartha Kitt’s tantalizing and teasing performance of “Santa Baby,” R&B-jazz saxophonist Shawn Raiford has been playing his version of the holiday classic in his set for over twenty years. It’s become a perennial fan favorite, inspiring the Sacramento-based saxman to record and release his rendition. Grammy winner Derek “DOA” Allen (Lionel Richie, Janet Jackson, Tyrese) produced the single that began collecting playlist adds on Monday (November 20).

Raiford is a high-energy, award-winning concert performer and his recording projects are a blend of R&B, jazz, funk and soul. Yet his take on “Santa Baby” exhibits an entirely different sound and style. The track Allen crafted is a slow, deliberate and seductive straight-ahead jazz cut. Whereas Kitt’s voice flirts and seduces playfully, Raiford’s tenor sax warms, charms and comforts. Along with some backing sax sounds from Eddie Minnifield (Prince, Sheila E., Aretha Franklin), Allen decorated the track with bells and strings that add whimsical nuances, enhancing the childlike feelings of wonder at Christmastime.

According to Raiford, some Christmas magic took place in Minnifield’s recording studio while the single was tracked.

“We did it in one take and it’s the only song I’ve ever recorded in one take. We did a second pass but stuck with everything from the first take. I fell in love with that song since Eartha Kitt sang it. The way she acted out the song, it was electric! When we get around the holidays and I start playing ‘Santa Baby’ at our shows, we get so many raves from fans,” said Raiford who leads The Shawn Raiford Experience, a popular band on the NorCal scene that has opened for or performed with Teddy Riley, Yolanda Adams, Freddie Jackson, Pete Escovedo, Eric Darius and Jeff Ryan, and has been playing dates this year with R&B singer, songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist Chuckii Booker.

Raiford has been ramping up all year for the release of his second album, “The Next Step,” which Allen is producing. Thus far, he’s issued three singles to preview the set slated to drop in April – “Forever,” “Leave The Door Open” and “Vallejo.”

In addition to spending time with his family during the holidays, Raiford is a thriving entrepreneur who is committed to serving and giving back to his local community, which spans from Sacramento to his hometown, Vallejo.

“Every year, my company gives back. We give food and toys, and we do a lot for the community. We feed nearly two hundred people during Thanksgiving and Christmastime. I’ve always wanted to be able to give back and make sure that people have food and presents to unwrap,” said Raiford who plays at Yoshi’s in Oakland on December 18 and at The Palace Events in Dallas on January 13.    

Thursday, November 02, 2023

Multi-Award Winning Songwriter-Producer, BRANDON WILLIAMS Releases 5-Track Project, "THE LOVER'S SUITE"

"The Lover's Suite," is a 5-track tastefully crafted sensual love-letter from us gentlemen to the ladies. It’s a symphony of desire, a collection of love stories, and an exploration of the most tender moments shared between two souls. It’s a sonic aphrodisiac and the perfect soundtrack for a late-night rendezvous. Let it guide you through the labyrinth of love.

Always on a mission to remind the masses that exceptional music exists in the current landscape, Brandon Williams intentionally crafted “The Lover’s Suite” as a 29 minute and 12 second aural experience. "To hear it in full, you must listen to the entire thing, but I decided to break each song out on its own and include an interlude so that people can choose what they want to experience moment to moment. I called in a cast of musical superheroes to assist on the journey," shares Williams.

The project includes appearances by Grammy-Nominated musicians, Robert Glasper and Taylor Eigsti, along with the exceptional talents of Brian McKnight Jr., Matt Cusson, Joe Poré, and Perry Hughes. "Brandon Williams is one of the greatest musical minds of this generation. While understanding and being well-aware of what’s current, he is influenced by the great history of music, and not just black music... all music! It was a true honor to be a part of this project, "says Robert Glasper.

One of the highlights of the EP is, "Everything & More" featuring Brian McKnight Jr. The beautiful ballad was written by Brandon Williams and Brian McKnight Jr. and produced by Brandon Williams. "Inspired by the thought of getting to make love to a woman for the first time after dating for a while. The longing to explore her more while she guides you through exactly what she likes. She’s the coach and you’re the player," says Brandon.

Another stand-out song on the project is the Brandon Williams produced and Matt Cusson penned track, "Gentle Breeze". "It was literally inspired by a woman saying, “I hope this breeze takes me somewhere.” It’s a love story of two people that met on a beach and fell in love despite speaking two different languages. The common and universal languages between them were music and love. This is a

song about the love and longing for someone that you absolutely can’t live without," adds Brandon.

Musical pioneer Teddy Riley was among the first to hear the album after its completion and he offered these words. “This album is a masterpiece and Grammy Award Winning material. You’re a genius, bro. Where would you like me to sit in your sanctuary?”

"It was told to me years ago to create the art you want to see in the world... create what you feel is missing and with The Lover’s Suite, I’ve done just that." Brandon Williams

Detroit bred Brandon Williams life has always included music in some capacity. First as a listener, then as a musician, and ultimately, as a producer. He is a musical architect that has made his name and stake as a front runner in the music industry with the release of his 2014 debut album entitled XII and his sophomore release, The Love Factor, featuring the likes of Robert Glasper, Alex Isley, Jean Baylor (formerly of Zhane’), Frank McComb, Nicholas Payton, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and more. The albums have received high praises from musical luminaries such as Teddy Riley, Jean Paul "Bluey" Maunick (Incognito), Chuckii Booker, Maysa Leak, Ledisi, Rahsaan Patterson, Marion Meadows, Dianne Reeves, Sinbad, Will Downing, Jill Scott and many others. He has also been personally endorsed as a great producer by the legendary Quincy Jones.

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Indigenous Collaborations w/ Sultans of String: Walking Through the Fire

What do Crystal Shawanda, Leela Gilday, Northern Cree powwow group, a dozen other Indigenous artists, and Roots band Sultans of String have in common? They have all come together in the spirit of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action and Final Report that calls for Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists to work together to find a path forward, and have created Walking Through the Fire. This album and live show are a powerful collection of collaborations between the roots group and First Nations, Métis, and Inuit artists from across Turtle Island, with the CD releasing September 15, 2023, and a live concert tour launching on September 28, leading up to and following the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

Fire can be destructive, as we have seen with the unprecedented forest fires still burning in Canada. But what we see right afterward is interesting, as collaborating Indigenous art director Mark Rutledge explains, referencing the title and cover art of Walking Through the Fire. “You’ll see the burnt-out husks of trees and the ash and the charcoal on the landscape. But fireweed is the first plant after a forest fire that emerges, and you’ll see rivers and fields of magenta within the barren landscape, and those nutrients are going back into the soil for the next generation of trees and flowers and regrowth.”

There is fear instilled within the very notion of fire because it can be so destructive, not just to the landscape, but to the lives of people. But what lies beyond fear that holds people back from achieving what they want to achieve? “The other side of fear is growth and potential with collaboration between non-Indigenous and Indigenous people,” Mark continues. “When we drop the word reconciliation on people, there’s a large group of people who don’t understand what that means. And when you don’t understand something, you are fearful of it. But if we go through the same experience together, we walk through that fire together, and we come out together on the other end and have that unified experience together, that’s the power in this album.”

Together these artists are making a safe, creative space where new connections can be dreamed of – not in the Western way of thinking and problematizing – but instead a deeper sharing and understanding, with music being the common ground to help cultures connect and understand each other. “We are opening doors for each other, as Indigenous peoples, as settler peoples. This project is about creating connections and spaces to learn from each other” explains collaborator Alyssa Delbaere-Sawchuk, violist with Métis Fiddler Quartet.

Nine-time Grammy-nominated Northern Cree and community organisers in Kettle and Stony Point welcomed Sultans of String to their annual powwow for one of these collaborations. Steve Wood, drummer and singer, explains, “When you’re collaborating with mainstream music, it shows that we can work together to bring out the very best in who we are as human beings, and we can bring out something very beautiful.”

A central theme running through Walking Through the Fire is the need for the whole truth of Residential Schools and the Indigenous experience to be told long before reconciliation can possibly take place. Grammy-nominated Elder and poet Dr. Duke Redbird, who in many ways provided the initial inspiration for this project, explains, “The place that we have to start is with truth. Reconciliation will come sometime way in the future, perhaps, but right now, truth is where we need to begin the journey with each other.”

Sultans violinist Chris McKhool, who was recently awarded the Dr. Duke Redbird Lifetime Achievement Award by Redbird and JAYU Arts for Human Rights for working to amplify these truths through collaborations, says, “This country has a history that has been ignored, distorted, twisted to suit colonialist goals of destroying a people. We are so fortunate for the opportunity to work with Indigenous artists, sharing their stories, their experiences, and their lives with us, so we can continue our work of learning about the history of residential schools, genocide, and intergenerational impacts of colonization. Music has a special capacity for healing, connecting, and expressing truth.”

McKhool leads the 3x JUNO nominated, 6x CFMA-winning band, who recorded the bed tracks at Jukasa Studios, an Indigenous-owned world-class recording facility on the Six Nations reserve south of Hamilton, Ontario. “We were so fortunate to be able to work at Jukasa, as well as consult with exceptional Indigenous artists on this project,” says McKhool. “We were lucky to be able to work with Indigenous designer Mark Rutledge and Indigenous filmmakers and videographers Eliza Knockwood and Marc Merilainen, working with our usual team, to come up with a look and feel for the album.”

The Honourable Murray Sinclair, former chair of the TRC, said, “The very fact that you’re doing this tells me that you believe in the validity of our language, you believe in the validity of our art and our music, and that you want to help to bring it out. And that’s really what’s important: for people to have faith that we can do this.” Sinclair also spoke about the importance of using Indigenous languages so these do not become lost. The recording and concert features lyrics in Dene, Inuktitut, Sm’algyax, Cree, and Michif.

Sultans of String is a fiercely independent band that has always tried to lift up those around them and has exposed many of their collaborators and special guests to new audiences at their shows, including at JUNOfest, NYC’s legendary Birdland Jazz Club, Celtic Connections Festival in Glasgow, and London’s Trafalgar Square. Led by Queen’s Diamond Jubilee recipient McKhool, they have collaborated with orchestras across North America and have played live on CBC’s Canada Live, BBC TV, Irish National Radio, and SiriusXM in Washington. They have recorded and performed with such diverse luminaries as Paddy Moloney & The Chieftains, Sweet Honey in The Rock, Richard Bona, Alex Cuba, Ruben Blades, Benoit Bourque, and Béla Fleck. Their work during the pandemic on The Refuge Project amplified the voices of new immigrants and refugees, earning them CFMAs and Best Musical Film at the Cannes World Film Festival. 

Says Raven Kanatakta of Digging Roots: “We have to move beyond ally-ship, and we have to move into relationships of being co-conspirators, get down into the dirt and start working together and start moving forward. We’re all equals here, and we all need to communicate as equals. We actually need Canadians to step up and take that first move.”

Monday, October 30, 2023

Output / Input – Forward Motion

Output/Input release their debut album ‘Forward Motion‘ on double vinyl LP, December 1st. The album is an eclectic mix of 70’s-inspired soul and funk delivered in a truly 2023-style of recording, with all tracks being recorded remotely across multiple continents. The band is a truly diverse and international group featuring members from countries including the USA, UK, Germany, Hungary and South Korea. Their previous releases have been praised by DJ’s and tastemakers, regularly featuring on Jazz FM, BBC Radio 2, BBC Radio 6 and a host of specialist Soul radio stations across the globe. The CD and digital album have been No.1 on multiple UK Soul Charts.

Lead vocalist Antonio McLendon has worked and performed with James Ingram, Tata Vega, Gladys Knight and Donna Summer, and features as vocalist on seven of the ten tracks on the album. He has definitely made an impact as a world-class singer this year, with the singles ‘Smilin’ Faces’ and ‘Someone I Used To Love’. both being radio hits. Co-incidentally, Antonio’s daughter, Samara Joy won two Grammy awards this year for her album ‘Linger Awhile’. Here We Go Again’ features the vocals of Audrey Wheeler-Downing, who worked with Unlimited Touch and Chaka Khan, and Brent Carter, the current lead singer of AWB and previous to that, Tower Of Power. ‘Doin’ Alright’ features vocals from O’Bryan, who Davis worked with extensively on his albums for Capitol. This re-recorded version, co-written by Melvin, originally appeared on the album of the same name in 1982, and is widely tipped as a stand-out rare groove revival cut on the album and is already hotly anticipated. ‘Really No Chance‘ features the lead vocals of Katie Holmes-Smith, a globally sought-after singer, who backed Adele on her world tour as well as currently performing with her for the duration of Adele’s residency at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. The CD release featured a bonus track, ‘Every Time You Touch Me’, recorded very recently, written by Noval Smith and Mark Love and sung by Antonio McLendon, while the 2LP features another bonus cut, a fantastic cover of the Earth, Wind & Fire classic ‘Can’t Hide Love’, penned by Skip Scarborough, with vocals by Brent Carter.

Friday, October 27, 2023

Mareike Wiening | "Reveal" - Special Guest Dave Douglas

As she set out to conceive the music for her third album as a leader, drummer/composer Mareike Wiening [pronounced: Mar-EYE-kuh VEE-ning] glanced around and discovered a wealth of potential inspirations in the tumultuous events of recent years. Of course, there were the global upheavals that we’ve all watched unfold with bated breath: the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, political divisiveness in the U.S., Europe and beyond. 

Then there were the life-altering experiences that took place closer to home: Wiening moved back to her native Germany in 2018 after six years in New York, settling in Cologne. She suffered the death of a close family member after witnessing a slow decline in health, and she’s reaching a stage of life where societal pressures to settle down and start a family begin to strongly impinge. All of this set against the backdrop of an uncertain future for the music industry as inflation soars in Germany.

Realizing that such heady subjects could result in a decidedly stark and somber album, Wiening chose not to react but to reveal, searching inward for the warmth and spirit that connected her with music in the first place. On Reveal, her third album for Greenleaf Music, Wiening has crafted her richest and most deeply personal music to date. 

“Personally and as a musician, I’ve been in so many situations in the past few years where the future feels insecure or questionable,” Wiening says. “I really wanted to listen deep inside myself and find the joy and hope in music.”

Reveal reunites Wiening once again with her longtime working band: tenor saxophonist Rich Perry, pianist Glenn Zaleski, guitarist Alex Goodman and bassist Johannes Felscher. They are joined on three tracks by esteemed trumpeter and Greenleaf founder Dave Douglas, a fervent supporter throughout Wiening’s career. 

"Mareike’s become a real force on the scene and I am honored to have been called for this new record date,” Douglas says. “It felt great to play with her and all the band members.”

Despite her relocation to Germany, Wiening’s musical life remains focused on New York City, and in particular on this stellar group of musicians. The quintet was formed in 2014 while the drummer was pursuing her Master’s degree at New York University and has become essential to her musical imagination over the ensuing decade. “From the beginning, this quintet has been my band,” Wiening emphasizes. “I’m not technically a composer – I’m a drummer and I compose only for my band. I know that I can write down whatever I have in my head and they’ll know how to translate it into music. I can trust them, which is very helpful emotionally. They’ve really become my family.”

Reveal, like all of Wiening’s work, never indulges in the kit pyrotechnics that mark the cliché “drummer’s date.” She is a nuanced and subtle player who shapes the music with a delicate sculptor’s finesse, her playing and composing inextricable from one another, the familiar voices of her bandmates becoming an extension of her own thought process.

“When I write music, the drums are usually the last thing I'm thinking about,” she says. “People sometimes point out that there are rarely long drum solos on my records or even in my concerts, but I feel like you can already hear what I want to express in the tunes, so having a drum solo on every song would be redundant.” 

Wiening does take the spotlight from time to time, as in the psychedelic opening moments of “Time for Priorities,” when she pairs off with Goodman’s backwards-mutated guitar. Surprisingly this leads into a bright Latin groove, reflecting the determination to emerge from the darkness that fuels the album as a whole. Zaleski’s lush, resonant chords set the tone for “Old Beginning,” an ode to rebirth that questions how life can expect to go on when it’s so constantly disrupted by ungovernable events.

Wiening switches to brushes for “Encore,” whispering beneath Felscher’s eloquent solo before bursting into an anthemic head, receding again for Perry’s gently probing turn. Goodman and Zaleski pair off for the agitated intro to “Declaration of Truth,” a dizzyingly intricate puzzle that the band solves brilliantly. 

The sole piece not composed by Wiening, “Balada” is an unexpected adaptation of a classical piece by 19th century Romanian composer Ciprian Porumbescu. Inspired by the war in Ukraine, Wiening asked a friend to recommend some Eastern European folk and classical songs. “I was fascinated by their rhythms and strong melodies,” she describes. I discovered a lot of great music that I’d never heard of before, but this ballad stood out. The melody stuck in my head for a long time, so I started to write different arrangements of it until it took the shape it has here.”

Greenleaf and Douglas have also been part of Wiening’s extended family since her full-length debut, Metropolis Paradise, in 2019. (Dan Tepfer stepped in on piano for that date after Zaleski had a bicycle accident prior to the session.) Future Memories followed on the same imprint in 2021, this time with the full quintet intact.

His involvement made Douglas the ideal choice for the band’s first invited guest. “I’ve always been very inspired by how prolific and eclectic Dave’s music is,” Wiening explains. “While composing, I was looking for something new, something I wanted to develop, and I realized that I wanted to add another voice. I immediately thought of Dave.”

“Mareike’s music always has a lightness to it,” Douglas says. “Not a lightness in the sense of easy or simple — a lightness of movement, fleet, and often deceptively floating through time, without being insistent. One of the things that strikes me in playing with Mareike is how much her drumming is shaped around the music without overwhelming or imposing on the music. Like the best bandleaders, Mareike’s strategy seems to be to make everyone else sound as good as they can.”

As Douglas and Perry hail from a similar generation and have both been mainstays across a variety of NYC jazz scenes for decades, Wiening naturally assumed that they’d crossed paths often over the years. She was shocked to discover that Reveal would mark only their second meeting ever, more than fifteen years after recording together on pianist Fred Hersch’s 1995 release Point in Time. 

Wiening makes the most of the pairing on Douglas’ three appearances. She penned “Choral Anthem” with the two in mind, sketching the composition in more skeletal form than usual so as to leave plenty of space for the frontline to explore. During the mesmerizing opening the leader provides the only accompaniment, with Wiening’s drums taking on an evocative and atmospheric role. 

Douglas returns on the muscular, swinging title track, its bristling energy very much in the mold of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers; and on the tender closing track, “The Girl By the Window,” named for (and channeling the soft-hued style of) a painting by American Impressionist T.C. Steele.

Multi-faceted and intriguing, moving and exhilarating, Reveal is ultimately exactly what the title promises: a revelation.

Mareike Wiening studied jazz drums in Mannheim, Copenhagen, and New York City, resided in NYC for six years, and returned to Germany in 2019. Since 2022, she has been a jazz drum instructor at the Zurich University of the Arts. Mareike has performed worldwide with top-tier musicians.

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Saxophonist Ada Rovatti Releasing "The Hidden World of Piloo," featuring Randy Brecker, Kurt Elling, Niki Haris, Fay Claassen, Alma Naidu and More

Italy-born, Long Island, New York-based saxophonist/arranger Ada Rovatti delivers a captivating collection of original songs with wide-ranging thematic surprises around every corner. Her seventh album as a leader, The Hidden World of Piloo features six improvisationally rich instrumentals that include blues grooves, samba vibes, straight-up lyricism, melancholic balladry and a comedic finale. Two songs include strings; another features the dobro, a country instrument unlikely to be in a jazz song.

Four Rovatti compositions showcase top-tier vocalists, including jazz-poll champion Kurt Elling, the Netherlands jazz singer Fay Claassen, German pop/jazz star Alma Naidu and fired-up R&B singer Niki Haris (the daughter of jazz great Gene Harris) who once served as a Madonna backing vocalist. They each follow Rovatti’s “impossibly ranged melodies” and settle marvelously into her phrasing.

“This album is clearly not a project where band members solo twenty choruses of the blues,” says Rovatti, who is center stage on tenor, alto, soprano and baritone saxophones and flute. “I want to be recognized as a singer/songwriter, saxophonist and arranger. This album shows a different side of me.” In essence, creating space for a round of solos isn’t her intent. She wants to focus on the interplay among her band members—including her husband Randy Brecker on trumpet and flugelhorn, organist Simon Oslender, bassist Claus Fischer, drummer Tim Dudek, percussionist Café Da Silva—and other guests.

Rovatti’s sophisticated songs are special. They dive deep into emotional memory. But some throw punches at the causes of the country’s social unrest and injustice.

Case in point: the funk-spiced, dobro-driven “Life Must Go On,” with a harmony arrangement by Naidu sung with a sense of doom in the midst of being “in pure hate and in greed’s name.” Rovatti says, “We’re messing around with too much. There is a higher power that is seeing all these mental glitches of people who want everything, who want power, and it never ends.” Then there’s also “The Naked King,” with a sweet, gentle groove and juicy bass solo that references to the era of the former president.

But of course, there’s the humor at the end.

The Hidden World of Piloo opens with the spirited, percussive, harmonic beauty “Make Up Girl,” dedicated to her teenage daughter who was experimenting with wearing makeup. “I had lyrics, but decided to turn it into an instrumental,” Rovatti says. “There’s a counterpoint for two instruments, which made it perfect for Randy and me to play off each other.”

On her favorite track of the album sung with fire by Claassen, Rovatti embellishes “Hey You (Scintilla of Sonder)” with strings and horns. Rovatti sparks with the intense notion of sonder that even random people passing on the street have their own layers of hidden struggles and complications. She says that’s a fascination and mystery for her. “It’s a deep subject when you realize that,” she says.

Rovatti references the grunge pop life in the ‘90s for the laid-back “Painchiller” featuring Brecker’s charged trumpeting and an injection of pain relief from her guitar friend Tom Guarna. She then turns a corner into jazz party time with the swing and New Orleans blues tune “Grooveland” that she says often ends the set with her band and her outings with Brecker.

“Italians share the Latin groove,” says Rovatti when asked why she changed gears again for the delicious “Simba Samba.” “Naturally I’m attracted to the mood, the groove of Brazilian music. In all my recordings there’s always a Latin feel.”

Rovatti dedicates The Hidden World of Piloo to her father who passed away in 2021 shortly before the recording was completed. In the liner notes, she writes, “A special thanks to my Dad who inspired most of this project and directed from above some of those life lucky oddities.” She also notes that his nickname for her when she was a child was Piloo which is not only in the album name but also is the name of her record label.

Haris sings Rovatti’s moving ballad with strings “Take It Home” in his honor. “I told her the story of the tune, and Niki came back with the perfect take,” she says. “She’s a pro. I wanted someone with a gospel background and a deep voice. I love her phrasing, and her texture reminds me in places of Tina Turner and in other places Aretha.”

Rovatti also mourns her father’s death with the lightly rhythmic “Red August,” the last tune she wrote before he died. It’s melancholic and sad. “It was a painful time,” she says. “I was just on the edge of hanging in there. Red is the color of love and passion.”

The entertaining last song of the album is arguably one of its best. “Done Deal” is a bluesy fantasy of a conversation between Elling and Haris. It’s a hilarious interaction between a husband and wife that includes a trip to heaven. “My original idea was to deal with the struggles of a couple,” Rovatti says. “But I couldn’t talk about cheating and things. I haven’t dated since my twenties, so I don’t remember suffering for love. I’m a happy camper with Randy. So, instead, I thought of comedy with Kurt and Niki improvising the lines.”

The Hidden World of Piloo features Rovatti exercising her creative expertise to its fullest. She wrote all the lyrics, composed and arranged the music, created the packaging that includes a photo shoot with her own light setup and makeup and hair style. “I like to control all the aspects of the work,” she says. “I’m very picky. My mother taught me to take care of myself and not let anyone interfere. It was during the pandemic, so I took up sewing and even designed all the clothes I’m wearing for the cover and album notes.”

Rovatti grew up in Italy playing classical piano before making the switch to saxophone which led her to the Berklee College of Music and later New York where she became active in the jazz community. She worked with many artists, including her future husband Randy Brecker who she became romantically involved with. They married in 2001 and have one child together. Rovatti began recording as a leader with two albums in 2003: Ada Rovatti & The Elephunk Band’s For Rent and her quartet’s Under the Hat. Her discography continued with Airbop. Green Factor, Disguise and in 2019 her Brecker Plays Rovatti—Sacred Bond, with the two playing her compositions. Today Rovatti tours with her own band as well as serves as the tenor saxophonist in Brecker’s band.

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

NANCY SINATRA - Keep Walkin’: Singles, Demos & Rarities 1965-1978

Light in the Attic continues to celebrate the influential career of singer, actress, activist, and icon Nancy Sinatra with a captivating new collection, Keep Walkin’: Singles, Demos & Rarities 1965-1978. Exploring the lesser-known gems from Sinatra’s rich catalog through 25 B-sides, rare singles, covers, demos, and previously-unreleased recordings, Keep Walkin’ was remastered by the GRAMMY®-nominated engineer John Baldwin and available in a variety of formats, including vinyl, CD, 8-track, and digital.

This package that goes way past her 60s hits to include a host of lesser-known gems, non-LP singles, rarities, and even a few unissued tracks as well – all presented in a lavish setting that's as vivid as the image on the cover! As you can guess, much of the magic here also comes from Lee Hazlewood, whose studio talents really allows Sinatra to find that special sort of sexy quality that she never seemed to have at the start of her recording career. The whole thing is a great addition to the too few Nancy Sinatra albums of top shelf quality – and titles include a previously unreleased duet with Lee Hazlewood on "I Just Can't Help Believing", the unissued tracks "Something Pretty" and "Do I Hear A Waltz" – and the cuts "Drummer Man", "Shades", "Easy Evil", "Ain't No Sunshine", "Kinky Love", "Sugar Me", "Dolly & Hawkeye", "This Town", "Tony Rome", "100 Yars", "See The Little Children", "Zodiac Blues", "Flowers In The Rain", "Are You Growing Tired Of My Love", "The Last Of The Secret Agents", and "The City Never Sleeps At Night".  

The 2-LP set, pressed at Record Technology, Inc. (RTI), is presented in an expanded gatefold jacket and accompanied by a 24-page booklet (also included in the CD edition as a 40-page booklet), featuring an array of photos from the artist’s personal collection as well as a new in-depth Q&A with Sinatra conducted by the reissue’s GRAMMY®-nominated co-producer, Hunter Lea. The booklet also contains a fascinating interview with keyboardist Don Randi (The Wrecking Crew), who recently spoke to Lea about his hit-filled career and his 50 years of work with Nancy. In addition to the classic black vinyl pressing, a selection of colorful variants can be found exclusively at,, independent record stores, and select online retailers, while limited-edition merchandise, including apparel, accessories, and more are also available at Nancy’s Bootique at

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

R&B/jazz saxophonist Jeff Ryan reteams with two-time Grammy winner Paul Brown

After the events that unfolded on the world stage last week, we could all use hope. Billboard chart-topping saxophonist Jeff Ryan teams with two-time Grammy winner Paul Brown on “Where There’s Hope,” a soothing and uplifting R&B/jazz single released by Woodward Avenue Records that began collecting playlist adds on Monday, October 16.

“Where There’s Hope” builds on the chemistry created between Ryan and Brown during the recording sessions for the saxman’s 2021 collection, “Duality.” From the opening notes, Ryan’s horns – he plays both tenor and soprano saxes on the single - engages in encouraging banter with Brown’s spirited electric guitar. Loosely tethered to a midtempo groove anchored by Gorden Campbell’s drums and Roberto Vally’s bass and percussion, the optimistic and impassioned sax and guitar dialogue is an equitable exchange unfolding amidst inviting melodies and warm harmonies crafted by Mark Etheredge’s keyboards and Shane Theriot’s rhythm guitar.      

“Working with Paul always puts one at ease. His playing brought so much life to this track and I’m very proud of the interaction between my sax and his guitar,” said the San Francisco-based Ryan.

Ryan is a very physical sax player, bringing founts of emotion, passion and urgency to his horn work. Whether he’s belting out empowering affirmations on his tenor or dispensing compassionate caresses through his soprano sax, his play on “Where There’s Hope” is lyrically expressive.     

“The title really stands for when challenges come into our lives, to look for the positives that are all around us so that we can make a better future. At this point in my career, my goal is to really show the truest image of myself. No matter all the challenges, the goal is to stay true to the exceptional vision and make that a reality,” said Ryan, who wrote “Where There’s Hope” with Brown, Etheredge and Vally.

Ryan’s 2018 debut album, “Embrace,” which paired him with hitmaking producer-songwriter-keyboardist Greg Manning, earned him JazzTrax’s Breakout Artist honors and Smooth Jazz Network’s Debut Artist of the Year title. The Bay Area musician was named Billboard’s Artist of the Year in 2020 and his 2021 single, “Sentimental Soul,” was Billboard’s Song of the Year. The “Duality” album highlights Ryan collaborating with smooth/contemporary jazz royalty - Brown, Manning, multiple Grammy nominee Darren Rahn and 13-time Billboard chart-topping guitarist Adam Hawley. In the five years since his debut, Ryan has already notched five Billboard No. 1 singles. “Where There’s Hope” bodes to continue Ryan’s hot streak. 

“Here’s to a better life with a strong focus on passion, love, fitness and finesse.”


Monday, October 23, 2023

New music releases – Eunmi Lee, Jason Roebke, The Du-Rites, and Rickey Calloway

Eunmi Lee  Introspection

, composer, and educator Eunmi Lee brings a distinct compositional flair with her debut album, Introspection. Lee hails from South Korea but has been living in New York City since 2020. The album was recorded in New York and features some of the finest musicians the city has to offer. Influenced by diverse musical traditions, from big band jazz, post-bop, chamber music and even Brazilian music, Lee’s compositions are very contemporary but shaded with her Korean culture, creating a unique and engaging soundscape. She named the album Intopspection because the compositions reflect her inner observations, that is, the emotions and images that pop up in her consciousness that she translates into music. Introspection is a captivating debut for emerging jazz artist Eunmi Lee. Backed by a stellar band in the capable hands of producer Alan Ferber, Lee’s contemporary sensibility, poignancy and originality ring true on every note.

Jason Roebke  Four Spheres

A very dynamic set from bassist Jason Roebke – a set that uses graphic scores to direct improvsations by the members of the quartet, who are a very tightly-matched group of players, very able to deliver on Roebke's musical vision! The lineup features some especially great work on clarinet and saxes from Ed Wilkerson – a player we haven't heard as much of in recent years, but who still has the bright fire and imagination that first made us fall in love with his bold music decades ago – and the group also features lots of dark-tinged piano from Mabel Kwan, a player whose depth offsets Wilkerson's energy beautifully. The group also features Marcus Evans on drums, a player who can shake things up in all the right ways – on titles that include "Pulse & Tone", "Quarter Note Equals Eighty", "Stability & Coda", "Piano Spacer", "Four Spheres", and "Starting & Stopping".  Dusty Groove

The Du-Rites –  Plug It In

A set that's almost a back to basics effort for the Du-Rites – one that makes the best use of the massively funky drums of Jay Mumford and fast-riffing guitar of Pablo Martin – as the duo augment their groove with some additional work on bass, percussion, and keyboards too! Yet there's not much else going on here besides the drums and guitar – which is great, as that brings a focus to the funky energy that some other groups have lost along the way – almost in break record territory at times, but with a fuller feeling in the grooves – on instrumentals that include "Tioli", "Du Bo", "Bay B MoMa", "Hole In The Wall", "The Sun", "Asbestos", and "Can I Get Intuit".  Dusty Groove

Rickey Calloway – King Of Funk

Amazing work from Rickey Calloway – an overlooked soul singer with a resume that goes back to the 70s, and one who's definitely kept the spirit of James Brown alive and well with music like this! In a world of young singers trying for a classic vibe, Rickey's the real deal – and served up the goods not just with his fantastic way of putting over a lyric, but also with just the right sort of backup and production – qualities that keep all the tracks on here sounding like some vintage 45s from back in the days when Calloway first started hitting the studios down in Florida! The set's the first-ever vinyl album issued under Rickey's name, and is killer all the way through – with titles that include "Stay In The Groove", "Shed A Tear", "Jump Back (parts 1 & 2)", "That's On You", Tell Me", "Come On Home", "Get It Right", "Shake It Up Shake It Down", and "Work It".  Dusty Groove 

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Two-time Grammy Winner Rachel Z is Back With A Jazz Piano Rendition of The Foo Fighters “These Days”

Her Forthcoming 13th Recording Sensual, Out Early 2024 Features Omar Hakim on Drums, Mino Cinelu’s percussion, And Tony Levin, Matt Penman, & Jonathan Toscano on Bass.

Pianist Rachel Z is set to release her 13th album with her talented trio, "Sensual," on February 9, 2024. In this collection of mesmerizing melodies, she takes listeners on a journey through her sensual experiences and emotions. Each track is a testament to her creative brilliance, as she weaves together intricate compositions that evoke a wide range of feelings. The first single “These Days” comes out on October 20, 2023

The Story of Recording “These Days” & Meeting Dave Grohl -

“Having been a Fan of Dave Grohl’s since Nirvana days - I have always loved his writing. He is a brilliant songsmith influenced by the Beatles and Punk, and even hard rock/metal. Dave creates heroic melodic alt-rock that always delivers intelligent life lessons. He is a grand master of drum orchestration.

Our personal journey with the Foo Fighters began during their Wasting Light Tour at MSG on Nov 13, 2011, when we had the fortune to meet them. Dave loved Omar’s work on David Bowie’s Let’s Dance and invited us to his gig. There, we briefly discussed the possibility of arranging one of their tracks, my favorite song “These Days”. Fortunately, they were agreeable!

When we were arranging the song for our album version, Omar and I started jamming on the riff and realized we had naturally played the song in 15/8. It then morphs into a few other time signatures like 7/4. I also wrote a few reharms and basically, it turned out to be quite challenging to play.

And so Omar and I, with the young bass master Jonathan Toscano on bass were inspired by this beautiful and profound song about the cycles of life- the paradox of getting f’d over and people saying oh it’s alright just relax- but inside you are crushed by that circumstance. We all fade from this earth and we all die, so we must develop compassion for all humans who will lose everything and everyone they love. At some point, we all return home to source energy.

We hope that fans of punk and rock will feel honored and respected by our efforts as we seek to bring another perspective to this awesome song.

We offer loving kindness and healing energy to the Foo Fighters and to Dave Grohl who have suffered some very heavy losses and have had that play out in real-time in real life. May our experimental exploration bring you peace.” - Rachel Z

Rachel Carmel Hakim (née Nicolazzo), widely acclaimed as Rachel Z, is a luminary of the jazz and rock realm with a dynamic discography and a versatile stand-alone musical spirit, her journey embodies a fusion of innovation and dedication.

Described as a modern-day virtuoso, Rachel Z's musical style, particularly her captivating improvisation, has drawn comparisons to iconic figures such as Herbie Hancock and McCoy Tyner. The London Times has lauded her as "an improviser whose spontaneous playing is by no means eclipsed by the work of presiding geniuses such as Herbie Hancock and McCoy Tyner" (John Fordham, The Guardian).

In a remarkable collaboration with saxophonist Najee, Rachel Z co-wrote the Grammy Award-winning and certified Gold Record "Tokyo Blue" in 1988, a testament to her songwriting prowess. Her involvement with the fusion band Steps Ahead from 1988 to1996 showcased her keyboard and piano virtuosity, a period marked by artistic exploration and growth.

In addition, contributed to Wayne Shorter's album "High Life," which won her a second Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Jazz Album in 1997. This collaboration showcased her ability to elevate compositions with her exceptional touch.

In addition to her 13 albums as a bandleader and her work in internationally acclaimed bands such as Steps Ahead, Vertú, the Omar Hakim Experience, and OZmosys, she has played and toured with Wayne Shorter, Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller, Terri Lyne Carrington, Al Di Meola, and Regina Carter. Rachel came to worldwide prominence in the rock world in the Peter Gabriel concert films Growing Up Live and Still Growing Up Live.


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