Thursday, June 22, 2023

Mark Dresser - Tines Of Change

“I think of the bass as an orchestra,” writes bassist/composer Mark Dresser in the liner notes for his breathtaking new solo album, Tines of Change. If anything, this is an understatement in regards to the multi-dimensional sonic possibilities that Dresser conjures from the instrument. Through his singular combination of improvisational artistry and innovative adaptations, Dresser seems to discover orchestras within orchestras, crosscurrents of harmonic and multiphonic inspiration that engage in captivating and entrancingly beautiful dialogues.

Dresser has devoted a lifetime of research and performance to expanding the vocabulary of the bass, experimenting with extended techniques as well as with the physical properties of the instrument itself. Intensive though these studies have been, the results are always far from esoteric. He is renowned as one of creative music’s most expressive and inventive artists, whether in his expansive solo playing or in collaboration with such acclaimed collaborators as John Zorn, Henry Threadgill, Gerry Hemingway, Myra Melford, Joe Lovano, Dave Douglas, Tim Berne, Jane Ira Bloom, Dawn Upshaw, Ray Anderson, and countless others. His trio with “hyperpiano” player Denman Maroney and flutist Matthias Ziegler features three musicians who take similarly expansive approaches to their instruments. 

Released via Pyroclastic Records, Tines of Change features a dozen new explorations performed on unconventional four- and five-string basses crafted for Dresser by the Colorado-based bassist and luthier Kent McLagan. The album’s title refers to those basses’ most striking feature, an array of metal tines affixed to a secondary bridge. Like the strings these tines can be plucked or bowed, offering a variety of sounds from the percussive to the ethereal that adds sounds resembling both an African mbira and the stroked rods invented by composer Robert Erickson that Dresser employed on his 2017 release Modicana.

But that’s just one of the modifications that McLagan has made to translate Dresser’s sonic imaginings

into reality. In 2001 he embedded hand-wound individual magnetic pickups into the fingerboard of the bass, one set below the nut and the other at the octave. These additional pickups allow Dresser to sound up to three different pitches on each string, as well as amplify subtle tones and pitches that might otherwise go unheard in a live or collaborative setting.

“I heard micro-details of the instrument when I practiced alone, that got lost once I played with others,” Dresser explains. “That led to a lot of time thinking about how I could make these exciting soft sounds louder. As a bass player, you're relegated to what the realities of the acoustics allow. I realized that I could access the sonic details I was hearing by amplifying the bass differently.”

In large part that desire stemmed from the diverse influences that caught Dresser’s ear early in his development. Three figures stand out as hugely influential, each from a different point on the musical spectrum: Charles Mingus, whose expressive and fervent playing drew a prismatic rage of colors from the bass; Jimi Hendrix, whose ability to sculpt feedback encouraged Dresser to attempt to wield the most unpredictable aspects of his instrument; and Bertram Turetzky, the unparalleled experimental and new music solo bassist whose dynamic virtuosity, eclectic stylistic range and mentorship were crucial to Dresser early on.

“As a young musician, it was as if I had conflicting musical agendas,” Dresser recalls. “I set out to learn how to embrace and integrate them, and make them speak to one another as a single musical identity. Ultimately everything feeds into one another. It’s all music.”

“Prolotine,” the opening track on Tines of Change, is that effort in microcosm, a polyphonic dialogue between the disparate voices of Dresser’s bass. Arco moans give way to pizzicato hammering, shimmering overtones resound from deep, echoing scrapes. “Tynalogue” plunges into the sub-audio range of the tines, resonating below the range of hearing with percussive beats that are felt deep in the body. 

Each piece reveals new potentialities, profound riches unearthed from bold explorations – from the deep harmonic sonorities of “Harmonity” to the stark, crystalline elegance of “Melodine.” On “Gregoratyne” Dresser bows the tines, conjuring auroral patterns that evoke the preternatural singing of Gregorian monks. “Narratone” delves into guttural sounds that at times evoke the overtone-rich tradition of throat singing.

Though it arrives as the result of a significant period of reflection and invention, Tines of Change can’t be considered the “culmination” of Dresser’s solo explorations. As always, he continues to evolve and broaden his musical possibilities and compel open-eared listeners with previously unimagined, deeply felt invocations. 

“I realized that the bass has so many different and distinct voices,” he says. “I wanted to be able to access them and make them speak to one another. What I’m trying to do with all of these techniques is expand what I hear and feel. It's always about trying to find something that registers to me as musical and expressive and something that I want to listen to. I’m driven by the larger impulses of what is musical.”

Mark Dresser is a Grammy nominated, internationally renowned bass player, improviser, composer, and interdisciplinary collaborator. At the core of his music is an artistic obsession and commitment to expanding the sonic, musical, and expressive possibilities of the contrabass. He has recorded over 150 albums.

Raymond Scott Reimagined

Violinjazz Recordings, the label of acclaimed Grammy-nominated musician Jeremy Cohen, principal violinist and founder of Classical Crossover specialists Quartet San Francisco, has announced the release of ‘Raymond Scott Reimagined,’ an unprecedented new collaboration teaming Quartet San Francisco with accomplished Grammy/Emmy Award-winning composer, producer and arranger Gordon Goodwin and revered Grammy-winning a cappella group Take 6.

The 14-track collection, which includes Goodwin’s fresh arrangements of eight Scott classics, including mainstays “Powerhouse,” “Twilight in Turkey,” “Huckleberry Duck,” “The Quintette Goes to a Dance” and “In an 18th Century Drawing Room,” also introduces an entirely brand new composition, “Cutey and the Dragon,” which was crafted from an unfinished sketch Scott made in 1982 with Goodwin completing the composition in a manner that honors the great composer’s style and verve.

The album, available for pre-order at Violinjazz Recordings, also contains several interstitials of Raymond Scott’s voice, along with spoken word from audio historian Art Shifrin and Grammy-winning composer/conductor John Williams, excerpted from the documentary film, ‘Deconstructing Dad’ (directed by Raymond’s son, Stan Warnow), has been two years in the making but, in actuality, is a journey of nearly 50 years.

Cohen, the project’s Executive Producer, explains, “I grew up during an era when a simple turn of the television dial could bring one's world from Leonard Bernstein to animation and cartoons. Escape, creativity, and whimsy fueled my imagination where animation offered a humorous view of the world. As a kid studying classical violin, I was fascinated by Carl Stalling's incorporation of iconic classical music into the Warner Brothers cartoon soundtracks.”

“Raymond Scott, who never actually wrote music expressly for animation, was widely quoted in Merrie Melodies cartoons featuring Bugs Bunny, Daffy and pals. Scott’s music sat right alongside the world's most recognizable classical music and became part of the soundtrack of my imagination. Scott's ‘Powerhouse’ brings musical shape to emotions.”

“In the 1990s, I was introduced to Raymond Scott with the album ‘The Music of Raymond Scott: Reckless Nights and Turkish Twilights’ (Columbia, 1992, Irwin Chusid, producer) and let's just say that at that moment, the lantern was lit for a longstanding quest. Scott’s music found its way into arrangements for my group, Quartet San Francisco. We found boundless passion and energy for bringing this music to our audiences.”

While the basis of the album would be an alliance between Quartet San Francisco and Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band, Jeremy and Gordon decided to engage a variety of ensembles to partner with the string quartet. These include pairing the string quartet with the big band on “Powerhouse,” “The Quintette Goes to a Dance,” “Twilight in Turkey,” and “Cutey and the Dragon,” incorporating a smaller ensemble of three horns on “Toy Trumpet” and a saxophone quintet on “Yesterday's Ice Cubes.” Two pianos enhanced “Huckleberry Duck” with the gorgeous vocals of Claude V. McKnight III, Mark Kibble, Joel Kibble, Dave Thomas, Alvin Chea and Khristian Dentley (of the group Take 6) joining on “In an 18th Century Drawing Room” and “Serenade.” The results are spellbinding.

Gordon Goodwin, co-producer, composer, arranger, and bandleader of The Big Phat Band, recalls his introduction to the iconic composer and approach to the project, “I took a deep dive into the music of Raymond Scott when I was working as a composer for Warner Brothers Animation. His music made quite an impact on me, so when Jeremy approached me about collaborating on a project featuring Scott’s music, the answer was an immediate and enthusiastic yes!”

“There is a long list of great Raymond Scott songs from which to pick, but we knew that were some tunes we had to include, such as ‘Powerhouse’ and ‘Toy Trumpet,’ but we were excited when the Raymond Scott Archives presented us with an unfinished lead sheet to a song called ‘Cutey and the Dragon’ that Scott was working on with, and for, his granddaughter Kathy. They asked if I wanted to arrange it, but as I examined the lead sheet, I realized that it really wasn’t a finished composition, but ­­rather a work in progress. So the Scott family gave me the honor of finishing the composition. This allows us to present something rare—a previously unheard composition by Raymond Scott.”

“Another highlight was “Twilight in Turkey,” which features Don Williams on timpani, along with Wade Culbreth on mallet percussion. This is special because Don’s father Johnny Williams was the drummer for the Raymond Scott Quintette. He is also the father of film composer John Williams. Don was able to allow us the use of his father’s cowbell and tom toms, so this track has a direct and unique connection to this music’s creator.”

“When we considered the vocal component for this music, there was really only one consideration. Take 6 has set the bar for a cappella singing over the past three decades, and I knew that their sound and versatility would make for a distinctive contribution.”

A distinctive collaboration is quite the understatement. Between the three main collaborators, QSF, Goodwin and Take 6, they’ve earned 60 Grammy nominations, scoring 12 wins. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of the size and scope of Reimagined as two dozen best-in-class musicians amplify the sound and vision including Wayne Bergeron (trumpet), Ray Brinker (drums), Joey De Leon (percussion, congas, bongos), Justin Smith (guitar), Andy Waddell (guitar), Kevin Axt (bass), Sal Lozano (alto sax), Brett McDonald (alto sax, piccolo, clarinet), Brian Scanlon (tenor sax), Thomas Luer (tenor sax), Jay Mason (baritone sax), Daniel Fornero (trumpet), Aaron Janik (trumpet), Dan Savant (trumpet), Andrew Martin (trombone), Charlie Morillas (trombone), Francisco Torres (trombone), Craig Gosnell (bass trombone), Wade Culbreath (marimba, vibes, xylophone, cowbell), Meredith Clark (harp) and Don Williams (timpani, tom-toms) with Goodwin on piano and tenor sax and esteemed accompaniment by the other three virtuosos in Quartet San Francisco, Joseph Christianson (violin), Chad Kaltinger (viola) and Andrés Vera (cello).

Also in the mix is 7-time Grammy-winning engineer Leslie Ann Jones, who’s recognized for her work with Kronos Quartet, Chanticleer and Rosemary Clooney and whom Cohen’s worked with on previous projects including Pacific Premieres: New Works by California Composers. For Raymond Scott Reimagined, Jones recorded the joint sessions at Lucasfilm’s Skywalker Sound, the famed studio on George Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch in Nicasio, California. Additional recording took place at Dragonfly Creek Recording in Malibu and Lake Balboa Sound in Los Angeles.

Reimagining one of the all-time greats is a gargantuan undertaking but one ripe to cross all boundaries of time and space and one meant for the stage. To celebrate the release of the album, Quartet San Francisco, along with Gordon Goodwin and some of the key members of The Big Phat Band, including Wayne Bergeron on trumpet and Andrew Martin on trombone, will perform live at Yoshi’s in Oakland, California on Sunday, June 11. The 90-minute show will feature select cuts from the new album as well as favorites from each group’s repertoire. Tix on sale now.

Evenings At The Village Gate - John Coltrane With Eric Dolphy

In the summer of 1961, John Coltrane headlined at the celebrated music venue, the Village Gate. With a lineup of musicians that included McCoy Tyner, Reggie Workman, Elvin Jones, and the fiery playing of Eric Dolphy, Evenings at the Village Gate captures the creative and transformative spirit that sprang from the pairing of Coltrane and Dolphy, and the evolving short-lived quintet.

Evenings At The Village Gate: John Coltrane With Eric Dolphy will be released globally July 14 on Impulse! Records/UMe. The first track from the fabled performances, “Impressions,” is available now and you can listen to the track and pre-order the album here. You can also order a special edition orange vinyl variant here.

Recently discovered at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, the recordings on this album—recorded by engineer Rich Alderson as part of a test of the club's new sound system—were seemingly lost, then found, and then disappeared again into the vast sound archives of the Library for the Performing Arts. The tapes’ circuitous route over several decades seemingly mirrors Coltrane's ongoing musical journey in August of 1961.

Recorded during Coltrane’s month-long Village Gate residency with his quintet (often with a revolving cast of musicians), the album consists of eighty minutes of never-before-heard music. It offers a glimpse into a powerful musical partnership that ended much too soon – Dolphy sadly passed away three years later and this recording is the only live recording of their legendary Village Gate performances. In addition to some well-known Coltrane material (“My Favorite Things,” “Impressions,” and “Greensleeves”), there is a breathtaking feature for Dolphy’s bass clarinet on “When Lights Are Low,” and the only known non-studio recording of Coltrane’s composition “Africa,” that includes bassist Art Davis.

Evenings at the Village Gate showcases the poignant, brief relationship between John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy. Coltrane first met Dolphy in Los Angeles and, when Dolphy moved to New York in 1959, they renewed their friendship. They recognized many of the same analytic and driving qualities in each other. Both came of age at the height of bebop, both were deeply interested in harmony and emotive expression and both employed vocal-like effects and a wide emotional range in their playing. The combination of their signature sounds—Dolphy's distinctively bright, sharply-stated voice set against Coltrane's darker, slurred phrasing—is a unique and evocative feature of their historic run at the Village Gate.

Accompanying the release are essays from two participants from those evenings at the Village Gate, bassist Reggie Workman and recording engineer Rich Alderson. Additionally, historian Ashley Kahn and jazz luminaries Branford Marsalis and Lakecia Benjamin offer valuable and insightful essays on the recordings.

Maci Miller | "Nine"

In the field of numerology, the number nine is connected to wisdom and experience. As Philadelphia-based vocalist Maci Miller writes in the liner notes for her new album, Nine, “The number nine is significant because it's closely associated with the spirit, with spiritual growth, inner awakening and self-realization. It symbolizes a lifetime of learning and is the universal number for love and for hope. It represents patience, harmony, friendship, strength and unity.”

Whether you believe in the mystical properties of numbers or not, there’s no mistaking the relevance of those qualities to Miller’s stunning new album. Nine is the singer’s second release following a nearly decade-long hiatus to focus on adopting and raising her daughter, Ruby, a period that certainly resulted in a wealth of personal growth and realization. The album also arrives on the heels of a period of near-universal turmoil on the planet, making Miller’s message of universal love a vivid spiritual antidote. 

Already a compelling song stylist who combines wide-ranging influences into a entrancing and unique voice all her own, Miller emerged from this period of reflection with a rejuvenated passion for songwriting and a mission to explore the theme of universal love in all its vibrant and complicated forms. She’s a beguiling storyteller with a singular ability to embody a lyric, whether the emotion calls for tenderness or sensuality, heartbreak or joy. 

Perhaps most importantly, Nine is the number of musicians that Miller and producer/ pianist/writing partner Aaron Graves have assembled for this project. The stellar ensemble represents a who’s who of the thriving Philly jazz scene – the pair are joined by bassist Mike Boone, tenor sax living legend Larry McKenna, Victor North on soprano sax, and drummers Byron Landham, Leon Jordan Sr., and Josh Orlando. The number is rounded out by special guest trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, who is granted honorary Philadelphian status for his appearance on “The Nearness of You.”

“The jazz scene in Philadelphia has such a high caliber of players,” Miller says. “But what I really love is that it's such a warm community. I felt embraced and supported right from the beginning.”

Originally from Harrisburg, PA, Maci Miller was born into a musical family. Her great-grandfather was a Russian Jewish violinist who immigrated to the United States to perform with the Ziegfeld Follies (family lore has it that he also worked as Eddie Cantor’s musical director in the 20s, though that has yet to be confirmed). Growing up she was drawn to the soulful divas of the day – Whitney Houston, Chaka Khan, Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner – whose influence remains in Miller’s gift for imbuing a lyric with soul and drama. 

Her inspiration of the great jazz singers, in particular Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Dinah Washington, shines through – Holiday’s rhythmic phrasing, Fitzgerald’s brassy brightness. But Miller absorbs those legendary voices with the pop subtlety of Norah Jones and the soul storytelling of her childhood favorites to arrive at a mesmerizingly personal style, rapturously framed by her wide-ranging songcraft.

Miller’s early career was nomadic, leading her across the U.S. and Asia and to extended residencies in Las Vegas and Thailand. Her frequent trips to perform at the famed Bamboo Bar at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Bangkok proved particularly fateful: Miller and her husband adopted Ruby from Thailand, and her new role as a Mom led Miller to put her singing career on hold indefinitely. 

The only music Miller released during that period was Butterfly Moon, a collection of lullabies featuring the late George Mesterhazy on piano. Originally intended just as a gift for Ruby, Miller decided to release the album as a benefit for The Mercy Center in Bangkok, which provides aid for children living with HIV.

Butterfly Moon had been preceded by a pair of more traditional jazz albums: the all original big band session A Very Good Night and Take a Closer Look, a collection of jazz standards and pop covers that also included one of her own original songs. At first, Miller assumed those albums, along with her endeavors as a print model and actress in film (The Sixth Sense) and TV (Law and Order), would constitute her legacy. 

“For years I had no desire to do anything but be Ruby’s mom,” she recalls. “But as she grew up, I realized the music never left my heart.” In 2019 she made her long-overdue return to recording with the gorgeous Round Midnight, a set of standards on which she partnered with NYC-based guitarist David O’Rourke. 

While the events of the next few years put another temporary hold on Miller’s activities, she determined to celebrate the superb musicians that surrounded her in Philly on Nine. During the pandemic, bassist Mike Boone invited her to join him for several of his weekly livestream concerts; it was there that she met pianist Aaron Graves. “We clicked immediately,” she remembers. “Aaron is a musical genius and a very sensitive player who pays attention to every little nuance. We think very much alike, and I’ve loved writing with him.”

Playing into the theme of the album, Graves turns out to be the ninth writing partner that Miller has worked with during her career. She and Graves collaborated on six of the album’s nine (of course) tracks, the pianist providing striking and lush arrangements for Miller’s captivating lyrics and memorable melodies. “Little Bird” grew out of a few lines that Miller sang to coax her pet birds out of their cage, becoming a metaphor for leaving the nest and finding one’s own way in life. “Complicated,” featuring a witty call and response with Larry McKenna, the tense “I Can’t Wait,” and the sultry “Love Me For Who I Am” all contend with the often messy realities of romance.

“Strange is the Night” sets an ominous noir tone to address the societal issues confronting the world, with modern-day echoes of Billie Holiday’s immortal “Strange Fruit.” The album ends with the buoyant “Feel the Music,” serving as a mission statement for the deeply felt album. In addition to the original songs, the album includes a rendition of Chick Corea’s inspirational “High Wire,” the aforementioned standard “The Nearness of You,” and Miller’s new lyric for Cedar Walton’s “Firm Roots,” the title song of the pianist’s 1976 album.

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Jazz fusion guitarist Ron Bosse releases "The Afterburners"

When jazz fusion guitarist Ron Bosse starts writing music for an album, he keeps writing, winding up with more songs than he can include on the album. That’s what happened with his “Burning Room Only” album that he wrote with Grammy-winning keyboardist and the project’s producer Jeff Lorber, which was issued last November. The success of the Deep Cat Records album inspired Bosse to release a couple of tunes that were left off the disc that have the same “burning” theme in addition to releasing a few alternate versions of songs from the album featuring prominent and highly esteemed collaborators. Assembled as a six-track EP, “Burning Room Only: The Afterburners” releases on June 30.

The EP opens the way the album opens, with “Bossman.” There are two versions on “The Afterburners,” the first of which spotlights Grammy-winning trumpeter Randy Brecker trading barbs with Bosse’s clean and crisp electric guitar.

“I've been a huge fan of Randy Brecker since I was a student at Berklee College of Music. Since many of the songs on the album have saxophone as another melodic voice, we felt that trumpet would be a great contrast. Jeff (Lorber) and I immediately thought of Randy as we are both big fans. I think he was the perfect choice and his (trumpet) voice really brings an element to this song that takes it to a different place. Not only does he help add punch to the melody I wrote, but he also adds these beautiful ambient soundscapes via his solos that remind me of some of the old fusion stuff Miles Davis did,” said the Boston-based Bosse, who plans to release this version as a single.

The set closes with a version of “Bossman” that highlights drummer Lil’ John Roberts (Stevie Wonder, Quincy Jones, Prince, Michael Jackson, Elton John).

The EP also contains two versions of “Enter The Burn,” a jazz-rock rocket ship careening at dazzling speed requiring exceptional dexterity. The first version features keyboardist Derek Sherinian while the second take showcases guitarist Norwood Pearson.

Israeli guitarist Oz Noy guests on a different version of “Rumble Strip” from what appears on the album. Cruising along a funky mid-tempo groove bolstered by robust horn section parts, the guitar work exhibited is masterful from Bosse and his special guest.

“I learned about Oz's playing about three years ago and was immediately impressed. He really has carved out a unique and individual voice as a guitarist. He has this fantastic combination of jazz, fusion and blues in his playing that is truly distinctive. I thought Oz would be the perfect choice for ‘Rumble Strip’ because his sound is a great contrast to my sound. Oz has a bright tone with a hint of distortion that is very edgy whereas mine is a clean tone and a little darker sounding. Together, they really complement each other, and because they're so different, you can distinctly hear each individual element,” said Bosse. 

Bosse invited Grammy nominated guitar legend Mike Stern to duet on “Zero-G,” a relentless, frenetically paced shredder doused with the fervent force of Bob Mintzer’s (Yellowjackets) wailing sax.

“I specifically decided to include Mike Stern on this project because he is one of my all-time favorite musicians. Mike is this amazingly fiery player who plays with a ton of energy and excitement, and I felt he would be perfect for these tracks. ‘Zero-G’ is an incredibly ferocious tune and extremely challenging on a technical level for guitar. In fact, I've had a handful of world-class musicians straight up tell me that they wouldn't be able to play it due to the technical challenges. This is one of the songs that started with a motif that I designed in order to overcome specific technical challenges on the guitar. I then composed a song around those sections. It's similar to how Bach would write etudes that focused on specific instrumental hurdles and how John Coltrane wrote ‘Giant Steps’ in order to help him play over specific types of chord changes,” said Bosse.

Other noteworthy musicians who perform on “The Afterburners” are horn player and arranger David Mann, drummer Gary Novak, and bassists Benjamin Shepherd, MonoNeon and Jimmy Haslip.  

Bosse loves the sound of two guitarists going toe to toe and he relishes the opportunity to play alongside Stern, Noy and Pearson. The decision to challenge himself by keeping prestigious company recalls a lesson he learned while at Berklee watching a Pat Metheny masterclass.

“Pat (Metheny) said something that may be the single greatest bit of advice that I've used over the years. He said, ‘Always surround yourself with great players.’ When I look at my career, I have consistently done this in every musical situation I've been involved with. It is almost instinctual to me at this point, and it goes without saying that this approach is the best way to consistently push yourself to the next level, which is incredibly important to me,” Bosse explained.

To help set up the EP release, Bosse and Lorber will play two shows in Washington, DC on Wednesday (June 21) at Blues Alley and one show on Friday (June 23) at The Tin Pan in Richmond, VA. Backed by an accomplished quintet made up of Pearson on guitar, saxophonist Mark Zaleski, vibraphonist Will Hudgins, bassist Carlos Sulbaran and drummer Steve Langone, the set list will be composed of most of the songs on “Burning Room Only” along with several classics from Lorber’s catalogue.  

Jazziz magazine named “Burning Room Only” one of 2022’s best albums. It peaked at No. 5 on Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz albums chart, generating over 300,000 streams on Spotify, YouTube, Amazon and Apple Music to date. The latest single from the album, “DNA,” was released earlier this month and was one of the most added new singles on the Mediabase chart in its debut week.

“It has a very hypnotic, almost trance-like quality to it. People talk a lot about great songs and what they make them ‘think’ about, but I believe that some great songs don't make you think of anything in particular, but actually make you ‘feel’ something instead. ‘DNA’ always puts me in a serene, peaceful-like state. It's one of those songs that is perfect for when you want to free your mind and experience the world around you,” said Bosse.


New Music Releases: Madlib; Janelle Monae; Mario Rusca Trio; J&F Quintet

Madlib - Shades Of Blue: Madlib Invades Blue Note

A really revolutionary album – both at the time it was released, and all these many years later! In a surprising nod to the younger generation, Blue Note opened the door to Madlib – already making a name with his array of great projects at the start of the century – an early part of his legacy of bringing in lots of jazz energy to hip hop production! The album wasn't the first effort of this nature, but certainly set a new standard – one that so many others have tried to match over the years, but never got this right. The set's got a fair bit of live jazz work – in the mode of Madlib's Yesterdays New Quintet project – mixed with all sorts of cool production elements too. We love the vibes of Ahmad Miller especially in the lineup – and titles include reworks of "Montara", "Song For My Father", "Footprints", "Stepping Into Tomorrow", "Peace/Dolphin Dance", "Stormy", "Distant Land", and "Slim's Return" – plus the original "Funky Blue Note".  ~ Dusty Groove

Janelle Monae - Age Of Pleasure

Janelle Monae took a bit of a rest between this album and her last – but given the results, it feels like she's really recharged her groove in that surprisingly long stretch! Not that Janelle needed recharging at all – but there's something here that sets the record apart from earlier chapters in her career – and not in a commercial way, or something that feels like a sidestep – maybe just a bit like Sade after the first few records – able to space out her creative activity, and always keep us wanting more! There's maybe a more down to earth approach here than before – but at a level that makes the whole thing feel more heavenly overall – and Monae works with guests who include Sister Nancy, Seun Kuti, and Grace Jones – on titles that include "The Rush", "The French 75", "Float", "Black Sugar Beach", "Phenomenal", "Ooh La La", "Lipstick Lover", "Paid In Pleasure", "A Dry Red", and "Only Have Eyes 42". ~ Dusty Groove

Mario Rusca Trio - Love Should Never End

A warmly wonderful trio set from the legendary Italian pianist Mario Rusca – a set that's got all the best elements of vintage European jazz sessions from the 70s, from the instrumentation right down to the production! Rusca's a lyrical master on the keys of the piano – swinging at all times, but also letting loose with flowing lines that are overflowing with color – given some nice support by Maxx Furian on drums and Riccardo Fioravanti on bass, both players who occasionally shape the rhythms with some contemporary inflections, while still letting Mario's magic flow out on the keyboard! Titles include "Love Should Never End", "Mr Rik", "Cool Green", "You Look Good To Me", "Sunny", "Killer Joe", "Wait For Me In The Sky", and "Strollin." ~ Groove

J&F Quintet - Contrast

Originally released in 1976 on the Swiss label Delta Production, Contrast is a highly collectible and very rare example of Swiss Jazz that is now re-issued by BBE Music. Its new release is due in no small part to the diligence, enthusiasm and curatorship of IF Music’s Jean-Claude. With mint copies of the original going for upwards of £350 the release of J&F Quintet’s Contrast is a gift to all serious Jazz heads and collectors. Recorded by founding band members Stefan Schneller, Donat Beer and Toni Schädler, with the addition of drummers Gieri Bievi and Peter ‘Huck’ Hug and bassist Andri A Piorta, Contrast fuses Jazz with music from the Swiss-Romansh traditions to create an absolute masterpiece of a debut album. Surprisingly, Contrast also constitutes the only release by J&F Quintet as the members were subsequently to go their separate ways to work on other projects. It is thanks to Jean-Claude’s determination and ear for great music that we are able to hear this fantastic album. After hearing it played to him at a record fair, Jean-Claude set about tracking down the original members of the band with a view to re-issuing Contrast. Post pandemic he was able to contact the band members who, rather fortuitously, still had the original master tapes. It is from these tapes that the album has been beautifully remastered ready for release on BBE Music.

Hannah Macklin - Mu

What’s Mu about?Mu is about everything: Songs about heartbreak and parting share the album with songs marveling at the scale of the universe.

Mu is a concept from Zen and Chan Buddhism that means: “nothingness” and also, “pure awareness.” The awareness at the source of all things. In Hannah’s words: “There is so much life in every moment. Endless patterns, algorithms and instances repeating and changing and adapting. Spiraling outwards from the source. What source? The source.” In search of the source, Hannah has composed and arranged an undefinable, cinematic album that leads the listener on a winding path through her imagination.

Sonically as well as thematically, Mu is an album of extremes and lofty ambitions. Fragile and delicate vocal and violin textures contrast with crunchy noisescapes and brooding synthesizers. Hannah’s commanding voice shares the spotlight with a string section and is backed by spacious production featuring many acoustic instruments.

Producer Nick Herrera has brought a reassuring chunkiness to this unplugged palette, in particular the head nodding drums that anchor Hannah’s celestial musings . Like a !lm soundtrack or a symphony Mu is best listened to and understood as a whole - it circles back to themes and refrains and re-examines them. Sometimes a song is a song, sometimes it’s a soundscape dreaming of a song.

“When making this album, I had a specific concept for how I wanted the music to sound. I don’t mean in terms of genre... it was more of a visceral, sensory concept which I knew I could only realise by allowing myself to experiment and create simultaneously, believing in my rough ideas enough to grow them, to weave them into stories. I began allowing myself to enter and remain in a very heightened state of awareness, which is a state I have continued to pursue and learnt to enjoy ever since. I let my mind dissolve into blackness each day. From there the most wonderful colours can appear. I have decided to call the album “Mu” to signify the empty chasm I allowed to hold within me whilst these songs were born.”

Secret Night Gang | "Belongs On A Place Called Earth"

British street soul, Jazz, and P-Funk masters, Secret Night Gang release their highly anticipated second studio album ‘Belongs on a Place Called Earth’ alongside focus track ‘When Will The Sun Rise Again’ on June 23 via Brownswood Recordings.

A sonic evolution from their critically acclaimed self-titled debut album; ‘Belongs To A Place Called Earth’ continues to breathe new life into the classic British street Soul sound.  Featuring previously released singles, including upbeat summer jam 'Out Of My Head' and funk laden 'Don’t Know What Tomorrow Brings’; alongside new track ‘When Will The Sun Rise Again’; the album showcases Kemani Anderson’s soulful vocals and composer Callum Connell’s tightly arranged orchestrations, across the ten tracks with lyrics discussing the importance of kindness in the uncertainty of our existence.

“Whilst we’re on planet earth, it is important to be thoughtful and to be kind to one another, and to not take the days we have with each other for granted - because they could be halted at any moment.” says Kemani.

This powerful and positive message is one that is carried throughout the album which was inspired by the duo’s lives and the relatable, hard-hitting realities of life in 2023. By thinking of short phrases, talking to loved ones, and asking themselves questions about the world, Anderson and Connell found ways to process the rollercoaster of emotions they felt - jotting down their thoughts in the form of poetry, journalism, and note-taking. “Each name, in a way wrote itself” says Kemani – and the album, whilst addressing pressing themes such as equality, love, and heartbreak, is also a sonic beacon of light that spreads a powerful and uplifting message.

Led by Manchester natives and childhood friends, singer/song-writer Kemani Anderson and multi-instrumentalist Callum Connell, Secret Night Gang spread their uplifting sound through, dynamic melodies, striking brass accents and jazz inflected soul prowess. Handpicked by legendary broadcaster, DJ, producer and label head, Gilles Peterson from Manchester’s vibrant live music scene, the band have been championed by a wide range of tastemakers from Deb Grant (Jazz FM) to Craig Charles, The Guardian, Clash, Crack, Wonderland Magazine and The Vinyl Factory.

Having sold out shows at renowned venues such as the Jazz Café London as well as appearing at festivals like North Sea Jazz Festival, Montreux Jazz, Primavera Sound, Mostly Jazz Funk and We Out Here festival, they’ve built a reputation as a must-see live act alongside a collection of today’s leading Jazz musicians.

The new jazz scene has officially hit its golden era filtering its way back into the mainstream with an abundance of talent and forward thinking musicians. Secret Night Gang are spearheading UK Jazz on a global scale alongside acts like the Ezra Collective. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Fay Victor Announces Her First Solo Album Ever, Blackity Black Black Is Beautiful

Fay Victor has announced the release of Blackity Black Black Is Beautiful – her 2nd album for Northern Spy – along with the first single "Breezy Point Ain't Breezy,"  a first person story about accidentally getting lost in Breezy Point, a private enclave in Queens that is a bastion of Trump supporters in liberal New York City.

Blackity Black Black Is Beautiful is the very first solo record by Fay Victor, whose 30-year-long music career has covered everything from House, New Music, Jazz (Blues) and Free Improvisation. Her deep history with dance music, her genreless output, and her lived experience as a Black woman in the world shaped a brand new process she used to create this prismatic album which touches on all the decades of her life like diary snapshots. It’s a mesmerizing collection of composed work that could only be made by an extraordinary improviser. 

From hearing the raw, almost gospel vocal style over a heavy beat of Donna Summer and Sylvester, to obsessing over shows like Soul Train, Solid Gold, and Dance Fever on TV, to experiencing the sweat and groove, the freedom of bodies moving at NYC clubs like Danceteria, The Loft, and the Paradise Garage – her life changed forever. As she was developing as a jazz singer in Amsterdam in the 90s, she danced to trance music in clubs like Mazzo and The Soul Kitchen. She landed on the Billboard charts with a club hit “You Make Me Happy” in ’91. Stoned on the sacred dance floor, Fay found ecstasy in the moving body, the groove, the beat.

As she entered deeper into the world of jazz, she was attracted to the rhythmic qualities of Thelonious Monk, Eddie Harris, Eric Dolphy, Art Ensemble of Chicago, Betty Carter, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Nicole Mitchell, Milford Graves, Julius Hemphill, Charles Mingus, Herbie Nichols. Their confrontational rhythm sends her soul leaping, connecting her back to her clubheadheart.

With Mavin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up” as a template, Fay started thinking about how her solo album might unfold. She sang, played keyboards, added textures and further dimensions with no other humans, without electronics. That was her process. Thoroughly creative, composed with music and words straight from her spirit.

Brooklyn, NY based sound artist/composer Fay Victor hones a unique vision for the vocal role in jazz and improvised music regarding repertoire, improvisation and composition. Victor has an ‘everything is everything’ aesthetic, using the freedom in the moment to inform the appropriate musical response, viewing the vocal instrument as full of possibilities for sound exploration, a throughline for direct messages in an improvising context. Victor embraces all of these ideas in real time and on Victor’s 11 critically acclaimed albums as a leader one can hear the evolution of this expansive expression. 

Monday, June 19, 2023

Stephanie Santiago returns with new single full of Bossa minimalism and Afro-Brazilian grooves

After 2022’s hit track “Alma Carnavalera” clocked over 300k streams on Spotify, London-raised Colombian Stephanie Santiago is back with new single “Campo de Minas”. A fusion of Bossa minimalism and Afro-Brazilian grooves, it marks a new chapter in her exploration of Latin American, revealing a sound refreshed by life in London and Latin American lineage.

Produced alongside her regular collaborator Andres Pascua, the musical inspiration came from their shared love for Brazilian music. While her previous two singles took their cue from the Colombian styles of cumbia and bullerengue and lent on a synth, electronics and programmed drums sound, this time they wanted something more acoustic and percussive. Surprisingly, the Colombian-based percussion ensemble La Legion were vital in this switch. Their contribution was directed and arranged by Jorge Arciniegas who thought of harnessing the Afro-Latin swing of samba reggae, as well as instruments like the clave, udu drum and guiro. With their percussion recorded live at the State of The Art recording studio Altar Audio in Bogotá, Colombia, they carry the listener on a gentle ride of eclectic sounds.

Throughout the song, Stephanie’s soft, sad vocals narrate her reflection on belonging and heritage. She was inspired by a conversation she overheard while working as a mobile hairstylist in a “yuppie Brit” household, “I was disregarded in conversational topics and experienced racial microaggressions” she said. “I was not exactly hurt by this, but it reinforced the idea that race and class discrimination prevails in modern society… just in a more subtle way.”

“Campo de Minas”, which translates as “Minefield”, chronicles the experience of othering, eagerly searching for happiness while dodging life’s everyday prejudices. Stephanie, whose Colombian parents are both musicians, was raised in a home where cumbia and salsa were played daily. Her early work explored genres that ranged from reggéaton to punk, but now Stephanie’s looking to her Latin American heritage to soundtrack her search for identity. As the harmonious poignancy of ‘Campo de Minas’ reveals, the journey of self-discovery is not always an easy one.

Born in South London to Colombian musician parents – her father an accordionist, her mother a singer – cumbia and salsa filled Stephanie’s childhood. But like anyone, she needed to find her own way, to discover London’s multifarious subcultures, to get lost in the energies of youth music. Her early work reflects this, with forays into soul, jazz, reggaeton, even punk, opportunities to experiment but also refine an inherent talent for songwriting and an ability to inhabit songs with her voice.

Glimpses of Latin music have emerged in her music before – it would be impossible for them not to – but her latest series of releases alongside Colombian producer Andres Pascua reveal a new chapter in her career in which her heritage and search for identity are brought to the fore.

Pete Josef - Sunny Side Up

Pete Josef is an artist who uses his soulful eloquence not just to entertain, but to open up conversations about his own social consciousness. He has an inherent need to create, build, share and protect as well as educate himself about issues regarding the environment, society, politics, race and gender. All of these have permeated into his musical output in recent years, but on the new single, entitled Sunny Side Up, it’s the often not talked about topic of depression that comes to the fore.

Despite the bleak subject matter, it’s actually a song about the importance of having people around you to support you when you’re not feeling at your best. Pete admits to suffering from anxiety for much of his life, and cherishes having his family present when he feels unable to step up as a partner or parent; when he experiences that ‘hazy funk’ in the day-to-day. In many ways it’s a love song, or at least one of appreciation for the people who carry you through those moments in your life.

“Took a little while and it might take longer, god only knows.. But darling I try. I’m invested all ways. I just hit bumps in the road that I cannot evade.”

Like much of Pete’s new material, the song has a retro and somewhat South American feel. For the first time in a long while, Pete chose to perform all the instrumental parts on this track himself.

A 1960s Harmony Sovereign (the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ guitar!) provides the core, whilst minimal drums (recorded with one single mic in Pete’s Orchard Cabin) and Hofner vintage bass provide a groove reminiscent of stripped back 1970s Al Green productions. The result is something delicate and spontaneous – perfectly reflecting the shaky ground felt in the moment of conception. The track ebbs and flows between some surprising harmonic twists, later on bringing the Hammond organ to the fore and swelling to a dramatic climax, permeated by backing vocal arrangements and glimmering electric guitar.

Sunny Side Up is taken from Pete Josef’s forthcoming third album, to be released next year in 2024, recorded in his self-built and self-sustainable studio cabin in his garden. The exchange between studio and live has become a unifying force since the resurrection of his live quartet in 2022. This year will bring choice live shows, featuring the mercurial Eli Jitsuto from Bristol based outfit Snazzback on guitar and longtime collaborators Jihad Darwish on bass and Miguel Andrews on drums.

Pete Josef exemplifies like no other singer-songwriter of his generation how to make music that gets under your skin and into your systems.

Toronto-based jazz vocalist, Fuat Tuaç releases second album, Immigrant

Toronto-based jazz vocalist, Fuat Tuaç releases his fittingly titled second album, Immigrant, out now, reflecting on his experiences as an immigrant living in Toronto. Fuat sings in three languages — English, French, and his native Turkish — while curating a potpourri of jazz styles that, like the artist, traverse the globe.

“Immigration is a very hot issue in the world now. People move around the world for one reason or another, even COVID could not stop them. I wanted to share my story in Canada as an immigrant,” says Fuat. “I wanted to talk about my journey in Canada. I wanted to talk about the people I’ve met along the way; my experience inside and outside the jazz world; what I anticipated from Canada and what I’ve found; how people see me and how I see them. I wanted to talk about all of this and inspire people.”

“I’d like the songs on Immigrant to speak to every person regardless of their country of origin,” Fuat says. “I think the eclectic nature of the album lends itself to that.”

I wanted to talk about my experiences as a single man dating online looking for love and intimacy in a humorous way. Online dating now has an international vernacular and its own ground rules, infraction of which will come with grave circumstances. In today’s world, post-COVID, meeting someone organically, outside internet, is almost impossible so this song speaks to most of us.

I also wanted to talk as well about how social media rules our lives in this era. We use it for so many different purposes. Apart from trying to give the impression that our lives are perfect, many people use it for purposes of spying on others. “Who’s That Man?” tells the story of a dumped lover who becomes the stalker of his ex on social media.

The English language songs also include the wistful, melancholic, but inspiring title song, “Immigrant,” and the groovy “Moss Park,” a reflection on the homelessness in a Toronto Park.

These songs were written in lockdown and recorded recently, so they are also reflective of that period. I›ve also included some songs in French and a traditional Turkish song that I revisit in the jazz style.” Fuat says.

Globetrotting and time travel through the history of jazz are fused with hip, up-to-the-minute Canadian urban poetry which is in turn inflected with Turkish street flavor in Fuat’s album. The international feel of the album, like Fuat, is expansive, taking flight and soaring, seemingly intent on visiting more destinations than an airport departure lounge.

Underpinning the entire endeavor is some rock-solid musicianship provided by Eric St-Laurent on guitar, Kevin Turcotte on trumpet, Eric West on drums, and Jordan O’Connor on double bass. Celebrated vocalist Kim Richardson duets with Fuat on “Chez Moi” and the renowned vocalist from Istanbul, Yesim Akin joins Fuat on the traditional Turkish song, echoing hymns from the Asia Minor across the ocean. The album was recorded at Kensington Studios in Toronto, but Fuat traveled to Montreal and Istanbul to record the duets.

My guitar player, Eric told me, when I first told him that I wanted to record the album with him: “You are such a natural singer, you improvise a lot on the stage and your album must be reflective of your live performances on stage. Nothing more than that. If you ever lose your voice when you are old and you can’t sing anymore, we will bring in a huge, big band to accompany you so that no one will understand that you can’t sing anymore”. Fuat says.

Fuat plays regularly around town with the same band that he has recorded the album with, so it only came naturally to him to record the album with them to capture the existing natural sound of live concerts.

Fuat has a unique pedigree, partly because the cosmopolitan singer/songwriter used to be a qualified lawyer, practicing law in Istanbul, France, and the UK before the calling to pursue jazz full time became too strong. He relocated to Montreal in 2011 to study jazz at Concordia University where he earned a degree, plying his craft in the local bars and clubs of the city. In 2017, he released his first critically acclaimed album, Late Bloomer.


Thursday, June 15, 2023

Nanny Assis | "Rovanio: The Music of Nanny Assis"

Singer and multi-instrumentalist Nanny Assis proves his aptitude for many musical styles and concepts on Rovanio: The Music of Nanny Assis, set for release on June 23 on the German jazz label, In+Out Records. Assis’s second album as a leader, it showcases not just his versatility but his love for collaboration, with appearances by a full twenty guest artists—including such esteemed figures as Ron Carter, Randy Brecker, Chico Pinheiro, and Janis Siegel.

Simply put, Rovanio (ro-VAH-nee-oh) is Assis’s real first name. He has been known as Nanny since childhood; similarly, he’s been known as a samba guitarist, percussionist, and singer for most of his career. For Assis, however, both identities weren't enough: He had much more to offer than a nickname and a single genre. Rovanio: The Music of Nanny Assis presents the full spectrum of who he is as a musician.

“Coming from Brazil, I have so many different styles and roots for my music; it’s very rich,” he says. “There’s so much information in one place, and it’s really strong in the culture, the dance, and the music. And I figure I’m the glue for all that.”

Indeed, for all its rainbow of sounds, rhythms, textures, and musicians, the album retains an unshakably (and unmistakably) Brazilian core. It’s an ever-present reminder of the wide panoply that is Brazilian culture—and, in turn, that is Assis’s artistry.

There are, of course, traditional samba and bossa nova sounds on “Manhã de Carnaval” and “No Agora/Mr. Bowtie,” respectively. But Rovanio also offers the powerful West African flavor of “Amor Omisso,” the aching balladry of “Proponho,” and the jazz pedigree of “Human Kind” and “The Northern Sea.”

Assis’s collaborators each put their distinctive touches on the music in unique and surprising ways: The melody of “Proponho,” for example, is actually Fred Hersch’s composition “Mandevilla,” and it’s the pianist himself who renders the tune with newfound grace and sensitivity as a vocal accompaniment—with Siegel providing the harmony for that vocal. Carter appears at several points, perhaps most beautifully when he interlocks with drummer Ulysses Owens Jr. on the charming closer “Intimate Acquaintances.” Assis’s own daughter, Laura, works with her father in two very different roles: as lead vocalist on the beguiling Portuguese-language “Insensatez,” and as lyricist (in English—and of stunning sophistication, considering she was six years old at the time) on the moving “Back to Bahia.” (Assis also performs a duet with his son Dani on “Human Kind.”)

Ultimately, however, it is Assis’s stamp on the material that proves indelible. After Rovanio, no one will pigeonhole him as just Nanny Assis, samba musician.

Rovanio “Nanny” Assis was born August 25, 1969, in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil. When he was 7, he began playing drums and singing in the choir at the church where his father was pastor. After he picked up the basics of the guitar, he turned to the secular musical world, playing fusion and samba with his friends and making his first excursions into jazz.

He continued pursuing music even as he earned degrees in linguistics and Portuguese literature at Catholic University of Salvador, and married and started a family. American music—and America itself—were his targets, achieved when in 1993 he joined the Austin, Texas–based Rolling Thunder as a percussionist. After six years of regular work in the U.S., he moved to New York with his family in 1999.

Nanny Assis continued working in multiple genres, but increasingly found himself in the company of jazz musicians. He worked with singer Lauren Henderson, trumpeter Mark Morganelli, and keyboardist Pete Levin; featured Eumir Deodato, Romero Lubambo, John Patitucci, Michael Leonhardt, and Erik Friedlander on his first album, 2006’s Double Rainbow; and formed the Requinte Trio with Janis Siegel and John Di Martino (making an eponymous album with them in 2010). Jazz players also dominate the ranks of his collaborators on Rovanio: The Music of Nanny Assis, his second album as a leader.

“Rovanio is my best musical work to date,” says Assis. “For many years I had the urgent desire to see this music materialize. It encompasses all of my life experiences—rhythmically, harmonically, and melodically—since I was young.”

Gordon Lee | "How Can It Be?"

Deep catharsis is the order of the day on How Can It Be?, the seventh album by pianist and composer Gordon Lee, set to drop June 16 on PJCE Records. Written during the COVID-19 pandemic, the album’s nine originals—performed by the Portland, Oregon-based Lee and his quartet with tenor saxophonist Renato Caranto, bassist Dennis Caiazza, and drummer Gary Hobbs—reflect the leader’s urgent need to express powerful emotions at a time when musical performance was limited at best.

In addition to inspiring this rich set of compositions, those challenging days were also the direct catalyst for the quartet’s formation. Lee had little to do but write and practice until his wife convinced him to turn that work into performances on the front porch of their home. Those homespun concerts for the neighbors became “my antidote, my personal way of fighting back against not just the virus but the fear,” he recalls. “It felt like something positive I could do.” They began as duos with Caranto, then evolved into quartets with Caiazza and the late drummer Carlton Jackson (to whom How Can It Be? is dedicated). Hobbs is newly recruited for the album.

The emotions Lee channeled into his music at that time naturally included some dark and somber tones, as can be heard on the opening title track and the harrowing “Angry Mother Nature.” Yet that’s only a thin slice of the pie. The album also features quirky and amiable burlesque (“Shaky Assets”), offbeat, sardonic humor (“A Robin Weeps,” “Bozo Sulks on the Golf Course”), and small moments of triumph (“’Deed I Did It”). It’s a rich collection of material that reminds us of the full range of humanity that underscores even our bleakest experiences.

At a tight 48 minutes, How Can It Be? is also a testimony to the discipline and mastery of Caranto, Caiazza, and Hobbs as well as Lee. Basing their performances here on those highly restricted days of COVID, they demonstrate their ability to hit the bandstand and speak their pieces with economy and precision, but no less emotional weight or expression. In that sense, the album is a distillation of what Lee describes as the musician’s mission “to play from the inside of your soul.”

Gordon Lee was born April 26, 1953 in New York City. At 12 years old, he found himself behind the drum kit of a junior high school garage-rock band. By 14 he had transferred over to the piano, on which he obtained his first paying gig at a school dance. The bug had well and truly bitten him, and Gordon matriculated a few years later at Indiana University to study with the legendary jazz educator David Baker.

It was also at IU that he crossed paths with trumpeter and Portlander Richard Burdell, who convinced Lee that the Pacific Northwest metropolis was a great place for a working musician. After earning his BM in 1976, Lee made the move to the West Coast and found that Burdell had been right. Though he would return for a few years to New York to live and work, Lee soon enough made his way back to Portland, where he’s remained for nearly 40 years since.

Lee established himself as an educator, teaching jazz studies at Western Oregon University and Reed College, among others, while also finding time to earn a master’s degree from Portland State University in 1999. In addition, he built a career as a bandleader, beginning in 1990 with his debut album Gordon Bleu. Five more albums followed, with ensembles ranging from the big band of 2004’s Flying Dream to the trio of 2010’s This Path, before the release of How Can It Be?

How Can It Be? isn’t his only takeaway from the pandemic. Hundreds of hours with his Baldwin Grand also resulted in his first solo piano album, The Remainder (PJCE Records), “which was a product of the same gestation.” With an unprecedented expanse of free time on his hands, Lee explains, “I ended up practicing a lot, and practicing always leads to composing for me.”

Gordon Lee will be performing CD release shows at The 1905, Portland, on Sunday, 7/2, and at Christo’s, Salem, OR, on Thursday, 7/13.

The Sofia Goodman Group | "Secrets of the Shore

Drummer Sofia Goodman pursues an increasingly sophisticated and multidimensional vision with the July 14 release of Secrets of the Shore on Joyous Records. The Nashville-based Goodman’s sophomore album with her eponymous Group (trumpeter Matt White, trombonist Roy Agee, saxophonists Joel Frahm and Dan Hitchcock, clarinetist Max Dvorin, keyboardist Alex Murphy, guitarist Rheal Janelle, bassist Leland Nelson and percussionist Carlos Duran) finds her changing direction from the jazz-funk fusion of her debut album—though still retaining aspects of that style—and exploring thoughtful and often tender post-bop.

That exploration encompasses a diversity of styles, grooves, emotions, and compositional and improvisational shapes across the album’s ten original tunes. But it also includes a remarkable, expansive new approach to colors and textural possibilities, not least on Goodman’s drum kit. It’s a tremendous leap forward from her 2018 debut, Myriad of Flowers.

“My first album was such a learning experience,” Goodman says. “This time I was much more prepared in terms of what I should do and how my music should be. As I worked on Secrets of the Shore, I cared about how I felt as it was happening.”

A concept album about water and its many guises, Secrets of the Shore suitably washes over the listener in waves that are alternately placid (“Siren Song”), enigmatic (“Alberto’s Dreamland”), foreboding (“Buried Treasures”), and tempestuous (“In Barbara’s Mist”)—sometimes in sudden and violent shifts (the complex closing track “Angel”). It also boasts watery sonic details, such the gentle ripples of piano and cymbal on “Shadows on the Sand” and the crystalline droplets of saxophone and Fender Rhodes on “Skipping Stones.”

Importantly, these offerings of detail and mood depend on heavy lifting from the entire Sofia Goodman Group. Each element, from Nelson’s slippery electric bass, to White and Agee’s declaratory brasses, to Frahm and Hitchcock’s sinewy (and sinuous) sax lines, has a vital contribution to realizing Goodman’s music. Still, it’s never hard to detect the leader’s hand, be it her smart writing or her versatile drumming, ultimately guiding Secrets of the Shore.

Sofia Goodman was born in 1987 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where she was adopted as an infant. She began taking piano lessons in elementary school, but an encounter with a young friend’s drum kit reoriented her musical interests. Initially that meant blues, rock, and punk, reflecting a teenage defiance that she took with her to Berklee College of Music in Boston. While still in high school, Sofia attended a summer workshop at Berklee taught by Esperanza Spalding, then one of the youngest teachers ever to work at the school. Spalding’s encouragement inspired Sofia to take private lessons with Berklee faculty member Jackie Santos, and to return to Berklee for further studies.

After a somewhat turbulent period of relocation and readjustment, however, she found solace in exploring singing and composing at the piano. Time spent outside of the practice rooms at Berklee was typically spent at Wally’s Café, the beloved South Boston jazz club that is a proving ground for the city’s music students.

Not long after graduating from Berklee with a degree in Drum Set Performance, Goodman’s Boston apartment was decimated by fire. Fate, and some friends, drew her to Nashville, Tennessee, the country music mecca that also nourishes a rich jazz scene. What Goodman thought was a short-term summer residence developed into more than a decade of enthusiastic embrace of, and by, the community of artists that make up the aptly styled Music City.

Goodman plied her skills with musicians of all stripes, at the same time studying composition for a master’s degree from Belmont University. It was only a short time before she was ready to form her own band. Those early efforts would evolve into what is now The Sofia Goodman Group, building a following throughout the South and into the Midwest. Her first album, 2018’s Myriad of Flowers, received a nomination for Best Jazz Album from the Nashville Industry Music Awards. Secrets of the Shore is the Goodman Group’s follow-up to that acclaimed debut.

“Goodman’s work strives for lofty goals, takes big musical risks and aspires for the freedom to manifest itself fully,” wrote Sean L. Maloney last year in the Nashville Scene. “It is truly progressive and fundamentally jazz—and a reason to be excited about the continuing evolution of jazz in Music City."

Upcoming shows by The Sofia Goodman Group include: Fri 6/23 Taggart Amphitheater, Indianapolis (7:30-9pm); Sat 6/24 Elkhart (IN) Jazz Festival (3-4:15pm); Fri 7/14 Nashville Jazz Workshop (7:30-9pm); Thurs 7/20 Dogwood Amphitheater, Cookeville, TN (7:30-9pm); Wed 7/26 Rudy’s Jazz Room, Nashville (6-8:15pm); and Mon 8/7 Analog, Nashville. 

Mekiel Reuben | "Just Like The Radio"

Not that long ago, listening to music on the radio provided a carefree escape, sparked imagination, created excitement, adventure and discovery, and at times, was as comforting as an old friend. R&B-jazz saxophonist Mekiel Reuben came of age during that era and his new album, “Just Like The Radio,” preserves his memories of listening to the radio from childhood to adulthood, sharing his experiences via twelve new songs that he wrote with his coproducer David Vasquez. The saxman’s ninth album releases July 21 on MekMuse Records.

While growing up in Chicago, Reuben listened to a lot of funk, jazz and soul music on the radio, and the songs on “Just Like The Radio” recall and celebrate many of the artists who influence his sound – from his 1994 debut album, “Miles Away,” titled for Miles Davis, to his latest collection of rhythms, grooves and melodies that pays tribute to the artistry of Sly & The Family Stone, The Jazz Crusaders, Stevie Wonder, Earth, Wind & Fire, Frankie Beverly & Maze, Grover Washington Jr., Archie Bell, and War. Reuben began writing the set during the Covid quarantine. Although he now lives in the U.S. Virgin Islands, he made frequent trips to Los Angeles in 2021 when he would play the tunes for Vasquez, who began crafting arrangements for the tracks. A year later, they had eighteen songs to choose from.

With Reuben playing tenor and alto sax as well as percussion and Vasquez adding keyboards, synth bass and percussion, they brought in drummer Phil Martin to anchor the beats. After the sessions, Reuben returned to St. Croix with the tracks, tweaking them to get the grooves dialed in. To add guitar, Reuben reached out to Mauricio Guerrero Jr., who had performed on two of the saxophonist’s previous projects.

“Mauricio has a flair with his style of playing the guitar. I admire how he uses his imagination to create riffs that take the music to its promise and gives it identity. He was able to deliver some incredible guitar tracks. As for Phil, who I first started working with for my sixth album (“If You Were Here Tonight”), his creative ability to add flavor to the music with his drum playing has always amazed me,” said Reuben.

Reuben selected ten new songs for the new album and decided to reinvent two – “Time Piece” and “Cool Livin’” – from his first album. “Just Like The Radio” opens with the Sly Stone funkster “Sly Jungle,” which swings from a foundation constructed of congas, heavy percussion and African drums. The warm and lushly melodic “FB Maze” tips its cap to Frankie Beverly and his iconic band. When he’s in the studio working on music, Reuben practices gratitude by frequently saying “What a life,” which became the title of the third cut.

“‘What A Life” is living and enjoying life as you live it, and cherishing your moments in time,” he explained.

The title track derived inspiration from Archie Bell & The Drell’s “Tighten Up.” “It was a tune that opened up with a guitar riff that got people jumping on the dance floor back in the day. I wanted to create the same effect on ‘Just Like The Radio.’”   

Introducing “Time Piece” to a new audience, Vasquez added a fresh twist to the hard-hitting funk groove: the sound of steel drums from Reuben’s adopted home. Vasquez’s role in Reuben’s recordings is acknowledged on “D Vaz.”  

“David Vasquez has been the backbone to my recordings over the past twenty years. His reservoir of ideas when it comes to arranging tunes and adding different sounds to add flavor to our recordings is priceless. I have often said he has been the best thing to happen to me as far as music production. He’s a humble human being who loves turning mediocre songs into something marvelous,” said Reuben.

Among the other standout selections is the reggae and Caribbean influenced “Groovin in V.I. Twin City.” Reuben moved to the Virgin Islands as a teenager. He immersed himself in the native music, learning calypso, reggae and other Latin and Caribbean styles, elements that are prevalent on his records. After spending thirty years in Los Angeles, he returned to live in St. Croix seven years ago.

“There are two towns on the islands and St. Croix is known locally as V.I. Twin City. On the east is Christiansted and Frederiksted is on the west side of the island. So, I dedicated this tune to the island of St. Croix - the only U.S. Virgin Islands that has two towns, which has always been special to me,” Reuben said.

Dusting off another song from his debut record, “Cool Livin” offers a slice of vibrant pop melodies that Reuben says are reminiscent of Kool & The Gang.

“Mellow Tuesday” is a sultry and exotic Latin samba. “My sax solo takes you on this free-flowing journey where you feel this soothing sensational warm breeze touching your heart from the expressive tones. The song has mystic flowing vibes that will touch your soul.”

Observing a young Caribbean girl jubilantly dancing inspired the album closer, “Girl Dancer.” “‘Girl Dancer’ has this feeling of joy when you listen to the Caribbean rhythms that take you on this journey of excitement. The song came from watching this girl dancing to the joyous rhythms that flowed from her feet to her hands, expressing the love of life,” said Reuben, who soft-launched a different version of the album earlier this year.

“We went back into the studio to remix the entire album to make it sound like I always intended it to sound. We also made a subtle change to the album cover.”

Reuben spent decades touring and performing internationally at major jazz, blues and reggae festivals, having shared the stage with Lenny Williams, Barbara Morrison, Phil Perry, Vesta Williams, Ronnie Laws, The Jazz Crusaders, Les McCann, The Itals, Bunny Wailer, Ziggy Marley, Maxi Priest, Third World, Steel Pulse, Burning Spear, UB40, Marcus Miller, Chaka Khan, Gino Vannelli, Dr. John, Etta James, George Clinton and P-Funk All Stars. For over twenty years, Reuben donated his time and talents to sharing the joys of music with disabled children at Los Angeles Unified School District’s Benjamin Banneker Special Education Center.

Easy Tempo Volume 11 – The Round Trip

Finally a long-overdue entry in this legendary series of compilations – one that has given us an awful lot about funky soundtrack music back in the day, finally back in action after a long hiatus. For this go-round, the groove has gotten even deeper – as the series has stretched to include some killer sound library material as well – really mixing together all the jazz, funk, and cinematic elements that were in the previous volumes – yet all with the hip Euro-styled groove that we loved in all of those releases too. There's a huge amount of funky nuggets here, but all with a vibe that's very different than 70s work from the US scene – and although we've missed the Easy Tempo series for many years, we're glad to have them back – as they're still one of the best. This new release contains 20 tracks.

Here's the full playlist:

  • Roberto Pregadio "FIRST TIME THREE"
  • oul's Soul 'ANGELUS'
  • rchestra Mustang 'UNDERTOWN'
  • Gianni Marchetti 'DISPOSTA A TUTTO'
  • Raffazzonati "MARIA SCHNEIDER"
  • Brooklyn Bridge Group "TAKE ME TO NEW YORK"
  • Hugh Bullen "SUNSHINE TRAIN"
  • Carlo Cordara e i Waterloo "UN UOMO CHE LAVORA" Inst)
  • Les Chakachas "SUPER CAT"
  • Le Streghe "KAPUA PELE EA"
  • Ninety "AFRICAN FLUTE"
  • Lara Saint Paul "THE VOODOO LADY"
  • Ivano Fossati / Oscar Prudente "TEMA DEL LUPO "
  • Sandro Brugnolini / Luigi Malatesta "AFRO FREE" unreleased edit
  • Doriano Saracino "JOSIE'S THEME"
  • Enzo Scoppa "GUIDA SICURA"
  • Gino Marinacci "MEETING"

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Tanika Charles Releases the New EP "The Union Sessions"

Toronto’s soul songstress Tanika Charles is back with a new live in studio EP, "The Union Sessions", to be released on July 26th on digital platforms. Following the release of her third studio album "Papillon de Nuit" in 2022, Canadian soulstress Tanika Charles announces a new live in studio EP called "The Union Sessions", to be released next July 26th on digital platforms. Recorded live at Union Sound studio in Toronto, the EP comprises a total of five tracks: four of these appeared originally on Tanika’s first EP "What? What! What?!" from 2010, while “Since You Been Gone” was on her second album "The Gumption" from 2019. The artist also announced a summer tour in Canada, starting from Toronto on June 29th. See the upcoming performance  dates below. 

Tanika Charles has earned her stripes as a performing artist. Through nearly a decade of headlining she has revealed a knack for engaging her audiences, weaving storytelling, and building dynamism into every measure of her time on stage. As such, much of her catalogue of songs have evolved from their original studio recordings in a number of creative and interesting ways. This is especially true for some of her earliest works, originally constructed over instrumental beds more reminiscent of looped hip-hop beats. "The Union Sessions" is a freeze frame of evolution, bringing the tour-tested versions of these songs into a studio setting. 

Far from a dusting off of old material, these songs have remained staples of Tanika’s live show. The writing harkens to a moment of innocence from a nascent songstress, eager for expression, but yet to carve a particular path. But with these new recordings that journey and realization is laid bare, serving a gumbo of influence and experience. Having now been played hundreds of times, these songs are the product of constant iteration, unlikely to remain as is for very long. 

The assembled band for this project is a dream team of some of the best musicians Canada has to offer. Accompanying Tanika on vocals were frequent collaborators D/SHON Henderson and emerging solo artist Tafari Anthony. Jemuel “J3M” Roberts, another solo artist of note, joined on piano, EP and synths. Members of Toronto mainstay band re.verse formed the core band, with Damian Matthew on bass, Robb Cappelletto on guitar and Austin Gembora on drums. 

All songs were recorded off the floor in a single afternoon sitting at Union Sound without overdubs. Featured guest i.james.jones popped in for all of 20 minutes, laid his verse and exited like an absolute pro. Engineer Alex Gamble recorded and mixed the entire project with a particular aim towards producing evocative Dolby Atmos mixes.

Canada Tour Dates:

  • 29 June - Toronto, ON - TD Toronto Jazz Festival
  • 01 July - Grand Bend, ON - Grand Bend Canada Day Celebration
  • 07 July - Orillia, ON - Mariposa Folk Festival
  • 08 July - Orillia, ON - Mariposa Folk Festival
  • 13 July - Halifax, NS - TD Halifax Jazz Festival
  • 20 July - Vancouver, BC - Guilt & Co.
  • 22 July - Mission, BC - Mission Folk Music Festival
  • 23 July - Mission, BC - Mission Folk Music Festival
  • 25 July - Kelowna, BC - Red Bird Brewing
  • 27 July - Trail, BC - Gyro Park Music Series
  • 01 August - Lethbridge, AB - Wide Skies Music & Art Festival
  • 03 August - Fonthill, ON - Fonthill Bandshell
  • 12 August - Fernie, BC - Wapiti Music Festival
  • 15 August - Red Deer, AB - Bo’s Bar & Stage
  • 16 August - Calgary, AB - Sweet Loretta
  • 17 August - Edmonton, AB - SOHO YEG
  • 19 August - Grande Prairie, AB - Bear Creek Folk Festival
  • 20 August - Grande Prairie, AB - Bear Creek Folk Festival


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