Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Jose James Returns with Soulful Masterpiece "1978"

Jose James, the versatile and boundary-pushing artist renowned for his captivating blend of jazz, hip-hop, and R&B, marks his 12th studio album with the release of "1978". Since his debut in 2008 with "The Dreamer", James has continuously pushed the boundaries of music, garnering critical acclaim and a dedicated fanbase worldwide.

Born in Minneapolis and raised in New York City, Jose James' musical journey began at a young age. Influenced by his father's record collection, which featured jazz legends like John Coltrane and Miles Davis, James developed a deep appreciation for music early on. He honed his skills at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in Manhattan, where he immersed himself in the vibrant music scene of the city.

With a voice described as "buttery smooth" and "emotionally resonant", Jose James quickly made a name for himself in the music industry. His debut album, "The Dreamer", was met with widespread acclaim, establishing him as a rising star in the jazz world. Since then, James has continued to captivate audiences with his soul-stirring vocals and innovative approach to music.

"1978" represents a new chapter in Jose James' musical journey. Produced by James himself and featuring an all-star ensemble, the album is a celebration of the rich musical tapestry of the late 1970s. Drawing inspiration from icons like Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson, and Leon Ware, "1978" pays homage to the golden era of R&B while infusing it with James' unique blend of jazz and hip-hop.

With its socially conscious lyrics and infectious grooves, "1978" pulsates with the feel-good vibes reminiscent of Marvin Gaye, Prince, and Stevie Wonder. Each track on the album is a testament to James' evolution as an artist, showcasing his versatility and creativity.

Listeners can expect a captivating musical journey as "1978" takes them on a nostalgic ride through the sounds of yesteryears, while still delivering a fresh and contemporary vibe. With its irresistible melodies and soul-stirring vocals, "1978" is sure to captivate audiences and solidify Jose James' status as one of the most innovative artists of our time.

Dee C. Lee Returns with Soulful Album "Just Something"

Iconic soul singer Dee C. Lee makes a triumphant return with her highly anticipated album, "Just Something," set to release on Acid Jazz. Following the success of her recent single "Walk Away" and the double-sider "Don’t Forget About Love" / "Be There In The Morning," this album marks a significant comeback for one of the UK's most revered soul voices.

Dee C. Lee is no stranger to the music scene, having made her mark with The Style Council, Wham!, Slam Slam, and Animal Nightlife, as well as a successful solo career, including the Top 3 hit "See The Day." "Just Something" is her first new record since 1998 and her debut with Acid Jazz, promising to captivate listeners with its soulful melodies and timeless charm.

The album comprises 11 tracks, including nine original compositions co-written by Dee herself, a song by her daughter Leah Weller, and two inspired covers. Produced by Sir Tristan Longworth, "Just Something" features Dee's signature vocals set against luxurious horns, percussion, and keys, blending heritage soul with a disco backdrop.

While collaborating with others in the making of the record, "Just Something" reflects Dee's unique style and direction. Her vocals, characterized by their brightness and passion, take center stage, drawing inspiration from influences like Chaka Khan and Jean Carn while retaining her distinct sound.

Lead single "Walk Away," co-written with former Style Council member Mick Talbot, captures the essence of classic Motown with Talbot's piano and Wurlitzer playing adding depth to the track. Another standout is "Everyday Summer," penned by Leah Weller, showcasing Dee's versatility and emotional depth.

Tracks like "Back In Time," "Don’t Forget About Love," and "How To Love" evoke nostalgia for Dee's musical journey, from her Wham! days to The Style Council's jazzy soul. Meanwhile, "Anything" radiates optimism, and "For Once In My Life" exudes commercial appeal with its funky bassline.

The album also features two covers, "Be There In The Morning" by Renee Geyer and "I Love You" by Don Blackman, both suggested by Acid Jazz's Eddie Piller. Dee infuses these songs with her own flair, creating vibrant interpretations that pay homage to their original vibe.

Dee's collaboration with Acid Jazz dates back to The Style Council days, and "Just Something" marks a significant milestone in their enduring partnership. With this album, Dee C. Lee solidifies her place at the forefront of UK soul music, showcasing her timeless talent and captivating presence.

"Just Something" is available for pre-order on LP and CD from the Acid Jazz Store, with all pre-orders personally signed by Dee C. Lee. A limited edition blue vinyl LP is exclusively available from Acid Jazz.

Lainie Kazan's Iconic 1960s Albums Finally Available for Streaming

After nearly 60 years, the timeless vocal albums of Lainie Kazan, the Emmy, Tony, and Golden Globe-nominated stage and screen star, are now streaming on all digital platforms. Originally released by MGM Records in the 1960s, these collector's items, including "Right Now!," "Lainie Kazan," "The Love Album," and "Love Is Lainie," have been remastered from the original tapes and are finally available for a new generation of music lovers to enjoy.

Known for her captivating performances on Broadway and in Hollywood, Lainie Kazan's albums showcase her ravishing vocal range and exuberant personality. From beloved standards to distinguished discoveries, each track is a testament to Kazan's unparalleled talent and enduring legacy.

Produced by industry veterans such as Don Costa and Peter Daniels, these albums feature a who's who of top-shelf arrangers and producers, delivering a rich tapestry of sound that befits a star of Kazan's caliber.

"Right Now!" (1966), Lainie's debut album, sets the stage with rousing renditions of classic tunes. Opening with a dynamic "Blues in the Night," the LP features two songs from the rarely staged Harold Arlen and Truman Capote Broadway musical "House of Flowers." Kazan's haunting interpretation of the traditional folk song "Black Is the Color of My True Love's Hair" is transformed into a tempestuous showstopper, while the album's centerpiece is a dazzling rhythmical version of Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley's "Feeling Good."

"Lainie Kazan" (1966), her second album released that year, is anchored by treasured songs from Broadway and Hollywood, including selections from "My Fair Lady" and "Meet Me in St. Louis." Notable tracks include the lively "Lark Day" co-written by The New Christy Minstrels guitarist Art Podell, and the tender ballad "(We'll Meet) In the Spring," written just for her by Peter Daniels.

"The Love Album" (1967) is the most lush and sweeping collection of the four albums. The strings echo Lainie's emotions as she dives into paeans to doomed romance like "I'm a Fool to Want You" and "If You Go Away." Notable tracks include the lightly swinging "Sweet Talk" and the sensuous delight "Take It Slow, Joe."

"Love Is Lainie" (1968) marks an appealing shift from the standards and show music of the first records to more contemporary material, all rendered with that trademark Lainie flair. Notable tracks include her bravura performance of Bobby Hebb's "Sunny" and the rare psychedelia entry in the Kazan canon, "Flower Child."

Lainie Kazan is the embodiment of the word "entertainer" - an artist who has reached the pinnacle in virtually every area of performance. Ms. Kazan began in the Broadway musical Funny Girl, where she played a Ziegfeld showgirl and understudied the leading lady, Barbra Streisand. She finally got her chance to perform the title role a year and a half after its Broadway opening. Lainie performed the lead role twice in one day, and received accolades that launched her extraordinary career.

Lainie has also appeared on Broadway stage in The Government Inspector, with Tony Randall; My Favorite Year, with Tim Curry (Tony Award nomination); and produced and starred in the Ethel Merman tribute, Doin' What Comes Natur'lly. Her regional credits include: A Little Night Music, The Rink, Man of La Mancha, The Rose Tattoo, Gypsy, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Hello Dolly!, Fiddler on the Roof, Orpheus Descending, Plaza Suite, and Bermuda Avenue Triangle, with Joseph Bologna and Renée Taylor.

Her film credits include: My Favorite Year (Golden Globe nomination), Francis Ford Coppola's One from the Heart, Steven Spielberg's Harry and the Hendersons, Paul Bartel's Lust in the Dust, Delta Force, Beaches, The Cemetery Club, The Big Hit, The Associate, What's Cooking?, Bratz, Adam Sandler's You Don't Mess with the Zohan and Pixels, and My Big Fat Greek Wedding 1-3. She recently appeared in Tango Shalom, the #1 indie film release of the summer in 2021.

On television, Lainie's credits include: "St. Elsewhere" (Emmy nomination), "The Paper Chase" (CableACE Award nomination), "The Nanny," "Strong Medicine," "Veronica's Closet," "Touched by an Angel," "Will & Grace," "My Big Fat Greek Life," "Boston Legal," "Ugly Betty," "Desperate Housewives," "Modern Family", and "Grey's Anatomy." Most recently she guest starred on "The Kominsky Method" and "Fuller House."

Lainie has performed in nightclubs, grand hotels, and concert halls around the world. She partnered with Hugh Hefner and opened "Lainie's Room" and "Lainie's Room East" at the Los Angeles and New York Playboy Clubs. In addition to the MGM recordings, she produced her most recent albums, In the Groove and Body and Soul, with David Benoit for the Music Masters label. Recently she performed to sold-out houses at Feinstein's at Vitello's in Los Angeles, 54 Below in New York, Vibrato in Bel Air, and The Purple Room in Palm Springs.

Lainie serves on the board for the Young Musicians Foundation, AIDS Project LA, and B'nai B'rith. In 2008, she had the honor of being a Grand Marshall for the Salute to Israel Parade in New York. Lainie is a graduate of Hofstra University with a B.A. in Speech and Drama, with a minor in Education. She is an adjunct professor at Hofstra University's School of Communications, where she is on the advisory board. She is also on the board of the Screen Actors Guild and The Young Musician's Society. Lainie studied with Sanford Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse and studied voice with Joseph Scott for 20 years. She also studied with Lee Strasberg for 5 years and is a lifetime member of The Actors Studio. Since 2012, Lainie has been an Adjunct Professor at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where she teaches the course "Acting for the Singer." In 2020, she joined the faculty of NYU, teaching an online class.

Perceive its Beauty, Acknowledge its Grace by multi-instrumentalist Shabaka Hutchings

Perceive its Beauty, Acknowledge its Grace by multi-instrumentalist Shabaka Hutchings is, in a sense, a debut album. And yet, the album also serves as a reintroduction to the artist, a levitating, stunning work chock full of the lessons he’s learned over the course of his life and career. And perhaps, most importantly, it represents the spirit of exploration that the artist is most tapped into these days.

London-born, Hutchings spent much of his childhood in Barbados. Beginning at age nine, he studied the clarinet, playing in calypso bands while studying classical repertoire, often practicing over hip hop beats by artists such as Nas, as well as to the music native to Barbados. He imparted that at the time, “The idea of being a particular ‘type’ of musician who limited themselves by genre was totally alien to me and my peers, it was just about playing with skill and dedication, and whether music moved me or left me cold.”

Consequently, after studying clarinet at Guildhall School of Music from 2004-2008, he collaborated on a kaleidoscopic range of projects: recording and/or touring with Mulatu Astatke and the Heliocentrics, Soweto Kinch, Floating Points and Courtney Pine amongst many other bands, as well as being a part of the London Improvisers Orchestra. He’s also composed pieces for the BBC Concert Orchestra, London Sinfonietta, Ligeti Quartet, and performed the Copland Clarinet Concerto with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Britten Sinfonietta as well as the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra.

Over the course of the past decade, the lion’s share of his touring and recorded work has been with three bands: Sons of Kemet, The Comet is Coming and Shabaka and the Ancestors. “In these formations,” he shared, “I’ve been able to display a fundamental approach to creative practice in different contexts spanning Afro-Caribbean fusion, London dance music club culture and the rich South African jazz tradition - all within the freedom afforded by the legacy of the American ‘jazz’ tradition.” That approach reflects a mantra he absorbed early in his life.

“My primary school teacher told me ‘the music isn’t hard, just practice it mechanically then relax and let your soul shine through’. This is an adage which I’ve kept throughout my life of learning how the musics and instruments of different cultures relate to my personal vision of sound.”

His musical exploration includes employing a variety of flutes, including the ancient Japanese Shakuhachi, which he started playing in 2020 during the pandemic. “Since then, it has slowly changed the scope of my musical inner landscape and drawn me towards a multitude of other instruments in the flute family,” he explained. “As more flutes have been added to my arsenal including Mayan Teotihuacan drone flutes, Brazilian Pifanos, Native American flutes and South American Quenas, I’ve started to appreciate the underlying principles that cause these instruments to resonate most fully and use this understanding to form a concept allowing me to freely move between instruments.”

On New Year’s Day 2023, in the wake of the release of his 2022 debut EP, Afrikan Culture (which notably featured the artist primarily on flutes), Shabaka announced that beginning in 2024 he’d take a hiatus from playing the saxophone publicly. He clarified in July 2023 on his Instagram page his intention to cease playing with bands in which the saxophone was his primary instrument (including The Comet Is Coming, Sons of Kemet and Shabaka and the Ancestors).

For the flute-forward album Perceive its Beauty, Acknowledge its Grace, Hutchings tapped into a remarkable cadre of players, including percussionist Carlos Niño and bassist Esperanza Spalding. Vocalists including Saul Williams and Lianne La Havas contributed to “Managing My Breath, What Fear Had Become” and “Kiss Me Before I Forget”, respectively. Floating Points, with whom Shabaka shared a stage with for their performance of Promises at the Hollywood Bowl, provided additional production on the track “I’ll Do Whatever You Want".

“I invited a bunch of musicians I’ve met and admired over the past few years of touring throughout the United States to collaborate and everyone said yes, which I constantly find breathtaking,” he disclosed. His aim was to gather the musicians at Rudy Van Gelder’s historic studios, which he says “informed the sound of so many seminal jazz albums that have shaped my musical aptitude. We played with no headphones or separation in the room so we could capture the atmosphere of simply playing together in the space without a technological intermediary. After recording hours of inspired interactions, I set to work producing an album from the material.”

Monday, March 18, 2024

Josh Johnson’s latest solo record, Unusual Object

Josh Johnson’s latest solo record, Unusual Object is a world of sound. Johnson’s fantastically processed saxophone and subtle samples and grooves give this work a sort of cyberpunk ambient jazz feel that occasionally crosses into realms akin to classic Warp Records and Jon Hassell’s dreamworld tonalities. But however fantastical and dreamlike Unusal Object may be, these qualities only serve to bring the listener closer to Johnson, to his breath, his sense of song. What, after all, could be more intimate than sitting inside someone’s fantasies and dreams?  

Johnson executes this all with an indelible elegance, establishing him as a worthy contemporary of fellow modern avant-garde composers like Lea Bertucci, Ian William Craig, and Kelly Moran. Like the latter’s carefully considered prepared piano compositions, Unusual Object is stately, personal, and patently modern.  

Johnson is a highly in-demand collaborator, working often with Makaya McCraven, Marquis Hill and The Chicago Underground Quartet. He produced and played on Meshell Ndegeocello’s Grammy-winning The Omnichord Real Book and worked for many years as musical director for Leon Bridges. He’s appeared on recordings by Broken Bells, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Harry Styles and his playing shines brilliantly on the Jeff Parker ETA Quartet’s Mondays at the Enfield Tennis Academy. Johnson indeed is an indelible part of the Los Angeles scene that gave shape to André 3000’s audaciously transcendent New Blue Sun. But Johnson is no mere supporting character. 

Last year, he made a change. Pulling away from some of his more rigid gigs, Johnson chose to venture further into the realms of his own playing and to further sharpen his own compositional voice. Unusual Object, Johnson says, “is a development and documentation of a more personal world of sound.” This development has been ongoing, for sure, but often in the context of other people’s music. With Unusual Object Johnson asks: “What’s it like for me to create the context for my sound, to frame it myself?”

The answer is the spare but endlessly engaging Unusual Object, a work of futuristic jazz and modern composition that will appeal to fans of everything from Oneohtrix Point Never to Shabaka Hutchings, from Plaid to Ornette Coleman.

Josh Johnson is a saxophonist, composer, multi-instrumentalist, and Grammy Award-winning producer. His second solo album, Unusual Object, a striking work of futuristic jazz and modern composition, will be released April 5 on Northern Spy Records. This spare work for processed saxophone and subtle samples shows Johnson further sharpening his unique compositional voice. Unusual Object, Johnson says, “is a development and documentation of a more personal world of sound. What’s it like for me to create the context for my sound, to frame it myself?” 

His solo debut Freedom Exercise (Northern Spy) was featured in Rolling Stone’s Best Music of 2020 and Bandcamp’s Best Jazz Albums of 2020. Pitchfork called the record “excellent, daringly melodic” and PostGenre praised it as “a songwriting marvel”.

Johnson is a regular collaborator with some of contemporary music’s most innovative artists, including Jeff Parker, Makaya McCraven, Nate Mercereau, Marquis Hill, and Kiefer. Parker’s widely-acclaimed 2022 record Mondays at the Enfield Tennis Academy features Johnson on saxophone and effects as part of the longstanding quartet. This is the most recent in a series of Parker’s records to highlight Johnson, with the latter also contributing saxophone and synths to 2016’s The New Breed and 2020’s Suite for Max Brown. 

Between 2018 and 2022 Johnson held the role of Musical Director for soul singer Leon Bridges, with whom he also played keyboards and saxophone. During his time with Bridges, Johnson performed throughout Europe, North America, Asia and Australia, with performances at the Hollywood Bowl, Glastonbury and the Sydney Opera House. Along with Nate Walcott (Bright Eyes), Johnson arranged 14 of Bridges’ songs for a performance with London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, also contributing a choral arrangement and directing the concert. 

Johnson produced and appears on Meshell Ndegeocello’s 2023 album 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘖𝘮𝘯𝘪𝘤𝘩𝘰𝘳𝘥 𝘙𝘦𝘢𝘭 𝘉𝘰𝘰𝘬 which was awarded the 2024 Grammy for Best Alternative Jazz Album. He can also be heard on wide-ranging records by artist such as Harry Styles, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Moonchild, Broken Bells, Miley Cyrus, Louis Cole and Carlos Niño, among others. He currently resides in Los Angeles.


Renowned saxophonist Charles Lloyd marks his 86th birthday with a momentous musical celebration as he unveils his latest masterpiece, "The Sky Will Still Be There Tomorrow." Released today, this majestic double album showcases Lloyd's enduring brilliance and innovative spirit, reaffirming his status as one of the most significant musicians of the 20th and 21st centuries.

In this captivating release, Lloyd assembles a newly formed quartet featuring the talents of pianist Jason Moran, bassist Larry Grenadier, and drummer Brian Blade. Together, they embark on a mesmerizing musical journey, weaving a tapestry of sound that transcends boundaries and captivates listeners.

"The Sky Will Still Be There Tomorrow" captures Lloyd at the peak of his powers, delivering a collection of new studio recordings that showcase the depth of his musical vision and the boundless creativity of his ensemble. From intimate ballads to soaring improvisations, each track resonates with emotional depth and artistic integrity, reflecting Lloyd's unparalleled artistry and unwavering commitment to his craft.

With this latest release, Lloyd invites listeners to embark on a sonic exploration that transcends time and space, inviting them to immerse themselves in the beauty and complexity of his musical universe. From the ethereal melodies of "The Sky Will Still Be There Tomorrow" to the dynamic interplay of the quartet's improvisations, each composition offers a glimpse into Lloyd's unparalleled musical genius.

As we celebrate Charles Lloyd's 86th birthday, "The Sky Will Still Be There Tomorrow" stands as a testament to his enduring legacy and his unwavering dedication to the pursuit of musical excellence. This double album is not only a celebration of Lloyd's remarkable career but also a testament to the enduring power of jazz to inspire, uplift, and transform lives.

Join Charles Lloyd and his quartet on a musical odyssey unlike any other as they invite you to explore the limitless possibilities of sound and imagination. "The Sky Will Still Be There Tomorrow" is now available on all major streaming platforms.

Raffi Garabedian | "The Crazy Dog"

Raffi Garabedian has released the first single, "A Mother's Letter," from his forthcoming album The Crazy Dog. Raffi says: "A Mother's Letter" was the first song I composed for this project. Adapted from a poem my grandmother wrote, the melodic and harmonic structure emotes a somber mood, embodying her painful life growing up as an orphan, fleeing Turkey during the Genocide, and carrying this trauma into a foreign land where she struggled to raise her family. To me, the words reflect her love and distress for my father.

(excerpt) “The elderly mother, wearing winter on her head, and her feet placed at the edge of the grave, lying on her creaky armchair ...Do you remember my son, the crazy days of your youth? ...I was tearfully screaming with my sleepless eyes, as to who can take me close to my son who has lost his way...” 

For Berkeley-reared tenor saxophonist Raffi Garabedian music is both a calling and a vehicle for exploring his family’s star-crossed past. A highly regarded improviser who’s performed and recorded with artists such as Brad Mehldau Trio drummer Jorge Rossy, bassist Ben Street, saxophonist Dayna Stephens, and R&B legend Johnny Talbot, Garabedian co-founded the innovative brass band Brass Magic. He is a regular member of the Electric Squeezebox Orchestra and SticklerPhonics with Scott Amendola and Danny Lubin-Laden.

The Crazy Dog, a suite of new music composed and arranged by tenor saxophonist Raffi Garabedian, is both a departure and homecoming for the Bay Area musician. Writing for voice for the first time, Garabedian has sourced the project’s lyrics from his father and grandmother’s writings about their lives in Turkish Armenia and the United States. These now-lyricized writings—from “A Mother’s Letter” (And her feet, the elderly mother / Her feet place at the edge wearing winter on her head) to “March 17, 1927” (I arrived into this world / Kicking and screaming)—tell the family’s story of love, despair, displacement, survival, and resilience as they are violently uprooted from their home during the 1915 Armenian Genocide, and forced to emigrate to America, a journey that extended into 1921. Working from his grandmother’s poetry and plays, and his father’s short stories and memoir, Garabedian has honed his forebears’ words into an album of narrative poignancy and beauty.  

This project is intersectional in its language: Garabedian has translated his grandmother’s native Western Armenian, put it into conversation with his father’s English, and adapted both to fit his musical voice through composition and rearrangement of their words to form lyrics. The Crazy Dog is also clearly intergenerational, with Garabedian adding his second-generation American Armenian voice to his family’s in this three-century-spanning project. Through the octet’s lush instrumentation of female voice, flute, clarinet, tenor saxophone, trombone, vibraphone, bass, and drums, Garabedian has produced a sonic means of conveying his deep connectedness to his family’s experiences, interpreted through his own musical lens and artistry.

Julian Lage's "Speak To Me" Embarks on a Musical Journey Beyond Words

Today marks the release of Julian Lage's highly anticipated fourth album on Blue Note Records, "Speak To Me." Produced by acclaimed musician and producer Joe Henry, the album is a vivid and wondrously textured exploration of American music, offering a series of dispatches from Lage's ongoing search for narrative beyond words.

With "Speak To Me," Lage takes listeners on a journey through a wide range of musical influences, delighting in the deliberate crossing of wires between genres such as gospel hymns and rural blues, California singer-songwriter sunshine, and skronky jazz. The result is a captivating and immersive sonic experience that showcases Lage's versatility as a musician and composer.

The album features Lage in a variety of settings, from solo acoustic performances to intimate duos and trios, as well as larger ensemble arrangements. Joining Lage on the album are bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Dave King, along with guest appearances by keyboardists Kris Davis and Patrick Warren, as well as woodwind players.

"Speak To Me" is a testament to Lage's ability to push the boundaries of traditional musical genres while maintaining a deep reverence for American musical traditions. Each track on the album offers a unique perspective on Lage's musical journey, inviting listeners to join him on a quest for meaning and expression through the universal language of music.

From the soulful melodies of gospel-inspired hymns to the improvisational spirit of jazz, "Speak To Me" is a celebration of the diverse and vibrant tapestry of American music. With its rich textures and evocative storytelling, the album speaks volumes without uttering a single word.

"Speak To Me" is available on Blue Note Records. Don't miss your chance to experience Julian Lage's latest musical masterpiece.

Special EFX | "Return To Budapest With Love"

Grammy-nominated world jazz fusion group Special EFX has deep ties to Budapest as co-founder and master percussionist George Jinda was Hungarian as was his frequent songwriting partner Bela "Szakcsi" Lakatos. Along with the band’s co-founder and guitarist Chieli Minucci, the US-based Special EFX returned to Budapest to perform at the famed Petőfi Csarnok twice. Those 1990 and 1992 concerts were recorded by a local Hungarian radio station and are now available digitally and via CD from Chieli Music as the album “Return to Budapest with Love.”

When the concerts took place, there weren’t any plans to release a live album from the shows. In fact, Special EFX’s then label, GRP Records, felt that a live album would cut into sales of the crystalline digital CDs they were releasing at the time. Hungarian jazz fusion supergroup Djabe bandleader/guitarist Attila Egerhazi recently approached Minucci with the idea to release a live collection from the archived recordings.

“I decided it was long overdue to let our fans hear a live CD recording. Years earlier, we’d lobbied for a live concert release. At the last minute, our label declined, yet the artist in me just wanted to let folks hear what I heard every night on that stage. Well, all these years later, here it is!” enthused Minucci. 

After listening to the two concerts, Minucci selected ten songs that he felt best captured the collaborative magic between him and Jinda, who passed away in 2002. In the spirit of Special EFX's artistic direction, much of the music on the live album was improvised, particularly the duet pieces featuring Minucci and Jinda.

“This project, which I believe came from two-track to tape recordings, will give our fans a rare glimpse into the duo performances that George and I always included in our shows. Here there are many of them as well as full-band ensemble pieces,” said Minucci.

The full-band ensemble Minucci referenced consisted of him on electric and acoustic guitars, Jinda playing an array of multicultural percussion instruments (percussion, African talking drum, shakers, caxixi, tuned temple blocks, energy chime, crotales), Szakcsi on acoustic piano and keyboards, drummer Lionel Cordew and bassist Gerald Veasley.    

Prior to the two Hungarian concert dates, Szakcsi had never performed with Special EFX although he had a lengthy history of writing with Jinda.

“A real treat for us was the inclusion of the famous jazz pianist and composer Bela ‘Szakcsi’ Lakatos who’d never actually performed our music before. Fans of the group will remember Szakcsi as co-composer of many earlier-period Special EFX compositions. With only a soundcheck to rehearse, the band performed for about 2,000 excited fans that evening,” said Minucci who reunited with Szakcsi for another Hungarian concert date five years ago prior to the keyboardist’s death in 2022. 

“Return to Budapest with Love” opens with “Looking for Seventh Heaven,” a fiery Szakcsi and Jinda composition that Minucci describes as influenced by The Police and Sting. A rare live version of the 1986 album title track duo piece, “Slice of Life” contains a digital-delay loop effect that Minucci used quite often around the time of the live recording. The album contains the only existing version of the Minucci-Jinda duet “Forever,” an ethereal exploration piloted by Minucci’s frenetic guitar. 

Minucci said that he and Szakcsi improvised the impassioned guitar and piano dalliance, “Chance Encounter,” “spontaneously in the middle of the concert. This is the only time Szakcsi and I ever played it.”

“The Toy Shop” is faithful to the studio recording of the track that Minucci describes as another meditative loop song. Named for someone Jinda knew, the fusion foray “Sabariah” was a concert favorite from Special EFX’s early touring days. The sprawling journey that is “Nature Boy Pt. 1 & 2” clocks in generously at more than ten minutes.  

“A classic we played at all our shows, ‘Nature Boy’ beautifully demonstrates George’s talent on the African talking drum, not to mention my own Pete Townsend-influenced strumming. I still perform this as a solo piece at the end of Special EFX concerts,” said Minucci. 

The brisk “Uptown East” was one of Special EFX’s first singles. At one of the Hungarian concerts, Special EFX hadn’t planned to play “Festival,” yet spontaneously Jinda and Minucci broke into the tune, and it made it onto the album. “Return to Budapest with Love” closes with the first composition the band ever recorded, “Sambuca Nights,” which was issued as their first single in 1982. The track displays Minucci’s fervent finger work on acoustic guitar. 

Special EFX’s surviving member Minucci keeps the band’s 42-year legacy relevant and thriving via prodigious recording projects that are supported by busy concert itineraries, including treks with a revolving cast of special guests who join the guitarist under the name Special EFX All-Stars. A highly respected and in-demand guitarist known for his blazing speed, dexterous technique and meticulous detail, Minucci has performed or recorded with a plethora of pop, R&B, rock and jazz stars, the list of which includes Celine Dion, Lou Reed, Lionel Richie, Jennifer Lopez, Jewel, Marc Anthony, Michael Bolton, Eartha Kitt, Kirk Whalum, Maysa, Jeff Lorber, Norman Brown, Marion Meadows, Mindi Abair, Rick Braun and Omar Hakim. He’s also a three-time Emmy-winning composer who can be heard on films such as “No Country for Old Men,” “Bowfinger,” “Legally Blonde” and “Panic.” A longtime New York City resident who lives close to Broadway, Minucci’s whimsical theater work includes classic live productions of “Peter Pan,” “Dora the Explorer,” “Thomas the Tank Engine,” and others.


Friday, March 15, 2024

Yosef Gutman Levitt | "The World And Its People"

In an absorbing follow-up to Soul Song, his recent collaboration with guitar great Lionel Loueke (“a scintillating and sun-struck combination of ringing, gentle jazz and percussive African highlife that can only make you smile” —, bassist and composer Yosef Gutman Levitt of Jerusalem is back with a new and invigorating release: The World and Its People, available from Levitt’s recently formed Soul Song imprint.

Leading a drum-less, chamber-jazz-newgrass foursome influenced in part by The Goat Rodeo Sessions (with Chris Thile, Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer and Stuart Duncan), Levitt draws from deep within his soul on a collection of beautiful melodies, in deeply felt renderings from all involved.

The tracks are Levitt originals cowritten and arranged by producer Gilad Ronen, with sterling contributions from Levitt’s close musical associates Tal Yahalom on nylon- and steel-string acoustic guitars, Omri Mor on piano and Yoed Nir on cello. Yahalom and Levitt have made two captivating duo albums, Tsuf Harim and Tal Yasis; Mor released his own Soul Song title earlier in 2023 called Melodies of Light and appeared with Levitt on the 2022 trio release Upside Down Mountain. “Everybody worked so hard in bringing creative ideas to this session,” Levit recalls of The World and Its People. “The music is very much inspired by our prior interactions—I feel excited about taking our conversation into different styles and opportunities to connect and communicate.”

The album was mixed by Richard King, whose Grammy-winning work on The Goat Rodeo Sessions has served as an inspiration to Levitt and his colleagues. “The musical color that those musicians bring to the world is something pure and delicate and honest and lovely and luscious and warm,” Levitt remarks of Goat Rodeo. “These are the qualities I wanted to surround myself with: creating a classical crossover, dipping into country, using tools of the language to bring a light, bouncy, folky aspect to the music that I typically play, which is improvised jazz.”

A religiously observant Jew, Levitt has endowed all his music with a sense of spiritual searching and depth, whether he is interpreting Hasidic nigunim on such releases as Ashreinu and Chabad Al Hazman or exploring original music with a jazz trio on Upside Down Mountain. On The World and Its People he focuses again on originals, animated by truths gleaned from Hasidic teachings. “All of my albums begin with a notion of spiritual development, a connection to God and those around me, and how to translate the various things that I’m working on, internally and externally, into melody and music.” He explains the album title as follows: “When we make a space for the world, and we make a space for its people, we infuse it with light and we make an impact—not just socially, but through being honest and open, doing what we’re meant to be doing.”

As on previous releases, Levitt imbues The World and Its People with the sound of upright bass as well as his unique five-string acoustic bass guitar (built by Harvey Citron, Steve Swallow’s luthier), on which he’s developed a signature voice: a warm, singing, bell-like high-register tone with a focus on simple, direct, expressive melodies. The solos and unison passages on the two advance singles, “Awakening” and the title track, cut through the ensemble with a singing legato that is emotionally rich, intense yet delicate. “It’s very precious music,” Levitt says. “It’s very alive when I listen to it—I feel a magical sense of life and humanity and relationships, and I hear the depth and excitement of the other players in the room.”

“Awakening” evokes not only Levitt’s writing process (waking up first thing and improvising melodies into a voice recorder), but also the inner meaning of the Aramaic phrases itaruta diletata and itaruta dile’eyla, “awakening from below” and “awakening from above.” “Awakening from below,” Levitt explains, “can mean making a space for hearing a friend, paying attention to the world around us, inviting the world around us in, which is the idea behind the album.”

Levitt launched the Soul Song label with a set of core principles and values in mind: “The goal is to create music, and to create a label that stimulates others to do the same—to make their soul song. To create music that’s intimate and honest, improvised, and Jewish if you will.

What makes Jewish music, to me, is a profound honesty, stripping away anything that’s not needed. That’s the work I want to do with the artists on this label—whether they’re Jewish or not is not important. What’s important is that the music is inspired by something higher. I want to work with artists who are interested in getting to that place.” Releases with eminent guitarists Gilad Hekselman and Ralph Towner are soon to follow.

Thursday, March 14, 2024

Thee Sinseers – Sinseerly Yours

To say that Thee Sinseers play oldies would be a misnomer. Fronted by bandleader and son of East Los Angeles Joey Quinones, the group has quietly chipped away at the sounds of R&B and soul for the last half-decade. Quinones and his crew have continuously created a distinctive vibe that explores all aspects of a timeless genre, bringing together their interpretation of music through an unmistakable modern lens.

With their most recent effort, the aptly titled Sinseerly Yours (Colemine 2023), the band recorded most of the album live in the studio. With Quinones on vocals and keys, vocalist Adriana Flores, Christopher Manjarrez on bass, Francisco Flores on guitar, Bryan Ponce on guitar and vocals, Luis Carpio on drums and vocals, saxophonists Eric Johnson and Steve Surman, and Jose Luis Jimenez on trombone, Thee Sinseers achieves their most fully realized sound to date.

All of the album’s stunning tracks were recorded in a converted studio space in Rialto, California, known as Second Hand Sounds. The converted studio space, which used to be a dentist’s office, allowed the group to experiment with their sound like never before—this time, the group managed to take a series of big swings, only to emerge with a fuller, more pronounced version of themselves. Despite those new strides, the band remains wholly committed to its sonic aesthetic while injecting its brand of vibrant 21st-century cool.

Of course, the group has never been the type to shy away from their influences as they expertly toggle between ’60s pop vis-à-vie early Beatles records to obscure dancehall Jamaican tunes––all fully extrapolated and reinterpreted through modern Chicano soul sound that the group has built their everlasting repertoire on. ~

Quinones and bandmates have continued to apply what they’ve learned from their previous releases and their relentless touring schedule throughout the country. It’s clear here that the work is paying off, putting to practice their musical chops thoroughly with all members expertly honing their sound. The melting pot of ideas is showcased with incredibly lush orchestrations and arrangements, married with pitch-perfect harmonies, allowing the group to further solidify themselves in the pantheon of the Southern Californian songbook.

Kaidi Tatham | "Fusion Moves"

Reel People Music introduces a thrilling new series, Fusion Moves, aimed at breathing fresh vitality into its esteemed catalog of classic tracks. Leading the charge in this innovative venture is the exceptionally talented Kaidi Tatham, known for his work with Bugz In The Attic, Amy Winehouse, and Slum Village.

In the inaugural edition of Fusion Moves, Tatham takes the reins, infusing his signature style into a selection of beloved Reel People Music releases. His approach is immediately evident, with the opening track, Sebb Junior feat. Paula’s "All Of My Life," seamlessly blending organic beats, polished horns, and immersive keys. As Paula's vocals beautifully attest, magic unfolds with each note.

Further down the lineup, Tatham's magic touch revitalizes Reel People feat. Mica Paris’ "I Want To Thank You" with elegant funk and boogie bounce, while his reimagining of The Realm x Atjazz x Kelli Sae’s "On The Road" adds a carefree jazz-funk vibe, complete with sweet synth solos and guitar licks. Throughout the series, Tatham effortlessly glides between moods and movements, showcasing his versatility and creativity.

From the infectious groove of Sebb Junior feat. Muhsinah’s "Special" to the sultry swagger of AAries’ "Don’t Give It Up," each track receives Tatham’s expert treatment, elevating them to new heights while maintaining their soulful authenticity. With Fusion Moves, listeners can expect fresh twists on timeless classics, promising a journey filled with soulful resonance and musical innovation.

Stay tuned for more Fusion Moves releases in the months to come, as Reel People Music continues to reimagine quality songs with a soulful heart.

John Lurie | "Painting With John"

John Lurie has recently shared three songs from Painting With John, a forthcoming 56-track collection of music from his acclaimed HBO/MAX series of the same name. Set for release March 15, 2024 on his own label imprint, Strange & Beautiful Music, the soundtrack includes new material written exclusively for the series, as well as, classic recordings spanning his discography. The collection will be released on limited edition, two-LP, 180-gram vinyl and digital formats. 

In the penultimate episode of Painting With John, its creator, John Lurie, sat in a Manhattan recording studio, working out musical parts for the show's soundtrack. Although he occupies an enigmatic, multi-faceted, five-decade career characterized by the unexpected, even Lurie is surprised by the music extracted from the series.  

“After the illness started," says Lurie. "I didn’t think I’d ever be able to do this again." 

Go back a quarter-century or so. As an exotic saxophonist and composer whose pieces alternately recalled cracked-mirror reflections of Thelonious Monk, or Fela Kuti, or Raymond Chandler, Lurie led the vastly influential, downtown NYC jazz ensemble, The Lounge Lizards, through dazzling albums and tours across the globe. He scored indie films and Hollywood hits, collecting a Grammy nomination for Get Shorty along the way and releasing his own surreality-TV series, Fishing with John. Then, Lurie contracted an especially potent strain of Lyme disease that turned sound and light into elemental enemies. He put down his saxophone, stepped away from the camera, and retreated. He lived in isolation and painted. And then he got cancer. 

The sum total of Lurie’s brilliant and evolving third act—including a return to music and acting, his fascinating memoir, History Of Bones, and a resurgent career as an arrestingly original watercolor painter living on a Caribbean island—makes it all the more unlikely.  As well, it makes this double LP an astounding and comprehensive compilation epitomizing Lurie’s uniquely eclectic and provocative artistry; an immersive, captivating experience at its most affecting when listened to as a complete thought, from start to finish.

The 56-track set borrows from Lurie’s library of pre-existing creations ranging from indie soundtracks, Manny and Lo and African Swim, and the exhumed discography of Lurie’s fictive bluesman, Marvin Pontiac, and even back to The Lounge Lizards, as well as several new pieces written and performed to align with the show’s panorama of narratives.  The work rises from the seeds of the blues, exults in polyrhythmic exhales of African music, rides absurdist, elliptical chants, and drapes vignettes in greasy, funky noir. In every instance, the gathered ensembles, that include such luminaries as Steven Bernstein (trumpet), G. Calvin Weston (drums), Jane Scarpantoni (cello), Clark Gayton (trombone), Curtis Fowlkes (trombone), Doug Wieselman (guitar), Evan Lurie (piano), Smokey Hormel (guitar), Michael Blake (tenor saxophone) and Billy Martin (drums), unearth the music as much as perform it; hatching and solving the mystery in simultaneous solidarity.

It’s a journey; a travelogue of genre, style, and invention as fluid and evocative as the artist.  Pure of intent, and engaging at every turn, Painting With John is both companion and stand-alone, detailed soundtrack and joyous summary.

"This may be the last thing I do,” Lurie says. “I want it to be beautiful.”

Steph Richards | "Power Vibe"

Steph Richards has already made quite a name for herself in the worlds of avant garde music and creative jazz. She has recorded for Relative Pitch, Pi Recordings, Tzadik Records, Cantaloupe Records, Northern Spy Records, and more and worked with Laurie Anderson, Anthony Braxton, Ravi Coltrane and Henry Threadgill. Richards worked for years as co-producer of the FONT Music Festival, alongside fellow trumpeter Dave Douglas. Her records have been praised for displaying her evident virtuosity and inventiveness, the New York Times calling Richards “boldly inventive.” NPR’s Nate Chinen says Richards is “ingenious” and Downbeat insists that she is “the latest figure of note” in jazz and “a virtuoso of nonlinear trumpet playing.” All About Jazz cuts to the chase, saying simply, that Richards “kicks ass.” 

It’s an impressive history and litany of praise for a young trumpeter, but with her latest full-length for Northern Spy, Power Vibe, Richards pushes even further, marrying avant garde and cinematic moods with a kind of infectious and patently pleasing tunefulness. The addition of “sensory electronics” –– subtle but compelling textures and tactile rhythms which are physically triggered by drum-mounted sensors –– compels fascination here, interweaving a kind of aural hyper-lucidity throughout the record. Though boldly original, this music strides surefootedly alongside the work of contemporaries like Nicole Mitchell and the late jaimie branch. 

And Power Vibe is just as fascinating conceptually as it is aesthetically. The record –– as well as the eponymously named quartet –– is built around a series of musical cues that, when played, redirect all the players to move into a new structure. The trick is that any of the players can play one of these cues at any time, ensuring that the music unfolds in an even more radically democratic way than in totally open-ended improvised music performance. One might think of this as the “power vibe”: the power to redirect the entire band lies in the hands of each player, equally. It’s a cogent redistribution of power, one that Richards and the band clearly revel in, and it gives the music a sense of open structural possibility. 

But one might think of the power vibe as stemming from something else, something much more personal. About a year ahead of recording Power Vibe, Richards began to experience serious complications with her physical ability to play. Richards explains that she met threatening signs of muscular collapse, even terrifying hints of potential focal dystonia, a neurological condition that causes muscular freezing. As Richards puts it, “I had exhausted my setup and I had to hit the shed and fully remake my face.” Months of rigorous retraining, researching new techniques and studying with different teachers across the country led Richards to develop even stronger technical abilities than before the fatigue and collapse. “This record’s really important to me,” Richards says, “because it was my first time understanding this new face, this new technical ability and technique. It was a scary journey to get to that point, and it was a joy to overcome it. I can hear that joy in this music.” This, clearly, is another way in which Power Vibe lives up to its name: that joy in the power to play, at all, let alone with the level of skill that Richards wields, is evident in the sound.  

While Richards’ virtuosity and boundless creativity is clearly on display here, pianist Joshua White, whose playing sometimes veers into McCoy Tyner rapture, and drummers Gerald Cleaver and Max Jaffe do more than simply support. Again, there is a sense of commitment and soulfulness that is bolstered by the redistribution of power. And Stomu Takeishi’s acoustic and electric bass guitar playing helps to push these tunes headlong into realms of groove and infectious kinesis that make it what it is: remarkable. Certainly fans of Ron Miles’ or Wadada Leo Smith’s or Don Cherry’s adventurous and joyful playing and collaborating will find much to love in this work. But the vibe here belongs to Steph Richards.

Kenny Wollesen - LATRALA

For more than four decades, Kenny Wollesen's casually powerful drumming has become an intrinsic component of such robust downtown New York scenes as the Knitting Factory, Tonic, The Stone, Bar 55, and Nublu. He has also served as rhythmic centerpiece for projects with Bill Frisell, as well as Steven Bernstein's wild-style Sexmob, myriad John Zorn configurations, and many other Names You Would Recognize.

On his colorful and often kaleidoscopic new album LATRALA, however, Wollesen showcases his considerable compositional skill, inventive mallet-instrument chops, and career-long experimental tendencies by way of introducing a new quintet. LATRALA (think tra-la-la spelled sideways) is filled out by dynamic drummer Nasheet Waits, dramatic guitarist Tony Scherr, fluid bassist Christopher Thomas, and "surreal synths" builder Michael Coleman. Collectively, they play music rooted in Wollesen's jazz-saturated Santa Cruz youth. 

When a February 2022 gig at Zorn's experimental showcase The Stone was unexpectedly canceled due to Covid protocol, Wollesen seized the lemon juicer and booked the band into Shahzad Ismaili's famed Figure 8 studio in Brooklyn for the following two days. The session was engineered by Lily Wen and produced by Will Shore, a composer who plays vibes alongside Wollesen in utopian art-jazz group Užupis. 

"My other solo albums have been either duos or literally solo," says Wollesen. "This was more of a proper session. It actually worked out much better than simply doing the Stone show, because we got this amazing recording out of it." 

Playing together for the first time ever, LATRALA recorded nearly the entire album its first session together in a flurry of extraordinary first takes. "I love that energy, that first-time feeling," says Wollesen. "I'm a big believer in the early stages of creating something. It's really exciting! You don't know where you're going, but you're playing with incredible musicians so it somehow works." 

Some tracks reflect key people and places in Wollesen world. "Sam" was inspired by Kenny's downstairs neighbor, an intriguing Upper West Side character who hasn't crossed the New York City border in 95 years. A track steeped in low-key cool, "Johnny Garr" was the DJ name of Wollesen's charismatic stepfather, Jack Darrough, who went on to work the California rails alongside Jack Kerouac and introduced his son to Elllington, Davis, and Bechet. His jazz teachings eventually led Kenny to New York and his first gig, a 1986 date with bassist Stomu Takeishiat the Greenwich Village jazz mainstay celebrated in the hard-grooving "Fifty-Five." 

While the record reflects Wollesen's enthusiasm for the innovative vibraphone legacies of Bobby Hutcherson and Cal Tjader, it's more personal influence begins with the late "Big Don" McCaslin (1928-2020), the hardest working pianist-vibraphonist-bandleader in Santa Cruz and father of Wollesen's closest high school pal, contemporary saxophone star Donny McCaslin. Wollesen, then focusing on vibes, eventually started playing in the elder McCaslin's Latin-tinged combo, Warmth. Don "was a big vibes influence for sure," Wollesen says. "He was also the ultimate art hippie and a foundational figure in my life." 

LATRALA was built on the solid foundation of Wollesen's tunes and the quintet's collective experience as globe-trotting innovators. After its initial tracks were complete, Wollesen returned to the studio and overdubbed layers upon subtle layers of percussive and electronic detail with Will Shore. The album's nooks and crannies now contain multiple vibraphones, marimbas, bells, congas, and a lot of WollesonicTM percussion – especially the aurally distinctive "Rattlers" he created during his pandemic hiatus. "I went crazy for a while and built about two hundred of these things from different materials," he admits. 

Nonetheless, "the fundamental part of the song was still these raw and wild first takes." And as for it all being a grand one-shot deal, stay tuned. "My Stone residency was rescheduled to 2025," Wollesen concludes with a wry chuckle.

Hilary Gardner | "On the Trail with The Lonesome Pines'

Alaska-raised, New York City-based vocalist Hilary Gardner’s new album, On the Trail with The Lonesome Pines, transports listeners to the nostalgic heart of the American West. The music paints soundscapes of the archetypal cowboy’s life on the trail—of pale dawns, purple hills, and the high lonesome feeling of camping out beneath a vast, star-filled sky. The seeds for the project were sown during the early months of the pandemic, when Gardner, from the confines of her Brooklyn apartment, found herself dreaming of wide-open spaces.

Gardner’s jazz bona fides belie her rustic upbringing: she grew up in rural Alaska surrounded by vintage country music, and her first gigs as a teenager were performing Patsy Cline tunes in dive bars. “I learned so much about singing from Patsy Cline,” Gardner says. “She was a powerful musical storyteller, she was in total command of her instrument, and her time was great—Patsy could really swing.” Since moving to New York City in 2003, Gardner has released three albums as a leader; played Frank Sinatra’s vocal counterpart in Twyla Tharp’s hit Broadway production, Come Fly Away; and is a founding member of the award-winning close harmony trio Duchess, with whom she has released three full-length albums and a holiday EP, performed live (including at Monterey Jazz Festival), and earned Vocal Group of the Year in the 2021 and 2022 JJA awards.

In a return to her roots, Gardner began delving into repertoire from the “singing cowboy” era of the 1930s-40s, discovering a treasure trove of material ranging from atmospheric ballads tinged with melancholy to swing with a sense of humor. “I love seeking out ‘hidden gem’ tunes—songs that, for whatever reason, didn’t become as well known as they should have,” she says. “These ‘trail songs’ have been neglected for decades because they can’t be easily classified as jazz or country or pop or Americana—they're a combination of all those genres, and they inhabit a sonic landscape uniquely their own, too.”

Guided by her belief that no corner of the Great American Songbook should go unexplored, Gardner teamed up with Justin Poindexter (guitars, vocals), Noah Garabedian (bass), and Aaron Thurston (drums), and The Lonesome Pines were born. “The first time we all played together, it was magic,” she recalls. “Musical chemistry is this wonderfully intangible, unpredictable thing, and when the stars align, it’s such a gift. The songs came to life organically as we explored the music as a band.” 

After sold-out shows at iconic Greenwich Village venues 55 bar and Mezzrow, the quartet convened at Figure 8 Recording in Brooklyn, with Grammy-winning producer Eli Wolf (Norah Jones, Willie Nelson, Cassandra Wilson) at the helm. “In addition to being a first-rate producer with incredible ears, Eli is my husband, and we love working together,” says Gardner.

The album opens with the loping, lap-steel inflected “Along the Navajo Trail,” a 1945 composition that Gardner says “encompasses everything this project is about: the freedom to roam and the wistfulness that plays at the edges of solitude. I love the song’s metaphor of nature-as-music: I love to lie and listen to the music / when the wind is strummin’ a sagebrush guitar.” 

“One of the things I love most about this material is that the lines between genres were blurrier back then,” says Gardner. “Many of these songs were written not only by singing cowboys, but also by composers and lyricists that we now associate with jazz standards. It wasn’t unusual for a song to debut in a Western film starring Roy Rogers or Gene Autry, only to be recorded later by a big band or the original hip cowboy, Bing Crosby.”

The tender ballad “Silver on the Sage” is one such example, combining the musical architecture of jazz with an unmistakably Western lyric, in which a cowboy serenades his herd of dogies (motherless calves), exhorting them to sleep and dream of “a range far away.” Originally recorded in 1938 by Crosby, the song was written by Leo Robin and Ralph Rainger, co-composers of the jazz standards “Easy Living” and “Thanks for the Memory.” Gardner’s version features Poindexter's filigree mandolin stylings and warm vocal harmonies.

The rollicking “Jingle Jangle Jingle (I Got Spurs)” was written by Frank Loesser (best known for writing the hit musical Guys and Dolls as well as a host of beloved standards), and Joseph J. Lilley, a revered orchestrator and composer for Paramount Pictures. “Justin, Noah, and Aaron really cook on this tune,” says Gardner. “You can hear the smile in my voice.”

“Under Fiesta Stars,” written in 1941 by Gene Autry and Fred Rose, features Thurston’s tasteful brushwork and atmospheric accordion accompaniment by special guest Sasha Papernik. Gardner and Poindexter’s plaintive harmonies sing of a love found—and lost—south of the border: The night spoke of splendor / the lanterns were low / I had to surrender / the thrill seemed to grow / The music was playing / we danced until dawn / My thoughts began straying / And then he was gone. 

The Southwest mecca of Santa Fe features prominently on the album. “I’ve spent some time in New Mexico and was gobsmacked by the beauty and grandeur of the scenery,” says Gardner. “You can’t help but fall in love with the place—it’s no wonder so many great songs have been written about Santa Fe.” The foursome put a sweetly sentimental spin on the seldom-heard “Lights of Old Santa Fe,” first performed by Roy Rogers and Dale Evans in the eponymous 1944 film. “Along the Santa Fe Trail,” with its easygoing swing feel, is a musical love letter to both a sweetheart and New Mexico vistas. “Cow Cow Boogie” celebrates a cattle-herding cowboy “out on the plains, down near Santa Fe'' who possesses a “knocked-out Western accent with a Harlem touch.”

While most of the album’s twelve tracks were new discoveries for Gardner, one song was an old friend. She first encountered Johnny Mercer’s 1936 tongue-in-cheek paean to urban cowboys, “I’m an Old Cowhand (From the Rio Grande),” on Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks’ 1972 release, Striking It Rich, which her parents owned on vinyl. “When I heard the Hot Licks’ version of ‘Cowhand’ I was probably about ten years old,” says Gardner. “I didn’t know—or even think about—whether I was listening to jazz or country or pop music. I just dug it—I still do. Our version was recorded in one take at the end of a long recording session, so it’s got a relaxed, late-night vibe.”

Lovelorn cowboys have their say, too: the band reimagines Jimmy Wakely’s “Song of the Sierras,” adding stacked vocal harmonies, dynamic percussion, and high-energy electric and lap-steel guitar solos. “Call of the Canyon,” a Billy Hill song made famous by Frank Sinatra in 1942 with the Tommy Dorsey band, features Garabedian’s supportive bass and a graceful acoustic guitar solo by Poindexter. And Gardner’s elegant vocal infuses the pensive campfire soliloquy, “Cowboy Serenade (While I’m Smokin’ My Last Cigarette),'' juxtaposing the song’s lush melody with the quintessential cowboy call of “Yippee-ki-yay.” 

The album closes with “Twilight on the Trail,” a 1936 composition that’s been interpreted by Bing Crosby, Nat “King” Cole, Sam Cooke, and Dean Martin, among others. “A lot of these songs celebrate saddling up and wandering,” says Gardner, “but ‘Twilight on the Trail’ embraces the idea of sunset—a contemplation of peaceful rest for the night or, as in the final A section, for eternity: When it’s twilight on the trail / and my voice is still / please plant this heart of mine / underneath the lonesome pine on the hill.”

On the Trail with The Lonesome Pines evokes all the romantic mythology of the American West. Says Gardner, “These songs remind us that the answers to many of life’s big questions can be found in contemplative solitude, the beauty of the natural world, and the arms of a loved one.”

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Micah Thomas | "Reveal"

The young pianist Micah Thomas was revealed to an international audience in 2020 with the release of his trio album Tide, his first recording as a leader, and with Omega by saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins quartet, which Thomas has been a part of since 2017. It seemed that Thomas had no time to lose.

His release of his new opus, Reveal, confirms not only his exceptional instrumental talents but he also draws on the history of modern jazz to nourish his innovative and powerfully organic conceptions of the age-old “piano-bass-drums” formula. Thomas is already standing out in a new generation of American jazz musicians determined to conjugate the tradition in a subjective present.

Born in Columbus, Ohio, 1997 into a family of different cultures – an American mother and Indian father – Thomas first took a seat at a keyboard when he was 2. Thomas quickly discovered he had a taste for jazz played by the likes of Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk.

In high school he was noticed by the violinist Christian Howes, whose reputation was second to none, and Thomas began playing concerts with him, finally (at the age of 18) joining Howes and the teaching staff of the Creative Strings Workshop. Losing no momentum, he obtained a prestigious Jerome L. Greene scholarship to attend the Juilliard School, although he continued to play concerts in his native Ohio – notably alongside Joshua Redman and John Clayton, in the 2017 concert series that Byron Stripling’s Columbus Jazz Orchestra gave to celebrate the institution’s 45th anniversary.

The young local star saw his horizons widening considerably. He dived into the effervescence of the very demanding jazz scene in New York, and quickly drew the attention of his peers (and his elders) with the clarity and creativity of his style, as flamboyant as it was elegant... it was an aesthetic that proposed a syncretic, very contemporary vision of the tradition envisaged in all its forms. 

Thomas’ musicality flourished, and he passed from the resolutely hard bop vein on veteran drummer Billy Drummond’s 2022 album Valse Sinistre to the more sophisticated, modernist spheres of trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, bassist Harish Raghavan, or Norwegian guitarist Lage Lund — above all, from that moment, Thomas would multiply his collaborations with an increasing number of talents from his own generation, many of whom he first met while at Juilliard.

As a regular member of the quartet led by alto saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins – with which he recently recorded two major Blue Note albums (Omega in 2020, and The 7th Hand in 2022) – but also partnering with trumpeter Giveton Gelin's 2020 release True Design, or again with tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III (In Common 2), Thomas has not remained content to preserve a post-bop aesthetic that brings the Blue Note heritage brilliantly up to date: Thomas has been more than willing to venture into more wide-open contexts that belong to other traditions, as proven by his active, inspired contributions to the two albums Bhakti and O, Sun released by the young avant-garde saxophonist Zoh Amba. 

It is precisely that open-minded attitude, and Thomas' ability to appreciate the entire heritage of modern jazz and create its synthesis in a language so continuously personal and inventive, that we can find in a condensed form today inside Reveal, the young pianist’s third album as a leader. Together with bassist Dean Torrey and drummer Kayvon Gordon, his partners from his regular trio – and after his highly skilled incursion into music for solo piano for the label LP345-Records (his aptly titled Piano Solo received France’s “Grand Prix du Disque de l’Académie Charles Cros” in 2022) – today Thomas has picked up where his first record Tide left off, and he has done so with a blend of authority, naturalness and daring that is impressive for his age. Reveal is a sort of aesthetic manifesto that definitively lays down the bases for an “art of the trio” that is eminently singular and innovative.

Putting into practice an orchestral and decidedly collective conception of the trio formula founded on a generalized interactivity, the three musicians have here developed music that is at once astonishingly compact in its textures and in its polyrhythms – they fit precisely together in fluid gestures, as if this intense concentration of energies was generating inner spaces into which the clear, magnificently articulated, intelligently discontinuous song of the piano can dive with a sparkling virtuosity.

This is music that belongs to the lyrical, abstract tradition of piano jazz, a history dating back via Chick Corea to Thelonious Monk (“Troubled Mind” is a marvelous demonstration of it, one which updates those intuitions that Corea exposed in 1968 with “Now He Sings, Now He Sobs,” in the company of Miroslav Vitous and Roy Haynes). And at the same time, from one piece to another, it allows a glimpse of the more or less subliminal influences that have been handed down by great masters of modernity from Paul Bley to Brad Mehldau.

In this foundational record whose mastery of form is total, Thomas has allowed himself all kinds of daring without ever foundering into any kind of mannerism, and he even concludes his album – a form of apotheosis – with the hallucinatory, repetitive motifs of “Denardirn," a subtly experimental piece that truly opens up new horizons for us.

Singer Gene-o aka “Classic Twist” Releases “Holding Back The Years”

When renowned veteran R&B/jazz singer and songwriter Gene-o launched his genre-defying Classic Twist concept in 2023, the vision was twofold - to draw on his lifelong passions for pop and rock and later country to both write empowering anthem-like songs centered on and driven by our collective potential for change and put his own trademark, emotionally soul-searing “Gene-o” vocal spin on classic pop and rock songs from the 70’s and 80’s. His latest track – and the second lead single from Classic Twist’s highly anticipated upcoming debut album – is a stunning re-imagining of Simply Red’s “Holding Back the Years,” featuring explosive harmonies and a powerhouse solo by Marietta, GA based saxophonist J. Henry, a former winner of Showtime at The Apollo, who in recent years toured with the comedic legend Sinbad.

“Holding Back the Years” continues the momentum Gene-o has following the first two Classic Twist singles – the inspiring call to action song “Time for Change” and a special updated rendition of his earlier warmhearted solo holiday single “Just Like Christmas Before.” 

Penned by Simply Red lead singer Mick Hucknall and Neil Moss, the original version of “Holding Back the Years” – which hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in July 1986 – has become so familiar via years of airplay on Adult Contemporary and urban/smooth jazz stations over the decades that its deeper meaning is easy to overlook. It reflects the troubled upbringing Hucknall had in his youth and the difficulty he had finding support from a stern father and a mother who wasn’t there often enough. The upbringing he had failed to offer him confidence or a sense of value, so he’s afraid to move forward with his life.

Hucknall, whose mother left the family when he was only three years old, once said the song is about the upheaval this event caused in his life: “It’s about that moment where you know you have to leave home and make your mark, but the outside world is scary. So you’re holding back the years.”  

Early in the recording process for Classic Twist, Gene-o wasn’t sure about highlighting “Holding Back the Years” as a potential single because it was one of his jazziest tracks. The other tunes he had recorded – Journey’s “Faithfully,” Kansas’ “Dust in the Wind,” Bread’s “Make It with You” – were from established rock bands and he thought the Simply Red tune was a bit of an outlier. But he now realizes its jazzy qualities along with the deep meaning of the song are facets of Classic Twist he wants people to embrace.

“The reason I gravitated to it in the first place was because it was a great song, very well known by music fans everywhere, and I felt I could do a great job creating a version of it in mystyle,” says Gene-o. “My original recording of it didn’t have the sax. A friend had introduced J. Henry and me but I never heard him perform until he came to San Diego and invited me to sit in with him at his gig at Humphrey’s Backstage Live. Later I let him hear my original version and we looked at each other and thought, ‘Why not try it with the sax?’ J’s brilliant playing on this newly recorded update, takes the song to the next level, and I’m very proud of it – and excited about letting people hear this amazing collaboration.”  

Though Gene-o appreciates the stories Mick Hucknall has toldabout the song’s inspiration, he also feels the lyrics will have a certain universal resonance for audiences today. “For me, the song is about how difficult life can be sometimes for everyone, and all it takes to survive is to just keep holding on, doing all you can to make changes and hope and pray for better days in our individual lives and collectively as humanity. Every song we do, from the originals to the retro pieces, will have a message connected to the concept of change.”  

The final lineup for Classic Twist's debut album is set to feature an array of exhilarating songs, including the dynamic pop-rock anthem "Sharing the Sky." This uplifting track encourages listeners to join Classic Twist on a journey to view the world through a lens of renewed vision and grand optimism. Additionally, "Loves Me for Me" brings a vibrant, soul-infused melody with a touch of classic rock essence. This heartfelt ode celebrates the transformative power of love in nurturing our greatest potential.


Celebrated conguero, bandleader, and “Father of Latin Boogaloo,” Joe Cuba (1931—2009) was a foundational figure in New York’s Latin soul scene. A native of Harlem, the Puerto Rican artist (born Gilberto Miguel Calderón) learned to play the congas as a teenager while recovering from a broken leg. Before long, the young percussionist was booking gigs across the city and, in 1954, founded The Joe Cuba Sextet. Playing alongside such stars as Tito Puente, Machito, and Tito Rodríguez, Cuba and his bandmates quickly gained a following with their swaggering showmanship and stood out from their peers with their unique instrumentation choices—including adding a vibraphonist and doing away with horns (which was unheard of at the time).

The group also found a broad appeal with their blend of Spanish and English lyrics—performed, respectively, by timbalero/singer José “Cheo” Feliciano (who replaced Willie Torres in 1958) and crooner Jimmy Sabater, with backing by vibraphonist Tommy Berrios, bassist Jules Cordero, and pianist Nick Jiménez. The sextet’s enticing style served as the foundation for salsa music, as well as for boogaloo—a hugely popular movement that would take hold in the mid-late ‘60s, reflecting the melting pot of New York City with its blend of R&B, soul, and Afro-Cuban rhythms. While Cuba would widely be credited for the creation of boogaloo with his 1966 crossover hit, “Bang Bang,” he was laying the groundwork with Vagabundeando! (Hangin’ Out!), two years earlier. 

The 1964 album marked the band’s debut on Tico Records—one of the era’s most powerful players in the Latin market. As the label sought to reach a younger audience, amid the changing times, Cuba and his band were among a fresh line-up of talent poised for stardom. Vagabundeando! (Hangin’ Out!), produced by one of the most important jazz producers of all time, Teddy Reig, reflected the new era with a vibrant blend of Afro-Cuban rhythms, jazz, and soul, including such energetic dancefloor numbers as “Quinto Sabroso,” “Oye Bien,” and “Nina Nina,”—all performed in Spanish by Feliciano. Sabater also shines in English-language tracks like the soulful “I Need You” and the joyful “Trip to Mamboland.” Another highlight is the Feliciano-fronted “El Ratón,” a captivating ballad that remains one of the group’s most popular and enduring tracks—thanks in part to samples by such acts as Black Eyed Peas, plus high-profile interpolations by the likes of Santana and Willie Bobo, among others. 

In the album’s original liner notes, Tico’s Pancho Cristal writes, “‘Hangin’ Out’ is reserved for the young…. It means simply to stay out with the boys and have fun.” He continues, “Joe Cuba and his boys…do this with that youthful gusto and verve that marks all their appearances and performances.” Indeed, this energy would help Cuba build a massive following, as he scored hit after hit on the charts through the next decade and become one of the most successful Latin artists of his generation. Cuba, who continued to record until the late ‘90s, was a celebrated figure in New York throughout his life. In 1999, he was inducted into the International Latin Music Hall of Fame.

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Expanded Reissue of Silver Conventions’ Eurodisco Classic 'Save Me'

Omnivore Recordings and Good Time Records are set to transport music enthusiasts back in time with an expanded reissue of Silver Convention's iconic debut, "Save Me," scheduled for release on March 29.

This reissue treats fans to five bonus tracks, including both commercial and promotional 12” mixes of renowned songs like the ever-popular "Fly Robin Fly." The packaging meticulously replicates the original international cover art, with the U.S. artwork featured inside. Accompanying the musical journey is a 12-page color booklet adorned with captivating photos and ephemera, complemented by Joe Marchese's insightful liner notes, delving into the project's origin and its transformation into a global hit record.

Silver Convention, named after songwriter Sylvester Levay's nickname "Silver," emerged from Munich, Germany, capturing the music scene's attention in 1975 with their rendition of "Save Me." This track, initially sold at MIDEM, the international music business conference, became the title piece of their debut album. Remarkably, the album soared to #1 on the Billboard R&B chart and #10 on the Pop chart, marking the world's introduction to "The Munich Sound," a precursor to the Eurodisco phenomenon.

Thesecond single from the album, the chart-topping "Fly Robin Fly," solidified Silver Convention's place in music history. Not only did it dominate the disco charts for three consecutive weeks, but it also repeated the feat on the pop charts the following month. The single achieved unparalleled success, selling over one million copies and earning the prestigious gold disc from R.I.A.A. in December 1975. To cap off its achievements, "Fly Robin Fly" secured the title of Best R&B Instrumental Performance at the 1976 Grammy Awards, becoming the band's signature song. Get ready to relive the magic of Silver Convention's groundbreaking debut with this meticulously curated reissue.

Yes! Trio | "Spring Sings"

Four years after the success of “Groove du Jour”, named best album of the year in 2019 by the French Academie du Jazz, Yes! Trio is finally back! Strengthened by their differences, these musicians, who never seemed predisposed to meet – a drummer, scion of the great African-American jazz family; a hippie bassist with Yemenite and Moroccan roots; a bon ton Bostonian with a Harvard degree pianist – united by thirty years of love of swing continue to embrace jazz with the same happiness, faithfulness to everything that makes them unique, from Duke Ellington to Motown to Yemen Blues.

Why do we like Yes! Trio so much? Perhaps because the group embodies in a contemporary way all that moves us in the history of jazz, revealing it vibrant today, rather than duplicating it. Or because the members of the trio are, on paper, so dissimilar that one likes to see in their long-lasting association (thirty years) an example of what the great Max Roach – one of Ali Jackson’s mentors – called “a very democratic musical form.” Maybe because these musicians write and arrange compositions that deeply touch our souls, to the point where we listen to them over and over again without ever tiring of their riches. Or because their long friendship nourishes their music, and in turn their music nourishes their friendship in an exemplary way. Maybe it’s due to the constitutive elements of the genre – swing, blues, interplay, improvisation, humor, risk, the feel for phrasing, sound, and so forth – which sparkles constantly, giving the listener the feeling that jazz continues to be full of new ideas. The answer is probably a mix of all these reasons, alongside many others. 

Yes! Trio is in many ways unique in the world of jazz, despite the countless piano-bass-drums trios that strive to assert their originality. Yes! Trio is unique, as are its three members, but this unit is also singular in the way in which these strong personalities articulate their presence in this format: truly equilateral, truly collaborative, truly integral. One only has to see the trio in action to realize how, during their interplay, none of the musicians play a predominant role over the others. One only has to hear them to recognize how much the responsibility of the music is fully shared. It could be said that Yes! Trio is not a trio, a provocation à la Magritte’s “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” (“This Is Not A Pipe.”) Yes! Trio is a group in the sense that each of the members brings to it his experience and expertise to create something sublime together. This isn’t a trio of a pianist expecting his companions to provide foundational support for his improvisations. This isn’t a trio of a bassist who makes his instrument the key center of a triangular configuration. Nor is it the trio of a drummer who would use the group as a background to show off his skills. Yes! Trio is the idea of a trio as a single entity. 

This ensemble, keep in mind, is composed of three musicians who had little chance of meeting one another and becoming friends. A drummer, Ali Jackson Jr., son of a jazzman converted to Islam, heir to an African-American family of musicians from Detroit essential to the history of jazz; spotted at the age of 12 by Wynton Marsalis himself as a future star drummer; trained by Oliver Jackson aka Bop’s Jr. (his uncle), Max Roach and Elvin Jones; and who was for over a decade the kingpin of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Wynton Marsalis’s flagship. An Israeli bassist, Omer Avital, with Moroccan and Yemenite ancestors, an idealist with hippie instincts who fell in love with bebop and moved to the United States but often returned to his native soil to assimilate the musical traditions of the Maghreb and the Near East, where he learned to play the oud and co-founded the group Yemen Blues. And a pianist from Boston, Aaron Goldberg, born into an intellectual Jewish family with scientist parents, who ended up devoting himself to jazz despite brilliant studies at Harvard University where he obtained diplomas in History of Science and Philosophy; an outspoken democrat with a very sharp mind. 

These three destinies converged at the beginning of the 1990s in a basement club, Smalls, which was for an entire generation of jazz musicians a true creative home. At the head of different groups, in particular a septet with four saxophones, Omer Avital was a mainstay at the club, performing there every week. Jackson brought his cymbals there many times; Goldberg would go there as often as he could during summers off from his prestigious university. Emblematic of a generation eager to play jazz, in contact both with fellow young players as well as the iconic creators of this music who were still alive, these three musicians created longstanding ties. Their trio is the result of countless encounters, of late-night jamming, of this like-minded community that keeps the flame of jazz alive by following in the footsteps of their elders and then extending the path. They continue to experience this passion, this love of swing, this thirst to play that have always driven them. More important than their differences, their attachment to jazz has forged their inner rhythms, and has been the backbone for the authority with which they play this music. An authority of masters, which stems as much from the lessons of the great elders as from their capacity to adapt to contemporary times. 

“Spring Sings” is a new illustration of this. The album (the third from the trio) highlights three musicians in perfect osmosis who breathe together, listen and complement one another, perform with subtlety this art of conversation that is at the heart of jazz. They invent this music, cherish it as much as they play with it. Their music is animated by the vital pulsation of swing, but sometimes breaks free from it to blend with Latin claves or explore odd meters. The precision of Ahmad Jamal’s architectures rubs shoulders with Chick Corea’s quicksilver mind; the shuffle of the Jazz Messengers’ “Blues March” resurfaces at the core of the drums with an irresistible drive; two great standards are a reminder of these musicians’ attachment to timeless melodies and their capacity to tirelessly remodel them; the Orient can be seen in the distance like an Ellingtonian rêverie, when it isn’t Claude Debussy’s harmonies that make a melody iridescent; the brushes caress a song with saudade accents; the bassist’s glissandos are the spiritedness of an peerless story-teller; a single repeated note on the piano (a lesson from Monk) is sometimes enough to captivate the listener; the tambourine is the signal that leads us towards the ultimate pleasures of an album that is never facile and never hesitates to be a happy experience.

How could someone not love Yes! Trio?


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