Jazz CD Reviews – early August 2017

August 5, 2017

The Mica Bethea Big Band Stage ’n Studio (indie release)

The origins of big band jazz can be traced back to the 1920s, through the 1930s and early 40s, when it was the pop music of the day (complete with superstars), into the much lower profile experimentation of the 1960s and 70s, and on to the present day where avant-garde improvised music rubs shoulders (usually if not always) congenially with elements that would be instantly recognized by past masters of big band jazz. Wholly compatible is the writing of Mica Bethea, an exceptionally gifted arranger who presents big band music that is very much of today, yet is filled with echoes of the best of the past. Mica’s second album, Stage ’n Studio, is a double showcase for his arranging skills, and four of the works heard here are his own compositions. The two discs each contain eight tracks and as the album title indicates, the music is performed in two settings, one in the studio, the other a live date, both at the University of North Florida. The musicians gathered for these sessions vary only slightly and among the soloists heard are trumpeters Dave Champagne, Ray Callender, Scott Dickinson, trombonists Lance Reed, Corey Wilcox, bass trombonist Gina Benalcazar, alto saxophonists Todd DelGiudice, Daniel Dickinson, tenor saxophonists Juan Carlos Rollan, Eric Riehm, Jose Fabio Rojas, baritone saxophonist Mike Emmert, pianist Joshua Bowlus, guitarists James Hogan (studio), Steve Gallatin (stage). In addition to piano and guitar, other rhythm section players heard on most tracks are bassist Dennis Marks (Stan Piper on some), and throughout by drummer John Lumpkin Jr, and percussionist Terry ‘Doc’ Handy. Other instrumentalists rounding out this exceptional big band are trumpeters Greg Baluts, Jay Forman, Jonathan Ward, Robert Vandivier; trombonists Ryan Bricknell, Michael Nunez, Wyatt Thomas; keyboardist Aaron Lehrian; vibraphonists Jonah Pierre, Ryan Slatko.mica

Mica’s original compositions are Jonesin’ For Thad, a tribute to Thad Jones, with a fluid solo by Todd; Frahm Out Of Nowhere, built on a musical quote by Joel Frahm, with inventive guitar and bass lines by James and Dennis, and scorching tenor saxophone from Juan Carlos; Coal, with more imaginative tenor saxophone, this time from Eric and Juan Carlos; and Birth Rite, with reflective piano from Joshua. These four titles appear on both CDs and also given two airings are Herbie Hancock’s Hang Up Your Hang Ups, with a fiery solo from Dave, and George and Ira Gershwin’s Our Love Is Here To Stay, on which the vocalist is Linda Cole. Also heard are Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler’s Stormy Weather, which also features Linda with an appropriately dramatic interpretation; John Klenner and Sam Lewis’s Just Friends, with solos by brothers Scott and Daniel; Walter Gross and Jack Lawrence’s Tenderly, which spotlights the trombones, notably in solos from Lance, Corey and Gina; Gary Willis’s Self Defense featuring Todd and a punchy solo from John; and Tom Schuman’s Wind Warriors, replete with solos by Todd, Ray, Joshua, and also by Doc and John, both of whom are powerfully supportive throughout. The duplicated titles provide an opportunity to hear differences in interpretation that are prompted in part by the setting. As Mica states: “This was a very interesting experiment. On the studio CD, I could control the environment and get exactly the sounds I wanted. There’s a very pleasing almost pristine quality to it. But on the live performance, you can hear that the musicians are more relaxed and stretch out more. The sound isn’t as clean, but that’s more than made up for by the vitality of the performance.” Mica’s thoughts on how a studio setting and a live performances affect the musicians and hence the music also echo the past, something we know from hearing in both settings many bands, such as those led by Duke Ellington, Chick Webb, Benny Goodman, Lionel Hampton, Don Ellis, and Thad Jones-Mel Lewis.mica old

Although not directly relevant to the music heard on this and Mica’s first release, yet of immeasurable significance, are some personal facts about Mica. In 2005, when he was still a music student, he was involved in a major road traffic incident that left him a quadriplegic. No longer able to play any instrument he resumed his studies, now concentrating on arranging and composing. Even this is fraught with difficulties – because he cannot write by hand, he has to use a computer. That Mica Bethea has faced up to these challenges and overcome them is for very nearly all of us an unimaginable achievement; that the music he generates is so breathtaking, profound and joyous is an inspiration.

For more on Mica Bethea including booking contact Mouthpiece Music.

All albums are at Amazon.

Mica Bethea: “I use Finale, the music notation software, for my compositions and arrangements.”

Jazz CD Reviews – early July 2017

July 7, 2017

Kellye Gray Rendering (& Standards In Gray) (Grr8 0010)

Twenty-five years ago, Kellye Gray recorded her debut album, Standards In Gray, which proved to be very successful. Recently, she decided to re-record some of the same songs. These appear on Rendering, and an especially attractive aspect of this new release is that the earlier, long unavailable album is included in the package. That first album was recorded over three days, the new set is one concert-style take performed in the studio before a small invited audience. kellye newThe songs Kellye sings on both albums are Don’t Explain, How Long Has This Been Going On?, How Insensitive, and Good Morning, Heartache. There are subtle differences that reflect her artistic growth and this adds to the listening pleasure. Not that the first album is in any way less than excellent; here, Kellye sings the songs with understanding and her vocal command is apparent throughout. On the new set, Kellye’s voice remains rich and full while her interpretations mirror her maturity. Among other songs heard on the new set are I’ve Got A Right To Sing The Blues and two originals by Kellye, Out Blows Me and God You Make Me Wonder. Texas-born and mainly based, Kellye has a soulful vocal sound that is especially suited to the songs that have blues and gospel echoes. Supplying very good support on Standards In Gray are pianist Dave Catney, guitarist Dwight Stills, bassist Tom Anastacio,kellye old 2 drummer Sebastian Whittaker, and saxophonist Warren Sneed. Playing piano on Rendering are Pamela York, while David Craig is on bass, Andre Hayward on trombone, and both Sebastian and Warren return. Altogether, this pairing of albums is imaginative and hugely entertaining.

 

Hyeseon Hong Jazz Orchestra Ee-Ya-Gi (Stories) (Mama MAA 1053)

For the past several years, Hyeseon Hong has led a rehearsal band in New York City, a group that largely showcases her own compositions. These works draw upon the cultural heritage of Hyeseon’s homeland, South Korea, but are presented in the musical form of her new world. Titles for individual pieces include Harvest Dance: Story Of Thanksgiving, Para Mi Amigo Distante: Story Of Long Lost Friends, Boat Song: Story Of My Heritage, and Trash Digging Queen: Story Of Nica The Dog. The 17-piece ensemble directed by Hyeseon plays with bite and assurance, the melodic strains – lyrical, plaintive, lively – are underpinned by rhythms from Asia and the Americas. Among many solos (all of which are identified in the liner) are Ingrid Jensen’s fluid, warm trumpet on Harvest Dance and Love Song: Story Of First Love, Rich Perry’s compelling tenor saxophone on Boat Song, and Broc Hempel’s reflective piano on Disappearing Into Foam: Story Of Girlhood. The occasional vocal contributions, by E.J. Park and Subin Park, are mostly wordless and add to the album’s tonal palette.hyeseonhongjo.jpg Musically, this a blend of contemporary big band music and intriguingly unusual south-east Asian concepts. The full personnel of the band heard here is: Augie Haas, Ingrid Jensen, Jason Wiseman, Colin Brigstocke (trumpets); Ron Wilkens, Daniel Linden, Ric Becker, Becca Patterson (trombones); Ben Kono, Matt Vashlishan, Rich Perry, Jeremy Powell, Andrew Hadro (reeds); Broc Hempel (piano); Matt Panayides (guitar); John Lenis (bass); Mark Ferber (drums); E.J. Park, Subin Park (vocals). This should have wide appeal among fans of today’s jazz.

For more on these artists, including booking details, contact Mouthpiece Music.

Order albums direct from Amazon.

Jazz CD Reviews – early June 2017

June 16, 2017

Calabria Foti In The Still Of The Night (MoCo Records 23-002)

Although this is Calabria Foti’s third album, I have not heard her before now. My loss. Musically impeccable, Calabria presents a selection of Cole Porter songs, delivering the romantic and witty lyrics with thorough understanding. She is joined here by pianist Michael Patterson, who also arranged the music, Bob McChesney, trombone, Eddie Daniels, clarinet, Gene Bertoncini, guitar, Richard Locker, cello, Ike Sturm, bass, and Jared Schonig, drums. Calabria’s vocal sound is quite lovely, rich and warm and beguilingly intimate. Calabria’s musicianship is demonstrated through her session work as a violinist backing several leading artists, including Barbra Streisand and Paul McCartney, and in 2014, the single, Let’s Fall In Love, recorded with Seth MacFarlane, received a Grammy nomination. calabriaHighly regarded by fellow musicians – instrumentalists and singers – on this new album Calabria sings eleven of Porter’s songs, all of them familiar but here appearing freshly minted. The songs are: Just One Of Those Things; Miss Otis Regrets; Anything Goes; What Is This Thing Called Love?; Night And Day; I Concentrate On You; Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye; Get Out Of Town; It’s Alright With Me; So In Love; In The Still Of The Night. The sophisticated love stories told in these songs can be soulfully romantic or lithely swinging and are all wholly engaging. Calabria’s previous two albums are A Lovely Way To Spend An Evening and When A Woman Loves A Man. In childhood, it was Calabria’s intention to become an orchestral violinist and while she has accomplished this we are fortunate indeed that she widened her plans and has proved to be a fine singer. Not only are Calabria’s singing and playing exceptional, she also writes, composes and teaches. For more about Calabria Foti, including booking details, go to Mouthpiece Music.

Due for release on 17 July 2017, In The Still Of The Night will be available at Amazon, iTunes, and CalabriaFoti.com

 

Laura Campisi Double Mirror (independent)

Now resident in New York City, Laura Campisi was born in Palermo, Sicily, which is where she first sang professionally. Not long after arriving in America, Laura began absorbing into her music the rich cultural essence of her new surroundings while never losing her native origins. All of this is reflected here through repertoire and performance. There are seven of Laura’s own songs here as well as songs by Björk, Jeff Buckley, Miles Davis (with Laura adding lyrics to his Nardis), the Gershwins, Cole Porter, and Lou Reed. The singer’s interest in diverse musical traditions is apparent through her interpretations. Unusually and effectively, Laura chooses not to have a pianist among her instrumental collaborators, relying instead on bass and drums, with an added horn on some tracks. The core duo on some tracks is American: Ameen Saleem, acoustic bass and Greg Hutchinson, drums; on others Italian: Gianluca Renzi, electric bass and Flavio Li Vigni, drums. Appearing on one track each are Vincent Herring, alto saxophone on Al Risveglio; Giovanni Falzone, trumpet on Luckier; Jonathan Scales, steel pan on Ironman; Zach Brock, violin on Love For Sale; and Martin Pantyrer, baritone saxophone on Here Where I Stand. The overall effect has a minimalistic air that helps bring the lyrics and the stories they tell into sharp focus. Some of the music played and sung leans toward contemplation on love lost and found and there are also songs that reflects the role of the artist in the wider world. These qualities are revealed in the album’s title as explained by Laura: “Everyone needs a mirror to look into, to recognize themselves, to see their flaws and good qualities as they really are. The double mirror is the search for balance. campisiIt is the acknowledgment that my heart is divided between my art and real life, between Europe and America. The double mirror reflects my dual nature, strong and weak, determined and lazy, passionate and afraid.” Laura’s lightly youthful vocal sound is very pleasing, yet there is also an underlying maturity in her understanding of the lyrics she interprets. On Chorus Angelorum (Choir Of Angels) she intriguingly creates a shimmering effect by singing against a gong. Although her linguistic skills are not fully on display here, Laura sings not only in Italian (including Sicilian and Neapolitan dialects) and English, but also in Spanish, Portuguese and French. She can also sing in Punjabi, an ability that has come through her musical collaboration with New York’s Pakistani cultural community. Laura’s work on Double Mirror started in New York in 2012, but was then shelved until 2016 when she returned to it in collaboration with Argentine composer and producer Emilio D. Miler, further tracks being recorded in Buenos Aires. A very interesting singer whose work will have international appeal.

For more about Laura Campisi, including booking details, go to Mouthpiece Music.

 

Jocelyn Medina Common Ground (Running Tree RTR 102)

Also now a resident of New York City, Jocelyn Medina conceived this album a few years ago but was then fortuitously diverted for several months. Those months were spent studying in India where she also taught and performed. This experience prompted Jocelyn to resume work on the album, but now dressing the songs already written in forms that reflected the music of India. All nine songs are Jocelyn’s compositions and lyrics and she also prepared the arrangements. Among the songs are Meant To Be and Simple, both based on Hindustani raga, and Two But Not Two, lyrically inspired by the Madhyamaka Buddhist concept of non-duality – sometimes called the dance of reality.Common_Ground_cover On this song, Jocelyn is joined by Hindustani singer Achyut Joshi. Some of what is heard here might be described as world music, an admittedly imprecise term. Coming closer to western jazz music in form is Sink Or Swim, the lyrics of which explore the east coast disasters left in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Jocelyn is accompanied by the rhythm section of pianist Art Hirahara, guitarist Pete McCann, bassist Evan Gregor, and drummer Mark Ferber. Joining the group on several tracks are Hadar Noiberg, flute, Steve Gorn, bansuri flute, Robert Levin, percussion and tabla player Samir Chatterjee, who encouraged Jocelyn to adapt her music to accommodate what she had absorbed during her trip to India. Jocelyn’s vocal sound is soft, her diction clear and she is always melodically pleasing.

For more about Jocelyn Medina, including booking details, go to Mouthpiece Music.

All albums are available at Amazon.

Jazz CD Reviews – early May 2017

May 10, 2017

Mark Winkler The Company I Keep (Café Pacific CPCD 45135)

Sophisticated jazz singing by Mark Winkler who teams up here with fine instrumentalists and also in duet with five other singers. This album is Mark’s 15th, his career dating back to the 1970s. Singing throughout his career, he has also written the lyrics of some 250 songs. Added to all this, he is a music educator and has taught at UCLA and the LA School of Songwriting. In the songs chosen for this album, Mark reflects on the death of a loved one – something that has touched all of us all at some point. Although this might suggest gloom and darkness, instead Mark finds beauty and glimmers of hope.winkler Among these songs are six with his lyrics, while others include the work of Prince (Strollin’), George and Ira Gershwin (They Can’t Take That Away From Me), Oliver Nelson and Mark Murphy (Stolen Moments), and Leonard Bernstein with Betty Comden and Adolph Greene (Lucky To Be Me). While linking sophistication and jazz might suggest elevator music, there is nothing like that here; Mark’s interpretations have depth and understanding and his performance is enhanced by his mature vocal sound. Ensuring this album’s jazz credentials are the instrumentalists and vocalists who appear with him. Collectively, his instrumental collaborators are Ron Blake, Brian Swartz (trumpet); Bob McChesney (trombone); Don Shelton (clarinet), Bob Sheppard (tenor saxophone & clarinet); Jamieson Trotter, Rich Eames, Eric Reed, Josh Nelson, John Beasley, David Benoit (piano); Larry Koonse, Bob Mann (guitar); Lyman Medeiros, John Clayton (bass); Mike Shapiro, Jeff Hamilton, Kevin Winard (drums); Paul Cartwright (violin). The singers with whom Mark duets are Jackie Ryan (Walk Between The Raindrops), Cheryl Bentyne (Strollin’), Steve Tyrell (But It Still Ain’t So), Claire Martin (Stolen Moments), Sara Gazarek (Rainproof). These duets are especially attractive aspects of the many pleasures heard on The Company I Keep, an album that will undoubtedly appeal to many.

Tina Raymond Left Right Left (Orenda 0039)

A respected performer and teacher, drummer Tina Raymond has now made her album debut as leader. She is joined here by two instrumentalists who have graced the west coast music scene for many years: pianist Art Lande and bassist Putter Smith. Unusually for a jazz project, Left Right Left was prompted by recent political events in America and the sometimes stark issues that still divide the country. Unusual because although popular music has long touched upon politics, jazz has rarely stepped to the forefront, unlike the blues, a form that has consistently depicted division and outright discrimination. In the last hundred years folk musicians have confronted important issues with songs of protest, among themTina_Raymond_-_Left_Right_Left_Digital_Cover Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez. Songs by all of these appear here and despite their folk origins, Tina, Art and Putter deliver jazz interpretations with flair and skill (the bassist also contributing some original songs). It is self-evident that songs of protest achieve their aim through what the have to say, but no words are sung here. Thus listeners have the choice of listening to the music for its own sake, or bringing to the experience their own knowledge of the songs’ words, or at last their themes. Tina’s chosen repertoire includes songs that address respectively issues of gender discrimination and exploitation of migrant workers, Woody Guthrie’s Union Maid and Pastures Of Plenty (who could have imagined that these issues were still unresolved eighty years later); songs of protest against, and reflections on, war Joni Mitchell’s The Fiddle And The Drum and Joan Baez Saigon Bride, Putter Smith’s Xxmas In Baghdad; racial matters, Smith’s White Flight, which refers to deliberate avoidance of integration, and Jame Weldon Johnson’s Lift Every Voice And Sing, which for the second half of its one hundred-plus years of existence has been an anthem of hope for black Americans. There are also songs that center upon patriotism, something that all too readily in these trying times is taken to equate with nationalism, which is a very different matter. The songs played here are Samuel A. Ward’s America and Julia Ward Howe’s Battle Hymn Of The Republic, the latter played by Art Lande with a touch of dissonance that mirrors the America of today. Despite the long-ago origins of most of what is heard here, this interesting, thought-provoking and well played album is very much music of today.

Mari Nobre Live and Alive (Chrome)

Born and raised in Italy where she first sang professionally, Mari Nobre worked in Europe before settling in the USA where she met and married bassist Leo Nobre who at the time was with Sergio Mendes. Although now resident in Los Angeles, where she leads Nobresil, a Brazilian band, Mari tours internationally. Linguistically skilled, she sings in her native language and English as well as Spanish, Portuguese and French.Live_and_Alive_Cover-page-001 This album was recorded just three weeks after Mari had undergone surgery following treatment for cancer and the music heard is vibrant and often joyous, perhaps reflecting her feelings at this moment in time. The album’s full title is Live and Alive from Gershwin to Jobim … a Musical Journey, and it contains several well-known songs, among them Fascinating Rhythm, by George and Ira Gershwin, Corcovado, Retrato Em Branco E Prato and Chega de Saudade (No More Blues), all composed by Antonio Carlos Jobim, the last-named two with lyricists Chico Buarque and Vinicius de Moraes respectively. Also heard are a standard by Victor Young and Edward Heyman, When I Fall In Love, a song by Albert Domínguez, Frenesi, well known to all who remember Artie Shaw’s swing era hit, Leonard Cohen’s Dance Me To The End of Love, Benny Golson’s Whisper Not and an original written by Mari with Patrick Lockwood, Linda. On this live date at UCLA’s Jan Popper Theatre, Mari’s attractive, fluent vocal sound is supported by saxophonist/flautist Justo Almario, pianist Daniel Szabo, guitarist Angelo Metz, bassist Leo Nobre, and drummer Sandro Feliciano. Good songs attractively sung, this should have wide appeal. Worth noting is Mar’s comment: “Since music healed me I want to return the favor and donate part of the sales from the album to the children cancer research.”

For more on Mark Winkler, Tina Raymond and Mari Nobre, including booking details, contact Mouthpiece Music.

Available from walk-in and on-line retailers including Amazon.

Jazz CD Reviews – early April 2017

April 1, 2017

Cathy Segal-Garcia In2uition (Dash Hoffman DHR 1021)

When a singer chooses to perform songs accompanied only by a single instrument she or he is wide open to the closest examination. Quite simply, there’s no place to hide. Not that there is any need for Cathy Segal-Garcia to conceal her considerable talent on this exceptionally satisfying double album. The songs Cathy has chosen are especially meaningful to her, reflecting as they do relationships both musical and personal. Joined only by a pianist on twelve of the fourteen tracks, Cathy sings with eloquent charm and deep understanding of the lyrics; indeed, on some songs she brings to the surface qualities not always uncovered by other singers. Cathy’s accompanist’s are John Beasley (Ruby, My Dear), Gary Fukushima, (I Want To Be Happy and Sleep in Peace), Jane Getz (Ruby), Bevan Manson (Looking For Bill ), Llew Mathews (America), Dave Moscoe (It Never Entered My Mind and Small Hotel), Josh Nelson (I Love You and Song Of My Heart), Vardan Ovsepian (Something We May Never Know), Otmaro Ruiz (Bonita). On the remaining tracks, The Room and Mary O’Shaunessy, Cathy has with her pianist Karen Hammack and violinist Calabia Foti. Some of these songs are familiar but here sound fresh and engaging while the less well known songs include three of Cathy’s originals and one written with Gary Hoffman. There are also songs by Shelby Flint, Bevan Manson, and Samuel A. Ward and Kathryn Bates. The musical relationships explored here are those between singer and accompanist, although they are best described as collaborators. The importance and value of these collaborations is described by Cathy: “I really love the intimacy of performing as a duo, because it allows you to establish a deep musical dialogue.” This singer’s considerable talent allows her to explore and expose the underlying qualities of songs that reflect individuals lost to her in real life. She does this with grace, never descending into mawkishness. Instead there are many profound and moving moments to cherish. Cathy’s vocal sound is a warm contralto that brings added depths and maturity to performances that are of the highest quality. A wholly admirable set that will be admired by many.

For more information on Cathy Segal-Garcia as well as booking details, go to Mouthpiece Music.

Patrice Williamson+Jon Wheatley Comes Love (Riverlily 003)

Many musicians perform tributes to artists from an earlier generation but it needs talent and understanding to do it well, especially when the dedicatees are iconic figures. Fortunately, Patrice Williamson and Jon Wheatley are aware of the potential pitfalls in venturing into the special world of Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass and have taken considerable and loving care in developing this project. As a youngster, Patrice heard sacred and secular music at home, including records by Ella. While studying classical flute at the University of Tennessee she fell in with the jazz crowd and this brought back her early love for Ella’s singing.comes-love-cover She studied voice at New England Conservatory under jazz singer Dominique Eade, later joining the faculty at Berklee College of Music where her collaborator here, Jon, is also a faculty member. Patrice learned that experiences in her own life mirrored those of Ella who had once remarked: “I’ve had some wonderful love affairs and some that didn’t work out. I don’t want to dwell on that and I don’t want to put people down, but I think of all the fabulous places I’ve been, the wonderful things that have happened to me, the great people I’ve met – that ought to make a story.” Patrice and Jon have certainly made a story, and it is one that they tell through the lyrics of songs that include Comes Love; ’Tis Autumn, which ponders upon the maturing of a relationship; Take Love Easy, a cautionary tale for all who begin a love affair; Lush Life, a richly evocative story of a past affair. However familiar some songs might be, they are vividly re-imagined by Patrice, a fine singer with a creamily attractive voice, and Joe, a fluent guitarist with an unerring sense of swing. Patrice’s voice has a mature aural quality and an air of vibrancy. Added to this is her admirable interpretation of lyrics and the integrity she displays in always delivering a jazz performance. Perhaps Dominique Eade summed up her talent best when she said: “Patrice is a hard-swinging interpreter and a refreshingly accomplished jazz vocal improviser.” This very good album, released on the 100th anniversary of Ella’s birth, will appeal to all who love hearing good songs sung well.

For more information on Patrice Williamson as well as booking details, contact Braithwaite & Katz (Ann@bkmusicpr.com).

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