Jazz CD Reviews – March 2018

February 25, 2018

Mica Bethea Suite Theory (indie release)

This is composer-arranger Mica Bethea’s third album and it reinforces his growing stature as a leading contributor to contemporary big band jazz. Here, Mica has turned his talent to the creation of a profound musical portrait of his life. The first movement portrays his first two decades and is filled with promise. Entitled Crystal Clear, it is named for a long-time friend, Crystal Bay, who works with quadriplegics. By dark coincidence, following a road accident in 2005 Mica sustained injuries that rendered him quadriplegic and the second movement, Destiny’s Boat, traces the immediate aftermath. It is impossible for an outsider to imagine the effect of such catastrophic damage to a young and gifted multi-instrumentalist and his dawning realization that he can no longer play. During this period of his life, Mica was greatly helped by another friend, Destiny Guerra, hence the title. The third movement depicts the time when Mica began the arduous task of building his new life.zz The Mica Bethea Big Band Suite The title, Meniscus, refers to the curve on top of contained liquid, which can be either concave or convex and by implication suggests whether a glass is half full or half empty. The joyous rumba-based form makes clear that Mica’s view is decidedly positive. The fourth and final movement reflects Mica’s attitude toward himself and his location not only in place but also in time; that he is who he is and always will be. The title, Guardian of Forever, is taken from a Star Trek episode and refers to a time portal through which other dimensions might be visited. An alt take of the second movement is included because Mica did not want to lose the solo by alto saxophonist Todd Guidice. And by the way, the main title, Suite Theory, is a play on the name of Mica’s favorite bakery, Sweet Theory. Throughout, the music heard here demonstrates yet again that Mica Bethea brings a new, distinctive and exciting flavor to contemporary big band jazz.

For more on Mica Bethea, including booking, contact Mouthpiece Music.


Akira Tana Jazzanova (Vega)

Akira Tana is long established as a leading jazz drummer and noted for his work with bassist Rufus Reid in the duo TanaReid. Akira’s jazz credentials go back to his earliest days as a professional musician and coincident with this is his abiding love for the music of Latin America, especially the exhilarating rhythms of Brazil. Joining Akira on this album are pianist Peter Horvath, bassist Gary Brown and percussionist Michael Spiro and adding to the rich instrumental mixture heard are notable guests: soprano saxophonist Branford Marsalis and trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, while Ricardo Peixo provides fluid arrangements and also contributes some guitar moments. JAZZaNOVA-coverImportant in much of the music of Brazil is its rhythmic underpinning and often romantic vocals. The first of these qualities stems from Akira who is a master of percussion. That second quality is provided by several singers who are gifted interpreters of this repertoire: Claudia Villela, Claudio Amaral, Maria Volanté, Jackie Ryan, Carla Helmbrecht and Sandy Cressman. For this release, Akira has chosen to perform examples of Brazil’s much loved contributions to popular music, several of the songs coming from composers Antonio Carlos Jobim, Ivan Lins and Elis Regina. These  include Águas de Março (Waters of March), Caminhos Cruzados (Crossroads), Bilhete, Corcovado, Love Dance, Por Causa De Você (Don’t Ever Go Away), Chega De Saudade (No More Blues) and La Gloria Eres Tu. There are also two original songs by Claudia Villela, Jangaga and Diride. The inherent romanticism of these songs is brought out superbly in these excellent interpretations. Lovely music, exceptionally well performed and warmly recommended.

For more on Akira Tana, including booking, contact Mouthpiece Music Mouthpiece Music.

All albums available at Amazon.

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.”

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