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Bay Area celebrates Thelonious Monk at 100: ‘We’re just catching up now’

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It’s a cliché of modernism that one generation’s avant-garde assimilates into the next generation’s mainstream. But seven decades after Thelonious Monk helped lay the foundation for modern jazz, he retains the power to rearrange our ears, to recalibrate our notions of what sounds correct and consonant.

As a pianist, composer and arranger, Monk’s genius was both evolutionary and disruptive. He didn’t reject, ignore, or deconstruct the music that came before him. Translating the two-handed Harlem stride piano style in his own sly and gnomic image, he created a unique body of some 70 compositions that have proven endlessly resilient and enduringly revelatory, influencing artists in jazz and far beyond.

A series of concerts around the region over the coming weeks celebrate Monk’s centennial, starting with the Danilo Pérez Trio’s performance Oct. 8 at Café Stritch, which kicks off San Jose Jazz’s fall concert series. Pérez’s trio with bassist Ben Street and drummer Adam Cruz also performs at Kuumbwa on Oct. 12 and SFJazz on Oct. 13, a show that opens a block of programming at the center celebrating Monk’s legacy.

The Panamanian-born pianist first delved into Monk’s music in the mid-1980s while working with vocalese legend Jon Hendricks, who wrote lyrics for numerous Monk compositions. The experience left him more bemused than impressed. “I didn’t really get it,” says Pérez, 51, who has spent the past 17 years touring and recording with saxophonist Wayne Shorter, the most significant composer in post-Monk jazz.

“His music didn’t resonate with me, because Monk makes a case for a concept and sound experience that was completely new from what I grew up with in classical music and jazz,” Pérez says. “I had never heard anyone sound as revolutionary. I thought he was really making mistakes.”

Pérez experienced a Monkian epiphany when he subbed for Eric Reed on a 1996 Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra tour focusing on Monk’s music. The Wynton Marsalis-led ensemble set several Monk standards to New Orleans second line rhythms, “and that’s what made it click for me,” Pérez says. “I heard my folkloric music in it. I heard the Caribbean and pan-African connection and the way it fit into a lot of the grooves and rhythms I was studying from West Africa. It was a revelation!”

The following year he recorded “Panamonk,” a visionary project that infused Monk’s compositions with Pérez’s Caribbean rhythmic perspective, and he’s touring with his trio to mark the Impulse! album’s 20th anniversary.

Pianist Jason Moran experienced his own Theloniousian lightning bolt at 14, when a recording of Monk’s classic ballad “’Round Midnight” seized his imagination and sparked his passion for jazz. The MacArthur “Genius” Fellow reprises his fascinating 2007 multimedia project “In My Mind: Monk at Town Hall” at SFJazz on Oct. 14.

Co-commissioned by SFJazz, “In My Mind” is based on Monk’s storied 1959 concert at New York’s Town Hall, which featured Hall Overton’s probing arrangements for a 10-piece ensemble. Moran’s Big Band Wagon tackles the same pieces as part of a production with video, still images, and contemporaneous audio recordings by photojournalist W. Eugene Smith (Moran returns to the Bay Area to present “In My Mind” at Stanford on Nov. 11.

Los Angeles pianist John Beasley’s 15-piece MONK’estra, which performed a superb set last month at the Monterey Jazz Festival, plays SFJazz on Oct. 15 focusing on arrangements from two recent eponymous albums. Beasley seeks to infuse Monk’s music with contemporary cadences while evoking the challenges faced by the composer as a black man in a rigged environment.

“He’s a very mysterious figure in a way,” Beasley says. “His music was certainly radical for the time. We’re just catching up now. His son T.S. Monk told me that Monk wrote these tunes for musicians to put themselves in and that’s what I try to do with these arrangements.”

Pinning down Monk’s influence is almost impossible because it’s so pervasive. But pianist Randy Weston, 91, was one of his closest disciples, and he created a body of jazz standards that clearly bare Monk’s imprint. As part of the Koret Discover Jazz Series, SFJazz presents a four-installment weekly class at the SF Conservatory of Music that starts Oct. 18 with Weston, an NEA Jazz Master, joining instructor Cory Combs to talk about Monk’s approach to the piano.

In his autobiography with Willard Jenkins, “African Rhythms,” Weston admitted that he, too, didn’t get Monk at first, “but he eventually opened the door for me, showed me the direction for our music, where we maintain all the traditions of African music and we create from there.”


Read the full piece from: Mercury News

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Pitchfork: Cécile McLorin Salvant - Dreams and Daggers

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The young jazz singer’s live double album showcases the gravitas, humor, and modernity she brings both to classic standards and her own compositions.

At just 28, jazz vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant has already been lauded by the music industry, including its figurehead Wynton Marsalis, who said that a singer of her caliber only comes by “once in a generation or two.” To be positioned among the ranks of Billie Holiday, Joni Mitchell, and Nina Simone—artists who place greater emphasis on telling a story that is universal over technical skill or prowess—takes gravitas, having a sharp wit about her and an old soul. Judging from the complex range and emotional heft that Salvant delivers on Dreams and Daggers, she has lives of experience already under her belt.

As a singer and composer, Salvant has always been comfortably nestled between a bygone era and the present day. This plays well to her strengths on her new double live album as she reimagines the work of Loesser, Rodgers, and Hart for today’s audiences. Salvant returns us to “simpler” times, when just a singer and her acoustic band could command no less than your full and undivided attention and, more importantly, when there were lyrics that implored you to utilize all of your senses in order to feel no less than the gamut of human emotion.

With a Best Jazz Vocal Grammy already on her mantle for her third album, 2015’s For One to Love, the Miami-born French-Haitian singer returns to us a little wiser, taking a deeper dive into the material she’s become known for. It is by far the boldest move of her career, one that pays off handsomely. On Dreams and Daggers, Salvant combines the well-known standards she’s already cut her teeth on (notably, her breakout version of the 1939 classic “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was”) with new original songs that explore love in all of its murkiness and splendor. It marks the coming of age for an assured young woman and artist who cradles every song with nurturing hands, full of caution and warmth.

“You’re My Thrill” pinpoints the moment when love is at its most abundant, as suggested by the bountiful spread of fish, assorted vegetables and exotic fruits laid out before us in the track’s accompanying video. Salvant’s delicate phrasing reveals her penchant for drama on the 1933 standard. Though evocative of the version made famous by Billie Holiday, it is still rooted in the present, thanks in part to its revamped, tension-filled string arrangement, courtesy of bassist Paul Sikivie. Her clever reworking of Nöel Coward’s “Mad About the Boy” also reveals her talent for reinterpretation, the way that she fully embraces a standard, like wearing the clothes of an old lover. As pianist Aaron Diehl lurks about, establishing the dark mood with a spare refrain, the ominous tone becomes wonderfully juxtaposed against Coward’s song of infatuation. Salvant takes full advantage of that fact as she rather unexpectedly, and angrily, belts out “Mad! It’s pretty funny... but I’m mad,” forewarning us all on how often infatuation can border on insanity and obsession.

Incorporating the blues into her live repertoire, especially one that consists mainly of standards, shows off Salvant’s expansive musical pedigree while paying homage to the earliest known feminists who unapologetically sang of love’s many trials and tribulations. On “Sam Jones’ Blues,” in the span of three-minutes, Salvant unleashes her “alter ego,” one who is brazen and revels in the bawdiness of the little known Bessie Smith tune: “You ain’t talkin’ to Mrs. Jones/You speakin’ to Miss Wilson now!” Though it marks a distinct departure from her pointed yet articulate and intimate phrasing, on the live album, Salvant wisely forgoes complete emulation. Instead, she finds deeper meaning, playing with the candor and suggestiveness of the music of Smith and Ida Cox, tapping into yet another facet of her vast range and personality as a vocalist.

Recorded live at New York’s renowned Village Vanguard just a year ago with her bandmates Diehl, Sikivie and drummer Lawrence Leathers, Salvant also incorporates new original music on the set. To juxtapose newer compositions against what many consider to be part of the Great American Songbook is indeed a high-wire act, especially when jazz standards continue to outsell newer works. But given our current climate, thankfully, we are now seeing a resurgence in artists who are pushing the boundaries of how jazz can evolve and still have great relevance in the 21st century. On songs like “More” and “The Worm,” Salvant asserts her own thoughts on love (“Do you love me? Do you think I’m pretty?”) not as an authority on the subject, but rather ensuring that her opinions are valid and are part of the ongoing conversation.

Much of how we operate today encourages that we further desensitize and distance ourselves from anything (and anyone) that can potentially disappoint or hurt us. But where does it end? That’s perhaps one of chief questions raised by this ambitious effort—how can our humanity continue to thrive and flourish without love? As she reimagines the through line of modern-day romance and heartache in jazz, Salvant is at her most versatile and expressive on Dreams and Daggers, choosing songs that wholly capture and embrace the full spectrum that is love—from the initial yearning to the relentless ache and betrayal.


Read the full piece from: Pitchfork

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Stereophile: Cecile McLorin Salvant, Dreams and Daggers

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It was almost exactly a year ago that I first heard Cecile McLorin Salvant at the Village Vanguard. I came home and wrote a blog for this space, wondering how I could have missed her ascent (she'd already won a Grammy and other prizes) and deeming her the best jazz singer around, standing among the greats of all time. I went back to see her, dragging along my wife and two friends, the following Sunday—the late set, the final set of his week-long stint—and she was better still. (That set inspired me to pitch a profile of her to The New Yorker, which was published this past May.)

As it turns out, her label, Mack Avenue Records, had been recording her sets all that weekend, and the Sunday late set comprises roughly half the tracks on the resulting album, Dreams and Daggers, which is out this week as a 2-CD or 3-LP package. It is, as far as I know, the best jazz vocal album in a decade, maybe in longer than that.

Salvant, who recently turned 28, can do it all: she sings standard ballads, upbeat bop and pop, feisty anthems, earthy blues; before turning exclusively to jazz, she also studied Baroque and classical singing, and her teacher told me she could have been top-ranked in that field, if she'd wanted. She has precise articulation, an operatic range, and emotional range too: she inhabits her songs, as an actress inhabits her character in a play.

While interviewing her for my New Yorker article, she told me that the Vanguard dates had marked a turning point in her development. Before then, she would sometimes display her vocal acrobatics for their own sake—a tic that made her wince when she heard the playback. She thought it made her sound desperate. Shortly before the Vanguard week, she came up with a tactic to let her relax: she would pretend that she was old; desperation is a young person's game; old people have nothing left to prove.

It worked. On Dreams and Daggers she roams leagues beyond her previous albums, WomanChild (which won a Grammy nomination) and For One to Love (which won the Grammy). "I want to be natural and free and adventurous," she told me in the New Yorker interview, and she sounds all of those things.

Her bandmates—Aaron Diehl on piano, Paul Sikivie on bass, Lawrence Leathers on drums—are in top form too: spurring, lyrical, and inventive in a way reminiscent of the finest trios backing Sarah Vaughan or Ella Fitzgerald.

Most of the album comes from the final weekend of her Vanguard stint, much of it from that final Sunday set. Interspersed are a few songs, recorded later in a studio with a string ensemble behind her. There is not a dud on this album; there are several instant classics, notably her interpretations of "Mad About the Boy," "Sam Jones' Blues," "Somehow I Never Could Believe" (from an obscure Kurt Weill-Langston Hughes opera), "I Didn't Know What Time It Was," "Wild Women Don't Have the Blues," "You're Getting to Be a Habit with Me" . . . I could go on.

Salvant is back at the Vanguard this week, this time in duets with pianist Sullivan Fortner (who guest-played on a couple of songs from the album), a very different stylist from Aaron Diehl—more spare, at times pugnacious in a good-humored way, and just as keen a listener. I saw their opening set, on Tuesday, and Salvant just keeps getting better: more self-assured, more intimate, more joyous, more virtuosic but always in the service of the music and its story—as she put it, more natural and free and adventurous.

Back to the album: The engineering was by Damon Wittemore and Todd Whitelock, and this is one of the best-sounding live-at-the-Vanguard albums in years. The CD is excellent; the LP is better. The difference? On the CD, Salvant's voice is upfront, vivid. On the LP, it seems more "live," in the same space as the band, surrounded by air; you hear more of Sikivie's note-stretching fretwork on the bass, more of Leathers' subtle cymbal-swishing, more of Diehl's pedal work.

Here's an example, trivial but revealing. On "You're Getting to Be a Habit with Me," the encore of Sunday's late set and the last track on the album (and by the way, a cover that now competes with Sinatra's for definitiveness), each musician leaves the stage as the song fades out—first Salvant, then Diehl, then Leathers, then Sikivies—and the crowd (a very buoyant crowd, that set) claps and cheers with each exit. When Diehl leaves, several people shout "Woooh!" On the CD, the wooohs merge; on the LP, they sound distinct—in space and in tone—and one of them sounds very much like my wife, coming from the same spot in the audience (two tables back on the left) where we were sitting (footnote 1). I asked her if she had indeed shouted "Woooh!" when Diehl left the stage, and she said that she had. Now that's high fidelity!

An indulgent PS: On the LP of Phil Ochs' notorious live concert at Carnegie Hall, recorded in 1970, when he's talking back at the audience, which has been booing him for dressing like Elvis Presley, you hear an avid Ochs-defender shout, "Yeah!" That was my wife at age 15. Her "Woooh!" and her "Yeah!" will be alive to the cosmos for as long as needles track grooves.


Read the full piece from: Stereophile

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Christian McBride on His Top Five Big Band Tracks, From Count Basie to Maria Schneider

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McBride has just released a follow-up, aptly titledBringin’ It. A new salvo from a band that always comes out swinging, it’s also a proud showcase for his evolution as a composer-orchestrator. So for this installment of Take Five, I asked Christian — who among other things is our host at Jazz Night in America — to share his top five big band recordings, with remarks.

“I had to be careful when I was thinking about this, that I didn’t pick my favorite five tracks as they relate to the bass,” he said, when we spoke by phone last week. “Originally I was going to pick Duke Ellington’s ‘Jack the Bear,’ or something else from the [Jimmy] Blanton era. Or some [Charles] Mingus pieces. But then I said ‘Naw, it’s gonna be too bass heavy. I’ve got to think about the bigger picture, and what influenced my thinking about orchestration.’”

Here are his picks, in no particular order, and in his own words.

Oliver Nelson "Patterns For Orchestra”

Oliver Nelson was probably the first big band arranger-orchestrator that I paid close attention to. Blues and the Abstract Truth was a very important record for me as a teenager. And that recording sort of sparked the interest in learning how to orchestrate for a big band, even though it was not a big band album.

This track, I discovered later. I knew that Oliver Nelson was big on patterns. (In fact, he’s got a song called “Patterns” that he recorded on soprano, and a book called Patterns For Improvisation.) On this track, he uses these very angular and wide-ranging patterns going between the woodwinds and the brass, on top of a blues sequence. Listening to what the trombones play, I can only assume that when he put the music in front of their faces, they probably got a little angry. It sounds very difficult. Nevertheless, it was fascinating to think that he would do something like that. These demanding lines for trombone, and the entire orchestra in general.

Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra "Don't Git Sassy”

Thad Jones is a very interesting balance of tradition and experimentation. I know he’s not usually thought of as an experimentalist, but if you really pay attention to his orchestrating, you hear these dissonances and these unusual ideas. The way that Oliver Nelson had these angular, far-reaching lines, Thad Jones did that with harmony. There’s all kinds of great details in this tune: these double diminished chords he uses, and he arbitrarily goes from a major-seventh chord to a dominant sharp-ninth chord. At some point, you sit back and think, “That’s wonderfully strange.” There’s a part in the saxophone soli there, where for one bar they hit this D-flat major seven, which is this really pretty, sweet chord inside all this funk. Just the imagination that Thad Jones had — that he was able to come from the Basie background and then start his own group, which in many ways tipped its cap to the Basie sound but was very forward-thinking in terms of harmony and melody. If there’s a Bible for modern jazz arrangers, this song is definitely in it.

Count Basie Orchestra "Jessica's Day”

I first heard this song on a Cannonball Adderley recording, Jazz Workshop Revisited. So I always knew it as a fast, burning tune. Then I heard the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band version from ’56, which I believe is the actual original version. Then when I heard this Basie version, it knocked my socks off. In the midst of the legend that Quincy Jones has become in American culture, I think many of us who forget that he’s one of the greatest arrangers of all time. This whole album, One More Time, which is all Quincy Jones charts — theoretically I could probably pick any track from the record. There’s the legendary tightness of the band. It’s some of the greatest arrangements played by one of the greatest bands in one of the greatest periods for that band. As far as the orchestrating itself, I don’t think there are any unison lines at any point during this performance. Every single note is widely orchestrated and arranged to such a degree of excellence. I have a copy of the score. The way he’s able to use flute along with the muted trumpet, which sort of became the sound of the New Testament Basie Band, I just think it’s some wonderfully executed arranging. Quincy was studying with Nadia Boulanger at that time, and I think you hear some of that influence in the end, which is downright Baroque.

Gil Evans "Ella Speed”

It was another Gil who turned me on to this record years ago, and that was Gil Goldstein. We were talking about big band arranging stuff. He said, “I’m sure you’re familiar with the Gil Evans & Ten album.” I wasn’t familiar to extent I should have been. He said, “There’s a track on there called ‘Ella Speed,’ and I think you should check that out. In fact, I have a copy of Gil’s score for that.” Much like the fascination I had for Blues and the Abstract truth, here’s a recording where there’s eight horns in the ensemble. It’s not a full big band, but in many places it almost sounds like a double big band. Gil Evans is always able to make a band sound really, really big. Not loud, but full. His usage of middle brass is some of the most masterful technique of any style of writing. This was the first record of Gil’s that I heard outright, as opposed to the stuff he did with Miles Davis. Just to hear him cut loose, and to hear his real writing, I gained a whole new respect for him.

Maria Schneider "Giant Steps”

At some point in the early ‘90s, Maria had her regular gig at Visiones. I remember hearing this amazing music, and it just wasn’t your standard big band sound. It was coming out of that Gil Evans sort of thickness (and at that time, I didn’t know that she had studied with Gil). But when I finally got to work with Maria – she called me for a gig sometime in the early 2000s – playing some of that music of hers, and getting on the inside of it from the bass chair, she instantly became somebody whose brain I wanted to pick constantly. She not only shared Gil Evans stories but also a lot of her own ideas about orchestrating: about extended harmony and putting instruments in not necessarily comfortable ranges, depending on the kind of sound you want to achieve.

I was at the North Sea Jazz Festival one year. (I’ve never gone public with this story, but now is as good a time as any.) This must have been 2002, 2003. So Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter were there. I’m backstage with those guys, and I overheard them speaking about Maria and this arrangement of “Giant Steps.” Like, “Who in the world would think to put ‘Giant Steps’ over a D pedal? I never heard of such a thing!” They went on and on about it. Maybe a couple of years later we were all in a room together. And man, the way Herbie and Wayne were fawning all over Maria, it was almost like a comedy movie. They were all, “Oh, we’ve never heard anyone who writes like you!” And: “Gil gave you the keys to the castle!” Maria’s sitting there all demure, like, “Oh, fellas, stop!” Mind you, at this table it was also me, Pat Metheny, Dave Holland, Brian Blade. Man, Wayne and Herbie had no time for anybody but Maria Schneider. They got back on the “Giant Steps” thing. Wayne was like “That’s just so ingenious – a D pedal! Maria, what made you think of that?”

Well, I had asked Maria the same question. What chords did you come up with for the melody? Her answer was so surprising: “I just made ‘em up.” There was no method or anything? “No! Just make up something, as long as it blends well.” I remember thinking: “Yeahhhh. Dig that!” And I thought, “Well, that makes more sense as to why it works over a pedal.” So back to the night Herbie and Wayne were fawning. I got so jealous. They had gone on for so long, like a straight hour. I remember saying “Well, dammit, I’mma write my own arrangement over a pedal.” That’s where I came up with the treatment for “I Thought About You,” from my new recording. So Maria Schneider in a much broader sense influenced that arrangement, though it really came down to the fawning of Herbie and Wayne.


Read the full piece from: WBGO

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Cécile McLorin Salvant’s “Dreams and Daggers” Live at The Village Vanguard

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The young jazz vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant’s arrival on the jazz scene began when she entered and won the 2010 Thelonious Monk competition, which annually spotlights a different instrument. That year was a vocal contest. Singing was not the 21 year old’s intended career choice.

Following her well-publicized win the buzz was sustained but of course there are no guarantees in either art or show business. The story of what happened next as well as the remarkable singer’s background is well told in Fred Kaplan’s in-depth New Yorker profile and in less detail in the AnalogPlanet review of Ms. Salvant’s Grammy nominated Mack Avenue Records debut. Her second album,For One to Love, even more ambitious and eclectic nabbed a Grammy.

The next logical step in the recorded part of Ms. Salvant’s career was to record a live album with her trio (Aaron Diehl, piano, Paul Sikivie, bass, Lawrence Leathers, drums). Salvant and her management team chose to record at New York’s legendary Village Vanguard, an usual choice for a vocal recording, though of course there’s a landmark precedent for a piano, bass and drums trio recording produced in the intimate club. At times for but a few bars the trio seems to be channeling the classic Evans trio.

Salvant’s three night Village Vanguard stand September 9th, 10th and 11th 2016 is documented in this nearly two hour, triple LP set, which includes a few short studio tracks with string augmentation that serve as links to the standards.

The eclectic and imaginative A&R work spotlights Salvant’s elastic vocal and emotional range, which ranges from sassy, playful and coquettish to somber. She covers the Broadway show tunes like “Never Will I Marry” taken as a breezy romp, Irving Berlin’s “The Best Thing For You (would be me)” and “Let’s Face the Music and Dance”, Rodgers and Hart’s “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” and other light hearted fare but also “Somehow I Never Could Believe” a dark Kurt Weill/Langston Hughes collaboration and Gershwin’s “My Man is Gone”. She gets the laughs on Jule Styne’s “If A Girl Ain’t Pretty” (from Barbra Streisand's "Funny Girl"), and the personal chills on “You’re My Thrill”. She also wraps her tongue around two tunes popularized by Bessie Smith that are "naughty". There are two Bob Dorough tunes too. The set ends with Ida Cox’s ribald blues “Wild Women Don’t Have the Blues” and shows that she can belt it out too. Back for the encore she covers the standard “You’re Getting to Be a Habit With Me” after which the crowd goes wild. They loved her and you will too. If you zone her out (not easy to do) and pay attention to the trio, you’ll feel the same about them too.

If you’re hoping forWaltz For DebbyandSunday at The Village Vanguardsonics here, don’t worry, you get them and more. Yes, the piano, bass and drums are captured naturally both timbrally and spatially but more to the point is the exquisite presentation of Ms. Salvant’s voice, which is out front riding on a velvety cushion of air. As she works the microphone the room acoustics enter naturally behind her. It’s quite a remarkable engineering job by Damon Whittemore and Todd Whitelock, mixed by Whitelock at ValveTone Studios. Mark Wilder mastered at Battery Studios. Kevin Gray cut lacquers from 192/24 bit files. RTI pressed. Yes, the sound more than favorably compares with those famous Bill Evans albums. You're in the club with Cécile and her trio and it's a place you'll want to be!


Read the full piece from: Analog Planet

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Cécile McLorin Salvant Soars at the Village Vanguard

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Last September, as Cécile McLorin Salvant prepared to take the stage of the Village Vanguard with her trio for the last night in a vaunted Tuesday-through-Sunday run at the jazz mecca, her drummer, Lawrence Leathers, gave a pep talk. By Salvant’s own admission, the first five nights were merely OK. Now, as Salvant huddled in the club’s claustrophobic kitchen-turned-dressing room with Lawrence, pianist Aaron Diehl, and bassist Paul Sikivie, it was time to step up.

“He was like, ‘Guys, we’ve got to do this, I don’t know what’s wrong with everyone!’ ” she says, over a glass of Chardonnay on the Lower East Side. “I’m making it the clean version, but some words were said.”

Suitably amped up, the group then went out and worked their way through a set of standards that make up the bulk of Salvant’s rollicking new double album, Dreams and Daggers (out September 29). “It was fine,” she said of those first five nights. “Do you know when you’re like, ‘It’s fine’? You don’t want that. I’d rather it be a train wreck and it has a thing than, ‘It’s fine.’ ”

Whatever Salvant found on that final night, it was more than fine, and this week, beginning Tuesday, September 26, she’s back at the Vanguard with a weeklong headlining slot. “The Vanguard is a character in this story,” the 28-year-old Salvant says of the album. “It’s part of the sound. And the people there — we should have written their names down.”

Indeed, during “You’ve Got to Give Me Some,” when Salvant sings, “Lovin’ is the thing I crave/For your love, I’d be your slave…” a woman in the audience belts out, “Careful!” The crowd cracks up. That tune was popularized by Bessie Smith, as was the hilarious “Sam Jones Blues.” (“You ain’t talkin’ to Mrs. Jones/You speakin’ to Ms. Wilson now.”)

Not that the record is all fun and games. Salvant’s rendition of “My Man’s Gone Now,” from George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, is so wrenching that the audience delays its applause, as if out of respect. In “Somehow I Never Could Believe,” a piece from Street Scene, the mid-twentieth-century opera by Kurt Weill and Langston Hughes about life in a New York tenement, Salvant relays the same kind of intensity. (In lieu of liner notes in Dreams and Daggers, she simply uses another Langston Hughes work, the poem “Fascination.” She also has an artistic hand and did illustrations on the back cover, as well as all the handwriting, even down to the FBI warning.)

Salvant, who just moved to Brooklyn from Harlem, was born and raised in Miami in a French-speaking home. Her father, a doctor, is Haitian; her mother is French — and is the principal at a French school in Miami. Having started singing formally at age eight with the Miami Choral Society, by her late teens she had moved to Aix-en-Provence, France, to study law as well as classical and baroque voice. Since then it’s been a whirlwind of acclaim: In 2009, she recorded her first album, Cécile; the next year she won the prestigious Thelonius Monk Institute of Jazz’s International Competition back in the United States. By 2014, her second CD, WomanChild, was a Grammy nominee for Best Jazz Vocal Album. And last year, with For One to Love, she won the award outright.

“She is able to understand and express a complex relationship to the text,” says Sikivie, about Salvant’s precocious vocal dexterity. “She makes the song her world and then uses her well-developed instrument to let others feel genuine emotions from that world, reveal the lessons from that world. And she has a marvelous and confident sense of taste.”

Salvant rarely sings in French, she tells me, but she did at the Vanguard, interpreting Joséphine Baker’s “Si J’étais Blanche” (“If I Were White”), a song about, in Salvant’s words, “a black woman wanting to be white,” which is also on the album.

When she was growing up, Salvant — who says she has the darkest skin in her immediate family — was in the awkward position of being ridiculed by both blacks and whites. She says black kids told her, “If you’re darker than this, you’re ugly.” Whites asked her, “Why are you trying to act white?”

“I’ve always been attracted to songs about identity,” she says. “I’ve always been interested in how people interact with each other, and power dynamics, and how we tell people that they’re lower or how we try to control people. Those are the songs I connect with the most.… I do it through humor.” Then she cites songs from the new record. “ ‘If a Girl Isn’t Pretty’ is, to me, a political song. ‘Somehow I Never Could Believe’ is a feminist, political song, but it’s not in your face. It’s not, like, ‘We need rights.’ I’m more interested in asking the questions, and then people can discuss it.”

The new album isn’t exclusively live tracks from the Vanguard. There are short originals dispersed throughout, with Salvant’s lyrics and music by her bassist, Sikivie, who did the string arrangements for the Catalyst Quartet. “I see them as little passageways or little remarks on what just happened,” she says. “Most of the songs I wrote were reactions to the standards on the album.”

For instance, after “If a Girl Isn’t Pretty” — from the 1968 musical Funny Girl with Barbra Streisand — comes her own original “Red Instead,” where she sings: “I can’t really change the way I am/I can be bolder/Sharpen my dagger/Cut through the multitudes/And make it bright red instead.”

At this week’s Vanguard gig, Salvant will not be accompanied by her regular sharply dressed trio, but instead only by pianist Sullivan Fortner, who was in the audience that Sunday last year and played with her on “You’ve Got to Give Me Some.” She calls Fortner “such an amazing musician,” and recorded an album with him earlier this year that will be out in 2018. “I’m trying to get him to sing,” she says. They’re going to do standards, yes, but also a song each by Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder. Michael Jackson might also be in the mix.

On display will be her impeccable articulation, sly phrasings, and that distinctive way she has of conveying different characters and voicings within a song, as if she’s playing different roles.

“I’m just a frustrated person who wishes they could be an actress,” she says. “I think that’s what I always wanted to do, and I never really pursued it, partly because of how I look. For a black woman who looks like me, roles are,” she pauses, “interesting. You have a certain area where you can express yourself, and if it’s outside that, it’s not working.… So I think deep down, that’s my passion, the theater. The music is an outlet for me.”


Read the full piece from: Village Voice

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Esperanza Spalding, Maceo Parker & 5 Other Best Moments From the 2017 Newport Jazz Festival

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Cecile McLorin-Salvant

Vocal jazz is as popular as ever, and as critically underrated as ever -- no surprise, given that the majority of its practitioners are women. With her Friday afternoon set, McLorin-Salvant showed once again how foolish that divide is with a truly exceptional rendition of Duke Ellington’s "Sophisticated Lady" -- an interpretation that somehow shed new light on a standard performed at the festival since its inception. On Big Bill Broonzy’s "Black, Brown and White" and folk song "John Henry," she used her gift for theatricality as a tool to make the audience look inward, presenting each line with clarity and feeling but without compromise. It was a master class in entertainment as confrontation: impossible to turn away from her captivating performance, which made it impossible to ignore the enduring relevance of each song’s straightforward indictment of American society.


Read the full piece from: Billboard

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ALBUM REVIEWS: CHRISTIAN SANDS ‘REACH’

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Pianistic influences seem to include both Bud Powell and Chick Corea, and there is in fact a tribute to the latter on, ‘Armando’s song’, which is a thinly disguised homage to Corea’s very own 1970s opus, ‘Armando’s Rhumba’, but what is interesting here is that the composition is performed by Sands as a straight ahead piano trio number without any hint of Latinization. That said, Sands is interested in how Latin music and jazz interweave and overarches one another and he does explore Latin rhythms and more specifically their connection to Africa on, ‘¡Oyemé!’, which showcases some lovely bass and percussion work.

Elsewhere, bop hues are evident on, ‘Bud’s tune’, this time in reference to the great Bud Powell and this piece is performed by the trio with blues inflections from the leader and some fine polyrhythmic licks from the drummer. An interesting choice of standards emerges on, ‘Use me’, the Bill Withers’ song which is taken here at a relaxed mid-tempo with a jazz-rock tinged guitar solo from Gilad Hekselman, who features on three numbers, and is very much in the vein of John Scofield. The album ends with a ballad, co-written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, ‘Somewhere out there’, that is again a piano trio with great subtlety on bass and the softest of percussion. Christian Sands is a new name with a promising feature and this recording will certainly enhance his growing reputation.


Read the full piece from: UK Vibe

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PBS “The Open Mind” interview Cécile McLorin Salvant

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"I don’t know what I hope to revive, but these are the things that interest me in life. I like human things. I like hand made things. I like things where you can feel the touch of a human being. This is why I love acoustic music. I love instruments. I love being able to have that immediate connection which we cannot have behind a screen. So this is why the idea of live performance, with acoustic instruments, with a certain amount of error- human error- is something that’s really interesting to me and really important to me. I think it’s important to a lot of people. You see it in food, too, you know? A lot of people are getting interested in cooking again and going to the market and getting organic things, and I feel like I want to feel that in music and culture as well. And I think it’s needed."


Read the full piece from: PBS “The Open Mind”

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Cécile McLorin Salvant seeks to spread jazz to new generations

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McLorin Salvant thinks her own inspiration carries on to the inspiration she and her band feed the audience. While there’s not a particular emotion or takeaway she aims for audiences to leave with, she does want them to walk away with a “strong feeling” — negative or positive.

“Of course, I’d love for people to leave feeling happy or joyful or forgetting a little bit of their problems, but sometimes it’s good to be reminded of our problems, too,” she said.

Called a “millennial shaking up the jazz world” by Vanity Fair, McLorin Salvant said there are many obstacles standing in the way of reaching most millennials and the average consumer in general, despite music’s power to cross generational and cultural boundaries.

“We live in a time where people need some kind of visual, attention-grabbing thing to catch them,” she said. “I think a lot of people are just following whatever is on the Top 40. Unfortunately, whatever is on the Top 40 is not the highest quality art ... So you have this general atmosphere of young people being fed a certain kind of music, and it’s hard to access other (genres). Even with the internet, there’s so much out there, it’s hard to find what you like, or even know what you like.”

Then there’s the reputation of jazz music, that it’s too difficult, intellectual, boring or just for older people, she said.

“There’s just a lot of things going against millennials getting to jazz, but thankfully things are moving and changing, and people are paying more attention,” McLorin Salvant said. “Hopefully with time, we’ll be able to connect with more young audiences.”


Read the full piece from: Centre Daily Times

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Christian McBride Big Band “Bringin’ It” [Downbeat]

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In the press materials for bassist Christian McBride’s new big band album, he cites bandleaders Duke Ellington and Maria Schneider as strong influences on his large-ensemble work. McBride’s artistic debt to those two musicians reflects his desire to be part of a jazz tradition while also pushing it forward. His 2011 big band album, The Good Feeling (Mack Avenue), generated rave reviews, and most of the players on that album are back for Bringin’ It. McBride has said, “[L]ike Duke Ellington used to do, I can write for my guys because I know their sound and style.” Nine of the 11 tracks here were arranged by McBride, who included three original compositions in the program. (All three are songs that he had previously recorded with a smaller ensemble, so it’s clear that he wants to continue refining his acumen as an arranger.) A judicious yet bold arranger, McBride knows exactly when he or one of his trusted bandmates should inject a solo into a tune. Trombonist Michael Dease offers a growling, greasy solo on the McBride original “Used ’Ta Could,” a party tune so addictive that it should be accompanied by a warning label. Carl Maraghi’s baritone sax solo adds some mighty muscle to a winning rendition of Wes Montgomery’s “Full House.” On a lovely arrangement of “In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning,” the leader’s tasteful arco work and Brandee Younger’s harp add intriguing textures, as though McBride is telling the listener, “I have a lot of dazzling colors on this palette, and I know how to use them properly.” The album concludes with trombonist Steve Davis’ arrangement of his own composition “Optimism.” It’s a toe-tapper incorporating surprising twists and shifts, spiced with Todd Bashore’s arresting alto sax solo and Davis’ fluid trombone solo. McBride is a busy, multifaceted artist who’s constantly juggling projects, and the release of Bringin’ It gives his big-band fans a reason to celebrate.


Read the full piece from: Downbeat

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John Beasley Remembers Steely Dan’s Walter Becker: ‘He Had a Way of Getting Everybody Laughing’

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John Beasley considered the late Walter Becker an essential mentor and a key figure in his own career.

The Grammy-nominated keyboardist, composer and arranger started working with Becker on Rickie Lee Jones' 1987 album Flying Cowboys, which led to Becker signing Beasley to Windham Hill Jazz and producing his first two albums, 1992's Cauldron and 1993's A Change of Heart. Beasley -- whose credits include Miles Davis, Chaka Khan, Dianne Reeves, John Patittucci and many others -- also worked played on Becker's 1994 solo debut 11 Tracks of Whack and worked with Steely Dan from 1993-2000.

He was at the 38th annual Detroit Jazz Festival on Sunday, launching his latest album John Beasley Presents MONK'estra, Volume 2 when he learned of Becker's death.

Steely Dan's Walter Becker Toiled in Relative Anonymity -- But Not to Musicians

I'm shocked. I wasn't ready for it at all, and it happened. I found out in the morning and I was dealing with checking everybody in, so I was kind of preoccupied. I had breakfast with Adam Rogers and Bob Sheppard; The three of us knew and worked with Walter a long time ago, so we kind of commiserated and gave each other a big hug and went back to our day.

Walter was a mentor to me. Of course I was a Steely Dan fan, and I met him when I was in my mid-20s and he hired me as a young guy to play on this Rickie Lee Jones record and we kind of hit it off. I wasn't really able to be there that long; That was when Miles Davis called me, and I didn't know what to do. So I talked to (Becker) and he, of course, said, "Well, you gotta go," so he kind of pushed me out the door. And while I was out with Miles he got a production deal at Windham Hill and he signed me to my first record deal and produced my first two records, and we became really close.

I worked on several other projects he produced, and he always had interesting things to say and I started to realize that all those left turns in Steely Dan music, that this was the guy that maybe inspired all those kind of fast turns -- left turns, I called them back then -- the uneven phrases, maybe, or sort of a jump or modulation out of nowhere, that kind of thing. He was so creative and unusual that way. he wasn't like your normal songwriting form or anything like that. He loved those surprises.

And in the studio he always had interesting things to say, very witty things to say about the music -- but all positive. It was never, "This sucks, you gotta do this" or "You gotta do that." He had a way of getting everybody laughing but, of course, a sarcastic way of looking at your own music -- and his own music -- that kind of kept you in check.

He was a great editor, kind of cutting fat out of a tune. I remember tracking with him and working with Peter Erskine on a tune of mind and working out the drum pattern, and he always came up with something that I never would have thought of but that made total sense, mostly with the rhythm section or the forms of the tunes. At the time I was also doing studio work, movie stuff and pop records, and polyphonic synthesizers were everywhere. Walter didn't like the notion of an analog pad or a string pad or anything like that. He liked a drier production, and I came to love that. He knew how to streamline a track so that the rhythm section always felt good, and I got a sense of how to program a synthesizer in a way that didn't cloud the track in a way.

I spent many months in Maui working on 11 Tracks of Whack and I lived in the house in the back of his house and spent a lot of time in the car driving to the studio with him, just becoming friends and getting to know his family. So we became pretty close. He listened to a lot of music and he had a very wide palette of music that he liked. He loved mainstream jazz, so we were always listening to Tommy Flanagan and he turned me on to Paul Bley and he loved Rick Garland. But the next CD he'd pop into the car would be, like, a ska band or even a punk band. Walter would always find interesting artists in a particular genre, even, like, gangsta rap. That was kind of unexpected to me, but it opened my horizons because I was listening to the jazz and funk of the day, and he introduced me to a lot more than that.

I used to love the mystery that those guys had, he and Donald, the same way I loved it about Miles Davis. (Becker) wasn't mysterious once you got to know him, but I loved that their personal was, to me, so mysterious. When he had his imprint on Windham Hill he wanted everybody's portrait to be on the cover of their albums. I was like, "No, man, I want to be like you guys. I don't want my picture on there. Let 'em wonder what I look like." The compromise is my first record has a very dark photo of me on there, but I really was like, "No, I want to be like you guys."

I haven't really heard much of him in the last seven or eight years, unfortunately. He was a bit of a recluse the last few years. I just hope he was OK. I hope he didn't struggle. It didn't really hit me until (Sunday) night and (Monday) morning, until I was at the airport and reading the New York Times obituary and flying and had some quiet time. I'm still kind of processing it. He meant a lot to me and always will.


Read the full piece from: Billboard

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Jackiem Joyner – The Epitome of the Maturation of Quality Smooth Jazz

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Joyner was born in 1980 in Norfolk, Virginia, the son of Dianne Joyner Barnes and Jackie Charles Ray Smith. Joyner inherited some of his musical gifts from his professional bass player father.

Joyner grew up in a Christian household while developing most of his musical sensibilities from singing in the church choir and playing drums behind up-tempo gospel songs.

In his teens, the saxman relocated with his family to Syracuse, NY, where he studied saxophone and played in the band under the leadership of his music teacher and mentor Lou Adams. While in high school, Joyner competed in the NAACP’s Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics or ACT-SO, (geared towards African Americans demonstrating academic, artistic and scientific prowess and expertise), taking top honours three years in a row in the categories of Instrumental Contemporary, Composition and Classical Music.

After high school, he moved back to Virginia, where Bishop Michael Patterson of the World Harvest Outreach Ministries in Newport News made him head of the music department. Joyner not only sharpened his keyboard and production skills in this capacity, he also had a chance to play for audiences in Nigeria, Sudan, and Kenya on a missionary trip in 2002. This experience helped the young saxophonist grow quickly as a musician and, by age 21, he had joined keyboardist Marcus Johnson’s band with which he toured from 2001 to 2004.

The year 2003 was a pivotal year for Joyner. An opportunity to play with the legendary Bobby Lyle gave him the chance to play at the Bermuda Jazz Festival, which also had Angela Bofill among the line-up, and it was she who suggested that Joyner participate in the 30-city tour with Ronnie Laws, Jean Carne, and herself that year. It was also the year that Joyner married his wife Lola, and together they relocated to Los Angeles, CA, so that Joyner could try to further his career in the music business.

In 2005, Joyner released his debut solo album, the independently-produced This Time Around. The album helped boost his profile, and, in 2007, he signed to trumpeter Rick Braun’s Artizen Music Group in time to release his sophomore album, BabySoul (my personal favourite, check out the understated funk groove of “In Love Again”). The first single “Stay with Me tonight” featured guitarist Peter White and reached #17 on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Charts.

The following year, 2008, Joyner was named Smooth Jazz News Debut Artist of the Year and was featured on the cover of BMG magazine as his career began to blossom.

At the beginning of 2009, Artizen Music Group, founded by saxman Richard Ellliot and trumpeter Rick Braun, was bought out by a larger record company, Mack Avenue Records, which also acquired several other smaller labels. Joyner went on to release his third album Lil Man Soul under Artistry Music, a contemporary jazz subdivision of Mack Avenue Records.

His first single from that album, “I’m Waiting for You” was an instant No.1 hit on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Chart. It remained at the number one spot for 12 straight weeks. “I’m Waiting for You” went on to become the No.2 song of the year on the billboard charts and was also nominated for Song of the Year 2010 at the American Smooth Jazz Awards. The second single entitled “Take Me there” was released early 2010 and went to the No.1 spot on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Charts and remained there for 6 weeks straight.

Later that year, Joyner released his fourth album, the self-titled funk/pop/groove mix including Paul Jackson Jr on guitar and Kayta Matsuno on acoustic and electric guitar. The year 2010 was also the year that Joyner was presented with The Keys to The City by Mayor Stephanie Miner of Syracuse NY for Outstanding Achievement in Music along with a Proclamation of August 5, 2010, as “Jackiem Joyner Day.”

Revisiting his non-secular roots, Joyner issued the gospel-jazz Church Boy in 2012, which featured contributions from Kirk Whalum and Jonathan Butler. In 2014, Joyner released his fifth studio-album, and third for Mack Avenue, Evolve. An adventurous mix of smooth jazz and gospel, Evolve marked the first time Joyner wrote, arranged, and produced every track. Evolve also featured appearances from Gerald Albright and Keiko Matsui. That release placed his infectious melodies amidst futuristic electronic soundscapes.

Joyner’s latest release Main Street Beat, his sixth album, if you don’t count his 2005 independent release, coincides with his tenth anniversary as a recording artist. Of his latest release, Joyner says he approached crafting Main Street Beat with a three-pronged purpose. “I wanted to create something upbeat, fun to listen to and something to dance to. Main Street Beat originally started off as a straight funk record that eventually became some of that but a whole lot more as I allowed the creative process to have its way with me,” said Joyner who plays tenor, alto, soprano, and baritone saxophone on the release, often enriching the tracks by laying layer upon layer of horns to form a powerhouse sax section.

Now a proud father, the first single from the new album (“Trinity”) was named after his daughter. (Given his love of science fiction, dare I wonder if the Matrix had any influence here?) “My little girl played a huge role in inspiring this album. Having Trinity around during the writing process sparked an enormous font of creativity and really kicked my writing into high gear. The first single, named after her, really captures the excitement and joy of being a dad as well as the exciting little girl that she is. Trinity was right there in the studio during a lot of the writing process. Her jumpy and bouncy upbeat little self is really reflected on this album,” said Joyner.

The Smooth Jazz Ride’s very own Ronald Jackson sums Joyner up beautifully when he says “Jackiem Joyner is a saxophonist with a firm grip on some of the sweetest melodies and driving grooves ever to be delivered to the contemporary genre. Not only is he perfectly fitted for the genre and mightily skilled, he is a humble, kind, and down-to-earth artist who has his direction clearly in sight.” I’d like to add: And he can write a bit too!! – Steve Giachardi


Read the full piece from: The Smooth Jazz Ride

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John Beasley’s MONK’estra, ‘Criss Cross’

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Thelonious Monk was born 100 years ago this October. The tributes and revisitations are about to start rolling in. Leading the pack is “John Beasley Presents MONK’estra, Volume 2,” released Friday, from one of the pianist and composer’s least-secret admirers. Mr. Beasley is himself a mutable pianist and crafty arranger, and this album — like the first volume — carves up and dissects Monk’s famous bebop melodies. Monk’s music was already about displacement, counterintuition, refusal cloaked as humor; with his 16-piece band, Mr. Beasley laces 10 of those crooked themes into funky, often­-Caribbean rhythms, pulling them into today and back to a taproot. On “Criss Cross,” the master conguero Pedrito Martinez adds bounce and body; the conversation gets special on Mr. Beasley’s rambunctious solo. - GIOVANNI RUSSONELLO


Read the full piece from: NY Times

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A Conversation with John Beasley

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One of last year’s finest releases was John Beasley’s Big Band album Monk’estra, Volume One. A master arranger, Beasley put together a who’s who of musicians to turn the Thelonius Monk library of tunes into something more innovative and thought provoking than they had been in years. A pair of Grammy nominations followed, so it was hoped that an encore set would soon appear.

Wait no longer.

Monk’estra, Volume Two is here, and it was well worth the wait. Digging deeper into the Monk catalogue, and allowing members of the band and select special guests to stretch out a but have made this is a delight. Whether it’s Dontae Winslow turning “Brake’s Sake” into a whirlwind with his trumpet solo and rap interlude; a sultry “Dear Ruby” artfully sung by Dianne Reeves; or the innovative medley of “Ugly Beauty” and “Pannonica”, this is an album that rewards a careful listener at every turn.

We’ve come to expect this sort of top notch work from John Beasley, who has earned acclaim for his work as Music Director for The Thelonious Monk Institute gala concerts. Every April 30th, he produces and directs the International Jazz Day concert in a global city bringing together all-star jazz artists to perform. The White House concert "Jazz at the White House" earned Beasley an Emmy nomination for Best Musical Direction.

Beyond his direction and arranging, he writes and records television and movie scores, and finds time to work in small ensembles as well. He has been part of touring bands for Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, and Sergio Mendes, as well as rock bands like Steely Dan. He never ceases to amaze.

Podcast 590 is my conversation with John about the Monk’estra, which I had the pleasure of seeing live at the venerable Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London earlier this summer. Musical selections from the new CD include “Brake’s Sake”, “Ugly Beauty/Pannonica” and “Evidence”.


Read the full piece from: Straight No Chaser - A Jazz Show

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Cécile McLorin Salvant looks for the contradictions in jazz

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It might seem strange for a very young woman, growing up thousands of miles away from jazz capitals like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, to be singing standards from the years before World War II. But Cécile McLorin Salvant, perhaps the brightest star among jazz singers under 40, and whose retro glasses make her look like a clerk at a hipster vinyl shop, has always had old-school tastes.

“I like things that are handmade,” Salvant, a 27-year-old Miami native who opens for Brian Ferry at the Hollywood Bowl on Saturday, says by phone. “I’m really into analog photography. Anything that’s handmade has always been a passion of mine. The handmade, homemade quality makes it seem human. And I’m really into history, including the history of American popular music, in all its contradictions.”

In some cases, she’s crooning numbers that have long been part of the jazz canon, for singers and instrumentalists: “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,” Cole Porter favorites like “Easy to Love,” Fat’s Waller’s immortal “Jitterbug Waltz.”

In other cases, these contradictions include songs that are mid-century-sexist — David-Bacharach’s “Mad Men”-era “Wives and Lovers” — or weirdly racist, like “(You Bring Out) The Savage in Me.” In her originals, she upends the travails of modern romance by giving the tales vintage trappings, utilizing the layers of the past to bring out the deeply layered meanings in the songs — the ways, for instance, in which gender roles have or have not changed.

Two years back the Guardian in the UK described “a mischievous intelligence” and called her style “more heightened music theatre than jazz”; in some ways Salvant is as much actor as director: She says she finds these numbers “funny and fascinating,” offering serious tonal challenges to the singer. “I like to see how things play out in history.”

Salvant, whose father is a Haitian doctor and mother a French-Guadeloupean educator, began singing in several other styles before she even came to jazz. In fact, the first time she heard Billie Holiday, as a kid, she was frightened: “Late in life, her voice was that of a scary witch.”

Salvant later came around and found Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Bessie Smith and others to be major inspirations.

But the teenage Salvant was drawn more immediately by classical and Baroque singing.

“Baroque music is about the jagged edges of music,” she says. “Those songs are 400 years old, but they still work.”

After high school she moved to the south of France, taking voice lessons at the Conservatoire Darius Milhaud. A visit to a class taught by a jazz saxophonist, and her interest in improvisation — once a major part of classical music but harder to find more recently — put her on a new path.

Still, her interests remain wide, from the novels of Virginia Woolf to the poetry of Langston Hughes to the choreography of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker. “I get excited by jazz singers, but that’s such a small percentage of what I’m influenced by. I’ve always been really influenced by people who have contradictory influences in their work, and somehow it comes together in a cool way. I love clashing things.”

Salvant broke out hard in 2013 with the “WomanChild” LP, three years after winning the Thelonious Monk Vocal Jazz Competition. She's toured consistently, including gigs at Catalina’s and the Playboy Jazz Festival, but has released only one album since — “For One to Love,” which won a Grammy last year.

In reviewing the work, The Times’ Mikael Wood wrote, “her feel for subtext makes her one of the smartest (and funniest) interpreters going. In ‘Stepsisters’ Lament,’ from ‘Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella,’ the wide-open quality of her voice makes you believe she’s identifying with the song’s narrator, who can’t understand why men routinely opt for ‘a frail and fluffy beauty’ over ‘a solid girl like me.’”

At the end of September she’ll release an unusual double album: Some of “Dreams and Daggers” (released, like the others, on Mack Avenue) is live, some is in studio with a string quartet, and much of it involves original numbers. Salvant aimed to write new songs that bridged the recording’s standards like “You’re My Thrill” and “My Man’s Gone Now.”

Here, again, this 20-something Bessie Smith fan is being old-school: She admires the way artists like Solange and Frank Ocean make albums designed to be listened to all the way through Salvant calls it “a renewal of the idea of a whole work of art.”

Overall, with a style that is intimate and reasonably understated for a jazz artist — she seems a natural for a place like the Village Vanguard or Largo at the Coronet — the Bowl poses a challenge. She’s sung there and in huge outdoor venues before, but admits that these places can be tricky. “We like our sound to be as acoustic as possible, and it can be hard to get the balance right. It’s so enormous — you have to remind yourself there are people out there.”

The Bowl booking of Salvant behind Ferry is, as she calls it, “kind of a crazy mix”: A 71-year-old English art-rock singer who loves Charlie Parker, following a black jazz singer, a third his age, with a European education and affinities. On second thought, says Salvant: “Whoever came up with this … is kind of brilliant.”


Read the full piece from: LA Times

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Joey DeFrancesco’s ‘Project Freedom’ Is A Balm In Uncertain Times

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Multi-instrumentalist, bandleader and composer Joey DeFrancesco trades his traditional trio lineup for a quartet on the 2017 full-length album, Project Freedom, out now via Mack Avenue Records. With his signature Hammond B3 organ at the foundation of each arrangement, DeFrancesco and his band The People stretch out across genres. Pulling from the tried and true spirituals of the church, the freedom songs of American folk, the abiding sorrow of the blues and the swing of straight ahead jazz, they combine their talents to create a sonic ode to spiritual uplift that resonates immediately and stands as a resounding call to arms in trying times. Joey DeFrancesco explains what Project Freedom is and how it came to be.

Revive Music: Project Freedom opens with “Imagine” (Prelude) — a pretty emphatic statement about the tone of the record. That moves into the title track, which references a somber spiritual (“Go Down Moses”) before the band essentially throws off a burden and breaks out. What discussions were you having with yourself at the inception of this project and what role did “Freedom Songs” of the past play in it?

Joey Defrancesco: Everything you just said. There’s no question about the times that we’re in and things that have been going for many years. Musicians always express themselves through song. In jazz, in particular, but really any improvised music. There’s a lot of emotion in it, so whatever you’re doing and whatever’s going on in your surroundings, comes out in your music. Being traveling musicians, we’ve gone to places that were very risky to go to at certain times and we went anyway. Everywhere we play, no matter what was going on, people get the music and they feel it. They feel the sincerity of our wish peace and unity for everyone through the music. Nowadays, with much more of a public eye on things and the internet making people even more aware of all of the horrible things that are happening, I felt like I could take it a step further to bring more awareness and attention to the fact that people should be living in unity and peace with respect for one another.

RM: “The Unifier” is a song that rhythmically and melodically captures a number of styles — from jazz, blues and soul, to roots and drum & bass. It feels like a literal and figurative coming together that positions you as orchestrator. Was your goal with this project to unify sounds? People? What?

JD: All of those things. When the music and the melody come to mind, that was what was in my head. The tune goes in so many directions within itself, but it is also like a big warm hug. It starts with a funky “come on over” type of vibe, then there’s a mystical second part where you imagine people feeling each other out and getting to know one another — questioning each other. Then there’s the next part and it comes back together like, “We’re all cool. We’re all together.” You feel that in the music and that’s how it ends.

RM: Your instrument of choice for the duration of Project Freedom is the Hammond B3 organ. How much did the history of the instrument as a major component in songs of uplift and resistance play into the decisions you made about the direction of the project?

JD: I’ve been playing the instrument for so long. I’ve been playing for 42 years, so it is part of me. An organ is a very spiritual instrument. That’s why it is used in churches and things like that. It is the perfect vehicle for expression — just like every instrument is — it is like having an orchestra at your fingertips. You can also make it sound almost like voices. It is kind of unlimited in what you can do. That all makes it an important part of the music. You can explore so much and go in so many different directions with it. I’m playing all of the bass on this project. I’m playing with my left hand and my foot. That guides the harmony. The cohesiveness of the band as a unit is another big component — everybody is on the same page with respect to what the project is about. Much of that comfortability comes from being together and playing constantly, because we all travel together on the road. So, the sound of the organ is a major part of that style of music and of me. It’s really a big part of everything I do, but it really lends itself to some of the material on the project as well.

RM: Can you talk about the spiritual undertone of Project Freedom and how that is reflective of your life at this point?

JD: I’ve always lived that way. Music has always had a huge effect on me, spiritually. Everybody has certain things that they like to listen to and that becomes the soundtrack of their lives. All of those things tie into the spiritual aspect of it too. Some music makes you feel more than others. It all is an emotional rollercoaster of good, beautiful things — but also things that resonate in a sad, respectful, emotional kind of way to make you reflect and pay homage to certain situations. That’s the way I like to live my life. I always have. I love different cultures and the music from those cultures. I like to learn things. It all blends into one big, beautiful thing. I would just like everyone to see that. I know that’s the goal for a lot of people, but if I can just get 5 or 6 more people to see that, it’s better than nothing.

RM: How important were the musical traditions of the church as well as American folk and blues to the composing and creative process?

JD: Very important. That’s important on every project I do because it is the basis of what I do. Really, it is the basis of all music. No matter what it is. The blues and the spiritual aspects combine with emotions and the sounds of everyday life. That all comes out in the music. It is a spiritual journey. It is an homage to life and people that face adversity. It is an encouragement to stay strong. There is a lot of negativity in the world, but there is a lot of positive too. Try to focus on that. Without offending anybody, I wanted to do what I wanted to do and I didn’t care about what anyone thought. There’s a lot of respect and love in the music. This is the record I wanted to make. The timing was just right to speak up and remind people to pay attention to what is going on in the world, but also to just be cool.

RM: Do you feel that the movement toward breaking with genre is important to the growth of music at this point in history?

JD: Definitely. Of course it is. All of those things are. That’s how a lot of music has come about over time — because of difficult situations and people getting through things by pulling from different sources of inspiration creatively. Music was developed and protected by mankind because it is something you can’t take away from people. Music and rhythm — people are always going to find a way. Everything that happens in your environment influences musicians. All of the things going on now are impacting music. There is music around us constantly. It evolves as an extension of the people. In these times, especially, we need as much as we can. We need something to make us feel good in order to focus on getting through a lot of the things that are happening. That will also make music evolve, because we are pushing the positive aspects of the human experience by innovating with the tools we have.

RM: How did your band, The People, come together?

JD: About two and a half years ago, I put the trio together with Jason Brown on drums and Dan Wilson on guitar. We start at the beginning of January 2015 with that group. We toured extensively and made a trio record called Trip Mode, which meant many things to us. After touring that entire year, this project started coming to life. With a lot of things happening in the world and our goal of gearing our music toward the work of unifying people, we started working. I wanted to do a little more than usual. I started thinking about it and I began to hear a fourth voice in the melody. That’s when we added saxophonist Troy Roberts to the lineup. Troy is a great addition to the group. We recorded a record last July 2016, then we toured the quartet in January of this year.

RM: How do they contribute to the mix, especially with respect to translating the themes that you explore in the project — things like peace, unification, resistance and transcendence?

JD: The stew was already brewing with the trio. We threw Troy in. The minds of the musicians are wide open rhythmically, melodically, spiritually — there are no limits. Everybody is listening to something different, every day, by the hour. You’d think we’re all listening to straight ahead jazz, but none of us are. We’re all listening to a variety of things from all over the place. It could be country. It could be hip-hop. Those influences come out in the music. They bring a lot to the table because they are so open. Sometimes they are ahead of me in their thinking and those are the types of groups you try to put together — people that have very open minds. We might go anywhere at any given moment and they have to be prepared for that. Dan learned to play guitar in church, which is a very integral part of the music we’re playing. Troy is from Australia. He’s been in the states for about 10 years. He is schooled in the tradition but he has an exploratory mind and an interest in using effects, which fits well with what we are doing. A lot of the things we are doing are things that have been done before. Music moves in cycles. Things go away for a while — certain styles of playing — and then you find a new avenue to innovate in a new way with the things on the shelf That influences people that might not have been paying attention to a certain style or sound the first time it came around. Then that informs the next thing.

RM: “One” in particular, conjures Miles Davis, who was an early mentor of yours. Can you talk about his role in your music, but also how his philosophy and spirit of exploration inform music today?

JD: He’s a huge teacher — Miles. I was fortunate to be around him at a very great period. It was the latter part of his life but he was in a good place, mentally. He had a clear mind. We could talk about so many different things. When I worked with him it was amazing. When I started playing with Miles I was 17, which is very young. I was already playing professionally for about 8 years before that, in and around Philly. When I saw how Miles was leading the band, I realized I was leading bands in a similar way. Obviously I was very young and didn’t have the knowledge Miles Davis had, but there was an immediate camaraderie because of that. The way he led the band and how he picked musicians was a big influence. Even if he had never played the trumpet, his talent at putting a group together was one of the greatest things that he did. Forget about his trumpet playing…he was one of the greatest to ever do it. He was beyond a trumpet player. He transcended the instrument to become a second voice. That is what every musician tries to do. He had a huge influence on me. I play the trumpet because of having been around him. That sound of his was the sound I wanted. I always wanted my own ideas on the instrument, but the tone is important. It also influenced my keyboard playing, because of the breathing involved in playing. It forced me to have a different respect for space. His approach to music is legendary. It influenced all of us. I was just lucky to be around him and have a personal relationship like that. It was pretty great.

RM: How do you feel about the project and its importance or potential impact at this time in history as so much violence and uncertainty underscores everyday life for people around the world?

JD: I hope the human concept of peace and unity is what people receive. That’s the goal, is for them to get a slice of that from the music. From anything that I do. This particular project is a wake up call. If you don’t understand anything about loving one another, hopefully this can help. Any percentage of positive change is good. That’s why anybody that can do a small part is important. When all of us come together, it just gets bigger and bigger.


Read the full piece from: Revive Music

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Jackiem Joyner Main Street Beat Review

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A trinity of influences shaped saxophonist Jackiem Joyner’s creative process as he began writing and recording “Main Street Beat,” his sixth album due June 30. The award-winning hit-maker initially set out to make a funk record. He wanted the collection to pay tribute to his ardor and appreciation for the Motown sound. Thirdly, the self-produced set was inspired by the presence of his first-born child, Trinity, who was by her daddy’s side in the studio each and every day. “Trinity,” the energizing first single named for her “bouncy and bubbly little self,” arrives at radio ahead of the album and is bolstered by the fanciful fretwork of guitarist Steve Oliver.

A high-energy set showcasing Joyner’s impassioned horn play on tenor, soprano and alto sax, “Main Street Beat” evolved into much more than a funk record with R&B, contemporary jazz and pop nuances seeping into the mix. The grooves – many of which are infused with the soul power of a muscular sax section laid down in layers by Joyner – are undeniably danceable while his innate flair for crafting catchy hooks and buoyant melodies are prominent in the nine new songs that he penned for the project.

I am thinking that we should just take the Smooth Jazz genre and rename it R&B. This music is R&B right now. I mean, I would take Joyner, Boney James, Rick Braun, Norman Brown and Candy Dulfer over any of the R&B artists that are currently on the scene.

Just take Main Street Beat as an example.

The set opens with Main Street. It is an uptempo track that sets the tone for the entire album. It has an energy about it…one of anticipation. I think that comes from the first verse, where Joyner’s horn plays over the funky drum patch. When you hear the hook, you know you have a winner.

Back To Motown is up next. With a title like that, you kind of expect an old school feel to the track. That is exactly what you get. Back To Motown has a mid-tempo grove, and it is one that you will initially play on repeat to take in all of that goodness.

This brings us to one of the two remakes on the album. Can’t Stop The Feeling is the Justin Timberlake song. I really like the original, and this interpretation is just as good. The vocals are there on the chorus, so you can still sing along to this infectious groove. Listen to the bridge about two-thirds of the way through, and you will love the way Joyner plays that horn.

On Trinity, there are two stars on the track: the sax and the acoustic guitar. These two instruments play well together over another mid-tempo groove. Steve Oliver is the talent behind the guitar work. I have always loved the tone of his guitar. His sound is very unique.


Read the full piece from: Jazz World

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‘American Idol’ vet John Beasley salutes Thelonoius Monk with MONK’estra

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Do jazz fans have “American Idol” to thank for one of the most acclaimed big bands currently performing?

Unlikely as it may seem, John Beasley’s tenure as the associate music director and lead musical arranger on “Idol” led to his discovery of the music notation software Sibelius, which in turn led him to form his multi-Grammy-nominated Thelonious Monk tribute band. The 15-piece MONK’estra will perform a San Diego Symphony Bayside Summer Nights concert here next Thursday, Aug. 24, at Embarcadero Marina Park South.

“After the first season of ‘Idol,’ I was still writing arrangements by hand and the volume of work was ridiculous,” recalled Beasley, whose recording credits range from Miles Davis and Steely Dan’s Water Becker to Carly Simon and Indian violin virtuoso L. Subramaniam.

“I asked the (music) copyist on ‘Idol’ what software I should use, and she recommended Sibelius. A couple of years later, on a break, I had some time and wanted to experiment with learning the program better and doing 20th century harmony with a big band.”

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But Beasley didn’t have enough free time to compose new pieces of music. So he decided to use Sibelius to re-orchestrate “Epistrophy,” a 1941 Monk song that sounds just as fresh and vital now. Almost instantly, he said, a light bulb went off and the door to a brave new musical journey opened.

“At first, I thought I’d whip something together and just learn to program,” recalled Beasley, who used to perform regularly at San Diego clubs with guitarist Peter Sprague and saxophonist Tripp Sprague.

“But it became a really deep experience, discovering how pliable Monk’s music is and how it could stretch. It became something personal and a creative rabbit hole to go down. I guess that was sort of the impetus that got me into MONK’estra.”

Monk was a singular pianist, composer and band leader. He is perhaps second only to Miles Davis — whose 1959 album, “Miles Davis and the Giants of Jazz” features Monk — as an American music icon whose work transcends jazz. Together with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach and an elite group of other innovators, he helped create bebop, the deviously intricate style that revolutionized jazz in the 1940s.

Monk’s music is by turns playful, quirky, graceful and profoundly moving. His compositions are marked by zig-zagging melodies, unusual rhythmic twists, intricate harmonies and a unique sense of playfulness.

Grammy-nominated keyboardist, composer, arranger and band leader John Beasley may be the only jazz a

Grammy-nominated keyboardist, composer, arranger and band leader John Beasley may be the only jazz artist whose credits include Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard and a long stint working on "American Idol." (Photo courtesy DL Media)

“I like the word ‘playfulness,’ because I’ve been saying ‘humorous’ and playful is more accurate,” said Beasley, who was not yet a teenager when he got hooked on Monk.

“My dad had ‘Work,’ the 1954 Monk record with Sonny Rollins. That one really struck me, as a 10- or 11-year-old, as being humorous and playful. And it had unusual instrumentation, including a French horn. My dad being a bassoonist, I knew what a French horn was and knew it wasn’t common in jazz.

“I remember looking at the album cover for a long time and just staring at Monk. And I think (the song) ‘Nutty’ is on it. As a kid, that got my attention; here’s a guy writing a song called ‘Nutty!’ ”

Monk’s enduring musical legacy

Today, 35 years after his death, Monk’s many classic songs — which include “ ’Round Midnight,” “Blue Monk,” “Straight, No Chaser,” “Ruby, My Dear” and “Bemsha Swing” — remain some of the most played and beloved in (and out of) jazz.

In addition to countless jazz artists, Monk’s songs have been covered by such varied admirers as Phish, Chaka Khan, Peter Frampton, Dr. John and former San Diegan Frank Zappa. His records have been sampled by Wu-Tang Clan, Gang Starr and other savvy hip-hop acts.

The captivating debut album “John Beasley Presents MONK’estra” Vol. 1” was released in 2016 by Mack Avenue Records. It earned two Grammy nominations for its musical excellence.

“The two Grammy nominations for the first album were a big surprise,” said Beasley, who often conducts his band while playing piano or keyboard synthesizers. “Getting booked to play at the Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl — that certainly perked up other promoters’ interest.”

The upcoming “Vol. 2” features Beasley’s all-star big band, along with such guest artists as violinist Regina Carter, singer Dianne Reeves, percussionist Pedrito Martinez and saxophonist Kamasi Washington.

The 11-song album features Beasley’s ingenious arrangements of such Monk gems as “Evidence,” “I Mean You,” “Crepuscule with Nellie” and “Work,” the title track of the 1954 Monk album that captivated MONK’estra’s leader as a pre-teen.

His brassy ensemble’s San Diego concert next week will feature selections from both MONK’estra albums. They wil be performed by a talent-packed lineup that includes drum dynamo Terreon Gully and Steely Dan sax veteran Bob Sheppard, Beasley’s former colleague in the late trumpet great Freddie Hubbard’s band.

“You go to a concert to be moved,” said Beasley, who served as musical director for Steely Dan’s 1996 “Arts Crime” tour.

“Our music is all-inclusive, at least in my head. We have all kinds of options for all kinds of people. Monk’s music is funky and soulful, swinging and audacious.”

Reflecting the times, then and now

The opening song on the new MONK’estra album, “Brake’s Sake,” features a socially inspired rap by trumpeter Dontae Winslow.

Beasley stresses that MONK’estra’s concerts are about creating first-rate music and uplifting audiences, not engaging in politically charged polemics.

But he believes artists have a responsibility to intelligently reflect the world around them and to help bring about positive change. And his band’s new album draws some of its inspiration from seeking to reflect the social realities Monk faced at a time when much of the United States, sadly, was still very segregated.

“Musicians have been speaking out about resistance for a long time,” said Beasley, who cited Max Roach’s “We Insist! Freedom Now Suite,” Herbie Hancock’s “The Prisoner” and Charles Mingus’ “Fables of Faubus” as a few examples.

“My hope is this music we’re making with MONK’estra — and music in general — can help people think and feel, and be part of this healing process. I don’t preach at people; I just point out what the story might be behind a song, because the history is important.”

The veteran keyboardist laughed when asked if, early on, anyone had told him he was crazy to form a 15-piece Monk big band, let alone assume the dizzying financial risk of taking it on the road.

“Oh, nobody had to tell me. I knew it on my own!” he said.

“It’s hard. Most of the time we feel like we’re just working for the airlines, to be quite honest, because air fares are extremely high. The airlines have had windfalls from low fuel prices for the last 3 to 4 years, but they haven’t (lowered prices). A huge part of our budget is not for paying the musicians; it’s for travel.”

The 1964 live album “Miles & Monk at Newport” devoted one side apiece to concert performances by bands led by Monk and Miles Davis, whose band Beasley joined in 1988. He still cherishes the musical wisdom the mighty Davis imparted to him, on stage and off.

Lesson from Miles Davis — and ‘American Idol’

“Miles didn’t like piano players to solo using both hands, because he felt — and I think he’s right in a lot of ways — that we tend to accompany ourselves with our left hand in a way that makes it cluttered for the rest of the band.

“He’d say: ‘John don’t use your left hand, man.’ He got frustrated with me one night, walked behind me and grabbed my lefty hand while I was taking a solo.”

Davis listened intently to the playing of his band members and would make comments to them, based on his observations, prior to concerts. One of those comments provided an epiphany for Beasley.

“Before a show, he said to me: ‘John, if you cant comp (play accompaniment) like (piano giant) Ahmad Jamal, don’t play.’ I thought to myself: ‘I haven’t heard Ahmad comp that much (because) he plays in trio. A couple of days later, I thought: ‘Ahmad’s trio is super-orchestrated. So maybe Miles wants me to think like an orchestrator when I play.’

“Then, I thought about how Ahmad will make a big statement, then back off and use a lot of space. I started doing that and Miles began to react in a positive way. So that was a huge lesson for me.

“Miles would also say stuff like: ‘Don’t feed me chords while I’m soloing.’ What he meant was to really accompany him and don’t make him solo off you. Freddie Hubbard used to say the same thing. Between those two guys, I really went to school on the art of comping!”

And what did he learn from his “American Idol” tenure, when he worked with mostly inexperienced young vocalists?

“ ‘Idol’ taught me a valuable lesson in addressing the question: ‘How can I serve the artist better,” Beasley replied. “I knew that before, but it was so much more obvious with amateur singers. A lot of those kids has never played with a live band before; they only knew karaoke.

“I learned how to write and arrange so that, No. 1, it relieves their nervousness. I thought about: ‘How can I make them sound better? How can I write a string line that stays away from the melody, in case their singing strays?’ And, also, getting to know these kids and giving them confidence, so they could go out there and deal with all that negativity that they are thrown, and still be able to make music.

‘I really had compassion for all those contestants. Even now, when I go off on tour with a (jazz) quartet that is playing every night, I think: ‘What can I do to make all this better?’ So that was a valuable lesson I took with me from ‘Idol’.”


Read the full piece from: San Diego Union - Tribune

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CD Review | Christian Sands “Reach”

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Christian Sands, although still young has already built a strong reputation in the USA. In 2012 he became an official “Steinway artist” and his work with Christian McBride’s Inside Straight band helped garner him international attention. Sands started his professional career at a young age however a defining moment came when at the age of 14 and still at high school, he attended the Jazz in July summer workshop at the University of Massachusetts where he attracted the attention of Dr. Billy Taylor who would become Sands long time mentor. He later went on to receive both a bachelor’s and master’s degree from the Manhattan School of Music.

Sand’s previous releases as a leader are to say the least mainstream and while the performances are excellent the albums are not that adventurous and show an artist still developing his craft. With “Reach” this is definitely not the case. Reach shows a level of artistic maturity usually found in artists that have spent far more years on this earth than Christian has.

For this album Christian has put together a trio with bassist Yasushi Nakamura, one of New Yorks up and coming bassists and drummer Marcus Baylor known largely for his work with the Yellowjackets. Also on the album are guest appearances by Gilad Hekselman on guitar, Marcus Strickland on tenor saxophone and bass clarinet, and percussionist Cristian Rivera. To top off this stellar line-up the album was co-produced by grammy award winning producer Al Pryor and famed bassist Christian McBride.

The Album opens with “Armando’s Song”, a straight ahead up tempo track that introduces the Trio and largley sets the tone for the rest of the album. I particularly enjoyed the interplay during Baylor’s drum solo. The following track titled “Song Of The Rainbow People” once again features the trio however changes the mood to “Soulfull” and shows Christian exploiting the full range of the piano.

Marcus Strickland joins the trio for “Pointing West,” another up tempo straight ahead track juxtaposing complex rhythm with straight ahead four on the floor. “Freefall” is something different adding synthesised textures to the mix, an atmospheric track that features a beautiful tenor solo by Strickland and overdubbed Bass Clarinet featured both in the backgrounds and unisono melody.

The next cab off the rank is “Óyeme” and see’s percussionist Cristian Rivera make his first appearance. This Afro Cuban inspired track grooves from the opening bars and features a strong solo from Sands before landing in a Montuno based rhythmic fiesta.

The Trio setting returns for Sand’s homage to Bud Powel “Bud’s Tune” before introducing guitarist Gilad Hekselman in “Reaching for the Sun”, a track that Sands says he wrote with Gilad in mind. This “easy latin” flavored tune is is somewhat of a departure stylistly form the rest of the album but is the perfect lead in for his version of the Bill Withers track “Use Me”. This track is a far darker blues influenced tune providing a perfect vehicle for Hekselman and Sand’s to let loose.

The third track on the album featuring Gilad Hekselman is the Hip Hop inspired “Gangstalude”, in my mind the least successful track on the album. Closing out the set is “Somewhere Out There.” a song made famous by Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram, that won Grammy® Awards for “Song of the Year” and “Best Song for Film” for it’s use in the 1986 animated film ”An American Tail”. In the liner notes Christian stated:

“I was looking for a ballad and I didn’t want to do Strayhorn or Porter,” Sands says. “I wanted to play something that was not that familiar. So I was talking to my mother and she said, ‘What about the song from the movie with the mouse that you used to watch when you were a kid?’ She used to sing it to me when I was four or five years old and my dad would play piano. So I told her she was genius; I don’t think this has ever been done as an instrumental. When people hear this, I’m hoping they go, ‘Oh, yeah, I remember this.”

I enjoyed this album from top to tale and have to admit it’s held pride of place in my daily playlist for some weeks now. The liner notes state that Reach, is “one more milestone in Sands’ auspicious career” and I could not agree more. I look forward to hearing more from this amazing young pianist over the coming years. I highly recommend this album.

Track Listing:

Armando’s Song; Song Of The Rainbow People; Pointing West; Freefall; ¡Óyeme!; Bud’s Tune; Reaching For The Sun; Use Me; Gangstalude; Somewhere Out There.

Personnel:

Christian Sands: piano; Marcus Baylor: drums; Yasushi Nakamura: bass; Gilad Hekselman: guitar (7-9); Christian McBride: bass (8); Cristian Rivera: percussion (5); Marcus Strickland: tenor saxophone (3, 4), bass clarinet (4).


Read the full piece from: Jazz In Europe

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Newport Jazz Festival Begins a New Era, With History as a Guide

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“I’m partial to jazz with a little bit of grease in it,” Mr. McBride told the audience in his affable baritone, as the applause died down. “Sometimes we get a little too into this gluten-free lifestyle.”

In March 2016, Mr. McBride became artistic director of the now 63-year-old festival — taking the reins directly from its 91-year-old co-founder, George Wein — so his metaphors matter. Mr. McBride, the 45-year-old bassist, is one of jazz’s uncontainable talents, able and eager to play almost anything, but he’s also one if its traditionalist standard-bearers. When he talks about grease, or carbs, he’s talking about the blues.

Lots of comparable festivals across the United States book pop acts as headliners, using jazz for its credibility and paramusical value. But Newport hasn’t stretched its rope very far, relying on its identity as the pre-eminent presenter of improvised music, and enjoying a reliable audience.

Mr. McBride wants to talk about how that role can be used. He’s sensitive about jazz becoming a marketing device, but also about the idea that it might be seen as a broad-brush label for experimentalism in American music. To him, jazz means something more like blues tradition, boldly extrapolated. Speaking backstage after the end of his set, Mr. McBride explained that he thinks a jazz festival in 2017 ought to include some kindred sounds from around the way.

“Henry Threadgill or Naturally 7 or One For All or DJ Logic, whoever it is — there’s some sort of a spiritual, unspoken, musical bond there with all of it,” he said, naming an avant-garde pioneer, a gospel-tinged a cappella group, a straight-ahead jazz sextet and a turntablist, all of whom were on the bill at this year’s festival.

The Roots — not likely to have been booked by Mr. Wein — closed the festival on Sunday afternoon, charging from Herbie Hancock acid-funk (“Actual Proof”) to a hard-bitten original (“Get Busy”) to a rollicking “Jungle Boogie.” More than in years past, the main stage featured music to move to. The pianist Jason Moran brought his Fats Waller Dance Party, making a ricocheting funk jam out of old repertoire and allowing the vocalist Lisa Harris to reinhabit the classic self-possession anthem “Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do,” paring down the lyrics, letting her sighs and her body movements communicate her pride.

And the saxophonist Maceo Parker reprised a handful of tunes from the James Brown songbook, playing whiplash funk with an eight-piece group that was locked like lattice.

Mr. McBride’s choices made other arguments too. He elevated a number of musicians from his native Philadelphia, where jazz’s inheritance machinery is especially strong; the music there retains an intergenerational coherence without passing through the filter of the academy.

The pianist Orrin Evans, a Philadelphia native, made his first appearance as a band leader at Newport. (That fact should astonish you; he’s been worthy for about 20 years.) He finished a set of characteristically chunky and waggish solo piano at the sole indoor stage with a tender reading of Trudy Pitts’s “Blessed Ones the Eternal Truth,” a plea for sanctified fellowship; Mr. Evans sang guilelessly, drawing up chords from the keys in a simple, quarter-note rhythm. As the song progressed, more treble and sunlight crept in; by the end the room was silent and rapt around him.

On Sunday afternoon, Mr. McBride reassembled the Philadelphia Experiment, a trio of cross-pollinated talent, featuring Questlove, the Roots’ drummer, and Uri Caine, the keyboardist. (DJ Logic joined on turntables as a special guest.) The group dug a trench of groove and hardly ever emerged, though it switched the feel and redialed the intensity level often.

A spilling crowd showed up for this show, though it overlapped with both Mr. Moran’s set and one from the young soul-jazz trumpeter Theo Croker. The Experiment’s audience was remarkably young, reflecting Newport’s recent emphasis on selling discounted tickets to students. All told, there were more student buyers than in any recent year, organizers said. The festival drew upward of 9,000 total attendees on Saturday, slightly fewer on Sunday and roughly 4,000 on Friday. No stage ever lacked a quorum.

The festival is held each year at Fort Adams State Park, a Civil War citadel on a bluff in the Narragansett Bay.It’s exposed to the elements, but after some early rain on Saturday cleared up, the weekend became bucolic. The setting is a draw, but the festival — with four stages across the fort, and a total runtime of over 20 hours — doesn’t fit as a simple line item on a vacation itinerary.

Since the 1950s, it has offered a reliable read on the spinal center of jazz. Considering that, the slightly younger (and, to a lesser degree, more racially mixed) faces this year felt like a part of a broader trend in jazz — and therefore, even more auspicious. It also made the hunger for fresh talent onstage — long a trope of jazz consumerism — seem more apt, less despairing. Amir ElSaffar, the Iraqi trumpeter and santur player, has played Newport before, but never with his Rivers of Sound orchestra, an intercontinental group with improvisations wafting up from loping, odd-meter melodies.

And the pianist Christian Sands, 28, a habitual McBride sideman, led his own slashing quartet, delivering airtight compositions and punctilious improvising. His instrumentation of piano, electric guitar, acoustic bass and drums gives Mr. Sands’s music — groove-drenched, gospelly and smartly plotted — a balance of physical body and electric charge. The band opened its Friday afternoon set with “Song of the Rainbow People” and “Pointing West,” both originals, leaving enough on the field to sidestep the accusation of flawlessness (yes, Mr. Sands is that kind of player).

On Saturday afternoon, the bassist and vocalist Esperanza Spalding and the drummer Terri Lyne Carrington brought together Mr. Sands, Mr. Moran and Vijay Iyer for a tribute to the influential pianist Geri Allen, who died this year, and who had been their trio-mate. The three pianists took turns; on Allen’s “Unconditional Love,” Mr. Sands’s quick runs and sharply articulated arpeggios cut a stark contrast with Ms. Spalding, whose playing and singing were like two flushes of wind.

She sang a solo in her distinctive style, a kind of vowel-dominant scatting, all open, airy sounds; for punctuation, she uses a hard “e,” not a “p” or a “k.” There’s something childlike and dreamy about it,not bratty or teasing or seductive, like jazz singing is often meant to be. That she’s doing all this while accompanying herself on bass is almost unreasonable.

Ms. Carrington’s unceasing lift on the ride cymbal can be seen as a constant homage to Allen, whose playing was effortlessly propulsive. But it wasn’t until Mr. Moran took the piano chair that Allen’s spirit seemed to almost re-enter the park. On the ballad “Lucky to Be Me” and a mid-tempo reading of “Nothing Like You,” his left hand painted in misty watercolor, and the band fell into a dream state, past and future entwined.

Correction: August 7, 2017

An earlier version of this story misstated the day the Geri Allen tribute was performed. It was Saturday afternoon, not Sunday.


Read the full piece from: NY Times

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JACKIEM JOYNER’S ‘MAIN STREET BEAT’ INSPIRED BY MOTOWN & BABY

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The new set debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz chart this week. Main Street Beat is the latest in the series of albums from Joyner, whose 2012 Gospel-jazz project Church Boy earned critical acclaim among Jazz and Gospel music fans.

Jetting back and forth from his suburban Los Angeles base, Joyner is taking Main Street Beat, boasting nine of his inspiring original compositions, directly to audiences across the U.S. so they can enjoy the jazzy new tracks that reflect his ardor and appreciation for the Motown sound while celebrating his joy at becoming a first-time father. Joyner’s current single, “Trinity,” a sweet tribute to his baby daughter, climbs to No. 16 on Billboard’s Smooth Jazz radio chart this week.

The Main Street Beat concert trek began close to home in nearby Pasadena in early June before taking flight for shows in major cities, including Cincinnati, Birmingham, San Diego and Philadelphia. Fireworks flew in front of a crowd of 40,000 when Joyner hit the stage at a Fourth of July event presented by Los Angeles urban radio station KJLH.

A high-energy set showcasing Joyner’s impassioned horn play on tenor, soprano and alto sax, Main Street Beat is an R&B and contemporary jazz nuanced project Gospel music fans will love. The grooves – many of which are infused with the soulful power of a muscular sax section laid down in layers by Joyner – are undeniably catchy while his innate flair for crafting memorable hooks and buoyant melodies are prominent in the new material he penned for the project. Guesting on the album are a pair of noteworthy guitarists: Steve Oliver, who appears on the first single named for the first-time father’s new daughter, “Trinity,” and Chicago hitman Nick Colionne, who strums his electric jazz guitar with trademark panache on “When You Smile.”

Track List

1. Main Street

2. Back To Motown

3. Can’t Stop The Feeling

4. Trinity

5. When You Smile

6. Southside Boulevard

7. That Good Thing

8. Treasure

9. Addicted

10. Don’t Make Her Wait

11. Get Down Street

Jackiem Joyner Social Network & URLsFacebook – https://www.facebook.com/jackiemjoyner/
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Twitter – https://twitter.com/JackiemJoyner
Website – http://jackiemjoyner.com/
*Album music stream available for review by request.
Buy linksiTunes – https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/main-street-beat/id1234653301
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Jackiem Joyner’s Main Street Beat Tour

July 27 / Atlanta, GA / Album Release Party / Suite Jazz Series
August 5 / Trenton, MI / Jazz On The River
August 12 / Sacramento, CA / The Hangar At McClellan Park
August 19 & 20 / Copper Mountain, CO / Genuine Jazz Fest
August 25 / Muskegon, MI / Jazz In The Park at Hackley Park

September 28 – October 1 / Algarve, Portugal / Smooth Jazz Festival

October 22 / Stockton, CA /University Plaza Waterfront Hotel

November 4 / Melbourne, FL / Jazzo

November 9 & 11 / Hampton, VA / Jazz Legacy Foundation

For more information, including Joyner’s concert itinerary, please visit www.JackiemJoyner.com.

About Jackiem Joyner

Born in Norfolk, VA and raised in Syracuse, NY, Jackiem Joyner came through the church choir before taking up the saxophone in high school. After high school, Joyner returned to Norfolk, where Bishop Michael Patterson of the World Harvest Outreach Ministries in Newport News made him head of the music department.

His 2007 debut Babysoul earned Debut Artist of the Year honors from Smooth Jazz News. His sophomore set Lil Man Soul spawned two No. 1 singles on the Billboard chart and won the Song of the Year trophy for “I’m Waiting For You” from the American Smooth Jazz Awards.

His self-titled 2010 album solidified his position as a consistent hit-maker. Joyner’s critically acclaimed 2012 Gospel-Jazz release Church Boy featured tracks with Israel & New Breed, Kirk Franklin, Jonathan Butler, and Tye Tribbett. His new project, Main Street Beat, which debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz chart, coincides with his tenth anniversary as a recording artist and is now available.


Read the full piece from: EurWeb

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Grammy-Award Winning Artist Cecile McLorin Salvant Is Deeply Rooted in Music

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Right before Salvant released her first album titled Cecile, she was the grand prize winner in the Thelonius Monk International Jazz Competition. Salvant’s third album For One to Love received a Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Album in 2016. Soon enough, New York natives will have the opportunity to listen to her angelic voice in September. Mack Avenue Records will have a launching event in New York .

This is an artist you should study in 2017!

To learn more about this talent and unique vocalist, check out her site: http://www.cecilemclorinsalvant.com/


Read the full piece from: Singers Room

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Beasley’s MONK’estra Takes Thelonious’ Tunes on Wild Ride

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A packed house at the Hudson stage heard Beasley and company take free flight in celebration of the centennial of Monk’s birthday with freshly arranged tunes from last year’s MONK’estra, Vol.1 on Mack Avenue as well as new arrangements on MONK’estra, Vol. 2, scheduled for release Sept. 1.

The band delivered the rhythmically charged ”Gallop’s Gallop,” featuring drummer Peter Erskine, and introduced a rousing version of “Criss-Cross.” But a sure highlight of the evening was a romp through “Skippy,” which Beasley said was the “hardest” tune of the set because “it goes in a lot of different places.” And that it did, with atmospheric trombones, kicking rhythms and feisty sax solos.

Talking between shows, Beasley noted that the tune itself is relatively simple. “Monk used to play [a solo version of] ‘Tea For Two,’ then he recorded it by re-harmonizing the melody and finally wrote another melody over that to make it ‘Skippy,’” he said. “Then I took it from there with my arrangement.”

Beasley talked about the project, noting that he had played Monk before in different settings, including on bassist Buell Neidlinger’s Thelonious album in 1987 and in a duo recording with guitarist Steve Cardenas on 1994’s 10/10 Tribute To Thelonious Monk.

The big band setting almost came as an accident after the arranger found a new toy: the Sibelius music notation software that he was using while serving as the associate music director of the TV show American Idol (for Carrie Underwood in 2003 and lead arranger thereafter for over 10 years).

“After the season ended, I decided to do a 20th-century big band chart using Monk’s ‘Epistrophy,’” he said. “I quickly found out that I could stretch Monk’s form, make stops and starts. I realized how pliable his music was and how open he was to interpretation. Arranging is improvisation, so I went from there.”

He assembled a band of friends to perform this tune and others. After playing the music for a couple years under the name MONK’estra, he invited Monk’s son, T.S. Monk, to come hear the band and give it his blessing.

“T.S. is always protective of his father, but he was totally cool with what we were doing,” he said. “He said, ‘I give you my blessing because the band is the step that my dad wanted for his music. He told me that he wrote his music to be vehicles for self-expression.’”

So, with Beasley’s interpretations of Monk’s unique quirkiness, offbeat actions and punchy dissonances, has he received any detractors?

“I was fully expecting to hear people complaining about ‘’Round Midnight,’ the way I made it electric with a Glasper-esque vibe, but no one has said a thing,” he said. “I think they approve. Really, I think we’re just now catching up with what Monk was doing harmonically. It takes people time to get into different kinds of composing.”

Next up is Vol. 2, with new music and guest spots by Kamasi Washington, Regina Carter and Dianne Reeves, who sings “Ruby, My Dear” (she also guested in MONK’estra’s second show at North Sea, giving voice to the lyrical, moody “Ask Me Now,” to which Beasley had written lyrics). And the shows just keep on coming, including the Detroit International Jazz Festival on Labor Day weekend; the Monterey Jazz Festival on Sept. 17; and a Monk centennial celebration at the Jazz Standard Oct. 12–14.


Read the full piece from: Downbeat

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Big Bad Wolf

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This past December, there was a buzz in the air at An die Musik Live!—the tiny, 90-seat jazz haven perched on the second floor of a Mount Vernon townhouse. Onstage, a murderers’ row of locally reared jazz talent was assembling for a concert that would be part holiday show and part homecoming. In the midst of it all, exchanging warm greetings and playful ribbings, was vibraphonist Warren Wolf. Though raised in West Baltimore and a current resident of Reisterstown, Wolf doesn’t play his hometown all that often. As one of today’s most in-demand jazz musicians, you’re much more likely to find him gigging around the globe than tuning up in Timonium, or some such place. But he’s happy to be here tonight.

“You know, it’s good to leave home, and it’s good to come back,” Wolf says later. “You have to reconnect with your people regularly. There’s something about those DMV musicians, those players from D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. There’s a fire to how we play, and we like to play with each other, because we share that.”

Tonight, Wolf has formed a quartet with three fellow Baltimoreans-turned-jazz-hotshots—drummer Quincy Phillips, bassist Kris Funn, and pianist Alex Brown. As the set begins, Wolf, wearing a close-trimmed Afro, thin goatee, and dark blazer over an open-collar white shirt, demonstrates the skills that led the voters in DownBeat Magazine’s 2016 Critics Poll to name him one of the five best vibraphonists in the world.

As his two mallets begin their rapid up-and-down motion, the felt ball at the end of each stick multiplies into a blur. Aided by the whirring motors beneath the instrument’s wooden, xylophone-like keys, every note he strikes boasts the sustained vibrato that gives the vibraphone its signature chime. Out of that blizzard of notes emerges a strong melodic pattern that, once established, is endlessly restated in new variations. It’s that combination of physical dexterity and lucid musicality that has launched Wolf out of Baltimore’s local orbit and into the national galaxy of jazz stars.

“[Bassist/composer] Curtis Lundy turned me onto Warren 11 years ago,” says Bobby Watson, the legendary alto saxophonist. “Curtis said, ‘You have to hire this guy—he’s a beast.’ He’s another child prodigy. He’s such a nice person, but he’s always playing his butt off. . . . I always told him, ‘I’m glad I got you now, because you’ll be hard to get in the future.’”

In September, Wolf will unveil his new duo with fellow vibraphonist Joe Locke. And then in November, the same week he turns 38, Wolf will introduce his new quintet during shows in New York and Switzerland. Meanwhile, Wolf will continue to teach at Philadelphia’s Temple University.

“I hear people saying, ‘Oh, Warren’s big-time; he’s playing with all those famous people and making big money,’ but I don’t let that stuff affect me,” Wolf says. “I don’t mind going down to HomeSlyce Pizza here in Baltimore and playing for $60 and some free pizza at the Wednesday night jam session that Todd Marcus runs. I like the freedom of a situation like that, because a lot of the time when you’re touring, you don’t get to play as freely as you’d like. You have to stick to what you’re selling, so you have to play the latest record.”

“But who I am— and who my father trained me to be—is a complete musician.”

Wolf’s latest record, last year’s Convergence, is his third album with the high-profile jazz label Mack Avenue Records and the best proof yet of how high he has climbed in the jazz world. It features the young vibraphonist leading an all-star quartet comprised of pianist Brad Mehldau, guitarist John Scofield, drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts, and five-time Grammy Award-winning bassist Christian McBride.

“I sat down with my manager, Andre Guess, and Denny Stilwell, the president of Mack Avenue,” Wolf recalls, “and we agreed that as great as the first two records were, we wanted to do something that would put my name in a different context, that would raise the bar. So we decided to get some of the best players available. . . . It was time to show that Warren can hang with the best.”

Wolf acquitted himself just fine, writing six strong compositions that pushed his guests to work hard. He also showcased his talent for reinterpretation, arranging old standards by Stevie Wonder and even Frédéric Chopin.

“Sometimes you have to change it up,” Wolf says. “A lot of guys just want to play their own songs and don’t pay attention to what the audience wants. So much jazz is all this swing and a lot of drums over and over again. Okay, but let’s include something else, too.

“For this album, that ‘something else’ was Motown and classical music,” he continues. “When I was a child, I toured with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and we played John Corigliano’s Pied Piper Fantasy. Now I’m hearing all those styles inside me, and I want them all to come out in my music. A lot of people put me in this box called ‘a jazz musician’ because I play so fluently through changes. But who I am—and who my father trained me to be—is a complete musician.”

Wolf grew up in Edmondson Village in West Baltimore, running through the alleys where he and his friends would nail crates to the telephone poles and play basketball. From the very beginning, his musical diet was varied. He consumed ’80s R&B via his sisters, hip-hop with his friends, and just about everything else from his father, Warren Wolf Sr. The elder Wolf was a social studies teacher in Baltimore—working at Northern High School, Booker T. Washington Middle School, and Paul Laurence Dunbar Middle School, among others. But he was also a percussionist who led a group called Wolf Pac that played at local clubs such as the Sportsmen’s Jazz Lounge in Howard Park. He had always dreamed of becoming a full-time musician, and he wanted to make sure his son had that chance.

“When 5:30 hit, that’s when practicing started,” Wolf recalls. “From 5:30 to 6:30 it was piano. From 6:30 to 7:30 it was drums. From 7:30 to 8:30 it was vibraphone. It was like that five days a week from the time I was 5 until I was 17. It was hard, because what kid wants to be stuck in the basement practicing when he could be outside playing? But when I played a solo with the Rock Glen Middle School Band, people clapped and later came up to say, ‘Warren, you sound really good.’ I got off on that, so I kept practicing.”

One effective technique involved playing along to his father’s cassettes of classical concertos. “Those violinists can play really fast, but I was determined to keep up, wrong notes or not,” Wolf says. “That built up my speed.”

Though Wolf considers himself equally proficient on vibraphone, drums, and piano—and still plays all of them onstage and in the studio—he got the most attention for his vibes work, if only because there’s a lot less competition on that instrument.

“It’s important for me to . . . let the world know that a strong music culture comes from Baltimore.”

“Honestly, I think of myself as a vibraphonist-slash-drummer,” he told DownBeat in 2013. “But . . . the vibes have given me the most recognition, so I lean in that direction. . . . It’s an instrument you don’t see every time. At almost every show I play, at least one person comes up and says, ‘Wow, I’ve never seen a xylophone out front before.’ I say, ‘Thanks, but it’s not a xylophone.’”

All of his practice paid off when Wolf was accepted into the Baltimore School for the Arts and then the Berklee College of Music in Boston, pushing him out of the comfortable nest of Baltimore and into a give-and-take with some of the best college-age jazz musicians in the world—and with some of the world’s best working jazz musicians on the faculty. The education happened not just in the classroom but also at Wally’s Cafe, a Boston jazz venue where Wolf got to test himself against the best players of his generation. It’s an irreplaceable experience, and Wolf believes too many Baltimore musicians make a mistake in never leaving town to be challenged and heard in the wider jazz world.

“You just have to do it,” he says. “My sister said, ‘I’ve got to figure out how to get out of Baltimore and make some bigger connections.’ I told her, ‘There’s no secret; you just raise a little money and go do it.’”

Wolf graduated from Berklee in 2001 and stayed in Boston, teaching at Berklee, playing in a band led by Rachael Price—now the lead singer for the famed Americana quartet Lake Street Dive—and waiting for the phone to ring. It required some patience, but eventually the job offers started coming in from jazz luminaries, including—most crucially—Christian McBride.

The McBride connection—along with playing on a album by saxophonist Tia Fuller—got Wolf his record deal with Mack Avenue, which in turn gave him a visibility that led to guest appearances with established artists and an invitation to join one of the most unusual ensembles in jazz: the SFJazz Collective. SFJazz, San Francisco’s nonprofit jazz institution, sponsors a resident octet that each year records a two-CD, 16-track album devoted to one composer.

Each of the eight members contributes a new arrangement of a piece by that composer as well as an original composition in the composer’s style. Then, they play that music at the SFJazz Center and on national and international tours. Wolf has already participated in the albums devoted to Joe Henderson, Michael Jackson, and Miles Davis. Most unusually, the SFJazz Collective is provided with the rarest commodity in modern jazz: subsidized rehearsal time.

“That’s so important,” says Wolf. “Most of the time in jazz, someone brings in a lead sheet; you play the melody, then each person solos, you play the melody again and you’re done. Next song. It’s totally not like that with the SFJazz Collective; there’s time to create music that’s through-composed. It keeps the music fresh.”

Wolf left Boston in 2004 to return to the Baltimore area. After you get to a certain level in jazz, he points out, you’re traveling all over the world anyway, so it really doesn’t matter where you live, as long as you’re close to an airport. Wolf, his second wife, and their two children now live in Reisterstown, not only because Maryland is cheaper than Boston or New York, but also because he feels more comfortable being close to family and the community of musicians he grew up with. Those ties have seemed especially important since his mother, Celeste, died two years ago.

“My mom was the backbone of the family,” he says. “She treated everyone as they would want to be treated. When she retired as a supervisor for Baltimore Gas and Electric, she needed something to do, so she taught herself piano. My dad was always there for me, but he was all about the music. My mom taught me how to love, because she was a very loving person.”

For any artist from Baltimore, two big challenges are knowing when to leave, and knowing when to come back. Wolf feels he did both at just the right times, and that he now enjoys an international career because he never lost the special flavor of his Baltimore roots.

“It’s always important to know where home is, and for me that’s Baltimore,” Wolf reflects. “It’s important for me to bring the Baltimore music style to the world, to let the world know that a strong music culture comes from Baltimore. And it’s important for me to play a few local shows per year to always give my fans a world class show that the city doesn’t receive too much.”


Read the full piece from: Baltimore Magazine

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John Beasley, Bearing New “Evidence,” Announces His ‘MONK’estra Vol. 2’

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Like any pianist and composer in the jazz idiom, John Beasley owes a substantial debt to Thelonious Monk. Unlike most, he chooses to express that influence in large-canvas terms.

Several years ago he formed the MONK’estra, a Los Angeles-based big band, in order to play Monk’s music with contemporary flair.

MONK’estra, Vol. 1 was released on Mack Avenue last year, garnering two Grammy nominations and critical acclaim. In the wake of that release, Beasley took the band on tour, before returning to the studio to make MONK’estra, Vol. 2. That album will be released on Sept. 1, weeks before what would have been Monk’s 100th birthday.

The album represents not only a franchise sequel but also an expansion of Beasley’s mission with the project. “You start thinking of Thelonious and his era, of what it took just to be a jazz musician during that time,” he mused, in a press statement. “I wanted to push the story out there that maybe some jazz fans had forgotten about.”

That impulse finds traction right out of the gate, on a version of “Brake’s Sake” with some socially charged rapping by trumpeter Dontae Winslow. (“We went from Prohibition to heroin addiction / From lynching to life in prison...”)

Beasley is an accomplished composer for film and television, and he has been the musical director for every International Jazz Day All-Star Global Concert. He brings coolheaded insight to his orchestrations, drawing on a big-band syntax refined by the likes of Quincy Jones.

With MONK’estra, Vol. 2, Beasley also welcomes a handful of marquee guest soloists, like violinist Regina Carter (on “Crepuscule with Nellie”), percussionist Pedrido Martínez (“Criss Cross”) and singer Dianne Reeves (“Dear Ruby,” a reinvention of “Ruby, My Dear”). An exuberant arrangement of “Evidence” features two swing-for-the-fences solos, by the questing tenor saxophonist Kamasi Washington and the erudite trombonist Conrad Herwig.

Beasley had different hands on deck when the MONK’estra recently gave “Evidence” a spin at the Blue Whale in Los Angeles. In the video below, which has its premiere here, Beasley sets up the tune with an impressionistic prelude on piano, before some knockabout improvising by alto saxophonist Danny Janklow and trumpeter Brian Swartz. (On drums, and a strong candidate for MVP of the clip, is Gene Coye, a Chicago native who works with Larry Carlton.)

John Beasley and the MONK’estra will perform at the Detroit Jazz Festival on Sept. 3, at the Monterey Jazz Festival on Sept. 17, and at the Jazz Standard in New York from Oct. 12-14. 


Read the full piece from: WBGO

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Funk, fatherhood and Motown meet at the intersection of Jackiem Joyner’s sax-powered “Main Street Be

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Jackiem Joyner has spent a lot of time on airplanes this month to pave the way for the arrival of his sixth album, "Main Street Beat," a steamrolling sax set that was released Friday by Artistry Music/Mack Avenue Records. Jetting back and forth from his suburban Los Angeles base, Joyner is taking the album he produced, boasting nine of his original compositions, directly to audiences in all parts of the U.S. so they can dance with him to the funky new tracks that reflect his ardor and appreciation for the Motown sound while celebrating his joy of becoming a father.

The "Main Street Beat" concert trek began close to home in nearby Pasadena in early June before taking flight for shows in major cities, including Cincinnati, Birmingham, San Diego and Philadelphia. Fireworks will be flying in front of an anticipated crowd of 40,000 when Joyner hits the stage at a Fourth of July event presented by Los Angeles urban radio station KJLH. He will fly back east again to play Akron, Ohio's BLU Jazz+ on July 7 and resume the busy coast-to-coast travel for a run of August concerts.

A high-energy set showcasing Joyner's impassioned horn play on tenor, soprano and alto sax, "Main Street Beat" was originally intended to be a funk record, but became more with R&B, contemporary jazz and pop nuances seeping into the mix. The grooves - many of which are infused with the soul power of a muscular sax section laid down in layers by Joyner - are undeniably danceable while his innate flair for crafting catchy hooks and buoyant melodies are prominent in the new material he penned for the project. Aptly, Joyner selected a pair of tunes to record that embody these elements: Justin Timberlake's euphoric "Can't Stop The Feeling" and Bruno Mars' old-school party jam "Treasure." Guesting on the album are a pair of noteworthy guitarists: Steve Oliver, who appears on the first single named for Joyner's daughter, "Trinity," and Chicago hitman Nick Colionne, who strums his electric jazz guitar with trademark panache on "When You Smile."

The release of "Main Street Beat" coincides with the tenth anniversary of Joyner's debut disc, "Babysoul." An award-winner and a Billboard chart-topper, the Norfolk, Virginia native is receiving accolades for the new collection. The influential SoulTracks declared that "Joyner is at his creative and funky best." Below is a sampling of the reviews:

"A summer soundtrack, top down, country driving, playing lead harmonies on alto reinforced by his exuberant sax section work has culminated in Main Street Beat being one of the best albums of 2017." - Exclusive Magazine

"To say this saxman has done it again is an understatement. His massive growth is, in and of itself, a work of art; a true form of musical poetry in motion." - The Smooth Jazz Ride

"He ups the ante to make this set something you don't just listen to in the background. Zippy, zesty and packing real punch, this is the kind of muscular sax playing that you can only find deep in the pocket. A winning set throughout." - Midwest Record

"A funky and swinging album!" - Keys & Chords

"With justifiable pride, Father Jackiem announces the birth of his daughter Trinity and lets us participate in the joy with the new album ‘Main Street Beat.'" - Sonic Soul Reviews

"Jackiem Joyner's Main Street Beat is creative, real, and organic as smooth jazz should be." - Smooth Jazz Daily

For more information, including Joyner's concert itinerary, please visit www.JackiemJoyner.com. 


Read the full piece from: Jazz Corner

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THE PULSE OF ENTERTAINMENT: EMBRACE JACKIEM JOYNER’S ‘TRINITY’; ROBERT E. PERSON RELEASES SINGLE

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Released on Artistry Music the single “Trinity” features Steve Oliver on acoustic guitarist – as the voice of Trinity. When I asked if his daughter is showing signs of musical talents he indicated when Beyonce’ music comes on she breaks out singing and dancing so her instrument may be vocals. Billboard chart topping Joyner plays the tenor, alto, soprano and baritone saxophones.

“It’s a groovy and funky CD. The first five songs are upbeat. I stretched my writing playing more tenor for that Motown feel…takes you back to Motown,” said Jackiem.

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Known as Lil’ Man on stage Jackiem Joyner enlisted Raymond Johnson (drums), Darryl Williams (bass), Kyle Bolden (guitar) and Carnell Harrell (piano) to form his band for the project or for at least six of the tracks. Jazz guitarist Nick Colionne is a featured artist on the “When You Smile” selection. Trombonist Nikolai Egorov is featured on the “Southside Blvd,” “That Good Thing” and “Don’t Make Her Wait” songs.

“Main Street Beat” is his sixth album. His first album release was in 2007 titled “Babysoul,” which garnered him the “Debut Artist of the Year” Smooth Jazz News Award. His sophomore album was released two years later, “Lil Man Soul” garnering him a #1 spot on Billboard Singles Chart and a “Song of the Year” American Smooth Jazz Award for “I’m Waiting for You.”

“I had this idea to play the drums. I knew I was going to be part of a band as a freshman in high school. Unfortunately or fortunately they had enough drummers and I had to choose another instrument. I chose the saxophone because it looked like the most expensive. My classmate chose the trumpet. People heard us in science class. (My teacher) He gave me a tape of Grover Washington Jr., Charlie Parker and Coltrane to listen to. I tried to play out what I heard. I advanced quickly. My teacher had the principle come listen and said, ‘…And it’s only been three weeks!’”

As they say the rest is HIStory. Jackiem Joyner is now on tour. He has performed at the Cincinnati “Celebration of Black Music,” Birmingham’s “Jazz in the Park” and at San Diego’s Mediterranean Jazz and Super Club. Check out the www.JackiemJoyner.com website for up coming show dates.

Gospel/Jazz vocalist Robert E. Person collaborates with Richard Smallwood on “I Give Your Praise” single.

Gospel/Jazz vocalist Robert E. Person releases his first single too, “I Give You Praise,” off of his upcoming album “Classic Covers” to be released in the Fall, 2017. The single is a 40 year old Richard Smallwood hit song. Robert was able to collaborate with Richard Smallwood on it.

“(Working with Richard Smallwood) It met and exceeded my expectations,” Person said when asked about working with a living legend such as Richard Smallwood. “I wanted to breathe new life to it without loosing the interiority to the song. I didn’t want to change it too much, but I incorporated as much live music as I could.”

Richard Smallwood is a pianist, singer and songwriter and is known for his choirs and hit songs. One song was made infamous by Whitney Houston in The Bodyguard movie titled “I Love the Lord.”

“I was so honored because he is so nonchalant. I’m a Washingtonian and I grew up listening to Richard. I know him from a far. I got up the nerve, courage and fear and asked him if I could record his song. He said, ‘Yes, it’s bigger than me. This song is 40 years old and is still relevant.’ It took a few months but it happened.”

Person began his career singing background for Josh Groban. He went on to perform for the Pope as well. An upcoming performance includes an August 27th date at the Mt. Sinai Baptist Church in Washington, DC. He recently performed at the Berean Baptist Church in DC, the Christian Tabernacle and the Indie Gospel Artist Alliance in Beltsville, Maryland.

Robert E. Person said he hopes his music brings peace to the world.

“We are still dealing with hate. The universal message of love is my message,” Person said seriously. “My last two albums centered around love but was just music. I decided to have a message this particular time stating that the word that God is Love, we are love. I don’t think we get enough love.”

Listen to Robert E. Person’s cover of “I Give You Praise” or learn more about his upcoming performances and his “Classic Covers” album release by logging onto his website www.RobertEPerson.com.


Read the full piece from: EURWEB

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Guest DJ Raul Midón’s Eclectic Influences Make Perfect Sense

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I'm always fascinated to learn what kinds of music influence a musician and how those are manifested in that artist's own creative output. Sometimes the references are obvious; other times, they're not so obvious, but make perfect sense once explained.

The latter is the case with singer-songwriter Raul Midón. His Guest DJ session offers insight into what inspires his mashup of soul, jazz and Afro-Caribbean music and results in one of the most eclectic collections of music we've presented on the show. Flamenco, tango, Spanish-language pop, Afro-Cuban rumba, South American nuevo canto — how often do you get all of that in one sitting?

We also talk about his new album, Bad Ass And Blind, which continues his streak of records that cross boundaries with ease and head-turning musicality. And, since Midón brought along so much great music that we didn't have time to cover it all in the show, you can read on for an extended playlist that includes all of his picks.


Read the full piece from: NPR

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Jackiem Joyner - Main Street Beat (advance review)

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Joyner became the father to a daughter, Trinity, in the interim, and he notes that the baby girl had an impact on the creative process. And there is an exuberance that comes through on tracks such as the title track, which is one of the several tracks where Joyner overdubs his performances of the soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones to create what he calls a layer of horns.

The track that Joyner titled in honor of his daughter is a more of a pensive number, and with the combination Joyner’s saxophone creativity involved in an instrumental give and take with Steve Oliver’s Latin tinged guitar solo work sets this track apart.

‘Smooth’ or contemporary jazz, the subgenre that employs many of the elements of R&B and hip-hop, has struggled to find its footing in the mainstream music landscape. Often, the genre has looked to an element that served acoustic jazz well in the past by seeking reimagine contemporary music in an instrumental jazz format, and Joyner goes that route on Main Street Beat, with covers of Bruno Mars “Treasure” and Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling.” These days, contemporary jazz is the genre where fans of instrumental funk come to get their itch scratched. That formula works better on the “Treasure” than on “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” a cut that sounds repetitive.

Joyner is at his creative and funky best, however, on his originals, such as the sensual and percussive groove on the instrumental ballad “Don’t Make Her Wait, and the old school funky plucking that serves the bottom for more layered-on sax creativity on “Get Down Street.”

Contemporary jazz has sometimes been content to go right down the middle of the road. A little bit jazz and little bit R&B. However, the best work in the genre stands on one side or the other. On Main Street Beat, Joyner stands firmly on the funk side, and that means that artist and father are in a pretty good place. Recommended.


Read the full piece from: Soul Tracks

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Raul Midón - Bad Ass and Blind

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“I’m badass / badass / badass and blind”: that’s the proclamation that pop singer/songwriter musician Raul Midón makes at the top of Bad Ass and Blind. Categorizing Midón is tough given the eclecticism he brings to the table. Ultimately, his niche fuses elements of jazz, pop, and soul, among other genres, throughout. Bad Ass and Blind settles somewhere in the realm of contemporary jazz or jazz-pop. As the title suggests, he is a badass, showing incredible musical restlessness throughout the album. It pays off more often than not.

Title track “Badass and Blind” kicks off the album energetically, chocked full of funky vibes. By far the most risqué moment of the album, Midón showcases his flawless set of singing pipes, as well as dropping some bars—rap bars. While the rapping is more tongue ‘n’ cheek as opposed to hard-nosed, he definitely talks some trash. Midón cleans it up on “Red Green Yellow”, an easy-going jazz-pop joint. No gimmicks or frills to be found here; just sound, clear vocals.

“Pedal to the Metal” packs more punch while maintaining that crisp and clean jazz shtick. While Midón may not channel his inner badass like he does on the seminal title track, he continues to shine. Among highlights are the electric guitar section and the harmonically unpredictable bridge. “Wings of Mind” is the first ‘traditional’ jazz track on Bad Ass and Blind. String bass strengthens this traditional identity, coupled with a hard-swinging groove, and furious comping piano truly sets the harmonic identity, particularly during the solo section. Even through the intensity, Midón maintains the utmost cool, never over-singing. He concludes dramatically, giving the song its biggest moment.

Midón remains easy-going on “If Only”, navigating through the harmonic changes like a pro. Despite its length, “If Only” packs a respectable punch, aided by the drum groove and overall tidiness of the production. Even the gritty electric guitar solo isn’t too gritty—it’s just enough ‘stank’ to propel things to the next level. “Sound Shadow” is brief but intriguing, with the accompaniment comprised of highly syncopated guitar, creating a driving effect. Oxymoronic, it’s busy, yet smooth as butter. Once more, he is on autopilot, adding the cherry on top.

“Jack” ranks among the most thoughtful moments from Bad Ass and Blind. A tender, sentimental ballad, Midón delivers the record with passion and indisputable authenticity. While the particular song doesn’t feature a notable climax, its pleasant and enjoyable sound is undeniable. Dedication and all things ‘warm and fuzzy’ remain the m.o. on follow-up, “You & I”. Aided by the gift of groove, there’s more ‘fuel for the fire’ compared to “Jack”. While the title and subject matter are arguably cliché, Midón sells them sensationally with his masterful instrument. “You & I” picks up more steam within the last minute, where he’s supported by backing vocals, not to mention employing a dash of falsetto.

“All That I Am” returns to jazzier stylings, similar to “Wings of Mind”. Swing has returned full force, giving Bad Ass and Blind another traditional moment. Even with old school in mind, there are enough quirks to keep the joint from sounding anachronistic. The piano solo, in particular, is superb. “Gotta Gotta Give” embraces more of a retro, funk-jazz sensibility. It’s not far-fetched from “Badass and Blind”, sporting the same swagger. Compared to “All That I Am”, “Gotta Gotta Give” is much more contemporary. Midón concludes with a classic courtesy of The Steve Miller Band: “Fly Like an Eagle”. He doesn’t play it straight—there are some altered harmonies to keep things interesting. Still, the classicism is maintained.

All in all, Raul Midón meets the expectations of the album’s title. Indeed, he’s Bad Ass and Blind. While this LP doesn’t reinvent the jazz script, some successful risks take place. Of course, that’s assuming one considers Bad Ass and Blind a ‘jazz’ album. If that’s the play, Midón doesn’t throw too much at the fan base. Sure, the rhymes and profanity are surprising, but beyond that, he focuses on his craft as opposed to his place in the rap game. Ultimately, this is a sound, well-rounded offering.


Read the full piece from: Pop Matters

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Take Five: New Music From Raul Midón, Aaron Parks, Amir ElSaffar, Adam Rogers and Barbara Morrison

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Throwback soul, smooth R&B and contemporary jazz have long found convergence in the music of Raul Midón. On Bad Ass and Blind, his wryly titled new album, Midón serves a new batch of songs in his personalized hybrid style, pushing musicianship to the foreground. Some tracks lean a bit far into the crossover zone, but “Wings of Mind” features a coolly swinging band, with Gerald Clayton on piano, Joe Sanders on bass and Gregory Hutchinson on drums. Midón ventures some brisk acoustic guitar work, followed by a sharp trumpet solo by Nicholas Payton. Midón performs a free lunchtime concert on Thursday at MetroTech Commons in Brooklyn, as part of the BAM Rhythm and Blues Festival.


Read the full piece from: WBGO

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REVIEWS, RINGER OF THE WEEK Kevin Eubanks: East West Time Line

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Guitarist Kevin Eubanks is gifted with sublime talents on both electric and nylon acoustic guitar. He splits the album up divided between two bands, the first half with Orrin Evans/p-key, Dave Holland/b, Nicholas Payton/tp and Jeff “Tain” Watts/dr and the second half teaming Rene Camacho/b, MinoCinelu/perc, Bill Pierce/ts and Marvin “Smitty” Smith.

The first question has to be “why do drummers have to have nicknames?” That aside, The other one has to be “Where has Pierce been hiding since teaming with the Marsalis Brothers back in the 80s with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers?” He sounds wonderfully muscular on the Afro Cuban read of “Take the Coltrane,” sizzle with the leader’s guitar on the tribal groove of “Cuban Chant” and goes back and forth on the post bop modal read of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.” He is breathy on the cozy “My One and Only Love” where Eubanks is at his sublime best, and since it is the guitarist’s session, let it be known that he does a rich pulse with Watt’s as they snap together for Payton’s hip horn on “Time Line.”

Eubanks is ebullient in mixing nylon with electric strings on the graceful “Poet” and dances around Evans dark keys with Holland on “Carnival.” This album is a real treat!


Read the full piece from: Jazz Weekly

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The Artistry of Billy Childs on “Rebirth”

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With his luscious orchestrations, and his inherent ability to find beauty in whatever he composes, some have labelled him as a “Third Stream” artist-a term coined in a 1957 speech by jazz composer/arranger Gunther Schuller to describe the skillful combination of elements of classical music with the improvisational aspects of jazz. But Childs is more than an accomplished symphonic composer. His history includes playing his share of hard-bop piano alongside some of jazz’s great masters. His youthful experiences touring with the great trombonist J.J. Johnson and subsequently as a member of the iconic trumpeter Freddie Hubbard’s band made their indelible mark on his musical soul.

With the release of his latest recording, aptly titled Rebirth, Childs has renewed his love of the kind of group interplay that was the hallmark of those early Johnson and Hubbard groups. But this music is pure Childs, and it incorporates the orchestral feel of his own musical identity. Of the eight pieces of music on this recording, five are Childs originals. The title song is a Childs collaboration with vocalist Claudia Acuna, who also sings on it, and the remaining two songs are thoughtful rearrangements of Michel Legrand’s “Windmills of Your Mind” and Horace Silver’s seminal “Peace.”

For this recording Childs enlisted a group of musicians who are at the cutting edge of today’s contemporary jazz scene Steve Wilson on alto and soprano saxophones, Hans Glawischnig on acoustic bass and Eric Harland on drums make up the core group. The singers Claudia Acuna and Alicia Olatula, as well as trombonist Ido Meshulam and percussionist Rogerio Boccato are also featured on the album.

The songs, for the most part, dense, very conversational constructions that sing with lyricism and swim in the waters of syncopated rhythmic patterns that encourage magical interplay. The opener “Backwards Bop,” a cooking swinger that just surges with energy, features Glawischnig’s pulsing bass, Childs perceptive piano, some searing alto by Wilson and explosive drum work by Harland. The same roiling intensity, can be heard on the rapid-fire changes of “Dance of Shiva,” Harland often pushing with his relentless fusillade of sounds and Childs’ using stabbing piano lines that fire like the report of an automatic weapon.

“Rebirth” is a soaring piece of music. Child’s and co-writer Acuna have clearly found inspiration in the work that Chick Corea did with vocalist Flora Purim on Light as A Feather. Child’s piano stylings have a lusciousness that are all his own. Acuna- as fluid a voice as there is in jazz today- has an amazing instrument, using her impressive ability to rapidly modulate through complex passages while still eliciting great feeling. The entire group plays with great cohesion and synchronicity, whipping the song into a climactic frenzy. Wilson’s soprano and alto saxophones dance with grace and meaning. The music is topped off by a rousing trombone solo by Ido Meshulam and some crashing cymbals by Harland at the coda.

On the yearning “Stay,” Alicia Olatuja’s haunting voice creates a sense of poignant eagerness. The vocalist modulates the lyrics in some unusual and sometimes unsettling ways as Childs and his trio play with sparse sensitivity.

The piano concerto-like sound of Childs on his moving “Tightrope” is enhanced by a beautifully realized bass solo by Glawischnig.

Childs’ brief pianistic intro on “The Starry Night,” is a scintillating taste of what is to come. When the band enters, Wilson’s airy soprano is out front and flying. Listen closely as each band member brilliantly match the complex lines in precise synchronicity, Glawischnig’s bass, Wilson’s soprano, Harland’s dancing drums, all led down the path constructed by the magic of their leader. Childs strong use of chording and fluid filigreed runs are brilliantly orchestrated and expertly executed. Wilson’s soprano work floats weightlessly above the music like a bilious cloud.

On Michel Legrand’s “Windmills of Your Mind,” Wilson is featured on alto, and although he does an admirable job with Childs’ much more contemporary arrangement, I can’t help but to go back to the great Phil Woods captivating performance of this song with Legrand’s own orchestra on the album “Images” from 1975 as my personal choice.

In these times of turmoil what better anthem to resurrect than Horace Silver’s “Peace.” Childs opens the song with a piano intro that leads to a brief but beautiful alto statement of the melody by Wilson. Childs follows with his own piano solo, adroitly sensitive and emotionally brimming. Wilson returns with a very Desmond-esque sound and the two end this beautiful conversation in sublime unity.


Read the full piece from: Huffington Post

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The 10 Best Jazz Albums of 2017 (So Far)

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The 10 Best Jazz Albums of 2017 (So Far)

8) Jimmy Greene, Flowers: Beautiful Life, Volume 2 (Mack Avenue)

Tenor sax great Jimmy Greene continues to be a beacon of strength as he channels his grief of losing a child to gun violence into some of the most vibrant, lyrical jazz coming out of America today. Flowers: Beautiful Life, Volume 2 is a gorgeous testament to the vibrancy of his late daughter, 6-year-old Ana Márquez-Greene, which relishes in the playful energy of childhood with the assistance of not one but two phenomenal groups.

One, Jimmy Greene’s Love In Action, is a crew featuring Renee Rosnes on both grand piano and Fender Rhodes, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts with the help of percussionist Rogerio Boccato and, on three of the six tracks featuring this ensemble, guitarist Mike Moreno.

The other is Greene’s quartet comprised of keyboardist Kevin Hays, bassist Ben Williams and drummer Otis Brown III. Both bands do a such an incredible job helping this loving and devoted father provide the kind of music that inspired his daughter to dance, keeping the vibrancy of her beautiful, young spirit alive and well in the hereafter.


Read the full piece from: Observer

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CÉCILE MCLORIN SALVANT’S TIMELESS JAZZ

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On a Thursday evening a few months ago, a long line snaked along Seventh Avenue, outside the Village Vanguard, a cramped basement night club in Greenwich Village that jazz fans regard as a temple. The eight-thirty set was sold out, as were the ten-thirty set and nearly all the other shows that week. The people descending the club’s narrow steps had come to hear a twenty-seven-year-old singer named Cécile McLorin Salvant. In its sixty years as a jazz club, the Vanguard has headlined few women and fewer singers of either gender. But Salvant, virtually unknown two years earlier, had built an avid following, winning a Grammy and several awards from critics, who praised her singing as “singularly arresting” and “artistry of the highest class.”

She and her trio—a pianist, a bassist, and a drummer, all men in their early thirties—emerged from the dressing lounge and took their places on a lit-up stage: the men in sharp suits, Salvant wearing a gold-colored Issey Miyake dress, enormous pink-framed glasses, and a wide, easy smile. She nodded to the crowd and took a few glances at the walls, which were crammed with photographs of jazz icons who had played there: Sonny Rollins cradling a tenor saxophone, Dexter Gordon gazing through a cloud of cigarette smoke, Charlie Haden plucking a bass with back-bent intensity. This was the first time Salvant had been booked at the club—for jazz musicians, a sign that they’d made it and a test of whether they’d go much farther. She seemed very happy to be there.

The set opened with Irving Berlin’s “Let’s Face the Music and Dance,” and it was clear right away that the hype was justified. She sang with perfect intonation, elastic rhythm, an operatic range from thick lows to silky highs. She had emotional range, too, inhabiting different personas in the course of a song, sometimes even a phrase—delivering the lyrics in a faithful spirit while also commenting on them, mining them for unexpected drama and wit. Throughout the set, she ventured from the standard repertoire into off-the-beaten-path stuff like Bessie Smith’s “Sam Jones Blues,” a funny, rowdy rebuke to a misbehaving husband, and “Somehow I Never Could Believe,” a song from “Street Scene,” an obscure opera by Kurt Weill and Langston Hughes. She unfolded Weill’s tune, over ten minutes, as the saga of an entire life: a child’s promise of bright days ahead, a love that blossoms and fades, babies who wrap “a ring around a rosy” and then move away. When she sang, “It looks like something awful happens / in the kitchens / where women wash their dishes,” her plaintive phrasing transformed a description of domestic obligation into genuine tragedy. A hush washed over the room.

Wynton Marsalis, who has twice hired Salvant to tour with his Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, told me, “You get a singer like this once in a generation or two.” Salvant might not have reached this peak just yet, he said. But, he added, “could Michael Jordan do all he would do in his third year? No, but you could tell what he was going to do. Cécile’s the same way."

It was only because of a series of flukes that she became a jazz singer at all. Cécile Sophie McLorin Salvant was born in Miami on August 28, 1989. She began piano lessons at four and joined a local choir at eight, all the while taking in the music that her mother played on the stereo—classical, jazz, pop, folk, Latin, Senegalese. At ten, she saw Charlotte Church, a pop-culture phenomenon just a few years older, singing opera on a TV show. “This girl was making people cry with her singing,” Salvant recalled, sitting in her apartment, a walkup on a block of brownstones in Harlem. “I was attracted by how she could tap into emotions like that. I said, ‘I want to do that, too.’”

She grew up in a French-speaking household: her father, a doctor, is Haitian, and her mother, who heads an elementary school, is French. At eighteen, Cécile decided that she wanted to live in France, so she enrolled at the Darius Milhaud Conservatory, in Aix-en-Provence, and at a nearby prep school that offered courses in political science and law. Her mother, who came along to help her get settled, saw a listing for a class in jazz singing and suggested that Cécile sign up.

“I said, ‘O.K., whatever,’ ” Cécile told me. “I was passive—super passive.” At an audition for the class, she sang “Misty,” which she knew from a Sarah Vaughan album that her mother often played. After she finished, the teacher, who’d been accompanying on piano, asked her to improvise. She didn’t know what that meant, nor did she care. “I didn’t want to get into his class anyway,” she recalled. “I had poli-sci, law, classical voice—I didn’t have time.”

But the teacher, a jazz musician named Jean-François Bonnel, was astonished by her singing. “Cécile was something else,” he wrote to me in an e-mail. “She already had everything—the right time, the sense of rhythm, the right intonation, an incredible Sarah Vaughan type of voice”—a pure bel canto, with exceptional range and precision. Two days later, Bonnel ran into her on the street and told her that he’d come ring her doorbell until she signed up for his class. “I always obeyed my parents and my teachers,” Salvant recalled, with a laugh. She enrolled, and found that she liked it. “There were all these cool people with dreads and cigarettes,” she said. “It was very different from the classical-music program, with these precious girls, or the poli-sci school, which was full of rich kids from Saint-Tropez, very arrogant, politically on the right. I had nothing to say to those people. So I figured the jazz department would be like a good hobby—a place to make friends, like going to a community-theatre class.”

Soon, Bonnel formed a band for Salvant—he played piano, other students played bass and guitar—and, within three months, booked their first gig, at a local music hall. He also began putting Salvant through a crash course in jazz history. “He gave me recordings, twenty CDs at a time, which I played again and again,” she said. He started her with Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, and Billie Holiday—all of their albums, not just the ones her mother had played. Then came the early blues singers. “I listened to Bessie Smith’s complete recordings non-stop, all day,” she said. “I hated them at first, but eventually fell in love with her world. These songs were amazing. She sang about sex and food and savages and the Devil and Hell and really exciting things you don’t hear on ‘Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Songbook.’ I thought, This is great! All these great stories! I’d heard torch songs by Dinah Washington about ‘I’ll wait for you forever.’ But here’s Bessie Smith singing, ‘You come around after you been gone a year? Goodbye! ’ It was empowering.” She went on to albums by later singers who fused jazz standards with earthy blues, especially Abbey Lincoln, who brought political consciousness and dissonant note-bending to the saloon-song tradition. “After coming from Sarah Vaughan, Abbey Lincoln felt harsh and a little depressing, too edgy and cold,” Salvant said. “I slowly began to love that edge, and went through a period when I didn’t like Sarah Vaughan because she didn’t have that edge.”

Toward the end of that year, Bonnel and Salvant were driving back from a jazz festival in Ascona, Switzerland. On the road, “just for fun,” he remembers, she did impressions of the great jazz singers—Vaughan, Fitzgerald, Holiday, Carmen McRae. “It was incredible,” he told me. She mimicked not only the sound of their voices but also their phrasings, rhythms, breaths. Bonnel’s next task was to prod her into finding her own way with this material. In class, he told her to focus on the piano, molding the songs’ harmonies into her fingers and improvising new melodies on top of them.

At this point, she wasn’t intent on becoming a jazz singer. She had kept studying classical voice, and performed a few Baroque recitals in small churches. “The reason I turned to jazz was the gigs were coming in,” she said matter-of-factly. “If more gigs had come in with Baroque, I’d have tried to do both.” She recorded an album, called “Cécile,” with Bonnel’s band, and by 2010 she was singing throughout Europe. She figured that she’d give her jazz career three years to take off. She was twenty, young enough that, if things didn’t work out, she could go back to school and try something else—maybe history or literature or law.

One afternoon, Salvant and I went out for lunch around the corner from her apartment, at a small, brick-walled place called Il Caffe Latte, on Malcolm X Boulevard. Salvant, stirring an iced coffee, seemed unaccustomed to being out in the middle of the day. When she’s not on the road, she maintains a scholarly routine. “I’ll listen for an hour to a record of someone soloing, and I’ll sing along, improvising,” she said. “I’ve been listening to Benny Golson, Coleman Hawkins, Oscar Peterson, Sonny Rollins. When you listen to a solo a lot, it’s like you’re trying to get in a person’s brain. ‘Why did Coltrane do this instead of that?’ ”

Onstage, Salvant projects confidence and subtle theatricality; offstage, she’s warm, smart, and funny, but also reserved and nervous, her voice more nasal than smoky. As she tells it, she is not a natural performer. “The first year I sang before audiences, I closed my eyes the whole time,” she said. “After a while, I gave myself a challenge: try to look at people for a nanosecond, catch their eyes—see if I melt.” As Salvant’s mother watched her career develop, she was eager to see her succeed but didn’t want to push her toward a life as a professional musician. “I never thought she would go where she is now,” Léna McLorin Salvant, a tall, assertive woman who speaks with a pronounced French accent, says. “She’s an intellectual. I thought she would go into academics.”

Still, while Salvant was in school, her mother became interested in the Thelonious Monk competition, which is held annually—the closest thing that the commercially modest jazz industry has to “American Idol.” Each year highlights a different instrument, and in 2010 it would be a singing competition. Léna insisted that Cécile record an audition disk. “Cécile is very malleable, she’s very open, and I take advantage of that,” Léna told me. “I told her the contest would be a good experience.”

Cécile sent in a disk just before the deadline, and she was chosen as one of twelve semifinalists, out of two hundred and thirty-seven applicants. In October, she was flown to Washington, D.C., for the first phase of the contest, before a live audience, at the National Museum of the American Indian. She was twenty-one and completely unknown in her own country.

As she faced the crowd, she seemed tentative. Ben Ratliff wrote in the Times that she “looked like an English teacher wearing a sensible black dress with magenta ballet flats” and “stared inquisitively at the house: really stared, as in ‘it’s not polite to stare.’ ” Her mother, who was in the audience, heard people laughing. “They were saying, ‘Who’s she?’ and ‘She’s not glamorous,’ ” she recalled. “I thought, Oh, no, why did I put her through this?”

Salvant launched into “Bernie’s Tune,” a cool-bop anthem by Gerry Mulligan, followed by “Monk’s Mood,” a knotty melody by Thelonious Monk, and “Take It Right Back,” a raucous Bessie Smith blues. “She had people eating out of her hand—it was ridiculous,” Al Pryor, the A. & R. chief at Mack Avenue Records, who was also in the house, recalled. “I knew that I had to sign her up.” Rodney Whitaker, the bassist hired for the rhythm section that accompanied the contestants, knew she was going to win even during the pre-show rehearsal. “I’d never met anyone that young who’d figured out how to channel the whole history of jazz singing and who had her own thing, too,” he later told me. She and two other women made it into the finals. The next day, after a second round of competition, at the Kennedy Center, Salvant was declared the winner.

Afterward, she flew back to France to finish her law courses, but she quickly realized that New York was where a jazz singer needed to be. Pryor offered her a contract. So did Ed Arrendell, a prominent talent manager. In early 2012, she moved to Manhattan, on her own for the first time. “My concern was: How can I deal with the solitude of a creative life style?” she told me. “I’d been used to being a good student—get good grades, follow whatever structure I’m in. Now it was the idea of letting all that go, working from home—what a nightmare!”

Unnerved, she did what she was accustomed to doing: she enrolled in classes on composition and music theory at the New School, in Greenwich Village. But Arrendell was eager to jump-start her career. He sent her some names of pianists she might enjoy singing with. She particularly liked a YouTube video of a pianist named Aaron Diehl playing Fats Waller’s “Viper’s Drag”—precise, soulful, and joyous all at once. “It was exciting to see somebody play Fats Waller with a fresh take yet very much in the spirit of the music,” she said. “I’d been trying to do this for years—take something old and make it yours but still authentic—and here was someone who’d figured it out.” She called him, and they met. “He was very versatile, very serious, and didn’t seem to be an asshole,” she recalled. “Those were the boxes I checked off.”

Their first gig was at the Kennedy Center. More gigs followed, with Salvant fronting Diehl’s trio (including Paul Sikivie on bass and Lawrence Leathers on drums), and the musicians coalesced into a working band, on the road three weeks out of every month. She also recorded an album, called “WomanChild,” for Mack Avenue, which received a Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Vocal Album. (Her next album, “For One to Love,” won the award.) Meanwhile, she flunked her composition course at the New School because she had an out-of-town gig on exam day. She dropped out, no longer needing the academic structure.

Before a recent tour in France, Salvant stopped by Aaron Diehl’s apartment one afternoon to rehearse some songs. The two live in the same building, Salvant on the top floor and Diehl on the parlor and ground floors. “It’s like the pros of having a roommate without the cons,” she said.

Salvant wanted to try out a new discovery, a song from the nineteen-twenties called “Dites-Moi Que Je Suis Belle” (“Tell Me I’m Pretty”), by a cabaret singer named Yvette Guilbert. She played a YouTube clip of it on her phone, and sang along in a quiet, crystalline voice. They spent half an hour exploring ways to make it sound like jazz. Diehl picked out the chords, then tinkered with them, thickening the harmony; he added a pop-tune bass line, then discarded it in favor of a vamp that opened some space between choruses. Diehl is Juilliard-trained, academic in demeanor, attuned to the logical structure of a song. But he deferred to Salvant, partly because she’s the band’s leader and partly because, he told me, “she has much better ears than I do.”

Once they’d worked out a plausible arrangement, he asked her, “Will you be changing the phrasing of the melody?”

“I’ll do that however this ends up,” she replied. “But I want this to progress from shy and coy to desperate and a little intense and angry.” She’d read that the song was one of Sigmund Freud’s favorites, and her idea was to reclaim a frothy ditty as an enraged critique. They agreed to work on it more at their next rehearsal.

The singer Dee Dee Bridgewater, who was a judge at the 2010 Monk competition, told me, “I had never seen someone as young as Cécile invest in a lyric and tell a story in the manner that she did.” This impulse to dramatize a song, treating it less as a monologue than as a play, sets Salvant apart from other jazz singers, even from many of the great ones. “To me, performance is acting as a character on the stage,” Salvant said. “Trying to get inside a world for other people and getting them to join in—that’s thrilling.” As her early stagefright waned, she began to conceive of a song as a conversation between her and the audience. “I’m not just singing words that are strung together,” she said. “They’re a story. So who am I telling the story to? Not to the band. They’re into making it sound good. I needed to acknowledge there are people in front of me. They’re not my enemy. I’m sharing something with them.”

Salvant looks back on the week at the Village Vanguard—some of which was recorded for an album that will be released later this year—as a breakthrough. She dislikes listening to herself, and cringes at excess acrobatics: “It’s like I’m saying, ‘Listen! Please! Like this! I really worked hard on this!’ I don’t want that desperation in my voice. I want to be natural and free and adventurous.” In the weeks leading up to the Vanguard dates, she talked with the band about this habit and came up with a way to break it. “I said we should play like we’re old—people who have lived and now we’re natural,” she recalled. “I want to act sixty years old. Desperation is a young person’s thing. If I’m old, I’m not thinking, What can I be? I’m getting too old for that shit.”

Al Pryor, of Mack Avenue, told me that when he heard Salvant at the Monk competition he wondered how she had acquired such broad knowledge of the music. He said, “She seemed to be an old soul in a young woman.” Pryor was onto something. Salvant told me that, when she was a kid in Miami, her friends nicknamed her Grandma. “I walked slow,” she said. “I was interested in old things—old books, old music.” When she went through a death-obsessed phase, as many teen-agers do, she consoled herself by reading Guy de Maupassant. Aaron Diehl, who is four years Salvant’s senior, told me, “I look at her as an older sister.”

I asked Salvant if, like many musicians, she’d thought of covering contemporary pop songs. She winced. “It’s fine,” she allowed. “There are some new songs that I really like, but I never think, Maybe I’ll sing this song. I don’t care whether what I do is modern or of our time. I want to sing songs that have this timeless quality. I’m interested in history—how things differ, how they’re still the same. I love it when a song is a hundred years old but still connects.”

But, she said, “I’m finding it hard to find these songs. Maybe I need to figure out something new. Sometimes I’d like to be more outrageous—like write a musical play, or do a one-woman show, or design outlandish costumes and wear them, or somehow combine my visual art with my music.” (She sketches and paints on the road, and illustrated the cover of “For One to Love.”) “I have a notebook full of drawings and ideas. I call it ‘My Book of Imaginary Projects.’ If I tried them, I feel they’d be a catastrophe. But maybe I should try one.”

In a phone conversation after the Presidential election, Salvant said, “The current political landscape is making me feel I want to be messier, sing more political songs, write more political songs.” She’d recently given a lecture at the Chautauqua Institute, in upstate New York, on the history of race and women in popular culture. In it, she dwelled on the nineteenth-century phenomenon of black entertainers performing in blackface, which many have found demeaning but which she sees as a form of rebellion—African-Americans reclaiming their own stories. She talked about parallels to songs of the nineteen-thirties, like Josephine Baker’s “Si J’Étais Blanche” (“If I Were White”), and songs from the sixties, like Burt Bacharach’s “Wives and Lovers,” which warns women to be sexy for their men so that they don’t run off with someone else.

“A friend once asked me why I didn’t sing more feminist songs,” Salvant recalled. “I said it’s hard to find feminist jazz songs. But I thought about it, and I wondered if there were sexist songs that I could make fun of. I went online, looked up the ten most sexist songs in American pop history. ‘Wives and Lovers’ was the best. And Aaron happened to love that song. Rhythmically it’s great, and the words sound wonderful.”

She sang both songs at the Vanguard the night I saw her. She treated the Baker as a haunting dirge, lingering on the words “I’d like to be white / How happy I would be.” She turned the Bacharach into a subversive anthem of assertiveness, purring its opening lines with a mix of come-hither bounce and menace: “Hey, little girl / comb your hair / fix your makeup / Soon he will open the door.” In the silence after the song ended, I could hear sighs all around me, the collective release of an uncomfortable tension.

The lyrics of “Wives and Lovers” are “ridiculous,” Salvant told me later. “But they’re also things I really do. I’m not completely over the idea of needing to be presentable and looking my best. It’s advice that I’ll almost take, then say no. The songs that I sing and kind of make fun of—they have some kind of power over me. By making fun of them, I weaken that power.”

Later, while Salvant and Diehl were on tour in France, she wrote to me in an e-mail that they had been performing “Dites-Moi Que Je Suis Belle,” the Freud favorite turned feminist howl. The audiences seemed to get the irony, reacting with a “curious, nervous mood,” like the one that “Wives and Lovers” inspires in American audiences. But Salvant and Diehl wanted to work on it more. “I just want it to be leaner and more incisive,” she wrote. “Not sure if it has to even be funny. Also, wanting to do some digging for other songs like that, asking, ‘Am I pretty?’ I wonder if they are as rare as I think.” 


Read the full piece from: New Yorker

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Jackiem Joyner – Main Street Beat

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Delivering on his promise to “Evolve,” the title of Jackiem Joyner’s last soul-jazz album, the saxophonist became a father since his 2014 release, an elation-inducing experience that informs the music he wrote and produced for his new Artistry Music set, “Main Street Beat,” due June 30. The first single from the funky, dance inspiring, Motown-influenced session that will be shipped to radio this month is the exultant “Trinity,” named for Joyner’s first child whose presence on the track is voiced by Steve Oliver’s incandescent acoustic guitar.

Joyner approached crafting “Main Street Beat” with a three-pronged purpose. “I wanted to create something upbeat, fun to listen to and something to dance to. ‘Main Street Beat’ originally started off as a straight funk record that eventually became some of that, but a whole lot more as I allowed the creative process to have its way with me,” said Joyner, a Billboard chart-topper who plays tenor, alto, soprano and baritone saxophone on the date, often enriching the tracks by laying layer upon layer of horns to form a powerhouse sax section.

The exuberant album opener, “Main Street,” exemplifies the mighty wall-of-horns approach with Joyner playing lead harmonies on alto reinforced by his sax section. Instead of tracking individually, Joyner brought the band – drummer Raymond Johnson, bassist Darryl Williams, electric guitarist Kyle Bolden and piano player Carnell Harrell – into the studio to record six tracks old-school style, including “Back To Motown.” Nick Colionne guests on “When You Smile” to flash his cool electric jazz guitar on the infectious mid-tempo R&B cut. Taking his alto sax chops out for a strut, Joyner cranks up the band for a fiery funk romp down “Southside Boulevard,” one of three tunes that adds Nikolai Egorov’s trombone muscle to the horn section. On a pair of urban joints – “That Good Thing” and “Don’t Make Her Wait” – Joyner plays soprano sax. He takes full command on the stormy “Addicted,” playing every instrument heard on the moody number. “Think James Brown on tenor sax” is how Joyner describes the super funky “Get Down Street.” A pair of high-energy pop-R&B covers – Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop The Feeling” and Bruno Mars’ “Treasure” – complete the outing, songs Joyner elected to record based upon their buoyant, positive nature, which he says mirrors his young offspring’s personality.

“My little girl played a huge role in inspiring this album. Having Trinity around during the writing process sparked an enormous font of creativity and really kicked my writing into high gear. The first single, named after her, really captures the excitement and joy of being a dad as well as the exciting little girl that she is. Trinity was right there in the studio during a lot of the writing process. Her jumpy and bouncy upbeat little self is really reflected on this album,” said Joyner, who will launch the record with June concerts in Cincinnati (June 9 at A Celebration of Black Music), Birmingham (June 11 at Jazz in the Park), San Diego (June 25 at Mediterranean’s Jazz and Supper Club) and Philadelphia (June 29 at South).

The release of “Main Street Beat,” Joyner’s sixth album, coincides with his tenth anniversary as a recording artist. His 2007 debut “Babysoul” earned Debut Artist of the Year honors from Smooth Jazz News. Two years later, his sophomore set, “Lil Man Soul,” spawned two No. 1 singles on the Billboard chart and won the Song of the Year trophy for “I’m Waiting For You” from the American Smooth Jazz Awards. His self-titled 2010 album solidified his position as a consistent hit-maker. Revisiting his non-secular roots, Joyner issued the gospel-jazz “Church Boy” in 2012. “Evolve” placed his infectious melodies amidst futuristic electronic sonicscapes. Joyner’s music isn’t his only creative effort that ventured into extraterrestrial territory. Last year, the Norfolk, Virginia native who resides near Los Angeles authored his first book, the science fiction novel “Zarya: Cydnus Final Hope (Book 1). For more information, please visit http://www.JackiemJoyner.com.


Read the full piece from: Smooth Jazz Daily

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Two superb pieces of Detroit jazz

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Billy Childs, "Rebirth" (Mack Avenue) and Christian Sands, "Reach" (Mack Avenue)

This is two generations of superb mainstream jazz pianists coming from the same stellar mainstream Detroit jazz label.

Billy Childs, at the age of 60, made his first record in a group with J.J. Johnson and has performed with everyone from Freddie Hubbard to Diane Reeves and Gladys Knight. Paying tribute to Childs in the disc notes is no less than Vijay Iyer.

Christian Sands is less than half Childs' age but announces himself loudly as a powerful talent on "Reach." Childs' quartet on "Rebirth" features Steve Wilson on reeds, bassist Hans Glawisching and the very fine drummer Eric Harland. Claudia Acuna contributes a beautiful vocalise to the terrific title track of the record. The first cut on Sands' record is called "Armando's Song" and was inspired by Chick Corea (Armando is Corea's real first name.) What it introduces to us is a fluent, post-bop piano player and composer whose first mentor was Billy Taylor. In the Taylor (and Corea) mode, he's both a solid pianist and a very interesting composer whose original tunes are that great rarity in modern jazz composition -- so melodically and harmonically and modally interesting that rich and beautiful versions of them could be performed by other musicians.

These are very good jazz piano records, both.

3 1/2 stars (out of four)


Read the full piece from: Buffalo News

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‘Bad Ass and Blind’: Meet Singer-Songwriter Raul Midón

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Raul Midón may have lost his sight but even a blind man can recognize his vision.

His new album entitled, "Bad Ass And Blind" isn't some artist gimmick. Midón was born premature and says that complications experienced thereafter when the hospital didn't cover his eyes - took his sight.

Don't feel bad for him because he's not. The guitarist infuses soul, jazz, R&B, latin vibes, and even hip-hop in his music. Bad ass and he has bars—that's rhymes for the uninitiated.

In fact, Midón has been a fan of hip-hop for many years. He lists Gil-Scott Heron, Grandmaster Flash, and new school emcee Kendrick Lamar amongst some of his favorites.

A son of an Argentinian man and African-American woman, Midón is a gentleman of many influences and he isn't afraid to take risks. A straight shooter, the New Mexico native calls it how he sees it. And for a guy that was born blind, Midón utilizes all his senses to ascertain the big picture. His newest album is another chapter archiving his sultry sentiment.

"Writing anything—a poem, a novel, or a story is all about the imagination," says Midon. "When you're blind, especially if you've never seen, you pretty much imagine the world. There's a whole aspect of the world, the visual aspect that you don't experience. So imagination is what takes you into those places. Through the spaces in your mind."

Much like his idol and co-collaborator Stevie Wonder, Midon has an arcane ear. While some artists don't take sound check seriously, at a recent show at the Highline Ballroom in New York City, Midon meticulously made sure his sound was crystal clear.

Related: How Prince Redefined Masculinity Through His Music, Onstage

Regardless if it's rehearsal or showtime, he's also adroit in showmanship. "Be careful when you try this at home. Might pull a muscle or something," Midon said while playing the djembe drum, guitar, and using his own voice as an instrument.

NBCBLK: How did the album cover come about?

RM: It came about because of the title. And actually my wife. I'm always talking about flying, you know, 'Ah, Superman!' So we actually got the shot. That was the challenging part to get the shot. I stood on a ladder and got shot from above, that was the way we got that shot.

There's a lot of great imagery on the new LP. You're speaking on the ideation of not being able to see, but you still have all these visions. Stevie Wonder called it Innervisions. It's all these things... I like how you mentioned you would be a race car driver if you could drive. Now if you could be a superhero, you already gave it away. Is Superman your guy?

Yeah, I used to like the Super Friends. I liked the idea—Aquaman, Superman, Batman, you know. [laughter] Spiderman... you know. I just think in ways when you become familiar with who you are and what your contribution is to the world, you're a superhero! You become connected with who you are.

How important is being connected to you?

It's important and it's also important to disconnect. This whole thing. Being out and doing publicity. I love it, but it is a stretch for me. I'm not a social person, generally. I like a lot of time alone. I don't like to be lonely, I mean I'm married, but I like alone time.

Bad ass and blind. Your new project is here. How do you feel about that?

It's great. There's been a lot more hype than I've had in awhile so I'm really happy about that. It's just been a good thing. I got a little bit of feedback about the album title and "oh maybe we shouldn't call it that" and I'm glad that I went bold with the title.

You're definitely a bold guy. Why are you "bad?"

Because I'm always trying to grow. I'm always trying to do things better. And when I go to do something, I go to do it really, really well. Whether it's writing, whether it's producing, playing. I don't want to just be good enough to have a guitar player just to play my songs.

I want to be good as I can possibly be. I don't wanna just be a good enough singer just to sorta make the notes, I wanna be great. That's why I'm bad!


Read the full piece from: NBC

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Take Five: Diana Krall, Romero Lubambo, Jimmy Greene, Chris Washburne, Vijay Iyer

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When saxophonist Jimmy Greene released Beautiful Life in 2014, the album resonated as a poignant tribute to his daughter, Ana Márquez-Greene, who died in the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012, at age 6. The same objective holds true of Flowers — Beautiful Life, Volume 2, just out on Mack Avenue. But Greene made the decision this time to focus less on the pain of loss, and more on the bright, playful spirit that his daughter always embodied. “Fun Circuits” is a fusionesque tune inspired (as he puts it in the liner notes) by “unabashed childlike exuberance and playful mischief.” You can hear those qualities in Greene’s solo, and in the playing of guitarist Mike Moreno and keyboardist Renee Rosnes. (Greene will perform this music at Scullers in Boston on May 25, and at the Newport Jazz Festival on August 4.)


Read the full piece from: WBGO

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Downbeat Editor’s Picks [Jimmy Greene “Flowers- Beautiful Life, Volume 2]

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Jimmy Greene is a larger-than-life man, musician and artist. He’s also a larger-than-life father with a broken heart. In 2012, his 6-year-old daughter, Ana Márquez-Greene, was killed along with 19 of her classmates and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut. "Flowers—Beautiful Life, Volume 2" is his second recording since her passing, both touchingly dedicated to her memory. While the first volume focused on the sorrow of his loss, this one focuses on his memories of a child with a bright personality and a love of dance. There are 11 Greene-penned tunes in this program, and they all serve as postcards of a father’s love. “Big Guy” is an ode to Ana’s nickname for her father. “Stanky Leg” is a memorable toe-tapper. “Second Breakfast” was written in honor of Ana’s favorite meal. “Someday” is a beautiful ballad featuring Greene’s soul-dripping tenor saxophone and aching vocals by Jean Baylor. The set’s closing tune, “Thirty-Two,” comes in as a funk number sweetly dedicated to Greene’s teenage son. Greene’s songwriting is thoughtful, spot-on and heart-wrenching. And he has enlisted the help of an all-star cast to perform it. Jeff “Tain” Watts and Otis Brown III take turns on the drums. John Patitucci and Ben Williams hold down the bass. Renee Rosnes and Kevin Hays perform on piano and Rhodes. Mike Moreno is featured on guitar, and Rogerio Boccato adds percussion. And, the title tune is performed by vocalist Sheena Rattai. Playing this music can’t be easy for Greene. But with a little help from his friends, he somehow carves something of immense beauty from pure tragedy. God bless you, Mr. Greene. God bless Ana.


Read the full piece from: Downbeat

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Joey DeFrancesco & The People: Project Freedom

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One of the true attractions of the B3, is that when it’s in the right hands, it can evoke sonic images of various parts of your childhood; baseball games, roller skating rinks, church and funky get togethers all rolling together. No one alive does it better than Joey DeFrancesco, and he takes you to Sunday Morning Revivals here with a team of Jason Brown/dr, Troy Roberts/ts-ss and Dan Wilson.

The team gets gospel bluesy with a humming Hammond and Roberts’ tenor on a bopping “Project Freedom” while Wilson hits the pulpit on “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” The tenor preaches it on “A Change is Gonna Come” while it’s time for Dodger Baseball on a splashy and hip“Karma. ” DeFrancesco doubles on trumpet, and sounds ultra relaxed on a Harmon-muted “One” while the team does some easy boplicity on “Better Than Yesterday” and get back to Bach on “Imagine (Prelude).” Fun, funky and finger licking good.


Read the full piece from: Jazz Weekly

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Kevin Eubanks – East West Time Line review: a distinctive and creative guitarist

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Kevin Eubanks’ fourth release since the demise of The Tonight Show band is the work of an east coast musician with divided loyalties. The first half is a set of the guitarist’s own compositions brought to vivid life in a New York studio by a heavyweight group that includes bassist Dave Holland and drummer Jeff Watts.

The second is a set of re-imagined standards (including What’s Going On and Take the Coltrane), from a west cost group driven by old friend Marvin Smith in the drum chair.

Mouthwatering line-ups on paper don’t necessarily slake the thirst in the ear, but here, particularly with Watts and Holland behind him, Eubanks delivers a reminder that, despite the lengthy television detour, he remains a distinctive and creative guitarist. 


Read the full piece from: Irish Times

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Blind musician steals the show

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The blind American singer, songwriter and guitarist Raul Midon is not a household name like his compatriot, hitmaker David Foster.

But at the Singapore International Jazz Festival on Sunday, he outclassed Foster as a musician - and as a person.

Midon (pronounced Moo-d'orh) came on just before Foster and proceeded to blow gig-goers' minds with his virtuosity. His jaw clenched in determination throughout, he had to be seen to be believed. His hands were a blur of decisive, frenetic fingering and strumming, which yielded a silky, toasty tone with flamenco-like inflections. He could easily have carried the third, and final, day of this festival on his own.

"All right, be careful when you try this at home," he told the audience right before launching into his signature move, which was to mimic a trumpet with a bebop vibe by humming through pursed lips - while simultaneously strumming his guitar and banging on bongo drums.

This was how he had brought the house down on the now-defunct Late Show With David Letterman in 2006. This evening's audience greeted his gift with deafening cheers and wolf whistles.

Eight of the 10 songs in his set were from his new album, Bad A** And Blind, notably the soulful strut Pedal To The Metal and the dreamy You & I. On his album's titular track, he sang defiantly: "From Budapest to Bombay…/I am more than just okay …/I am a ship of rock".

His sonorous tenor, showcased in the sweetly reflective Listen To The Rain and the throat-lumping Sunshine - I Can Fly, lulled listeners such that they got lost in his funky scats, their hearts lifting to his sublime falsetto.

Foster was the night's ostensible highlight but, after Midon, he proved a letdown. Billed with a total of six singers, notably the suave Brian McKnight and the shouty Chaka Khan, he performed less and mouthed off more.

Foster should have known by now that it is the music, not the ego, that matters.

For instance, he stopped Indonesia's Dira Sugandi, just as she was about to blast "And I-eee-iiii will always love you…" from The Bodyguard soundtrack, to point out to the audience that that was where they should start applauding her.

This was unctuously condescending to Sugandi, who could imitate Celine Dion and the late Whitney Houston serviceably.

He was just as condescending earlier when he trotted out a New York trio called Thirdstory. They could sing, in the way that frat boys can sing after a few drinks, but they could not harmonise well. When listeners did not respond to their plea to sing along, Foster intervened. "Let me show you how it's done… these are my people," he boasted.

Singapore's Nick Zavior erased everyone's memory of the trio with his sure, well-calibrated crooning of the Foster-Eric Benet song The Last Time. He wobbled on a few notes towards the end, but still made Singapore proud.

Before McKnight and Khan came on, Foster asked if anyone in the audience wanted to come up and sing one of his tunes. As arms flailed for his attention, he picked a portly, smartly dressed woman who called herself Rosie.

As she made her way to the stage, Foster harangued her: "You've got to walk faster, girl." When someone in the crowd told him that she was pregnant, he yelled back: "Oh. God… it's not my child, right?" Few laughed at this.

Rosie fanned her face with her fingers nervously, then unleashed a diva-worthy version of Got To Be Real. How the crowd roared.

McKnight was the other star in Foster's firmament this evening, enrobing Rock With You, Mornin' and After The Love Has Gone with his velvety voice.

Khan took over with her powerhouse pipes on Through The Fire. Somehow, she never got the memo that blasting one's way through tunes does not make for enjoyable listening.

Foster returned with a littleknown instrumental wrap and, for his encore, did a meditative piano solo. Few applauded after he finished.


Read the full piece from: Straights Times

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A Day in the Life of ‘Badass and Blind’ Musician, Raul Midon

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Read the full piece from: NBC

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Jelly and George brings two composers together for one evening

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Two guys walk into a bar. They might even be frenemies, as pianist Aaron Diehl joked to the audience, but they would have something in common — jazz-imbued music. If Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton and George Gershwin had met in history, the result would be spectacular.

Enter Diehl, who presents the closest thing to such collaboration between the two: a repertoire of pieces from these two renowned composers in one concert. Calling upon the spirit of the early 20th century, Diehl and Adam Birnbaum opened the evening with a piano duet of experimental, unsettling rhythms. Full of elegant trills and syncopated chords, the two piano lines interlaced in an intriguing fashion in Gershwin’s Prelude No. 1.

The duet was soon joined by Paul Sikivie on the bass and Lawrence Leathers on the drums, followed by Riley Mulherkar on the trumpet, Evan Christopher on the clarinet, and Corey Wilcox on the trombone.

When vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant joined in, her rhapsodic voice enchanted the crowd. Salvant’s lilting vocals were reminiscent of Ella Fitzgerald’s, with equal lyrical sensitivity and emotional expression. Her style, however, was clearly her own. Salvant’s sultry singing was more subdued in Gershwin’s “Boy! What Has Love Done to Me!” but her voice took on a life of its own with Morton’s “I Hate a Man Like You.” She bellowed Morton’s lyrics with a remarkable dynamic range and clarity. Her guttural delivery of the repeated “I hate a man like you!” delivered the same raw emotion that permeate the lyrics. It is no wonder the vocalist has been critically acclaimed in recent years.

The pianos’ chemistry found its brilliance in later pieces, particularly with Gershwin’s Prelude No. 2, but with the horns carrying the jazzy groove, the performance hall was colored with a newfound sense of thrill. In Morton’s songs “Mississippi Mildred” and “Black Bottom Stomp,” the various solo parts of Mulherkar’s trumpet and Christopher’s clarinet invigorated the atmosphere. Other notable selections included Gershwin’s “Ask Me Again” and “My Man is Dead,” both performed with the same vigor as the previous songs. Salvant’s vocals once again took center stage with Gershwin’s lyrics.

After a standing ovation and two encore performances, it was clear that the concert had something for everyone. The stage where Morton meets Gershwin linked two composers known for innovation in jazz. This haven of lyrical and instrumental intrigue enthralled both the music lover and passerby.


Read the full piece from: The Tech

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Review: ‘Jelly & George’ joins jazz pioneers Morton and Gershwin

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Musical greats Jelly Roll Morton and George Gershwin probably never met, even though they were contemporaries in the early 20th century.

If that’s true, it’s a pity, but not a surprise: Gershwin lived in New York City, while Morton was from New Orleans. But both created seminal work from culturally diverse influences: African-American, South American for Morton; Eastern European and fellow Jews for Gershwin.

A while back, pianist Aaron Diehl decided that the two jazz pioneers should “meet” posthumously. It was a brilliant decision.

Diehl’s show, “Jelly & George” — featuring pianist Adam Birnbaum and vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant — came to the Holland Center on Sunday night. It was clear from the start that it was special, not only for the pairing between two historic composers but also for the collaboration among three emerging jazz stars.

Diehl and Birnbaum opened with Gershwin’s instrumental “Prelude I,” illustrating the composer’s roots with riffs that sounded like city life mixed in with melodies you might hear at a synagogue. Almost without stopping they launched into “Jelly Roll Blues,” joined by bass, drums, trombone and clarinet.

That one-two punch was deliberate and enlightening, a signal that Jelly and George were compatible.

What followed was illuminative, as well as musically amazing and just plain entertaining. Diehl curated a lineup of lesser-known works by the famous and celebrated New Yorker while introducing the audience to a jazz legend who’s considerably more obscure.

With “I Hate a Man Like You,” engagingly performed by Salvant, we learned Morton had a way with words along with his intricate melodies.

“I hate a man like you ... you married me, then stayed out the first night. ... You’re grinnin’ in my face, then winkin’ at my friends.”

With “Boy! What Love Has Done to Me,” we heard a side of Gershwin different from the more classical elements found in his most famous works.

In the hands of Salvant, the song was lazy, bluesy and insouciant. She has a style all her own, with a unique way of phrasing and a light, youthful sound. Her accolades, including a Grammy Award, are well-deserved.

“Spanish Swat” taught us that Morton was an aficionado of “Spanish tinge.” He believed the Afro-Latin rhythm was one of the things that defined jazz. That piece — and some of Salvant’s vocals — featured quiet passages that were meant to be performed at the acoustically acclaimed Holland. And we discovered Diehl and Birnbaum also have earned their rave reviews. On two pianos they seamlessly performed music that would humble even the most facile fingers.

In fact, Diehl dominated “Finger Breaker,” a super-speedy, nearly sadistic solo. Morton wrote it toward the end of his career — when he was toiling in relative obscurity — to prove he still had it.

The ensemble did perform one widely known Gershwin work, “I’ve Got Rhythm,” but with their own playful spin. Each musician played a snippet of the melody as a tease to the entire piece. Before long they were jamming with some incredible improvisations. As if the concert wasn’t enough, Diehl stuck around afterward for a 15-minute talkback, fulfilling the Omaha Performing Arts mission to educate.


Read the full piece from: Omaha.com

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At Berklee, the sounds of ‘Jelly Roll’ Morton and George Gershwin

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Throughout their musical partnership (including 2015’s Grammy-winning “For One to Love”) pianist Aaron Diehl and singer Cécile McLorin Salvant have shared a knack for the theatrical — she with her choice of material, from early folk, blues, and vaudeville to Burt Bacharach, and he with his orchestral arrangements at the keyboard. At a Celebrity Series of Boston concert at Berklee Friday night, they were able to maximize their theatrical flair, in an evening that was as musically broad as it was emotionally deep, focused at every turn on narrative.

The program was “Jelly and George,” for Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton (1890-1941) and George Gershwin (1898-1937).” The usual setup of McLorin Salvant and Diehl’s working trio, with bassist Paul Sikivie and drummer Lawrence Leathers, was for this project expanded to an octet, with trombone (Corey Wilcox), clarinet (Evan Christopher), trumpet (Riley Mulherkar), and a second pianist, Adam Birnbaum.

The second keyboard added another orchestral layer to these pieces by two pianist-composers, especially during the three duo-feature Gershwin preludes. But Diehl and Birnbaum also had plenty of fun trading lead and rhythm figures or, in one dreamy moment, unfurling chromatic scales like one continuous bolt of multi-colored silk.

Subsets of the band varied the arrangements, making cross references between Morton’s sophisticated New Orleans barrelhouse and Gershwin’s Broadway swing, with plenty of contrapuntal interaction among the horns, each piece colored by different mutes and sure dynamic shifts.

Although McLorin Salvant was featured on only five songs in the roughly 90-minute set, she was the binding agent. Her taste in rarities came through in Gershwin’s “Boy! What Love Has Done to Me” and Morton’s “I Hate a Man Like You.” Those songs showed off McLorin Salvant’s ability to modulate her voice like a horn and shade lyrics with ambiguity, provocation, and humor (“When I met you, I thought you was right/You married me and stayed out the first night”).

But the showstopper was no rarity: “My Man’s Gone Now,” from Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess.” Here McLorin Salvant’s wordless moans behind “old man sorrow” were like the chill wind in a graveyard at night, her final realization shattering. It capped a night of peerless musical storytelling.


Read the full piece from: Boston Globe

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Raul Midón Embraces Jazz on ‘Badass and Blind’ Album, Premieres ‘Gotta Gotta Give’ Lyric Video

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In 1991, Raul Midón, then a recent graduate of University of Miami's jazz program, was summoned to a vocal session in Miami. "I was called by people who I went to school with," he remembered. "There was a guy that they were working with who they didn't like, so I got asked to sub, and that was all it took. It was 1991, and it was for Carlos Mata, a soap opera star of some sort."

Since then, Midón, a singer and prodigiously talented guitarist who also happens to be blind, has assembled one of the more remarkable resumes in popular music. You can hear his voice on records from modern pop superstars (Shakira, Enrique Iglesias, Christina Aguilera) and classic crooners (Johnny Mathis). He has laid down guide tracks for the opera singer Pavarotti and contributed to house music from the esteemed New York producer Louie Vega. He's worked on the most commercial edge of the music industry, helping make Coca-Cola commercials, and created a series of idiosyncratic solo albums that draw from acoustic funk, soft jazz, yacht rock, '70s soul, and a long tradition of singer/songwriters unafraid to groove.

Last week Midón sat with a double espresso in the lobby of a hotel in midtown Manhattan and discussed his new album, Badass and Blind. He was dressed in light blue jeans mottled with white, a brown hooded sweater, a tan, fraying blazer with white pinstripes, and Aviator sunglasses. The fingernails on his right hand remained uncut; that's his picking hand. His mild voice was sometimes overwhelmed by the wild cackles of three young children playing in a nearby photo booth.

Raul Midon Returns With 'Don't Hesitate'

After breaking into the music business in 1991, Midón spent roughly a decade doing session work -- including a stint touring as a backing vocalist for Shakira, his first ever road jaunt -- that helped him realize that he was interested in fronting his own project. He started playing songwriter showcases in Miami sponsored by Warner/Chappell and landed a solo record deal in 2002. With the signing came $75,000, and that served to fund a move to New York City, where Midón worked with Vega, among others.

Brimming with adept coffeehouse soul, his 2005 debut State of Mind proved hospitable for guests as far apart as Stevie Wonder and Jason Mraz. Midón has made gentle adjustments to this trajectory on subsequent albums, including more of a full rock band approach on 2010's Synthesis and a live record in 2012.

His latest album may be a larger detour: he describes Badass and Blind as "the deep jazz" entry in his catalog. Several songs feature musicians he played with on the 2016 Monterey Jazz Festival tour, including Nicholas Payton on trumpet and Gregory Hutchinson on drums, who help Midón explore linear modal composition, where instrumentalists improvise around a mode or scale instead of a set group of chords. "[Linear modal composition] has a different sonic quality and feeling to it," he explained. "There's quite a few jazz pieces with it, but not songs. That's what I wanted to do -- compose things using that language but have them be songs."

There's also a different streak of experimentalism in the album, one borrowed from electronic music, that pops up in "Gotta Gotta Give." "When I'm not doing music myself, I want to listen to the weirdest most far-out stuff I can," Midón said. "There's this channel on internet radio called SomaFM, and there's a particular station that has the least amount of listeners called Earwaves that plays Steve Reich, Stockhausen, tape-loop stuff.

"'Gotta Gotta Give' has a little bit of that," he continued, referring to the zany electronic noises that zing through the back of the track. "It's got a bit of a quirky, avant garde thing to it." The lyric video for the song is premiering exclusively on Billboard above.

Midón balances the overtly musicianly quests on Badass and Blind with songs like "You & I," the sort of reassuring, creamy soul that comes to him so easily. "That one is all about what I think of as pop: writing a song with a hook, having it being accessible," Midón said. "There's nothing linear modal about 'You & I.'"

Then he backtracked: "Actually, that isn't totally true. Two chords are linear modal, now that I think about it."

After Midón finished the album and came up with the title Badass and Blind, he realized he didn't have a title track. He decided to write one, and the result is an amusing run-down of his many talents delivered over a slick guitar groove. Two-thirds of the way through the song, he suddenly breaks into a rap. The influence of hip-hop is rarely felt in Midón's catalog, and that's the point. "Rap with fancy chords is not too common," he said. "It's part of the whole, 'I'm badass' thing. I'm gonna rap, play a guitar solo, sing -- do it all."


Read the full piece from: Billboard

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Cameron Graves, Planetary Prince Album Release, The Troubadour

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The “world famous” Troubadour is not the first venue that comes to mind for boundary morphing contemporary piano driven ensemble jazz. But then, the L.A. based collective known as the West Coast Get Down, has yet to do anything by the books. It’s been a heady 2017 already for these dudes coming on the heels of bassist Miles Mosley’s headlining date at the El Rey in January, drummer Ronald Bruner Jr.’s album release party at the Teragram a few weekends back and saxophonist Kamasi Washington’s post-Epic musical and visual installation for the Whitney Biennial in NYC.

Last week, it was pianist Cameron Graves turn to front this band of one/band of many, for the drop of his stellar CD, “Planetary Prince” on Mack Avenue Records (disclaimer, more astronomical adjectives could follow). Like Mosley before him, Graves got a well deserved shout out as one of 10 new artists you need to know this year by Rolling Stone, and for good reason IMHO. My ears have been pretty stuck on “Planetary Prince” the past few weeks. With eight tracks covering almost 80 minutes and the shortest clocking in at 7:28, there is an emotional arc to each built on piano driven themes established by Graves with expansive statements from all the players that run deep and always return home. Those players, saxophonist Washington, trombonist Ryan Porter, drummer Bruner, Jr. and his brother Stephen (“Thundercat”), and augmented by trumpeter Phillip Dizak and bassist Hadrien Feraud, deliver music with a certain cosmic urgency, with Graves’ melodies often tumbling out like some kaleidoscopic jar of jelly beans turned on its end. These are explorations that don’t so much swing, as they do swerve from one plane to the next. And, while the album is Graves’ baby, when Washington cuts loose, elevation ensues. The sibling rhythm section and Feraud are also unstoppable, constantly percolating, and tugging on Graves’ ivories, especially on the album’s opener, “Satania the Solar System”. “Planetary Prince” announces itself with the swagger of a toreador and you can feel Adam strut through the garden on “Adam & Eve”. “El Diablo” finds Graves’ percussive chording every bit the foil for Bruner, Jr.’s monster fills and the Star Trek pull of “Andromeda” is hard to deny. Floating and exhilarating, it’s easy to imagine it as a soundtrack to galactic scenery.

So, expectations were high going into a live setting. Get Down mates Bruner, Jr., Washington, Porter (and Dizak on trumpet) joined Graves, but unlike the album, guitarist Matt Haze and bassist Carlito del Puerto initially filled out the stage, with a few guests along the way. “Santania the Solar System” was a little looser than on the record with some real giddy up from the horns and a fine solo from del Puerto. Graves gave the WCGD backstory (Graves and Washington were in the “C” band in high school together, while Mosley was in the “A” band) before Mosley stepped in for “Lucifer Rebellion” with his full array of bowed effects, a tune that also featured Get Down drummer Tony Austin.

Graves and company had worked up a pretty good lather by the time legendary bassist Stanley Clarke was introduced by Graves (“ the best bassist ever”). Clarke recalled playing the room on one of the first Return to Forever tours (a show I happened to be at in 1976 that was nothing less than life changing), and how the West Coast jazz scene didn’t have the exposure of the East Coast scene. And when Stanley Clarke tells a crowd “these are the guys who are going to take us into the future”, it’s probably good to listen. And listen we did, as Clarke and Graves took extended flight on Joe Henderson’s beautiful “Black Narcissus”.

Graves rarely colored his tone with more than his ideas and approach, but on “El Diablo”, he used effects to coax a sound I can only describe as not out of place in Westworld or a Vincent Price flick (I’ll dub it “haunted saloon”). In between the lush and dreamy intro/outro to “Andromeda”, trombonist Porter drew one of the largest whoops from the audience with his solo, before the main set wrapped with “End of Corporatism” featuring another launchpad for Washington and a showcase for Bruner, Jr.’s deep, dense and dexterous ideas. I didn’t know coming in that Graves had some metal on the resume with Jada Pinkett-Smith’s led Wicked Wisdom (still trying to wrap my head around all of that) and made the musical context of the night even more unique. Graves brought her onstage before the band came back for their encore of “Adam & Eve”. That classical intro to a metal bop beat thing just made so much more sense now.

So, yes, I’m a fan of these Get Down constellations and yes, there were many musical highlights in the set. But I’ll tell you what really rang my bell. The Troub was packed with the young. The crowd was largely 20s (I being a minority grey hair), and they were digging it from start to finish. Jazz answers to no one, but it can get dusty just playing to the choir and the assumption the audience finds the music and not the other way around is pretty much blown up by these guys. Miles (Davis, that is) said, “Good music is good no matter what kind of music it is“ and with the West Coast Get Down, yeah, it’s good music, really good music, jazz music, that just happens to travel in light years behind their Planetary Prince.


Read the full piece from: Jim Brock Photography

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Raul Midón Premieres “Pedal to the Metal” Music Video

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Today, GuitarWorld.com presents the exclusive premiere of "Pedal to the Metal," a new song and music video by guitarist Raul Midón. The track is from Midón's new album, Bad Ass and Blind, which will be released this Friday, March 24, via Artistry Music.

Blind since birth, singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Midón has been shattering boundaries in the jazz and pop worlds for the past decade-plus.

Midón, whose career began as a background singer for Shakira, Julio Iglesias and Jose Feliciano before his unorthodox guitar skills became known, has since collaborated with Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock, Dianne Reeves and Bill Withers.

As for his guitar playing, there's plenty to get excited about in "Pedal to the Metal" and the rest of Bad Ass and Blind. Midón is so respected in guitar circles that he was the subject of a recent Guitar World lesson by Dale Turner, "The Unorthodox, Percussive-Slapping Style of Singing Guitarist Raul Midón."

"Midón first picked up a guitar at age 6 and grew up in a household where modern 'classical' music was heard just as often as flamenco and Argentine folk," Turner writes. "One key ingredient in Midón’s percussive guitar style points directly to these roots, a palm slap approach derived from flamenco techniques and Argentinian rhythms, where the open hand is used to rhythmically “pat” the guitar strings over the sound hole."

Bad Ass and Blind is available now for preorder via iTunes.

For more about Midón, visit raulmidon.com, and check out his free workshop at Guitar Center in New York City at 6 p.m. today (March 23).


Read the full piece from: Guitar World

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New Jazz Releases from Alex Cline and Cameron Graves Draw on Spiritual Inspiration

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Los Angeles is often described as an atomized metropolis where it’s nearly impossible to build a sense of community. The sprawling geography (and soul-sucking traffic!) certainly present daunting challenges, but new albums by two very different L.A. musicians highlight some of the enduring creative networks thriving in the Southland.

Alex Cline

Percussionist/composer Alex Cline has been a quiet force on the L.A. scene for nearly four decades, and his sumptuous new double album Oceans of Vows (Cryptogramophone) flows from relationships that have defined his life (starting with his twin brother, guitarist Nels Cline). Long interested in setting the poetry of Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh and verses from the Avatamsaka Sutra to music, he created two expansive suites of five pieces each for the Flower Garland Orchestra, a 14-piece ensemble conducted by new music pianist, Vicki Ray.

The music takes some patience. The forms are long and often develop slowly, with improvised stretches emerging seamless from the thrumming orchestrations. I love the way Cline uses twinned instrumentation. Every player has a counterpart. There’s Nels Cline and GE Stinson’s guitars, the electric violins of Jeff Gauthier and Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, and the keyboards of Wayne Peet and Yuka Honda, though Chi Li’s traditional Chinese instruments (two-string erhu, lower pitched zhonghu, and zither like zheng) stand out strikingly in the mix. The crystalline vocalist, Areni Agbabian, delivers the lyrics at an incantatory tempo and adds wordless vocal textures.

Meditative, roiling, and shimmering, the music draws you in, and often arrives at a breathtaking plateau. Enlightenment may not arrive with Atwood-Ferguson’s final solo on the nearly 23-minute closing piece, “The Ten Great Aspirations of Samantabhadra Bodhisattva,” but I felt like I’d completed a rewarding journey.

Cameron Graves

Atwood-Ferguson doesn’t play on pianist/composer Cameron Graves’ debut album “Planetary Prince” (Mack Avenue), but as a Kendrick Lamar collaborator he’s one point of connection between Graves’ West Coast Get Down and Cline’s crew. Like Cline, Graves has surrounded himself with artists he’s been making music with his whole life, and it shows.

Where Cline’s music seems to represent an inward journey, Graves is all about mixing it up in the world, and his music is inspired by a mysterious spiritual tome that appeared in Chicago in the 1920s called “The Urantia Book” (an esoteric text that also inspired Stockhausen and Hendrix).

He’s part of a new wave of jazz musicians who intersected with L.A.’s hip-hop scene, particularly Kendrick Lamar. Like Kamasi Washington he’s a founding member of the West Coast Get Down collective, and his piano work is all over The Epic.

Planetary Prince also features Washington’s burly tenor sax, trombonist Ryan Porter, bassist Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner, and his brother, drummer Ronald Bruner Jr. But if you’re expecting “The Epic, Part 2” you’ll be disappointed. Like Washington, Graves is bursting with ambition and has no shortage of ideas.

Listening to a piece like the torrential “El Diablo,” I kept thinking he’s learned a lot from the jazz rock fusion of the 1970s, in a good way, as if he took the guitar out of Chick Corea’s Elektric Band and added a horn section instead.

With his percussive touch, Graves locks in again and again with Thundercat and Bruner, a remarkable bass and drums tandem. His compositions drill down into grooves and then suddenly spring open, like the stunning “Satania” and the herky funk of “End of Corporatism.” Clocking in at a generous 80 minutes, Planetary Prince is a more fully realized statement than The Epic, which tended to sprawl and repeat itself. As impressive as it is, I get the sense that Planetary Prince is just one small chapter in the unfolding book of Cameron Graves.


Read the full piece from: KQED News

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Rebirth by Billy Childs

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Four- time Grammy Award-winner Billy Childs has released his debut recording for Mack Avenue Records and it’s a keeper. The diverse compositions on Rebirth feature such notable artists as Claudia Acuna who co-wrote the title track with Billy Childs, vocalist Alicia Olatuja on “Stay” and who sang on Childs’ Laura Nyro project, his bandmates Steve Wilson on alto & soprano saxophones, Hans Glawischnig on acoustic bass and Eric Harland on drums. Ido Meshulam and Rogerio Boccato play trombone and percussion respectively on “Rebirth.” Billy plays piano and produced the recording as well as composed and arranged all 8 songs.

On Rebirth, Billy Childs reaches back to the nexus of his varied musical experiences. “Tightrope,” with its insistent pulse and melodic introduction features his classical influences while three songs from his Windham Hill (record label) days - “Stay,” “Backwards Bop,” and “Starry Night” are recast to reflect his artistic growth. The percussive electricity of “Backwards Bop” and “Dance of Shiva” harken back to his days with J.J. Johnson and Freddie Hubbard while the well-placed coloring in his comps to Alicia Olatuja’s vocals on “Stay” are styled from his days with Freddie.

Standout soloing by Billy Childs and Steve Wilson on the beautiful “Rebirth” is worth more than several listens. This song is absolutely beautiful with Claudia Acuna’s stellar vocalese and the band’s excellent accompaniment. Overall, this project is another winner for Billy Childs and deserves to be in your record collection.


Read the full piece from: Sounds of Timeless Jazz

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Raul Midón Lines Up Worldwide Tour

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There are actually two SXSW plays – Scratch House on March 16 and Stephen F. Austin Hotel on March 18. After that Midón has a few headline dates on the East Coast, and an appearance at Singapore International Jazz Festival on April 2. While he is in the Eastern Hemisphere he also plays three nights in Tokyo April 4-6 at Blue Note Tokyo.

The rest of his plan is mostly North America in April and Europe in May. The last date currently on the books is May 22 in Amsterdam.

Midón is blind, which would lead many to draw comparisons with Stevie Wonder, Jose Feliciano and Ray Charles. His jazz stylings and unique use of his voice as an instrument will also resonate with fans of Bobby McFerrin. Midón has been known to perform as a one-man band, playing drums, guitars and singing simultaneously during the live shows.

The next Raul Midón album, Bad Ass And Blind, drops next week on March 24. Midón wrote, recorded, played on, produced and engineered the album. Check out his cover of “Fly Like An Eagle” off that project:

About the album, Midón said: “Believe it or not I am a shy person especially when it comes to my blindness. This album, in general … represents a sea change for me when it comes to communicating with the public about my disability.”

Here is Raul Midón’s full schedule:

March 16 – Austin, Texas, Scratch House (SXSW)

March 18 – Austin, Texas, Stephen F. Austin Hotel (SXSW)

March 24 – New York, N.Y., HighLine Ballroom

March 25 – Boston, Mass., David end Recital Hall

March 26 – Ridgefield, Conn., Ridgefield Playhouse

March 29 – Reston, Va., Reston Community Center

April 2 – Singapore, Singapore, Marina Bay Sands (Singapore International Jazz Festival)

April 4 – Tokyo, Japan, Blue Note Tokyo

April 5 – Tokyo, Japan, Blue Note Tokyo

April 6 – Tokyo, Japan, Blue Note Tokyo

April 9 – Cleveland Heights, Ohio, Nighttown

April 14 – Detroit, Mich., Jazz Cafe at Music Hall

April 15 – Cleveland Heights, Ohio, Nighttown

April 16 – Evanston, Ill., SPACE

April 17 – Minneapolis, Minn., Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant

April 19 – Denver, Colo., Soiled Dove Underground

April 21 – Los Angeles, Calif., Blue Whale

April 22 – Los Angeles, Calif., Blue Whale

April 23 – Oakland, Calif., Yoshi's Oakland

April 26 – Richmond, Va., The Tin Pan

May 2 – Le Haillan, France, L'Entrepot

May 3 – Massy, France, Centre Bailliart

May 4 – Colombes, France, L'Avant Seine Theatre de Colombes

May 5 – Vernouilette, France, L'Agora

May 6 – Sannois, France, Espace Michel Berger

May 9 – Toulouse, France, Salle Nougaro

May 11 – Rennes, France, Theatre National de Bretagne

May 12 – St Julien Genevois, France, Casino de Saint Julien

May 16 – Perpignan, France, Le Mediator

May 18 – London, England, Under The Bridge

May 19 – Paris, France, New Morning

May 21 – Rotterdam, Netherlands, Lantaren Venster

May 22 – Amsterdam, Netherlands, Paradiso


Read the full piece from: Pollstar

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10 New Artists You Need to Know: March 2017

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Cameron Graves

Sounds Like: The house pianist for the party at the end of the universe, pulling in signals from John Coltrane, J Dilla, Meshuggah and points beyond.

For Fans of: Kamasi Washington, Miles Davis, Stanley Clarke, Thundercat

Why You Should Pay Attention: A founding member of the West Coast Get Down collective that thundered to global renown with the release of Kamasi Washington's The Epic, Cameron Graves, 35, cut his teeth playing the classic works of Bach, Schubert and Chopin before he hit Hamilton High School in Los Angeles. There, he bonded with Washington over a shared love of John Coltrane, McCoy Tyner and the mainstream jazz canon. "I met him when I was around 15, and we both would just hang out and listen to Coltrane all day, and practice with each other," says Graves, "just 'shed on tunes like 'Giant Steps' and 'A Love Supreme.'"

Still, spare hours spent shredding out Van Halen and Slipknot tunes on guitar came in handy during Graves's stint in Jada Pinkett Smith's nu-metal project, Wicked Wisdom. Since then, he's also held his own alongside one of the heaviest pioneers of fusion jazz, bass virtuoso Stanley Clarke. Mix up those experiences, stir in a taste for Prince's revolutionary funk and J Dilla's mixing-board skills, then add a twist of cosmic insight gleaned from The Urantia Book, an esoteric tome that purports to sort out the whole of creation. The result is Planetary Prince, Graves's debut album as a bandleader, newly released on the Mack Avenue label.

He Says: "In sports, we always revere the most talented person on the field, the most talented person on the court, and it's through their extreme skills that we end up revering that person, and creating a celebrity out of that person. And that is exactly what my mission is, personally: to do that in music, to showcase the virtuoso and to try to make the virtuoso a celebrity again, because I think that's been lost in our society with all the … I kind of call it 'plastic music.' It's brought the bar down in terms of the talent and the quality of the playing."

Hear for Yourself: "Satania Our Solar System," the opening track on Planetary Prince, presents all the essentials: a classically poised introduction, a writhing beat equally beholden to slick funk and prog-metal, serpentine electric bass lines, and lean, tight jazz-combo interaction. Steve Smith


Read the full piece from: Rolling Stone

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Cameron Graves: Planetary Prince review – Kamasi Washington’s pianist cranks it up

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Cameron Graves' debut recording, Planetary Prince (Mack Avenue) is an original and refreshing "piano jazz" outing. It's horn sextet dynamics provide familiar entry points and references into the musical sphere Graves inhabits as composer, arranger, and performer, but the extreme energy levels and sophisticated ensemble dynamics confidently echo the great bands of the jazz-rock era; perhaps it's no coincidence Graves has been touring with Stanley Clarke's band for the past two years, and has also been an integral presence touring, recording, and performing with saxophonist Kamasi Washington.

The seven tracks which make up Planetary Prince are presented mostly in the format of extended instrumental suites: jazz mini-concertos with hints of neo-classical romanticism, infused with punchy, complex, and lush horn arrangements. Intricate melodic themes set up extended flights of fresh, inventive, and often herculean riffing, setting up a swiftly shifting foundation for a succession of inspired and soulful soloing. Graves' classical chops are often in evidence, but recall with a new perspective and youthful energy a prior generation of masters: names like Jarrett, Corea, and Hancock come to mind—and their fans find some astonishing pianistic pyrotechnics here, rendered within ambitious structures and crescendos, as well as a diverse sampling of hybrid grooves, drawing from rock, R&B, avant-garde, hip-hop, and Latin influences—and beyond.

Graves' choice of ensemble is classic a classic horn sextet with trumpet (Philip Dizack), trombone (Ryan Porter), and tenor saxophone (Kamasi Washington). The secret sauce that underpins a well-orchestrated storm of dynamics is the formidable rhythm section of drummer Ronald Bruner Jr. and one of two virtuoso electric bassists—Hadrien Feraud, and Stephen Bruner, aka Thundercat. Feraud, originally from Paris and now living in LA continually offers up a tasteful, restrained virtuosity as a fusioneer bassist and appears on all but two tracks. Ferraud has performed locally with Kamasi Washington, The West Coast Get Down, after gaining recognition earlier in his career recording and touring with John McLaughlin and Chick Corea.

Both Thundercat and Feraud have an uncanny synergy with the intermittently explosive drumming and an endless variations of pocket grooves served up by Ronald Bruner, Jr. The rhythm section throughout shifts effortlessly between atmospheric cruising and maxed-out warp drive, laying a deep foundation for Graves' release of extended torrents of spectacular piano riffs. Whenever you think their ferocity is about teeter out of control, Feraud and Thundercat's creative, but anchoring bass lines and chordal colorings balance like a fine wine with Bruner's endless vocabulary of inventive grooves. Feraud's talents have evolved and matured immensely since his debut tour with John McLaughlin's Fourth Dimension in 2006, and later with Chick Corea; he was also a featured guest soloist appearing on several tracks on Thundercat's bass-heavy debut album, The Golden Age of Apocalypse (2011). One of the shorter pieces, "The End of Corporatism" is a relentlessly up-tempo rococo celebration of fast and devious chord changes. Thundercat's acrobatic solo runs soar, always on the precarious edge of his brother Ronald's nuclear bursts of tom rolls and tsunami swells of cymbals. To hear the two of them locked in under the cascading arpeggios of Graves piano is pure jazz spectacle recalling the '70s jazz rock supergroups.

The longer suites that make up Planetary Prince each unfold with an opening piano "prelude," forming strong themes in slower to breakneck tempos, and alluring emotional canvases. "Andromeda," coalesces and delves into an extended, lush romantic ballad, evoking the grandeur of the milky way on a clear desert night, launching Graves' solo runs into myriad inter-stellar explorations. Throughout these pieces the horn arrangements frame the solo sections—sometimes majestic and mellow, and other times boisterous, punchy, and flamboyant. All six musicians can strip down Graves' conception and ideas its core, and expand a theme and its rhythmic underpinnings with virtuosic expression and emotional intensity over a long progression of chords. "Adam and Eve," encompasses a primal musical journey with a beautiful piano intro, reminiscent of Chopin, which shifts into a joyous barrage of horn motifs, and like all the pieces, sets the stage for Graves' mercurial piano runs. The melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic conversations and interactions found on Planetary Prince are dramatic, soaring, and captivating. As the tension builds I'm imagining what it might have been like to hear John Coltrane and McCoy Tyner blow over Keith Moon and John Entwistle.

Graves' debut release embodies a forward looking, jazz-grounded instrumental music. Graves leads us on a challenging and intoxicating musical journey of imagination, built solidly on the foundation of superb musicianship and craft. Given the range of experience each musician brings to the project, Graves commands a stellar vehicle with the power and imagination to transport listeners young and old to planetary vistas of beauty, struggle, and triumph.

Track Listing: Satania Our Solar System; Planetary Prince; El Diablo; Adam & Eve; The End of Corporatism; Andromeda; Isle of Love; The Lucifer Rebellion.

Personnel: Camon Graves: piano; Ronald Bruner, Jr.: drums; Stephen "Thundercat" Bruner: bass; Philip Dizack: trumpet; Hadrien Feraud: bass; Ryan Porter: trombone; Kamasi Washington: tenor saxophone.

Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Mack Avenue Records | Style: Modern Jazz


Read the full piece from: All About Jazz

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Los Angeles’s Thriving Jazz Scene Produces Four New Albums

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New York remains the popular and commercial center of jazz, but other cities are increasingly dictating its development. Young musicians in places like Philadelphia and Chicago — where systems for intergenerational exchange still thrive outside academia — are marrying established regional patois with a broad base of influences from across the black musical canon, and around the globe.

That’s borne out particularly in Los Angeles, where the saxophonist Kamasi Washington has led the charge onto the national scene. He has famously collaborated with Kendrick Lamar and Snoop Dogg, but two years ago, when he released a lauded triple-album, “The Epic,” he threw back the curtain on a crop of young jazz-trained musicians that hail from his hometown. The album featured a string section, a 20-person choir and a loose collective calling itself the West Coast Get Down.

This winter, four members of that crew released solo albums of their own — most of them recorded in the same monthlong stretch of communal recording sessions that produced “The Epic.” All four of these bandleaders appeared as sidemen on Mr. Washington’s album, and each has his own approach to retrofitting the jazz tradition. The breadth of their styles says something about the way a small scene can foster individual voices, and emphasize complementary roles.

Here’s a rundown of recent releases from members of the West Coast Get Down.

Thundercat, ‘Drunk’

Mr. Washington is rightly seen as an heir to Los Angeles’ expansive, Afrocentric acoustic jazz tradition, which runs through Horace Tapscott and Butch Morris. The bassist and vocalist Stephen Bruner, known as Thundercat, relates to a different genealogy: namely the hazy, electric fusion that Stanley Clarke, George Duke and Patrice Rushen were making in the 1980s.

Mr. Bruner plays a six-string bass; in the deep end his sound is big and crumbly, but he often fingerpicks guitar-like harmonies on the higher strings. On “Drunk” — his third full-length, featuring cameos by Mr. Lamar, Michael McDonald and Pharrell Williams — the gravitational center floats in the air, where harmonies rarely resolve and synthesizers waft around his slap-happy falsetto.

But the laxity and wit in much of this music masks a melancholy. It’s something we’ve never heard so clearly in his music. “A Fan’s Mail (Tron Song II)” is not the first time he’s written a song to his cat — but this time, wistfulness takes center stage amid the wit. “It’s cool to be a cat,” he sings. “Everything the light touches/Is where I would roam.”

The drummer Ronald Bruner Jr., Thundercat’s older brother, has followed a windy musical trajectory, playing with Diana Ross, the jazz saxophonist Kenny Garrett and the hard-core band Suicidal Tendencies. Somehow, all that comes to bear on “Triumph,” a record of steady intensity. Less arch than his brother, the elder Mr. Bruner builds layers of guitar and synth but leaves his heart in full view.

Ecumenism is the album’s gospel — from the prog-rock double guitar lead in “Geome Deome,” which features keyboards from Mr. Duke, to the effervescent swagger of “One Night,” with its redolence of Raphael Saadiq’s neo-soul. “To You/For You” starts as a sizzle of Princely funk, then toggles into heavy trap, with Mr. Bruner rapping over a spare beat. The disc’s lead single, “Take the Time,” rides a chiming pulse reminiscent of some late J. Dilla beats.

“Triumph” is heavy on glimmer and muscle — but Mr. Bruner knows how to open up space and create possibility. On “Open the Gate,” the only track exceeding 10 minutes, the guitarist Charles Altura takes a solo that begins with tuneful modesty, then gives way to a cascade of distorted cries over a writhing drum solo.

“Planetary Prince” by Cameron Graves. Credit Anna Webber

Cameron Graves, ‘Planetary Prince’

If you’re looking for another fix of the same stuff that “The Epic” delivered, the debut album from the pianist Cameron Graves is your answer.

One of the best aspects of Mr. Washington’s shows with the West Coast Get Down is the feeling of communal energy flowing in a straight, unrepentant stream from the stage.

We get that from the word go on “Planetary Prince,” which features both Bruners and Mr. Washington. Hear how the pianist jostles into his first solo, on “Satania Our Solar System,” emerging from a drape of horn harmony with a spray of hard, darting eighth notes. Over a driving funk vamp, he and Ronald Bruner work as a percussive unit; each note has heft and precision, but a chancy momentum too.

The moments of brightest catharsis come on Mr. Washington’s saxophone solos, particularly on “Adam & Eve,” where he rides the song’s bright harmony into a space of buoyant inquiry.

Miles Mosley is a singing upright bassist who draws much of his inspiration from the politically attuned funk of the 1970s — bands like War and Mandrill. His tunes place urgency and nostalgia in contact, as if they were two equally valid strands of idealism.

On the cover of “Uprising,” his solo debut, Mr. Mosley appears in a black beret and sturdy black collar, staring evenly into the camera. There’s no more ambiguity than that in the music, either. Over a cohort of five horns and six strings, he sings declaratory songs of lament and militant determination, over chord changes that always resolve to a tonic. On “More Than This,” he sings, “Baby, the world was promised so much more than this.”

At Mr. Washington’s concerts over the past two years, he has often made time for Mr. Mosley to perform a song of his own, typically the sauntering “Abraham.” There was a sense of rugged, against-the-odds affirmation in these live performances that is not altogether realized on the clean-cut recording. But as a document of song craft, and a rising talent’s broad vision, it delivers.


Read the full piece from: NY Times

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Cameron Graves: Planetary Prince review – Kamasi Washington’s pianist cranks it up

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Cameron Graves was the pianist on saxophonist Kamasi Washington’s much admired 2015 orchestral release The Epic, and Washington’s scalding, hoarsely voiceed tenor sound is conspicuously present in this Graves-led septet that also features such LA luminaries as bassist Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner on two tracks, and his drummer brother Ronald on all.

Graves doesn’t sound much like a clone of any postbop-raised keys player – his unbroken and rhythmically vigorous acoustic lines imply an education from hip-hop drummers as much as pianists, while his contrastingly romantic and ardent chord-work suggest what Rachmaninoff might have sounded like if he’d played in a contemporary fusion band. There are languidly hooky trumpet/trombone themes with Ronald Bruner’s torrential, tom-tom rolling drumming flying beneath; bright staccato themes (like the title track) giving way to Graves’s headlong reshufflings of short motifs; smouldering Latin horn sways that turn to percussion thrashes; briefly lyrical piano reflections that soon, and inevitably, crank up.

This Graves group would ignite an exciting live show, even if it can feel a bit like an unvaryingly breathless never-ending crescendo on record.


Read the full piece from: Guardian

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RAUL MIDÓN ANNOUNCES NINTH ALBUM, ‘BAD ASS AND BLIND’, SHARES TOUR DATES

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His soulful and funky artistry goes way beyond any notion of genre – it is musicianship, charisma, timing, songwriting and personality that unmistakably solidify the context of his songs. His music commands listeners with open minds, open ears and open hearts.

Blind at birth, he is often compared to Stevie Wonder and Jose Feliciano and while those comparisons are indeed flattering you also will hear influences of Steely Dan, Sting and the late great Al Jarreau. Raul still early in his career has already been endorsed by greats as diverse as Grammy Nominated Louie Vega and the living legend Bill Withers (appearing in his documentary “Still Bill”).

His guitar playing is masterful and enables him to move effortlessly, while creating a sound that’s both warm and familiar. “He plays with such freedom and joy that his hands smile. His slapping style allows him to play a melody while creating percussion as he plays without disrupting either sound, and busts out his improvisational mouth-horn technique, in which he creates a bebop “trumpet” solo entirely with his lips, earning himself a spontaneous burst of mid-song applause from the audience in the process” Huffington Post

In his latest effort ‘Bad Ass and Blind’ he attests to enduring ambitions. Raul was a featured artist with the 2016 Monterey Jazz Festival On Tour, which also included the likes of stars Nicholas Payton, Gerald Clayton, and Gregory Hutchinson, whom he tapped to play this project along with Joe Sanders and others.

There are songs on ‘Bad Ass and Blind’ sure to please fans of Midón’s earlier albums, beginning with the title track, which in fact was written and recorded after the album was almost completed. The tour de force piece finds Midón celebrating blindness with a ripping guitar solo, a fierce spoken word rhyme, slamming bass by Richard Hammond (Hamilton) and drumming by Lionel Cordew (Spyro Gyra). These musical gems come with a story that Raul himself breaks down for us.

“Bad Ass and Blind” is a kind of personal coming out party for me. Believe it or not I am a shy person especially when it comes to my blindness. This album, in general, and this song in particular, represents a sea change for me when it comes to communicating with the public about my disability. I am what I am. I travel the world, write, produce, sing, play and, do it all without the benefit of sight. I’m a bad ass.

“Red, Green, Yellow” is both a shout out to Steely Dan and a snapshot view as to my perspective on color. As a child I played red light green Light. So naturally those associations continue. Way beyond this though color figures prominently in the rich descriptions of people, places, and things that populate the pages of great literature. Through the eyes of the great describers, Nabokov, Dickens, etc, I see green pastures, Red Wheel Barrels, and a bright golden sun. Color is a main ingredient in the magic elixir of words that brings to life the imagination.

“Pedal to the Metal” sums up my living philosophy. I am 100 percent committed to what I’m doing. When I’m on stage there is nothing but that moment.

“Wings of Mind” is a musical expression of my belief in the power of creative imagination. It is also an exploration of my continuing fascination with linear modal harmony a la Wayne Shorter or Miles Davis. Before anything can exist there is the idea of that thing. When I write a song I begin with nothing but the idea. “Through the spaces in your mind you’ll find a passage way to anywhere.”

“If Only” is a might have been love song inspired by the Tin Pan Alley poets. Songs like “What’ll I Do?” Irving Berlin and “Night and Day” Cole Porter. I wanted to write something simple yet symmetrical. It is a bossa with a twist.

Light Shadows are created when light from a light source is blocked by an opaque object. They are experienced and spoken about by virtually everyone every day. On the other hand “Sound Shadows” occur in pretty much the same way and can be experienced by anyone with a working set of ears.

And yet most of us don’t know they exist. You can practice listening to sound shadows by closing your eyes and walking very slowly through a narrow doorway without using your hands. You may bump your head a few times but I promise you’ll get better at it with time. Sound shadow, the song, is a tribute to a world that exists just beyond the line of sight.

“Jack/Robert Lorick” is an expression of my appreciation for a fictional character, Jack Flanders voiced by an extraordinary voice actor and human being Robert Lorick. Jack is the protagonist in an audio adventure series produced by ZBS media and written by Tom Lopez. The sound artistry coupled with sublime pearls of wisdom, taken from the world’s religions, scattered throughout, are what keeps me coming back for more. Jack is no ordinary adventurer. While he travels the world physically, his raison D’etre is to solve metaphysical puzzles. Robert Lorick recently passed and this was my tribute to him and the fictional character. If you want to be inspired check it out.

“You & I” is another straight up love song inspired by my relationship with my wife. We live and work together and I am proud to have her as my wife and manager. Love conquers all.

“All that I Am” is an acknowledgment of the role that my Father has played in my life. When I was faced with overwhelming obstacles as a disabled child my Father handed me the most powerful tool you can employ when overcoming such obstacles. A powerful sense of my intrinsic value as a human being. When you are disabled the world foists upon you a sense that you are damaged goods. My father never let me forget that this was wrong. He would remind me constantly that I could do and be anything I wanted.

“Gotta Gotta Give” is a love song to life, with a hook and a little touch of the Avant-garde. I got some much appreciated help on this one from the great French keyboardist Jean Philippe Rykiel.

“Fly like an Eagle” is the first LP I ever bought with my own money. I was enthralled with the synthesizer parts and sparked by the message of revolution and hope. Whenever I do a cover I am challenged by the fact that I like the original so much. It is for me, a tightrope walk, to maintain the integrity of the song and yet make it my own. I changed the key to a darker sounding a flat, slowed down the tempo a bit, and re harmonized the verses to give it a mysterious quality. This is in keeping with the linear model sound found throughout the record. I also wanted the ending to feel wistful, sad, and soulful like you might hear on a Marvin Gaye or Curtis Mayfield record. Fly like an Eagle is a testimonial to the power of possibility.

This is the 2nd album that Raul has both produced and engineered. His work is bold, and dynamic and demonstrates his abilities in the manner of a genius.

Raul Midon is “a one-man band who turns a guitar into an orchestra and his voice into a chorus…” -The New York Times

This latest release is sure to leave a lasting impression on both existing fans and new fans alike.

Upcoming Raul Midón Performances:

March 14 | City Winery | Atlanta, GA

March 16-20 | SXSW | Austin, TX

March 23 | Guitar Clinic, Guitar Center Times Square | New York, NY

March 24 | Highline Ballroom | New York, NY

March 25| David Friend Recital Hall- Berklee, Boston

March 26| Ridgefield Playhouse- Ridgefield, CT

March 29| Centerstage- Reston, VA

April 2| Singa Jazz- Singapore

April 4-6| Blue Note – Tokyo

April 9| Nighttown – Cleveland

April 14| Jazz Café at Music Hall- Detroit

April 16| Space- Evanston, IL

April 17| Dakota- Minneapolis

April 19| Soiled Dove- Denver

April 21& 22| Blue Whale- Los Angeles

April 23| Yoshi’s- Oakland

April 26| Tin Pan- Richmond

May 2| L’Entrepot- Le Haillan, France

May 3| Paul B- Massy, France

May 4| L’Avant Seine- Colombes, France

May 5| Salle des Fetes de Vernouillet- Vernouillet, France

May 6| Espace Michel Berger- Franconville, France

May 9| Salle Nougaro- Toulouse, France

May 11| Theatre National De Bretagne- Rennes, France

May 12| Casino De Saint-Julien- St Julien En Genevois

May 16| ElMediator- Perpignan, France

May 18| Under The Bridge- London

May 19| New Morning- Paris

May 21| Lantern Venster- Rotterdam

May 22| Paradiso- Amsterdam


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Not Your Father’s Big Band

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On Monk’estra Vol. 1 (Mack Avenue), L.A. keyboardist-composer-arranger John Beasley brings that same kind of boundless energy and fresh vision to the music of Thelonious Monk. Opening with a reinvention of “Epistrophy” performed by his stellar 21-piece band of first-call L.A. studio musicians, and featuring a glistening solo from guest vibist Gary Burton, Beasley and crew jump into a sprightly rendition of “Skippy” that has drummer Gary Novak shifting from slamming back beats to second line groove to 4/4 swing mode. A chill take on “Oska T” contains a voice excerpt from a rare Monk interview and features outstanding trumpet work by Gabriel Johnson. Beasley puts his stamp on the dynamic, swinging second half of the piece, which includes a bracing solo from trombonist Francisco Torres. “Monk’s Processional” is a funky N’awlins brass band breakdown of “Green Chimneys” while a hip-hop take on “’Round Midnight” may seem irreverent to some and relevant to others. Harmonica ace Gregoire Maret guests on a wholly re-imagined version of one of Monk’s most hauntingly beautiful ballads, “Ask Me Now,” while Beasley harmonizes the horns on a jauntily swinging “Little Rootie Tootie,” one of many remarkably ambitious arrangements here.


Read the full piece from: The Absolute Sound

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Take Five: Joey DeFrancesco, GoGo Penguin, Akua Dixon, Petros Klampanis, Billy Mintz

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There are many paths to a killer groove, and few fixed parameters. The most important criterion is an intangible: just how good, how essentially right, does it feel? Every new track featured in this installment of Take Five is a winner in that respect, whether we’re talking about a hard-swinging churn or a minimalist swirl. As a bonus, you’ll see a first-rate drummer do a goofy dance.

The word “freedom” clearly resonates for Joey DeFrancesco, the Hammond B-3 organ kingpin and veteran hard-bop messenger. As a proud product of Philadelphia, the cradle of liberty, he grew up considering individual and collective freedoms; as a jazz musician, he developed a nuanced relationship to the idea. On Project Freedom, due out on Friday on Mack Avenue, his overarching theme is the historic and ongoing struggle for equality: the album includes stirring treatments of Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” and the spiritual “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” DeFrancesco also introduces new tunes with meaningful titles, like “Peace Bridge” and “Stand Up.” The title track opens in a prayerful rubato, with Jason Brown rumbling in earnest on his toms. Then DeFrancesco, tenor saxophonist Troy Roberts and guitarist Dan Wilson lock in with a boppish melody, followed by a thrilling round-robin of solos: trading choruses, then fours, and finally converging in a heated exchange. (DeFrancesco is currently on tour; for dates and information, visit his website.) — Nate Chinen


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Cameron Graves Planetary Prince [Pitchfork]

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The collective known as the West Coast Get Down may have made its emphatic mark on the jazz world in 2015, but the bandmates have been honing their sound and approach for nearly two decades together in Los Angeles. They’ve put in their Gladwellian 10,000 hours, just not in New York or at Berklee.

If tenor saxophonist Kamasi Washington—with his sprawling, uncompromising record The Epic—was the subject of the most column inches in 2015, this may be the year for some of his long-time collaborators like Cameron Graves, a beguiling pianist who just released Planetary Prince, his rousing debut as a bandleader. Fellow WCGD musicians Ryan Porter (trombone), Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner (bass), drummer Ronald Bruner, Jr., and Kamasi Washington (as a sideman) return for this set, with the addition of trumpeter Philip Dizack and Hadrien Feraud, another bassist, both of whom are immersed in the L.A. jazz scene.

It’s at once an addendum to The Epic and an extension. It was recorded during an eleven-hour session, and at 80 minutes it has the feel of a concept album, channeling Graves’ interest in astrology and The Urantia Book, the 2,000-page spiritual/science text of unknown provenance that served as inspiration for outré composer Karlheinz Stockhausen’s seven-day opera “Licht.” (Jimi Hendrix and Jerry Garcia also carried around copies in their rucksacks.)

The authorship of the music, though, is all Graves, who, it’s been reported, enjoys death metal and Chopin, hip-hop and prog rock, and has played with Jada Pinkett-Smith’s band Wicked Wisdom and pioneering fusion bassist Stanley Clarke. The eight tracks on the album reveal Graves’ influences, which seem to come from everywhere and nowhere. There are whiffs of McCoy Tyner, especially from his early- mid-’70s groups, Abdullah Ibrahim, and somehow Joe Sample, yet he doesn’t particularly sound like any of them.

As a youngster, Graves studied classical piano, which is apparent from the gorgeous opening bars of the first piece, “Satania Our Solar System,” before it quickly transitions into an uptempo fusion-esque romp with a charging back beat. In the subsequent title track, Graves, who plays acoustic throughout the set, bursts out in percussive form—he’s often thunderingly percussive, as in “The Lucifer Rebellion” later—and follows with a busy, jabbing solo. Washington, with his singular, bravura tone, soon joins and verges on obfuscating the material, but stays just on the right side of his ecstatic-expressionism. “Andromeda” shifts to a quieter side, or as quiet as the WCGD can get. Feraud, a Parisian, recalls Jaco Pastorius on an inspired electric bass solo, and Ronald Bruner—who also shimmers on “El Diablo”—coerces all sorts of vibrant colors out of just his cymbals. The theme, especially when played by the horns, has a dream-like touch, as if penned by Wayne Shorter.

On “Isle of Love,” the leader opens with vigor, before Kamasi returns for another towering solo. Graves takes us out softly and by himself, which is exactly how “Adam & Eve” begins. Kamasi lets loose one more time, but the three horns that finish the tune—and Porter’s trombone adds lovely texture here, as it did on The Epic—underscores the unselfishness that marks the work of the WCGD. “The End of Corporatism,” an uptempo piece, further captures the Collective’s (and Graves’) drive and spirit, one that is enraptured, assured, grandiose in moments, but never self-aggrandizing. Planetary Prince might not shift the tectonic plates the way The Epic did, but Graves, while earthly-bound, has his gaze set upward.


Read the full piece from: Pitchfork

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Billy Childs: Rebirth

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It's been a while since we've heard pianist Billy Childs really dig in. While he certainly hasn't been dormant, reaching tremendous artistic heights in semi-recent times with a pair of highly refined chamber jazz explorations and a much-lauded tribute to Laura Nyro, the Childs of yore—the man that would throw down the gauntlet night after night while in the employ of legends like trumpet titan Freddie Hubbard or trombonist J.J. Johnson—hasn't been heard from in a while. Rebirth brings that part of Childs' past back into view, but it also continues to shine a light on his clarity of expression and his incredible skills in the arranging department. It's punctilious and unpredictably powerful all at once. Believe it or not, you can have both ways. At least, that is, if you're Billy Childs.

While those aforementioned post-millennial winners were well-staffed affairs—the chamber ensemble projects were chock full or orchestral trappings and the Nyro album had a guest list that ran a mile long—Childs pares things down for this one, running lean in the personnel department. For six of the eight tracks, it's just a quartet at play. Of course, referring to the marshaled forces of Childs, saxophonist Steve Wilson, bassist Hans Glawischnig, and drummer Eric Harland as "just a quartet" is akin to referencing the New York Yankees as "just a baseball team." These are heavy hitters that came to play. That fact is made abundantly clear right of the gate on "Backwards Bop," one of three tunes on this program that Childs recorded in his Windham Hill days in the '80s. It's a bold opening stroke, setting the bar incredibly high with precision unison lines, sharp turns, and powerful solo stands. Glawischnig is like a tightly wound spring, Childs works with an authoritative tone that never dulls or blur his incredibly articulate touch, Wilson comes off like a shrewd harmonic navigator, and Harland puts his monumental chops to good use. It's the perfect example of how to hook the ear from the start.

The pair of guest-enhanced tracks—one a unique yet stylistically congruent follow-up to "Backwards Bop" with appearances from trombonist Ido Meshulam, percussionist Rogerio Boccato, and vocalist Claudia Acuna, the other a ballad with vocalist Alicia Olatuja in the spotlight—both immediately follow that slam dunk of an opener. Acuña co-wrote the title track, a piece that benefits greatly from her inimitable wordless vocals. Harland creates a steadily skittering backdrop that gives the song a nervous energy, Wilson's soprano takes to the sky, and Childs scampers around, mixing playfulness and potency in his piano work. "Stay," on the other hand, does just that, giving Olatuja a chance to shine in a mellow musical climate that never really intensifies.

The five remaining numbers are gratifying in so many ways. "Dance Of Shiva," ridiculously intricate in its design, engineering, and realization, features some startlingly fresh statements from Childs and Wilson; "Tightrope" finds all four men moving with lighter steps and listening closely, painting and dancing a varicolored waltz together; "The Starry Night" suggests its title through the dreamiest of piano forewords, skyrockets into the stratosphere with Wilson's soprano acting as the nose cone of the ship, and settles into orbit for solos; and "The Windmills Of Your Mind" glows and burns a deep red, with Childs and company drawing out the most intense flavor notes and emotions buried in the song's structure. Then serenity sets in for the closer—a poetic (piano and saxophone) duo take on Horace Silver's "Peace."

Childs hasn't always put all of his talent cards on the table at once, suppressing one aspect of his artistry in deference to others at times, so it's nice to see that change with Rebirth. He's showing his full hand here—chops, nuance, composing, arranging, and all—and it's a musical royal flush if ever there was one.

Track Listing: Backwards Bop; Rebirth; Stay; Dance Of Shiva; Tightrope; The Starry Night; The Windmills Of Your Mind; Peace.

Personnel: Billy Childs: piano; Steve Wilson: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone; Hans Glawischnig: acoustic bass; Eric Harland: drums.


Read the full piece from: All About Jazz

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Pianist Alfredo Rodríguez gets inspired by Havana in ‘Yemayá’ feat Ibeyi

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Featuring Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Díaz (Ibeyi) on vocals, 'Yemayá' is a tribute to the Yoruban Goddess/Saint of the Sea. The melody and rhythm for the song are based on a Yemayá chant, which the Cuban musician then arranged with his trio.


Read the full piece from: Ulab

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RAUL MIDÓN ON HIS MAR. 24 SHOW AT THE HIGHLINE BALLROOM, LIVING IN NEW YORK & HIS NEW ALBUM

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Since 1999, Raul Midón has released eight acclaimed studio albums. The latest of which — the aptly-titled Bad Ass And Blind — finds Raul showcasing himself as the guitar virtuoso he is known to be, while still genre-hopping and taking interesting risks. The fanbase of Raul probably includes many of your favorite musicians, as his list of collaborators includes Stevie Wonder, Shakira, Herbie Hancock, Bill Withers, and Jason Mraz; Bill specifically chose Raul to work with him on his first new composition in decades, as shown in the documentary Still Bill.

In support of Bad Ass And Blind, Raul will be headlining at The Highline Ballroom on Mar. 24, the date of the album’s release. One day prior, on Mar. 23, Raul will also be doing a guitar clinic at Guitar Center in Times Square. Downtown had the pleasure of speaking with Raul about his history with our city — he is originally from New Mexico — and what he has coming up in his career. He also talked about his surprising passion for ham radio.

What do you remember about the first gig you ever played in New York? Where was it?

Raul Midón: As a musician? The first gig I ever played was with Shakira at Roseland. Then SNL. As a solo artist, the first gig I played was at a Chinese restaurant where the owner insisted on interrupting us during songs. She insisted that a guy had to sit in, the guy played spoons. It was also my last gig at a Chinese restaurant…

When did you first move to New York?

RM: I moved to NYC with my wife in May of 2002.

For you, is playing for a New York audience different than anywhere else?

RM: My mother was a New Yorker so it was in my blood, but since my mom passed when I was four, it was not actualized until I lived there. New York still remains one of the most relevant music scenes in the world.

For someone who hasn’t seen you live before, what should be expected from your show at The Highline Ballroom?

RM: I’m playing material from a new album where I continue to explore eclectic songwriting, rapping etc. But I also have a couple of tunes that I explore modal tunes, tunes in complex time signatures. I have a new band — young cats from Baltimore who grew up with the church and a jazz education. I’m told we’re a good-looking group!

A lot of people call you a “one-man band.” When did you transition from performing into the traditional sense into more of a self-reliant performer?

RM: When I first moved to NYC, I needed to stand out in order to be noticed, so I did my best to cultivate that by creating a rhythm section with my guitar and voice.

Aside from your gig at The Highline Ballroom, what’s coming up for you? What can you tell me about your followup to Don’t Hesitate?

RM: I just got back from Australia and Dubai. After that I am on tour for my new album, Bad Ass And Blind, on Artistry Records. I’ll be going to the Singapore Jazz Festival, Japan and the U.S. then Europe through the summer.

Is there anything you haven’t yet accomplished but still hope to?

RM: So many things! I want to write a book. I received a full scholarship for college to study writing but I chose music and went to the University of Miami.

When not busy with music, how do you like to spend your free time?

RM: You would find it boring. I’m an amateur radio enthusiast. I have a 55-foot tower in my yard in Maryland. I talk to people all over the world on the radio. Lots of times when I go abroad, a ham guy will come get me at the hotel and then we talk on their ham gear to people all over the world!

Do you have a favorite restaurant in New York?

RM: Nyonya’s in the Village. I was introduced to it by dear friends Henri and Grace! Cash only — right next to Ferraro’s Bakery! Divine Malaysian food followed by decadent Italian desserts…

Finally, Raul, any last words for the kids?

RM: Don’t do drugs! Just kidding. Kids, whatever you do, be good at it. Work at it. Study it. Be nice to each other.


Read the full piece from: Downtown

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If You Thought Kamasi Washington Got Cosmic, Wait ‘Til You Hear Cameron Graves

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The exact origins of The Urantia Book remain enveloped in mystery, but this much is certain. In the early 20th century, a pair of respected Chicago physicians and committed skeptics, William and Lena Sadler, received contact from a neighbor whose husband — allegedly a “hard-boiled businessman” — plunged into a somnambulant trance state every night, where he was unconsciously possessed by spiritual beings.

Over the course of 250 nocturnal sessions, the Sadlers and a stenographer received the labyrinthine transmissions that became The Urantia Book — a 2,000-page esoteric bible that presents an alternate history of the creation of the earth, the life of Jesus and the future of humanity.

Whether you accept it as divine revelation or not, you can’t deny the fertility of the tome’s imagination. Revered by Jimi Hendrix, Jerry Garcia and Jaco Pastorius alike, it makes Game of Thrones look like Chutes & Ladders.

This much also is certain: A century later, jazz pianist Cameron Graves, founding member of The West Coast Get Down, has an album called Planetary Prince, whose titular and extraterrestrial inspiration comes from that abstruse text.

“It’ll have you skeptical until you read it, and then start to wonder whether the universe is really that way or whether it’s just a made-up story?” Graves says.

“It’s inspired me in so many ways. I often write in seven time because it’s a really important number in the universe,” he continues. “Take a song like ‘Adam and Eve’: The A side is really emotional, and the B section offers release. It’s a yin-and-yang thing. The yin is Eve, the yang is Adam.”

If this sounds like metaphysical mumbo jumbo, I’ll refer you to the music, which offers a clarity that words often can’t provide. In all aspects of his being, Graves embodies intense seeking and absurd skill. He’s backed Jada Pinkett Smith and jazz icon Stanley Clarke. He’s a master of the martial art Xing Yi Quan, studies Daoism and practices daily standing meditation.

“Chi energy is an amazing thing, and you’ll only know it if you feel it and walk with it every day,” the Van Nuys native says. “It’s the driving force behind me waking up and doing everything. I haven’t felt tired for a long time. I can stay up for two days at a clip.”

Graves wears a black T-shirt, a skull ring and a cross necklace topped with a silver eagle, his long, wavy black hair tied back. If he looks slightly metal, it’s reflective of his lifelong obsession with the genre.

Even if you don’t immediately recognize his name, you’ve likely heard his notes. The son of ’70s soul singer Carl Graves, he’s been playing piano since kindergarten. At Hamilton High’s music academy, he formed a band with classmates Kamasi Washington and Miles Mosley, teaming up with Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner and Ronald Bruner at Locke High for after-school sessions with legendary educator Reggie Andrews.

Much of Planetary Prince was first recorded at the now-mythologized “KSL sessions” that yielded Washington’s The Epic. It comes off somewhere between McCoy Tyner and The Time, Chopin and J Dilla — with an extra layer of mystic clashes between celestial princes of good and evil. It’s the score that Urantia always deserved.

“I’m trying to bring music back to the time where virtuosos are celebrities again,” Graves says. “I want to educate the ears of the listener and change their palates to where I can use nontraditional jazz changes and scales and still speak to their soul. So that the music makes you feel like an acid trip without being on acid.”

CAMERON GRAVES & THE WEST COAST GET DOWN | The Troubadour | 9081 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood | Thu., March 16, 9 p.m. | $20 | troubadour.com

An L.A. native, Jeff Weiss edits Passion of the Weiss and hosts the Bizarre Ride show on RBMA Radio. Follow him on Twitter @passionweiss.


Read the full piece from: LA Weekly

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Hey! Listen to Cameron Graves!

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You know Kamasi Washington? Of course you do—if you were even partially conscious during 2015 you would have been witness to the music world blowing their metaphorical load over his debut album The Epic (deservedly, I might add). And fuck, was it a great album—perhaps a little long at three discs’ worth of content, but nonetheless one of the best albums of the year, and proof that jazz is alive and well in the music world.

What I looked forward to most from the aftermath of The Epic, though, was to see what Kamasi and his group would do next. There were stirrings throughout the interwebs, rumors that the lineup on The Epic would all be releasing solo albums in the next few years. So I waited—I hunkered down and kept my radar pointing towards Pitchfork for that time to come, and, as it happens, 2017 is the year for all of this to start going down. First up was Miles Mosley’s album Uprising—a release that, while not jazz (more soul music than anything), was nonetheless a solid try. But I wanted something more, you know, jazzy. I’m not against well-done soul, but it’s so rare to have that jazz itch scratched for me with contemporary artists. Luckily enough, pianist Cameron Graves announced his debut as well, Planetary Prince—an album that doesn’t disappoint, and instead redefines what can be done with jazz today, blending it with cosmic consciousness from the spiritual text The Urantia Book. Have you ever seen a picture of a nebula before, or a celestial being so massive and beautiful you were at a loss for words? Planetary Prince is the aural equivalent of that—by listening you’re taking a journey through space and noticing the majestic beauty of the universe as you zip by.

Let’s just get this out of the way, though: this isn’t a sequel to The Epic. Not even close. Kamasi may be on this album’s personnel, but it’s something very, very different—another facet of spiritual jazz entirely. Graves’s piano work seems to lend itself to a melange of influences—jazz fusion-ish phrasing, lots of open and light Keith Jarrett-style chords, even some flairs towards classical music—but it’s all played with more of a bebop or hard bop mindset than anything. At the same time, though, it’s spacey and gorgeous, full of twists and turns and an insane sense of rhythm. Even when Graves isn’t the center of attention (such as in Kamasi’s solo in “Adam & Eve”, you can still hear him commanding the rhythm section with his punchy chords. Sometimes it can sound a wee bit out of place, like the beginning of “Satania Our Solar System”, where it feels a little off-beat, but that anxiety is quickly taken away as the track continues.

If the sheer virtuosic piano work isn’t enough for you, the lineup backing Graves on Planetary Prince will more than make up for that. Besides the obvious talent of Kamasi Washington on tenor, there’s also Thundercat and Hadrien Faraud rocking the bass (seriously, fucking Thundercat!), Thundercat’s brother Ronald Bruner Jr. handling percussion, Philip Dizack on trumpet, and Ryan Porter on trombone (who was also on The Epic with Thundercat and Graves). What blew me away was the way these instruments are used—this isn’t like a bebop album where all the instruments get to take their solos all in the same song—everything’s arranged impeccably, making every single note played crucial to the song’s structure. (Just listen to the horns on “El Diablo” if you don’t believe me—it’s like the jazz standard “Caravan” turned up to 11.)

Here’s the deal: if you like jazz, and you liked The Epic, but are open to what a virtuosic, spiritually conscious jazz pianist is capable of, do yourself a favor and listen to Planetary Prince. Like I said, it isn’t similar to The Epic enough to make comparisons—it’s its own beast—but what you give up from not expecting The Epic you gain in a truly singular listening experience.


Read the full piece from: Heavy Blog

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At Berklee, the sounds of ‘Jelly Roll’ Morton and George Gershwin

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Throughout their musical partnership (including 2015’s Grammy-winning “For One to Love”) pianist Aaron Diehl and singer Cécile McLorin Salvant have shared a knack for the theatrical — she with her choice of material, from early folk, blues, and vaudeville to Burt Bacharach, and he with his orchestral arrangements at the keyboard. At a Celebrity Series of Boston concert at Berklee Friday night, they were able to maximize their theatrical flair, in an evening that was as musically broad as it was emotionally deep, focused at every turn on narrative.

The program was “Jelly and George,” for Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton (1890-1941) and George Gershwin (1898-1937).” The usual setup of McLorin Salvant and Diehl’s working trio, with bassist Paul Sikivie and drummer Lawrence Leathers, was for this project expanded to an octet, with trombone (Corey Wilcox), clarinet (Evan Christopher), trumpet (Riley Mulherkar), and a second pianist, Adam Birnbaum.

The second keyboard added another orchestral layer to these pieces by two pianist-composers, especially during the three duo-feature Gershwin preludes. But Diehl and Birnbaum also had plenty of fun trading lead and rhythm figures or, in one dreamy moment, unfurling chromatic scales like one continuous bolt of multi-colored silk.

Subsets of the band varied the arrangements, making cross references between Morton’s sophisticated New Orleans barrelhouse and Gershwin’s Broadway swing, with plenty of contrapuntal interaction among the horns, each piece colored by different mutes and sure dynamic shifts.

Although McLorin Salvant was featured on only five songs in the roughly 90-minute set, she was the binding agent. Her taste in rarities came through in Gershwin’s “Boy! What Love Has Done to Me” and Morton’s “I Hate a Man Like You.” Those songs showed off McLorin Salvant’s ability to modulate her voice like a horn and shade lyrics with ambiguity, provocation, and humor (“When I met you, I thought you was right/You married me and stayed out the first night”).

But the showstopper was no rarity: “My Man’s Gone Now,” from Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess.” Here McLorin Salvant’s wordless moans behind “old man sorrow” were like the chill wind in a graveyard at night, her final realization shattering. It capped a night of peerless musical storytelling.


Read the full piece from: Boston Globe

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CUBAN BORN PIANO VIRTUOSO ALFREDO RODRIGUEZ TOURS AUSTRALIA

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“…A pianist so intense, so beautiful and so emotive you never, ever want the music to stop…amazing improvisational skills and beautiful artistic soul.” – Savvant Music

JK: What were the biggest influence in your early days in Cuba?

AR: To be honest, my family was my biggest influence. My father is a famous singer and composer from Cuba, so I grew up listening to a lot of his music. His style was very much influenced by Cuba as well as other global artists, so I was inspired by jazz, improvisation, folk, and so much more. It was a very important time in my life, and my family was super supportive in helping me to make the decision to become a musician. They have always been some of the most important influencers in who I am, and at the same time, my music.

JK: Once you decided to leave Cuba, and take up residence in the US, how did this impact on your playing?

AR: It had a huge impact. My latest album, Tocororo, pretty much sums it all up.The Tocororo is the national bird of Cuba, and if caged, the bird dies of sadness, reflecting not only the desire for freedom, but the necessity of it. Just as the Tocororo needs room to fly, my music needed the platform and opportunity to be heard by more people than would otherwise have been touched if I stayed in Cuba. Because of its many restrictions, Cuba was my cage and it didn’t allow me to spread my wings and do what I love on a larger scale. So this album is a personification of the people of Cuba as well as a representation of freedom, travel and cross-pollination of cultures. The thing that really appeals to me is the fact that we all just happen to be born in different countries and from different cultures but we are all coming from the same place; human beings are all connected in some way or another so I reflect that in my music. My collaborations are my way of fighting for unity. I’m open to learning from cultures and anything in life, so I love to bring everything together to create an outward expression of unity. It’s all about learning from different people and cultures.

JK: I read the story about your journey from Mexico to the US and that you were able to convince the border guards that you had an offer from Jones and that they put you in a cab. Is that a reflection of your persuasiveness and tenacity? How does this influence you musically?

AR: Yes, coming here was very risky and adventurous for me. I had no family in the U.S. and knew very little about the culture or language. As I mentioned earlier, I was culturally isolated for many years in Cuba, so making the decision to leave everything I knew was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done and took a lot of courage. Once I made the decision to come to the U.S. and ask for political asylum, I didn’t have a choice to go back. But again, I’ve always been that way with my music…I believe that in order to achieve your goals, you have to follow your dreams. I believe that you have to create new opportunities and learn from them.

JK: For those who are new to your music, what can they expect to hear? (I know this question is a little simplistic, so apologies as I can hear so much complexity and influences in your playing, but it would be great to have them in your words)

AR: They can expect to hear the music of my roots. When I play, I feel like I’m adding up all the musical experiences I’ve had in my life into one performance! It’s very global. I incorporate what I’ve learned from all of my past teachers and trips across the world. Music is a way to express my life and the people I’ve met along the way. I get inspired from sounds…that includes talking, animals, wind…anything really. I believe sound is music, and I love to expand on that idea through my compositions.

JK: What musical plans do you have for 2017?

AR: Many! I’m working on releasing a new album that I recorded with a new trio as well as a few other projects with artists I admire. I’ve also been writing for symphony orchestras for years now and will continue to do that. There’s more to come, but I have to keep some things a surprise!


Read the full piece from: Jazz Australia

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Cameron Graves “Planetary Prince”

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The release of kamasi washington's ‘the epic’ marked a seismic shift in the jazz landscape & the game-changing arrival of the genre-blurring los angeles collective west coast get down, blending elements of jazz, classical, rock & hip-hop. that evolution continues this debut by visionary pianist, keyboardist, composer & wcgd founding member cameron graves. this is packed with the same mind-expanding invention that marked all of wcgd’s prior work - including ‘the epic’ (which prominently featured graves throughout its 3 discs). the core of the band is made up of fellow west coast get down members: tenor saxophonist kamasi washington, trombonist ryan porter, bassist stephen “thundercat” bruner, & drummer ronald bruner jr.


Read the full piece from: Resident

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Dubai Jazz Festival 2017: Opening act Raul Midon will stir festival-goer

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The title of Raúl Midón’s upcoming album reads like a mission statement, and Bad Ass and Blind is a refrain the soul-funk singer-songwriter repeatedly asserts on the opening title track.

It is hard to argue with him. Midón’s phenomenal chops, baritone croon and unique one-man-band stage show would indeed colloquially be described as "bad". And the 50-year-old veteran has lived without sight since his time in an incubator shortly after his birth.

"I don’t necessarily think not having sight helped me," says Midón. "Maybe in show business, maybe being blind is some kind of hook – but most of the really great musicians I know, they can see."

For all his swagger on record and on stage, Midón is a remarkably humble and subdued conversationalist.

"It just sort of came to me, in the same way it always does," he says, of his new LP, which is due for release on March 24. It is his most jazzy to date, he says.

Midón is drastically underselling his wares – this seventh studio album is also bursting with funk grooves, Latin rhythms, quick-fire raps, blistering guitar solos and hummable pop melodies.

A former session musician for superstars such as Shakira and Julio Iglesias, Midón has an uncanny ability to defy categorisation, grabbing, magpie-like, from a variety of musical genres and cooking them together in an almighty smooth, groove-pop stew.

The real treat, however is ­watching him perform this material live – as he will at the Dubai Jazz Festival on Thursday.

Playing solo, Midón has developed a singular style of emulating an entire band without a loop pedal in sight. He plucks acoustic guitar lines with just his left hand, taps a rhythm on the instrument’s body with his right, and uses his voice to emulate the sound of a trumpet so convincingly, you will want to check the stage twice.

This approach evolved by necessity after he moved to the Big Apple in the early 2000s.

"In New York, you’ve got to do something to stand out," he says.

"I could already sing and play – but then a lot of people sing and play."

Adapting in this way paid off and he signed to the historic Manhattan Records. His big breakthrough came in 2005 with State of Mind, an album ­featuring guest turns from Stevie Wonder and Jason Mraz.

A year later he was invited to sing a slowed-down, ballad version of Wonder’s I Just Called to Say I Love You on Herbie Hancock’s celebrity duets album Possibilities.

"They were like, ‘Sing it as if you called on the girl, and she’s not there’," he says.

Remarkably, this solo success came midway into his 30s, after years spent in the shadows as a sideman. Born and raised in New Mexico, Midón discovered the guitar at the age of six. After moving south to study jazz at the University of Miami, he gravitated towards the city’s booming Latin-record industry, where he spent much of 1990s as a studio pro, working on records for the likes of Alejandro Sanz, Julio Iglesias and José Feliciano.

It was spending two years touring as a member of Colombian superstar Shakira’s band that hardened Midón’s resolve to move to New York and pursue his own voice.

"It was fun – it was a good job, we went all over the world, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do with my own life," he says. "I wanted to do my own thing."


Read the full piece from: The National

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Julian Lage: Live in Los Angeles

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Julian Lage: Live in Los Angeles

Julian Lage’s Arclight, released in April, marked an invigorating new direction for the still-young guitarist. Joined by Scott Colley on bass and Kenny Wollesen on drums (the same pair Lage had seen as a child backing Jim Hall), Lage cranked out a spirited but tightly edited set of 11 tunes, ranging from covers of obscure 1930s gems to free-jazz originals, all clocking in at between 2:09 and 4:12 in length.

On this follow-up EP, the trio stretches out on five of those same tunes, albeit by only an extra minute or so on three tracks. It opens with “Persian Rug,” an irresistible burner featuring Lage’s guitar virtuosity, Colley’s race-walking bass and Wollesen’s fleet brushes, which he swaps out for sticks as the volume ratchets up midway through. “Nocturne” fills four and a half minutes with a leisurely country vibe reminiscent of Bill Frisell, another of Lage’s heroes (and a longtime collaborator of Wollesen’s). “Activate,” written to be free but short, moves in and out of uptempo swing, and Lage monopolizes the freedom until the raucous end of this supercharged set-closer.

Tracks 2 and 4, lasting 12:57 and 10:13, respectively, are where the band really gives itself room to ramble. “I’ll Be Seeing You” begins with Lage unaccompanied, his guitar slow and pensive before gliding into the familiar melody three minutes in. The others join: Colley improvises counterpoint, the music revs up and turns free just over halfway in and Colley eventually grabs his lone solo. “Stop Go Start,” an avant-garde crowd-pleaser, opens with three minutes of adventurous, unaccompanied Wollesen. Lage jumps in and takes off, inventing flurries of notes that evolve into quoting Ornette Coleman’s “School Work” for a spell, before exiting in another flurry. Arclight was stellar work, and this EP demonstrates the group is even more exciting live.


Read the full piece from: JazzTimes

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Latin Jazz Is Booming. Look Beyond the Grammys to Find It.

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When the Grammy Awards eliminated the category of best Latin jazz album six years ago, an outcry arose quickly. Musicians and advocates argued that the move cut off a rare source of institutional recognition for a genre at the commercial fringes. And the academy listened. The next year the category returned.

In the years since, the importance of that recognition has become even clearer: Latin jazz is experiencing a kind of creative bloom, with musicians diversifying their work at an uncommon clip. It’s generating some of the most invigorating improvised music around.

So maybe it is a bit disappointing that the Grammy nominations this year don’t fully reflect those developments, focusing instead on older musicians. Every nominee up for best Latin jazz album this Sunday is over 60. And while all have led fabulous careers — especially the pianist Chucho Valdés, the bassist Andy González and the trombonist Wayne Wallace — each of these recordings tends toward a sound that’s now classic.

Look beyond the nominees, though, and you’ll find a proliferating landscape of shape-shifters, particularly among Cuban musicians. In particular, recent records by Pedrito Martínez, Alfredo Rodríguez and Arturo O’Farrill — all released within the Grammys’ eligibility period — offer visions of how the fusion of Afro-Caribbean rhythms and jazz improvisation is no longer an end unto itself, but an invitation to integrate more.

In a sense, this is a continuation of the work Mr. Valdés was doing 40 years ago with his Latin fusion band, Irakere (the subject of his latest Grammy-nominated album, “Tribute to Irakere”). Musicians today are reworking his mission for an even more globalized and diversified world.

The jazz pianist David Virelles. Credit Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

“These guys — the third generation, in a way — are brilliant,” said Tomás Peña, an editor of the Latin Jazz Network website, referring to musicians who’ve come of age in the 21st century, two generations down the line from the first marriages of Afro-Cuban music and American jazz. “They have their own sound, they’re writing their own music, and their energy is so strong.”

Mr. Peña added: “They’re not averse to playing R&B, they’ll play straight-ahead jazz, Latin jazz. And they’re talented enough, smart enough, where they’re taking things to a whole new level.”

Mr. Martínez’s “Habana Dreams” is the most effortlessly relatable of these new Afro-Latin fusion recordings. It finds this Havana-born virtuoso percussionist and vocalist collaborating with Wynton Marsalis, the jazz trumpeter; Rubén Blades, the salsa vocalist; and Telmary Díaz, the Cuban rapper. The result is an album that couples the liquid pull of Cuban rumba with gently romantic melodies — and some subtly magnetic electric bass playing from Alvaro Benavides. It’s a new form of Latin pop that makes no compromises, and doesn’t let your ear wander.

Arturo O’Farrill, director of the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra. Credit Jack Vartoogian/Getty Images

Mr. Martínez performed at the Jazz Standard this week with Mr. Rodríguez, another Havana-born musician of wide-ranging ambition. Mr. Rodríguez released an impressive third album last year, “Tocororo.” It shows his piano playing to be both punctilious and expansive — ready to handle a tightly syncopated revamp of Bach (“Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”) or a swaying, spacious collaboration with the Indian-American vocalist Ganavya (the title track).

Then there’s David Virelles, 33, a Cuban pianist whose inclinations run rampant. In his tirelessly experimental music, Abakuá and Lucumí folklore become an invitation to enter a diffusely contemplative space.

Mr. Virelles’s latest recording, the 10-inch vinyl album “Antenna,” was released too late in 2016 to be eligible for Sunday night’s Grammys. But with its skewed traditional rhythms, unsettling electronics, tenacious Cuban rap and occasional spurts of improvised delirium, it reveals how open the world of Afro-Cuban jazz is becoming.

The bass player Luques Curtis. Credit Monique Jaques/Getty Images

Mr. O’Farrill is the son of the Latin jazz pioneer Chico O’Farrill and the director of the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra, which won the Latin jazz Grammy in 2015. (It was a surprisingly good year for progressive nominees.) The younger Mr. O’Farrill released an incisive sextet album last year, “Boss Level,” spiced with hints of avant-garde improvising and aggressive, rocklike propulsion.

He suggests that Latin jazz is enjoying a surge in creativity partly because its systems of inheritance remain relatively pure — and loose. Straight-ahead jazz is often taught in the academy, where practices can become codified and recycled, but students of Latin American music frequently have to venture closer to the source. They are also exploring other influences in their daily lives, and pouring the components together.

“If they really want to understand this music,” Mr. O’Farrill said, “they study it themselves, and very often go to Cuba, and sit with older musicians, and bug them until they divulge the secrets. And in a way, that’s real jazz education.”

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In some cases, a trip south is not necessary. The bassist Luques Curtis, 33 — who, along with his brother, Zaccai, recently released “Syzygy,” a strong album of Latin jazz fusions — learned at the elbow of mentors like Andy González (a nominee in the Latin jazz category this year), while also studying straight-ahead jazz at a conservatory.

More recently, musicians seeking direct mentorship have been wise to seek out the Cuban folkloric percussionist, singer and poet Román Díaz, who runs the Midnight Rumba at Zinc Bar every Thursday.

In performances with younger musicians like Mr. Martínez, Mr. Virelles and the remarkable saxophonist Yosvany Terry, he has shown how folkloric tradition can fit into almost any berth. (Mr. Díaz’s own recent recording, “L’ó Dá Fún Bàtá,” is a marvelous document of folkloric rhythm and song. Perhaps too traditional for the Latin jazz category, it ought to have received some kind of Grammy nod this year.)

At Zinc Bar each week, Mr. Díaz gathers roughly a dozen percussionists, vocalists and dancers to play traditional Cuban rhythms. But stay long enough and you may see him welcome other musicians onstage, too — maybe a blues guitarist, a jazz violinist, a flamenco singer. As the complex rhythms open up to accommodate them, the new initiates find themselves fitting in.

Even within the most rigorous realms of Afro-Latin music, other sounds and influences can find a home. The academy doesn’t always recognize it, but by now it’s inescapable.


Read the full piece from: NY Times

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Cameron Graves Is LA’s Cosmic Metalhead Jazz Prince and We Have His New Song

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Cameron Graves, pianist and founding member of the Los Angeles-based West Coast Get Down collective, releases the genre-bending Planetary Prince (Mack Avenue Records) February 24, with a mix of cosmological, spiritual and political themes. It's his debut album as a leader, featuring collective members Kamasi Washington (saxophone), Stephen Bruner, a.k.a Thundercat (bass), Ryan Porter (trombone) and Ronald Bruner Jr. (drums).

Planetary Prince picks up where Washington's impactful album, The Epic (featuring Graves) left off, blending jazz with European classical music, prog rock, metal and hip-hop. With no shortage of infectious energy, superior playing and captivating melodies, the album also strives to be consciousness-broadening; its title is derived from The Urantia Book, an obscure volume addressing God, humanity and Biblical themes through spirituality and cosmology—elements Graves has been fascinated for many years. Other tracks have titles such as "Adam and Eve," "The Lucifer Rebellion," "Satania Our Solar System," "Andromeda" and "Isle of Love" (reference to an imagined place inhabited by a race of pure love).

At 35, Graves has been playing music for over three decades, bringing a unique approach to the piano. His skill is matched by a fluid, imaginative style drawing from multiple genres. Graves' father, a singer/producer/keyboard player, initiated him into music at the age of four. Classically trained, Graves got into jazz as a teenager, when he met Kamasi Washington and other young musicians who would later become members of the WCGD collective. Together they started exploring jazz giants such as John Coltrane and McCoy Tyner, both major influences. Rehearsing and playing in a multi-school jazz band, they founded the Young Jazz Giants, made their debut recording, and began performing regularly.

In addition to his longstanding collaboration with WCGD, and earlier with his brother Taylor in the R&B/fusion duo The Graves Brothers, Graves has worked with illustrious jazz bassist Stanley Clarke, as well as Jada Pinkett Smith; his work with her nu-metal band Wicked Wisdom lead into the world of film and television scoring. Polish composer and piano virtuoso Frédéric Chopin (b. 1810) is one of his strongest musical influences, as is the Minneapolis Sound— particularly early Prince, Morris Day and The Time.

Noisey: Planetary Prince is not only your album title, but your pseudonym. Who—or what—is this entity?

Cameron Graves: There are actually planetary princes that are associated with all the planets; one spiritual being, a consciousness that resides around the planet itself. I'm kind of like a messenger, channeling something from the Universe—I'm not sure exactly where. When I'm composing, the tunes people often end up liking come to me very quickly: 2-3 minutes. I don't even have to think about it. It just comes in.

And so you conceive of yourself as the Prince of Planet Earth…?

Many of the tunes I was writing while playing at [Hollywood's] Piano Bar had a lot of energy. We played the title track—a dark jazz tune that mimics a metal energy—and everyone in the club went crazy. They would call that song out every single week. So when I was doing the recording, I thought I could name the whole album Planetary Prince, and build a brand.

You've mentioned J Dilla as one of your most prominent influences. What is it about his work that was so impactful?

The late 1990s-early 2000s were very influential; it was the end of high school, and we were listening to a lot of underground hip hop—especially A Tribe Called Quest, the Roots. J Dilla produced Busta Rhymes and Slum Village. If you study his production, you can tell he researched many obscure records, picking the best samples; that was his whole way of composing. The type of samples he'd choose is amazing, and the way he'd create the drum track and the whole beat was extremely interesting. In a way, it could be considered advanced music, even though it's derived from sampling. Many of his samples have a 4- or 8-bar loop, which influenced me a lot. I started comping with the same type of loop, which was like the glue to the music we were playing. We often get into improvisational stuff, so if you do a 4- or 8-bar loop, it's something that people can hold on to.

And what about [Swedish math-death-metal band] Meshuggah?

I'm a big metalhead. I grew up playing guitar as well, listening to Al Di Meola, Eddie Van Halen, Living Color. I was a huge Slipknot fan—the math, the fast double pedal stuff. And then a friend showed me Meshuggah, and they blew me away. You need to be an advanced musician, to really know the instrument, in order to play like that. They did the craziest time signatures, like Frank Zappa, with a rock approach—but they took it all the way. That changed my brain around; I'm able to hear 7/4 in a very clear-cut way that's beautiful.

I understand you practice [Chinese martial art] Xing Yi Quan. How does this impact your work?

It influences my whole life. The idea is to go forward, to die going forward. You take that and apply it to your whole life—music, business, relationships. If there is a road block, you try to get over the hump and move forward. I don't let anything stop my focus, concentration, or drive. And this goes for music, too. I practice piano the way I practice martial arts: constantly working on technique. I also used to play tabla and studied with Indian musicians for a long time, which influenced the way I practice and play. They do crazy things like practice sessions that last 20 hours a day, for 40-50 days.

The tune we're premiering here, "End of Corporatism"—a searing, abstract funk showcasing both you and Thundercat—seems to have a political message.

Money is now controlling everything. We need to get back to small mom-and-pop businesses, to the bartering system, where people really care about their product and are trying to help others. Then we'd get real things, good food etc.—not just plastic products that numb us. It's easy to hoard money—especially the way corporations do it, with loopholes in federal taxes and interest rates, stealing the people's money and hoarding it. It becomes a kind of aristocracy. The corporation becomes the king, because it has so much lobbying power and special interest power, which takes away our freedom. We're living in a bubble of imaginary freedom.

This is right out of George Orwell. . . But I have hope. When you don't feel sick, you don't feel the need to heal yourself. America got sick, and now we're waking up to that, and we need healing. And the unity that's starting to happen—the protests, the coming together— is good; we discover we are more united than divided.


Read the full piece from: Noisey

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UCLA music lecturer drums up Grammy-nominated jazz album

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UCLA faculty, staff and alumni have contributed musical works that are nominated for the 59th annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 12. Their talents, ranging from playing the saxophone to composing songs to performing in an opera, have been recognized with nominations in five different categories.

Justo Almario’s roots in music started when he was 2 years old growing up in the country of Colombia.

He dabbled in a variety of instruments until age 11, when his older brother showed him a recording of saxophonist Cannonball Adderley – at that moment, Almario said he knew music was the only path he wanted to go down.

Almario, a multi-instrumentalist and jazz lecturer at the Herb Alpert School of Music, creates and records his own music with other jazz musicians, using jazz greats like Thelonious Monk for inspiration, he said.

Last year, Almario played saxophone with pianist and composer John Beasley and his big band on the album “MONK’estra, Vol. 1,” which is currently nominated for a 2017 Grammy Award in the Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album category.

Almario said the album was a way to appreciate Monk – whose would-be 100th birthday falls in 2017 – and experiment with new jazz sounds and musicians.

Almario studied jazz in Boston at the Berklee School of Music after leaving Colombia at age 18. Upon graduating, he traveled to New York City, where Afro-Cuban Latin jazz percussionist Mongo Santamaria hired Almario to work in his band in 1971.

Almario has been interested in playing music by Monk since his years in New York, he said. Paul Jeffrey, an original saxophonist member of the Thelonious Monk group in the 1970s, met Almario at a jazz club and asked him to play in his jazz octet consisting of a French horn, two saxophones, a trumpet, a trombone, a bass and drums.

The octet played Monk’s songs such as “Monk’s Dream,” “Well You Needn’t” and “Monk’s Mood,” Almario said.

Almario’s experience in the octet was important in shaping his respect for and understanding of Monk, he said. To Almario, playing Monk’s music allowed him to search for his own musical personality embodied in the compositions of Monk.

“From that point on, I was very mesmerized by artist’s compositions of Thelonious Monk,” Almario said. “Monk’s one of the greatest composers of the 20th century.”

“MONK’estra, Vol. 1” is inspired by the work of Monk. Beasley’s work on the album consists of Monk melodies he arranged and orchestrated, along with jazz works by Duke Ellington and Benny Golson. Beasley said he thinks Monk’s music is pliable, allowing him and other musicians to apply their own creativity over it.

“I thought, ‘I should do a Monk thing, just for the heck of it,’” Beasley said. “It was a labor of love and also an experiment.”

Beasley called Almario four years ago to rehearse the music for the album. It was not the first time Beasley and Almario had worked together – the two originally met when Almario moved to Los Angeles in 1979 and they kept in touch ever since, Beasley said.

The 15-piece big band for the album was assembled by people Beasley hand-picked. Beasley chose Almario for his original sound as a musician, as well as for his dependability as a professional, he said.

“He has a unique way of soloing that doesn’t sound like anybody else,” Beasley said. “I really wanted his presence there.”

Another saxophonist Beasley chose to play in the band was Danny Janklow, who had not collaborated with Almario in the past. He enjoyed playing alongside Almario because of his joyous energy and passion for the music, Janklow said.

“He brings the best out of everyone, whether it’s a huge performance or recording session or a serious gig,” Janklow said.

For Janklow, having the album nominated this year for a Grammy is a beautiful sentiment in honoring Monk and his musical legacy.

Almario hopes the Grammy Awards will showcase the oft-overshadowed jazz category as well as groups like MONK’estra more in the future to help others learn about jazz and the figures like Monk that the genre has produced.

“Jazz needs to have a place of importance at the Grammys … Because a lot of the music in general, it comes from jazz,” Almario said.


Read the full piece from: http://dailybruin.com/2017/02/08/ucla-music-lecturer-drums-up-grammy-nominated-jazz-album/

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West Coast Get Down, El Rey Theatre (feat. Cameron Graves)

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The West Coast Get Down is better known as the L.A. collective of talent including saxophonist Kamasi Washington. Washington has commanded a lot of attention the past few years, and for good reason. That audacious 3-disc debut, “The Epic” on Brainfeeder, his collaboration with Kendrick Lamar, and 2016 dates at Bonnaroo and Coachella, to name a few. But for a change, this isn’t about Washington. This is about the band that brings those head spinning sonics to life in studio and performances. When I finally caught up with Washington for the first time at the 2016 Newport Jazz Festival, I was pretty knocked out, but when upright bassist Miles Mosley took center stage, uh, the dimension took on another dimension. Whether feverishly bowing with Hendrix like distortion and effects, or running the neck, Mosley, has mad presence and skills. The LA Weekly dubbed him “an assassin on the upright bass” for good reason and Rolling Stone called him out as one of 10 new artists you need to know, and he has a rather impressive resume of his own (Jeff Beck, Rihanna, Lamar, to drop a few names, not to mention extensive film and television credits). It’s no surprise he is front and center leading the WCGD in another direction, while Washington steps back in support. Same dudes, but way different thing, and even more so than the Washington led unit, drop the jazz box from this constellation.

The El Rey date coincided with the release of Mosley’s new record ,“Uprising”, and had to feel a bit celebratory for the Hamilton High music magnet alums. The WCGD core of Mosley, Washington, trombonist Ryan Porter, pianist Cameron Graves and drummer Tony Austin (Ronald Bruner, Jr. was not a part of this one) were accompanied by 6 strings, 4 vocalists and a trumpet player along with Porter and Washington. Opening with one of the singles off Uprising, “Young Lion”, the WCGD covered much of the record throughout the night with Mosley an exuberant and engaging front man for the plethora of players on stage. Straight upright funk-soul-jazz-rock from some very talented jazz musicians. “L.A. Won’t Bring You Down” worked up its saucy finish to the satisfaction of the hometown crowd. And with a title like “Uprising”, it didn’t take long for Mosley to tap into our Trumpian angst, recounting his emotions over an irreparably broken bass, his most prized possession, standing in for his world view. That the instrument beyond repair four days before the biggest gig of his life was in his hands that evening, served as the punch line. This was Mosley’s night. While Washington cut loose with a few powerful solos, he otherwise shared the risers alongside the strings and vocals. Pianist Cameron Graves was a standout, and his album “Planetary Prince”, featuring more of the Get Down, will be out in the coming weeks. Mosley’s parents also got a big shout before launching into “Abraham” (Mosley’s given first name), the record’s other single, with Graves’ “ring tone intro” setting off the piece.


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Jazzing up the winter

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By Yun Suh-young

This year's PyeongChang Winter Music Festival to be held from Feb. 15 to 19 at the Alpensia Concert Hall in PyeongChang, Gangwon Province, will be showcasing a warm blend of jazz with classical music featuring a star-studded cast.

The festival is a winter version of the PyeongChang Music Festival & School (formerly the Great Mountains Music Festival and School) which is held every summer in the northeastern province of Korea. The winter festival is a newly created one which began last year at the same location the annual summer program is held. It was created to explore diverse genres of music other than classical and the main theme of the festival is jazz, again this year due to the positive feedback from last year's program mixing the two.

"The repertoires for this year's program are songs that lie in between classical and jazz such as Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue or Bernstein's West Side Story. The jazz songs will be centered on the immortal jazz figure Thelonious Monk's works," said artistic director Chung Myung-wha.

Grammy-nominated jazz musician John Beasley, who has collaborated with many famous artists such as Miles Davis, Sergio Mendes, Fourplay, Al Jearreau, Chaka Khan, Barbra Streisand and James Brown, was invited as the main guest of the festival and will lead five jazz sessions during the event. He will perform in several different setups -- a solo performance, his own band MONK'estra, and the seven-member jazz band Septet as well as a duet performance with Korean jazz singer Woongsan. He was producer of Woongsan's 20th anniversary album "Jazz is My Life" released last year.

In 2013, Beasley released an album called "Monkestra" reinterpreting the works of Thelonious Monk with a jazz orchestra. The album is currently nominated for best arrangement at the Grammy Awards. In celebration of the 100th anniversary of jazz pianist Thelonious Monk's birth this year, Beasley will be performing his interpretations at the with his own band named after the artist.

He will also perform with Septet consisting of Darryl Jones on electric base, Gene Coye on drums, Bob Sheppard and Tom Luer on saxophone, Lemar Guillary on trombone, Dontae Winslow on trumpet and John Beasley himself on piano.

The festival will open with "Three Sarang-gas for Pansori, Cello, Piano & Buk" by pansori singer Ahn Sook-sun, cellist and artistic director of the festival Chung, pianist Son Yeol-eum and percussionist Jun Kye-youl. John Beasley's solo performance and piano duo Anderson & Roe's performance will open the ceremony Wednesday.

Thursday, Feb. 16 is the jazz night featuring the Woongsan Band and MONK'estra.

On Feb. 17, a chamber music classic concert will be offered. Kim Sang-yoon on clarinet, Isang Enders on cello and Kim Kyu-yeon on piano will play Beethoven's Trio for Clarinet, Cello, and Piano in B-flat major, op. Soprano Maggie Finnegan and pianist Son Yeol-eum will perform Gershwin's songs such as "Love Walked In" and "Someone to Watch Over Me" on the same day.

That evening, two jazz performances will take place featuring Lee Ji-yeun's Contemporary Jazz Ensemble and John Beasley's Septet.

Feb. 18 will be another classical concert day featuring the Wonju Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Kim Kwang-hyun. Later that evening, 3 Brave Souls, a trio of John Beasley, Darryl Jones and Gene Coye, will present a unique opportunity to hear contemporary sounds of "funk."

The last day, Feb. 19, will be a harmony of classic and jazz, beginning with Schubert and ending with John Beasley's solo recital with Woongsan as guest singer.


Read the full piece from: Korea Times

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​Herlin Riley “New Direction”

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Veteran of Ahmad Jamal and Wynton Marsalis bands, the 59 year old drummer explores the many influences he absorbed in a music family in New Orleans with a band of musicians in their 20s: saxophonist Godwin Louis, pianist Emmet Cohen and bassist Russell Hall. In the tradition of another great jazz drummer/bandleader, Art Blakey, Riley takes his Afro-Cuban, jazz, and blues experiences and shakes them into a sound that is both new yet familiar. An entic- ing collection of modern New Orleans music; funky jazz for folks who enjoy their musical gumbo on the hot side.


Read the full piece from: Ft. Myers magazine — a survey of the Best Albums of 2016

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The Best Jazz Albums We Missed in 2016

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Curating a list as wide and varied as our effort to catalogue the 20 Best Jazz Albums of 2016 was no easy feat. We all have our blind spots. And while I wouldn’t change the order or the lineup of our ranking one iota, it’s only natural to look back at the process and second guess the omission of a few titles that should have very well cracked that final Top 20.

Here are five such albums equally worthy of your ears from the past 12 months.

5) Alfredo Rodriguez, Tocororo (Mack Avenue)

Following up on 2014’s Invasion Parade, pianist Alfredo Rodriguez continues to pay full homage to his Cuban heritage with an album that could easily be considered his most adventurous to wit.

Named after the national bird of Cuba, Tocororo celebrates his motherland’s newfound freedom by collaborating with an enclave of musicians from around the globe, including France, Spain, Lebanon, Cameroon and India, all under the watchful eye of executive producer Quincy Jones.

The result is an equal parts worldly and otherworldly cousin to Q’s own Walking in Space, a celebratory lifting of the embargo that offers Cuban musicians full reign to explore sonic landscapes beyond the parameters of their island to craft a quintessential sound of creative freedom taking first flight.

4) Aggregate Prime, Dream Deferred (Onyx Music)

Not since it was first published in 1951 have the words of Langston Hughes’ poem “Harlem” resonated with the state of affairs in our country. “Or does it explode?” the laureate asks in reference to the line with which East Coast renaissance jazzman Ralph Peterson utilizes as the title for this stellar debut of his new quintet Aggregate Prime.

That the roots of Dream Deferred took grip as the trial of three Baltimore cops for the murder of Freddie Gray commenced was no coincidence. Recorded in Maryland as it all happened in real time, Peterson and his all-star combo—Vijay Iyer on piano, guitarist Mark Whitfield, reed man Gary Thomas and bassist Kenny Davis—channel their anger over the injustice into fiery rips of such originals as “Strongest Sword” and the Iyer-penned “Father Spirit,” in addition to a house-quaking cover of Eric Dolphy’s “Iron Man.”

This is Harlem jazz at its finest, tough as nails and sophisticated as hell.

3) Ches Smith, The Bell (ECM)

Percussionist Ches Smith might have gained his piece of the pie playing drums for art-pop auteurs Xiu Xiu. But as it turns out, jazz is his true love. And his efforts working on recordings by such underground greats as Tim Berne and Mary Halvorson have gained him the golden opportunity to record for the esteemed ECM imprint as a leader.

Coming together with pianist Craig Taborn and Mat Maneri on viola, The Bell far exceeded all expectations. A modal meditation that channels both the jazz and classical sensibilities of his new home, it sounds like a long-lost session between Keith Jarrett and Steven Reich.

2) Carlos Niño and Friends, Flutes, Echoes, It’s All Happening! (Leaving Records)

For a hard 20 years, Stones Throw has successfully zoned the interchange connecting jazz and hip-hop on the West Coast. Flutes, Echoes, It’s All Happening! is the sound of that sonic highway reaching its vanishing point.

Build An Ark chieftain Carlos Niño and his Friends, including Madlib, Kamasi Washington, Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, Iasos, Luis Pérez Ixoneztli, Dexter Story, and others, craft an excursion that imagines Lower California’s distinct blend of bop-hop through the canyons occupied by Joni Mitchell and David Crosby.

This is what the former radio host, producer, composer, percussionist, DJ and arranger calls “Space Collage Hybrid” music. More, please.

1) The Bad Plus, It’s Hard (O’Keh)

Few acts have kept jazz music more relevant on college radio for the last 20 years as The Bad Plus. On their latest album, 2016’s It’s Hard, the ever-inventive NYC band pays homage to some of their favorites left of the dial with stunning reinterpretations of such indie faves as “Maps” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, TV On the Radio’s “Staring at the Sun” and Kraftwerk’s “The Robots.”

What’s even more impressive: The trio simultaneously honors the heyday of classic Top 40 with knotty spins on Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time,” Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over” and a stunning meditation on “The Beautiful Ones” by Prince laid to tape shortly after his death.

Bonus points for naming the album after The Who’s most underrated LP to boot.


Read the full piece from: Observer

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Winter in America

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“Welcome to the resistance,” Darcy James Argue said on Friday night to the packed audience at Subculture, a basement club on Bleecker Street. Then the Canadian-born, New York-based composer and bandleader turned to his 18-piece ensemble, Secret Society, and, with deft flicks of his wrists, guided them into the opening of Real Enemies, his cycle of pieces based on the theme of state-sponsored paranoia. A few hours earlier, in another part of New York City, Donald Trump had been forced to listen to the representatives of the CIA and the FBI presenting evidence that Russia’s government and secret services had helped to get him elected as president of the United States.

“Social justice” was the theme of the event in which Argue was participating: the 2017 edition of Winter Jazzfest, the annual showcase featuring a two-day marathon of more than 150 groups at about a dozen venues centred on Greenwich Village. Different bandleaders expressed their attitude to the topic in different ways. The pianist and composer Samora Pinderhughes led his 11 musicians through an extended piece titled The Transformations Suite, a profoundly moving contemporary take on themes no less relevant than when they were explored half a century ago in Max Roach’s We Insist! Freedom Now Suite. The Pakistani-American singer and harmonium player Amirtha Kidambi performed a piece inspired by the death of Eric Garner at the hands of NYPD officers in 2014; she announced that all proceeds from that night’s sales of the new CD by her quartet, Elder Ones, would go to the fund supporting four members of the NAACP arrested earlier in the week for protesting against Trump’s nomination for attorney general of a man who has campaigned against voting rights. The trumpeter Peter Evans called for the recognition of musicians — he gave Matana Roberts as an example — who have a record of campaigning on these issues.

Others preferred to let the music speak for itself, but there was never any doubt of the continuing role that jazz musicians have to play in exposing issues, raising consciousness, and maintaining morale in difficult times. Their inherent independence of spirit, their understanding of the need to reconcile individual and collective action, their roots in an idiom that came from suffering and exploitation, and their acceptance of the need to fight against the commercial odds make them ideally suited to the task.

To get back to the music, Argue is a young man with an intriguing approach both to personal style (he looks as though he might relax at the weekend by putting on a cravat) and to finding new solutions to the problems inherent in playing jazz with a large ensemble. Throughout the performance of Real Enemies, he used a tablet to trigger sound bites from such people as Oliver North and Dick Cheney. With Ingrid Jensen among the trumpeters and Chris Speed among the reeds, the writing contained echoes of Elmer Bernstein, Bob Graettinger and Gil Evans: lots of drama, lots of complexity, lots of variety (particularly in the instrumental colours: a grouping of piccolo, flute, two clarinets and a bass clarinet, for instance, or a trumpet lead supported by four flugelhorns). It would be an important and pathfinding work at any time, never mind now.

Pinderhughes’ The Transformations Suite did not enjoy the same degree of attention when the recorded version came out last year, but it made a deep impression in the New School’s Glass Box space late on Friday night. There was nothing ironic here: the wounds of 400 years of slavery and its aftermath were allowed to bleed openly in the poems and lyrics delivered by the actor Jeremie Harris (who wrote some of the words), the wonderfully soulful South African-born singer Vuyo Solashe, and most of all by Jules Latimer, a young Juilliard drama student who took the considerable risk of acting out grief and fear without restraint. “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” occasionally popped up as a leitmotif, and Pinderhughes’ lean but succulent writing for his five-piece horn section provided a platform for improvisations by his extravagantly talented 21-year-old sister Elena, who might just be on her way to becoming the finest flautist jazz has produced, the tenorist Lucas Pino, and Braxton Cook, who took the roof off the place with a roaring alto solo.

John Beasley’s MONK’estra performed their empathetic, swinging and sometimes hiphop-tinged revisions of Thelonious Monk tunes at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola in Lincoln Centre on Thursday night, in front of a window with a view of Trump Tower. Luckily the arrangements and the solos — notably by the always creative tenorist Greg Tardy, the trombonists Frank Lacy and Conrad Herwig, and a guest from France, the fine harmonica player Grégoire Maret — were more than enough to divert attention away from the new epicentre of American values. And, as Beasley reminded us, Monk himself had grown up literally only a stone’s throw away, on West 63rd Street.

mary-halvorson-octetAs impressive as anything I heard during three crowded days was the octet led by the guitarist Mary Halvorson, which features not just a bunch of great players (including the trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson and the tenorist Ingrid Laubrock) but the leader’s extraordinary interplay with the pedal steel player Susan Alcom, which elevates the music to a whole different realm of texture and emotion. Halvorson’s compositions are fascinating enough in any case: sounding as though they are through-written, they have the impact of great short stories, full of surprising twists of plot and mood, never quite ending where you expect but always resolving brilliantly.

While the festival was taking place, the great jazz critic Nat Hentoff died in New York at the age of 91. Through his liner notes, his pieces for Down Beat, the Jazz Review and the Village Voice, and books such as Hear Me Talkin’ To You (co-authored with Nat Shapiro) and Jazz Is, he helped shaped the view of several generations of listeners. He was also a lifelong fighter for social justice. And in 1960, for his own short-lived label (which released classic albums by Charles Mingus and Booker Little), he produced Cecil Taylor’s sublime trio version of “This Nearly Was Mine”, which alone would earn him a place wherever the good ones go.

John Beasley’s MONK’estra Vol. 1 is on Mack Avenue. 


Read the full piece from: thebluemoment.com

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2017 Puerto Rico Jazzfest To Honor Pianist, Composer, and Humanitarian, Danilo Pérez

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SAN JUAN – The preparations for the twenty-seventh edition of the most prestigious Jazz festival of the Caribbean, the Puerto Rico Heineken JazzFest (PRHJF), have begun with the announcement of next year’s honoree of this spectacular event that will sure please all music fans. From March 23 through March 26, the festival will honor Panamanian jazz pianist, composer and humanitarian, Danilo Pérez. Also, the details for this edition’s contest to select the commemorative poster were revealed.

“Danilo Pérez is the perfect musician to dedicate the twenty-seventh edition of the Puerto Rico Heineken JazzFest”, expressed Luis Álvarez, Puerto Rico Heineken JazzFest’s producer and vice president of the Liquor Division at Méndez & Compañía. “We are very pleased to dedicate this festival to Danilo, a great musician, friend, and above all, an exceptional human being. With this dedication, we recognize his great musical career as a pianist and composer, his humanitarian labor and his commitment with musical education for the youth. It will be an honor and a privilege to have his presence on the next Puerto Rico Heineken JazzFest’s stage” finished Álvarez.

Upon receiving the news of his recognition during the next Puerto Rico Heineken JazzFest, Danilo Pérez said: “I am very excited with the news. It is a great honor and I take it with great responsibility. My relationship with Puerto Rico is musical and artistic, but it’s also a fraternity. I remember when I first participated in the first Heineken JazzFest back in 1991, so I feel extremely proud that a festival this big and with so much history recognizes me and my career. It’s really wonderful and I take it with a lot of responsibility. As a musician, social activist, educator, mentor and ambassador, I now feel with more energy to continue doing what I am doing.”

Open Call for Poster Design

As it’s been a tradition during past years, the PRHJF team also announced that the contest for the design of the commemorative poster of next year’s edition of the PRHJF is now open. The honoree, Danilo Pérez, will be the central theme. Those interested in participating in the contest must have abilities in graphic arts, as an amateur or professional, and live in Puerto Rico permanently. Each artist will be able to submit one piece in the graphic media of its choice, as it may be reproduced digitally. The submitted piece must measure 20 inches wide and 26 inches tall.

Also, the design submitted by the artist must include graphic references of the artist and it will be responsibility of the creatives to do all the historic research of the artist they find necessary in order to familiarize with his career and the elements that define the honoree’s contribution to the genre. The design must also include a reference to the Heineken brand. The deadline to submit the designed pieces will be on Friday, December 2nd, 2016, before 5:00pm in the main offices of Méndez & Co. Inc., in Guaynabo. The rules for the contest are available at www.facebook.com/puertoricoheinekenjazzfest.

About Danilo Pérez

Since an early stage in life, the talented pianist and composer Danilo Pérez started with passion a successful musical career. At 50, the musician born in Monte Oscuro, Panama City, has conquered the entire world with his dowries as a pianist and composer, and has transcended as a pillar in music through education, as a cultural ambassador, and humanitarian. All these characteristics undoubtedly position him as one of the most influential and dynamic artist of our time.

Graduated from Berklee College of Music in 1988, Pérez had the honor of playing alongside big stars of music when he was still very young. His career as a professional musician vowed quickly after finishing his studies, participating in presentations and recordings with Dizzy Gillespie, Jack DeJohnette, Steve Lacy, Lee Konitz, Charlie Haden, Michael Brecker, Joe Lovano, Wynton Marsalis, Tom Harrell, Gary Burton, Roy Haynes, and Puerto Rican legend, Tito Puente, amongst others.

Awards & distinctions

Danilo Pérez has multiple discographic productions that have won him nominations for the Grammy and Latin Grammy, like Central Avenue(Best Jazz Album), Motherland (Best Jazz Album and Best Latin Jazz Album), Across The Crystal Sea, and Providencia (Best Instrumental Jazz Album). His work as a composer has also been recognized in important festivals and venues, being commissioned by The Lincoln Center, Chicago Jazz Festival, Carnegie Hall (for the Simon Bolivar Symphonic Orchestra in Venezuela), The Banff Centre, amongst others. In 2002 he was nominated to receive the award for Best Pianist of the Year, awarded by the Jazz Journalist Association. In 2005, the Ibero-American Communication Association gave him the Ibero-American Award, and he was named a Good Will Ambassador by the UNICEF. In 2009, the Smithsonian Institute of Washington gave him the Legacy Award for his contribution to arts as a musician and educator. Next year, his home, Panama, recognized him with the Vasco Núñez de Balboa award.

Educator & philanthropist

The Panamanian pianist and composer maintains his country very present as his career continues evolving. Since a very young age, Danilo Pérez channeled the musical values his father taught him, and he used music as a learning tool, improvising music lessons and music programs free of charge for kids and young ones. In the 80s, he helped create the musical program Jamboree Juventud from Panama, and in the next decade he would help create the jazz program for the Conservatorio de Música de Puerto Rico. His participation in productions, presentations, classes, and concerts during all those years led him to create the first international jazz festival in Panama in 2003, followed by the creation of the Danilo Pérez Foundation in 2004. Since then, he has celebrated the Festival that allows young musicians to have the opportunity to take master classes from professors of very important musical institutions from around the world, and present themselves in front of thousands of attendees year after year, in different parts of Panama City, following a very similar model to the Berklee in Puerto Rico program, of the Puerto Rico Heineken JazzFest.

He is currently the Artist for Peace of UNESCO, who recognized his work and commitment to bringing kids and younglings living in poverty in Panama the opportunity to participate in high quality musical programs. Likewise, the UNICEF named him a Good Will Ambassador, he’s the Cultural Ambassador of the Republic of Panama, and serves as the Artistic Director of the Berklee Global Jazz Institute in the prestigious Berklee College of Music, in Boston. This last program is an interdisciplinary one, focused on developing the creativity and talent of its student to their maximum potential, understanding how the power of music can be a tool for the good of society and connecting the creative musical thoughts with nature, using sound, rhythms, and harmonies to incorporate in music, all while the student learns and understands the importance of geological preservation.


Read the full piece from: Curacao Chronicle

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Keyboard Magazine’s 2016 Top 10 Music Lists

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As 2016 winds down and we prepare for 2017, the editors at Keyboard magazine have assembled lists of their favorite releases of the year.

These recordings encompass a variety of genres and include numerous gems that had never been commercially released before.

Moreover, we have added a list of the most enjoyable music videos we viewed this year.

Our hope is that the releases below will lead you to artists you haven't heard (or remind you of some you may have missed or forgotten).

Enjoy the sounds and Happy New Year!


Read the full piece from: Keyboard Magazine

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The 2016 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll

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A decade ago, leading jazz critic Francis Davis corralled 30 jazz writers to create a list of the finest jazz albums of 2006 for the Village Voice. For the 2016 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll, Davis has marshaled more than quadruple the forces — 137 voters — to assess the best of an ever-expanding field.

Davis himself expounds on the Top 10 (you should read his analysis of this year's list here), and then the next 40 are ranked, followed by several intriguing specialty lists. We've got the year's best vocal albums, debuts and Latin jazz. The Reissue/Rara Avis category collects music by the likes of Bill Evans, Miles Davis, Count Basie and Lester Young. And all the critics' ballots, compiled by Tom Hull, may be seen here.

In a list this extensive, there's plenty to discover and debate. Even Davis himself admits he's not as fond of one top album as a colleague is. But that's the beauty of this massive annual project. We've got an unparalleled group of contributors with a dizzying range of enthusiasms — some you may share, others you'll come to love. We listen so you can, too.—Mark Mobley


Read the full piece from: NPR

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What Does a Music Director Do?

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What Does a Music Director Do?

Music-industry vet John Beasley defines the gig and offers advice

Miles Davis alum John Beasley has stepped into the role of music director for a diverse slate of projects—from tours with Steely Dan and Queen Latifah to the Thelonious Monk Institute gala, International Jazz Day and American Idol—and though the job varies project to project, there are some constants. “We help pick material, show order, musicians, sometimes sound [engineers], and rehearse the band,” Beasley says.

The job is part arranger-conductor, part logistics and all stress. “You’re trying to help management, the artist, the tour manager, the record company,” he explains. “Everybody’s got their say about what should happen and why, so you’re getting a lot of different information from people and you have to make it work.”

Most important, he hires the best band possible. “You have to hire people that have experience; you can’t hire people that are going to be prima donnas on the road,” Beasley says. “So lesson number one in being an MD: Hire people you know who are totally professional and will have your back.”

On American Idol, Beasley rehearsed contestants, advised on repertoire and wrote arrangements for the band. “Our first season, for the first two episodes I actually had to mix the audio, because they hadn’t hired a fulltime music mixer,” Beasley says. “At that point it was still wild and woolly.”

At the 2016 International Jazz Day Global Concert, held in April at the White House, in addition to managing the acoustics of the Blue Room and holding sound check in a tent erected on the South Lawn, Beasley added heightened security to his list of challenges. There were several mandatory evacuations, but at an event of that scale, the interruptions can offer a welcome moment of relaxation to a harried music director. “At one point, I was going back to check the mixes and I got stuck in the hallway. They said, ‘POTUS on the move! You’ve got to evacuate,’ and they threw me in this room,” Beasley says. “I was stuck there for 25 minutes. So I took the opportunity to sort of reflect and sit there and rest a little bit, because those gigs are balls to the wall every waking minute of the day.”


Read the full piece from: JazzTimes

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5 upcoming albums to get you started for 2017

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Joey DeFrancesco & The People’s Project Freedom

If you dig organ jazz-fusion, there’s nobody better to make that happen than Joey DeFrancesco. He debuts his first quartet album Project Fre

If you dig organ jazz-fusion, there’s nobody better to make that happen than Joey DeFrancesco. He debuts his first quartet album Project Freedom on Mack Avenue Records March 10, 2017. A longtime Hammond B3 organ magician, DeFrancesco effortlessly fuses rock and jazz together for a slamming good time, every time. He still brings that blissed-out Philly blues to the proceedings. But this Project Freedom means a lot more than his other albums. After 41 years in the game, the organist still tries to punch in something new.

“I’ve exhausted the instrument — it's like breathing to me — I've wanted more from what I've already done musically. I find myself asking, ‘How do I expand?’” He answers this question on “The Unifier,” a tune emboldened by a wah-wah pedal. “It makes the organ sound like a Moog and gives it this rich, weird vibrato,” DeFrancesco, who also plays trumpet, added.

DeFrancesco also changes things up with a great group of musicians, including drummer Jason Brown, guitarist Dan Wilson, and tenor/soprano saxophonist Troy Roberts, who fleshes out fiery tempos in the tunes and grounds them on an earthly, lusty plane.

The songs themselves come straight from the featured artist’s innermost longings for “Peace Bridge,” “Karma,” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a cover the organist improvised at the 2003 Detroit Jazz Festival for the encore — all an answer to today’s front-page-news of brutality, violence, and injustice.

“The crowd was perfect, the weather was perfect, the song just came out of me and the next thing you know the crowd is swaying, men took their hats off and women began to cry. Me too. It was a truly sanctified experience where we all became one, transcending music and melody. I wanted to relive that story, that feeling, on Project Freedom.”

Artist quotes from a DL Media release.

(March 10, 2017, Mack Avenue Records)

Cameron Graves’ ‘Planetary Prince’

Pianist Cameron Graves appears on bassist Miles Mosley’s upcoming UPRISING, but has already made waves of his own with his debut, June 10, 2016 EP inspired by the 20th century bible called “Urantia.” Planetary Prince takes the what-if concepts of “Urantia” and builds them into a sonic adventure.

The original music relies on the listener’s infinite patience, applying an oddly paced sort of innovation and a backdoor groove that takes its time getting to the climax. “I don't communicate the ‘Urantia’ ideas to the band. They just know that my song titles are kind of weird, but the music is really cool,” Graves said in a DL Media release. “I like to write a lot in odd rhythms, especially in 7, which takes the music somewhere else and lets the cats build off of that.”

“Adam and Eve” is an example of a classically influenced instrumental that patiently builds and builds on strategic piano and big band majesty until the rest of the rhythm section explodes with a potent funk groove.

The four-song EP expands into an eight-track album Feb. 24, 2017, featuring members of the L.A. West Coast Get Down, including The Epic sax god Kamasi Washington, trombonist Ryan Porter, bassist Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner, and drummer Ronald Bruner Jr. Trumpeter Philip Dizack and bassist Hadrien Feraud join the group. Formed back in high school band, the WCGD are famous today for shaking up the music scene by embracing jazz along with hip-hop, classical music, and assorted odds and ends from other styles in a natural modern vibe.

(Feb. 24, 2017, Mack Avenue Records)


Read the full piece from: AXA

New Joey DeFrancesco Album Marks Debut for Mack Avenue

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“Project Freedom” available March 2017; supporting tour dates start in January

By Sean Dennis

Organist Joey DeFrancesco’s upcoming release on Mack Avenue Records, Project Freedom, is his first in a quartet setting and features his stellar work on the Hammond B-3—plus contributions on trumpet and as a vocalist.

Accompanying DeFrancesco on this genre-jumping album are drummer Jason Brown, guitarist Dan Wilson and saxophonist Troy Roberts—collectively billed as the People—who comprise his new touring band for 2017.

Inspired by his experiences playing for audiences around the globe, DeFrancesco explores themes of peace and spirituality on self-penned compositions “Karma,” “The Unifier” and “Peace Bridge,” in addition to covers including “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and “So Near, So Far.”

In a press release, DeFrancesco notes, “I always thought that as touring musicians, we were spreading peace. No matter what happens in the world, we keep playing. In a lot of the so-called forbidden places too. When we’re there, through war and conflict, problems melt away through music. We’re playing for these people, hanging out with them, and we all come together and we’re grooving with each other because of the music. That is true freedom. Music is true freedom.”

Project Freedom will be available March 2017. For more information, visit the official websites of Joey DeFrancesco and Mack Avenue Records.

2017 Tour Dates

Jan. 12: Scullers Jazz Club, Boston, MA

Jan. 13–14: Chris’ Jazz Café, Philadelphia, PA

Jan. 17–21: Birdland, New York City, NY

March 17–18: Catalina Jazz Club, Los Angeles, CA

March 19: The Nash, Phoenix, AZ

March 21–22: DazzleJazz, Denver, CO

March 29: Savannah Music Festival, Savannah, GA

March 30–31: The Velvet Note, Atlanta, GA

April 1: The Tin Pan, Richmond, VA


Read the full piece from: JazzTimes

‘Epic’ Keyboardist Cameron Graves Launches Debut Album

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The release of Kamasi Washington’s The Epic last year heralded the arrival of the West Coast Get Down, the Los Angeles-based consortium of like-minded musicians that would alter the jazz landscape with its cosmic blend of jazz, funk, classical and hip-hop.

Follow-up albums by WCGD-affiliated members such as bassist Miles Mosley and saxophonist Terrace Martin have solidified the group’s placement at the center of the current jazz conversation.

The conversation continues with the release of Planetary Prince, the debut album by pianist, keyboardist, composer and WCGD founding member Cameron Graves. The album will be available Feb. 24 on Mack Avenue Records.

Graves had already compiled a four-track EP called Planetary Prince by the time Mack Avenue approached him for a record deal. Under the label, the keyboardist expanded the project into an eight track full-length album.

Planetary Prince features a number of Graves’ West Coast Get Down compatriots, many of whom have been collaborating with Graves since high school. That crew includes tenor saxophonist Washington, trombonist Ryan Porter, bassist Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner and drummer Ronald Bruner Jr. To their ranks are added trumpeter Philip Dizack and bassist Hadrien Feraud, both key members of the current L.A. jazz scene.

In its scope and execution, the album builds upon the hurdling intensity and vast ambition of The Epic and other WCGD-related projects.

“Cameron Graves’ music is vigorous and refreshing. There is an infectious raw energy on Planetary Prince that is coupled with these terrific melodies and blistering solo work, the whole album is energizing,” said Mack Avenue Records President Denny Stilwell, in a press statement.

Washington’s penchant for the interstellar has left a bold imprint on Graves’ work—the title Planetary Prince comes from The Urantia Book, an early 20th-century tome that purports to reveal the truth of humanity through cosmological ideas—and the saxophonist was outspoken in his praise of Graves’ debut.

“Cameron Graves is a musical genius. He has an innovative approach to the piano that is completely unique,” Washington said. “Cameron’s new album Planetary Prince is an amazing and almost unbelievable combination of modal jazz, Romantic-era European classical music and mathematical death metal. A style so cool that it deserves it’s own genre … I’m so glad he’s sharing it with the world!”


Read the full piece from: DownBeat

Notes on Jazz Best of Jazz for 2016

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This year I attended many fine performances given by a variety of musicians and I tried to further embed myself into the thriving, local Atlanta jazz scene, where I now reside. I give a special call out to two young musicians, Darren English and Morgan Guerin, who make Atlanta their home and who both had compelling debut albums this year.These young firebrands give us a glimpse into the future of jazz and from where I stand the future is very bright indeed.

With the avalanche of self-produced cds being released these days, I find my desk overflowing with new material and frankly it’s a daunting task to give each release the careful and thoughtful attention its deserves. That said, this is my very subjective choice for the of best of jazz in 2016. Wherever possible I have linked the albums to a video or audio clip that should be representative of the music on the album. I have been greatly privileged to have heard and enjoyed this music and I hope you too will find some if not all of it enjoyable too. I am happy to report that this music we call jazz is alive, well and moving ahead very nicely. Happy Holidays and happy listening to all of you.


Read the full piece from: Huffington Post

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12 Young American Jazz Musicians You Need To Know

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Many music mavens, jazz fans, or otherwise know of American jazz legends like Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk, but a new generation of artists is bringing refreshing new talent to the genre. From the breakout success of artists like Gregory Porter and Esperanza Spalding, to up-and-coming talents like pianist Aaron Diehl, we uncover the best young American jazz musicians.

Gregory Porter

Hailed by NPR Music as “the next great male jazz singer,” California-born singer and songwriter Gregory Porter’s music career began over 20 years ago, though it wasn’t until he moved to New York City and performed regularly at Harlem’s legendary St. Nick’s Pub that his career really took off. Porter released his debut album, Water, produced by jazz pianist and saxophonist Kamau Kenyatta, in 2010 and his third album, Liquid Spirit, scooped the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album in 2013, solidifying his standing as a future jazz legend.

The Hot Sardines

Formed in Manhattan by New York City native Evan “Bibs” Palazzo and Paris-born chanteuse Miz Elizabeth, The Hot Sardines are a troupe of gifted musicians that take inspiration from early American jazz and count music greats like Thelonious Monk, Django Reinhardt, and Billie Holiday amongst their influences. Lauded by Forbes Magazine as “one of the best jazz bands in NYC today,” The Hot Sardines have played sold out shows at New York’s famed Joe’s Pub and performed at the Montreal International Jazz Festival. In June 2016, the band released their sophomore album, French Fries & Champagne.

Esperanza Spalding

Portland, Oregon-born jazz singer, bassist, and cellist Esperanza Spalding displayed prodigious talents from an early age playing violin with the Chamber Music Society of Oregon. She burst onto America’s jazz music scene with the release of her debut album Junjo in 2006, receiving favorable reviews from the likes of the New York Times’ critic Ben Ratliff. Since then, Spalding has gone on to win multiple Grammys including Best New Artist of 2010 – the first jazz musician to be awarded this title – and Best Jazz Vocal Album for 2012’s Radio Music Society. Her fifth studio album, Emily’s D+Evolution, is sung through the alter ego of Emily, Esperanza’s middle name, and has received widespread critical acclaim since its release in March 2016.

Robert Glasper

Jazz pianist and producer Robert Glasper may not be your typical jazz musician, considering his fusion of the genre with styles like R&B and hip hop, yet his deft merging of genres makes Glasper stand out amongst his contemporaries. By his mid-20s, Glasper had already performed with jazz greats including Terence Blanchard and Christian McBride and a succession of acclaimed albums, including the Grammy-nominated Double-Booked (2009) confirmed his rising star. Glasper’s revered 2012 release Black Radio demonstrated his talent for jazz fusion and scooped a Grammy for Best R&B album in 2013. In May 2016, Glasper released his new album, Everything’s Beautiful, which remixes several Miles Davis tracks from the Columbia/Legacy vault and features an A-list of collaborators.

Cécile McLorin Salvant

Born to a French mother and a Haitian father in Miami, Florida, Cécile McLorin Salvant was singing and playing classical piano before she reached the age of 10. A move to France in 2007 saw her study improvisation and vocal repertoire under respected reedist Jean-François Bonnel. Success followed the recording of her debut album, Cécile, in 2009, winning the the 2010 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition. McLorin Salvant has performed at legendary events including the Montreal International Jazz Festival and the Detroit Jazz Festival, while her third album, For One to Love, won the Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Album.

Marquis Hill

Though he started out playing drums in the fourth grade growing up in Chicago’s South Side, it was when he took up the trumpet that Marquis Hill really found his niche. Hill has been the recipient of awards including the 2014 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Trumpet Competition, and has received rave reviews from the likes of the New York Times, which hailed him as “a dauntingly skilled trumpeter.” His 2016 album, The Way We Play, was released on Concord Records.

Melody Gardot

Grammy-nominated Melody Gardot kick-started her career at an early age playing the bars of her hometown Philadelphia at the age of 16. It wasn’t until a severe car accident in her late teens, however, that she began writing her own songs, which the singer and pianist states aided her in her lengthy recovery. Her 2008 debut album Worrisome Heart, co-produced by acclaimed producer Glenn Barratt, established her trademark edgy, evocative, and intimate style. Today the musician is known for her dramatic, mysterious stage presence. Now four albums deep, Gardot has appeared at events including Brighton’s Love Supreme Jazz Festival.

Mary Halvorson

“NYC’s least predictable improviser” and “a singular talent” are just a few things the press have to say about Boston-born, Brooklyn-based improvisational jazz guitarist Mary Halvorson. After studying under celebrated jazz multi-instrumentalist Anthony Braxton at Wesleyan University, Halvorson began playing in New York City and has collaborated with such talents as Marc Ribot, Taylor Ho Bynum, and Curtis Hasselbring. Halvorson regularly performs in the Mary Halvorson Trio alongside bassist John Hébert and drummer Ches Smith and her 2013 album, Illusionary Sea, with the Mary Halvorson Septet was hailed by NPR Music as her “boldest venture yet.” She has released five albums since then.

Aaron Diehl

Pianist Aaron Diehl is a jazz musician with a mission – he seeks to traverse the generational boundaries of the genre, and with compliments such as the New York Times lauding him as “a smart young pianist with a fastidious grasp of jazz traditions,” he is certainly proving his worth. A graduate of the Juilliard School and winner of the 2013 Jazz Journalist Association’s Up-And-Coming Musician of the Year Award, Diehl has toured with the Wynton Marsalis Septet and his latest release, Space Time Continuum, has received wide critical acclaim for its mixture of historic and contemporary styles of jazz.

Tivon Pennicott

A native of Marietta, Georgia, Tivon Pennicott began playing tenor sax in high school, and by his early 20’s had worked with legendary jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell and performed at famous venues like San Francisco’s Yoshi’s Jazz Club. Pennicott has played on Grammy-winning albums including Gregory Porter’s breakout album Liquid Spirit and Esperanza Spalding’s Radio Music Society, and won second place at the 2013 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition. Praised for his tenacity and inventiveness as a saxophonist, Pennicott released his debut album Lover of Nature in late 2014.

Jamison Ross

Currently a resident of the birthplace of jazz, New Orleans, award-winning drummer Jamison Ross began honing his talents at a young age playing at his grandfather’s church. By his early 20’s Ross was collaborating with the likes of legendary American jazz singer Carmen Lundy, and has since gone on to work with acclaimed contemporaries including Jon Batiste and Cécile McLorin Salvant. With a clear mission in mind to bring a joyful and soulful sound to his music, Ross is signed with Concord Jazz and released his self-titled debut album in 2015.

Kendrick Scott

Growing up in Houston, Texas listening to genres as diverse as gospel, R&B, and classical, Kendrick Scott’s odyssey began at the age of eight when his parents gifted him a drum kit. His dedication and talent saw him awarded a place at his hometown’s prestigious High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. His later career has included tours with legends like Herbie Hancock and Terence Blanchard. In 2007, he established his music collective, the Kendrick Scott Oracle, whose ambitious 2007 debut The Source was followed by Conviction in 2013.


Read the full piece from: Culture Trip

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From Wynton Marsalis to Vijay Iyer, the best jazz albums of 2016

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Renee Rosnes: "Written in the Rocks" (Smoke Sessions Records): Rosnes long ago earned a reputation as a first-rate pianist, but with "Written in the Rocks" she affirms her gifts as composer with a fertile imagination and a technique to match. Even if you didn't know that "Written in the Rocks" has specific pictorial and programmatic purposes, its stunning array of instrumental colors, exquisitely refined voicings and lush harmonic palette command attention. Rosnes' score benefits greatly from the contributions of vibraphonist Steve Nelson, flutist-saxophonist Steve Wilson, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Bill Stewart, but it's the inventiveness of Rosnes' concept and writing that stand out.

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis: "The Abyssinian Mass" (Blue Engine Records): The theme of faith has coursed through Marsalis' work for decades, most notably in recordings such as "In This House, On This Morning" (1994), featuring his septet in a gospel service portrayed in jazz; and "All Rise" (2002), an epic that explored struggle and salvation. "The Abyssinian Mass" continues Marsalis' investigations along these lines, the massive forces of the JLCO, the Chorale le Chateau and vocal soloists offering up 23 movements on two discs — a monumental statement brilliantly articulated in jazz, blues and gospel.

Marquis Hill: "The Way We Play" (Concord Jazz): As part of his prize for taking top honors in the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Trumpet Competition of 2014, trumpeter Hill won a recording contract with Concord Jazz. Expectations were high for his major-label debut, and Hill fulfilled them with a more personal album than one might have thought possible under these circumstances. Though Hill recorded mostly standards, he conjured distinctive arrangements, intensifying his message by featuring social commentary in the form of spoken word from poet Harold Green III. The nimbleness of Hill's technique and the lyrical core of his phrase-making are apparent throughout.

Vijay Iyer/Wadada Leo Smith: "A Cosmic Rhythm with Each Stroke" (ECM Records): The title may sound a bit high-flown, but it reflects the ethereal and hypersensitive character of the music itself (as well as the name of the primary suite on the recording). Pianist/keyboardist Iyer and trumpeter Smith improvise subtly, one gently expressed musical thought responding to the next. You sense the environment in this recording, Smith's streaks of sound and Iyer's richly textured pianism set against plenty of space and silence. Listeners uninterested in traveling into unusual musical terrain may not be pleased, but open-eared audiences will welcome the freshness of the approach, the translucence of the sound and the delicacy of the delivery.

Julian Lage: "Arclight" (Mack Avenue): Fine jazz guitarists are hardly in short supply, but Lage stands out for the clarity of his thought, the sleekness of his sound and the range of his expression. Leading a trio with comparably agile work from drummer Kenny Wollesen and bassist Scott Colley, Lage mixes originals with historical repertoire, the latter giving him ample opportunity for buoyant swing rhythm, the former enabling him to venture into somewhat edgier fare.

Laurin Talese: "Gorgeous Chaos" (Bassic Black Entertainment): The first time I heard Talese, five years ago in Philadelphia, she made a vivid impression via the sumptuousness of her instrument and the creativity of her vocal lines. She sounds still more accomplished on her album "Gorgeous Chaos," Talese bringing heart and spontaneity to standards, obscurities and originals alike. In all of this material, she emerges as an uncommonly persuasive storyteller, accompanied on select tracks by bassist Christian McBride, keyboardist Robert Glasper and other noteworthy instrumentalists who clearly believe in her. "Gorgeous Chaos" should serve as an excellent calling card for a singer very much on the rise.

Melissa Aldana: "Back Home" (Wommusic): Chilean tenor saxophonist Aldana received considerable attention after winning the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition three years ago, at age 24, and her work ever since has proved she deserved it. "Back Home" crystallizes the appeal of Aldana's music, most notably the austere quality of her sound, the consistently understated manner of her performance and the considerable sophistication of her improvised lines. Bassist Pablo Menares and drummer Jochen Rueckert provide continuous, intriguing counterpoint. This music may seem a bit restrained for some listeners' tastes, but to me it's balm in a very noisy world.

Howard Reich is a Tribune critic.


Read the full piece from: Chicago Tribune

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Cameron Graves, Joey DeFrancesco and Billy Childs Sign With Mack Avenue Records: Exclusive

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Christmas is starting early for Mack Avenue Records. The independent jazz label has added acclaimed artists Cameron Graves, Joey DeFrancesco and Billy Childs to its roster. All three will release new albums in 2017.

Graves, pianist and founding member of West Coast Get Down, will release his anticipated debut album on Feb. 24. The eight-track Planetary Prince, originally a four-song EP, will feature such longtime collaborators as saxophonist Kamasi Washington, trumpeter Philip Dizack, trombonist Ryan Porter, bassist Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner, bassist Hadrien Feraud and drummer Ronald Bruner Jr.

Jazz organist Joey DeFrancesco will release Project Freedom, his first-ever quartet album, on March 10. Touring as Joey DeFrancesco & the People in 2017, the musician will be joined by guitarist Dan Wilson, saxophonist Troy Roberts and drummer Jason Brown.

Childs returns to his jazz roots on the aptly titled Rebirth arriving March 24. The four-time Grammy Award-winning pianist plays with saxophonist Steve Wilson, bassist Hans Glawischnig and drummer Eric Harland. Special guests include vocalists Alicia Olatuja and Claudia Acuna, trombonist Ido Meshulam and percussionist Rogerio Boccato. His first album under the Mack Avenue banner also marks the 40th anniversary of Childs’ recording debut with legendary trombonist J.J. Johnson, who died in 2001.

Mack Avenue, which acquired the MAXJAZZ label earlier this year, is headed by president Denny Stilwell.


Read the full piece from: Billboard

The 20 Best Jazz Albums of 2016

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For his official debut as a leader on the Mack Avenue imprint, former child prodigy Julian Lage continues to prove why he is the best guitar player in modern jazz with this dazzling tribute to his electric guitar heroes of the early 20th century.

If you are hearing aspects of Chet Atkins and Les Paul throughout the course of Arclight, that’s because Lage and his mind-blowing rhythm section of bassist Scott Colley and drummer Kenny Wollesen pay homage to the guys Chester and Lester were influenced by like Merle Travis and George Barnes, crafting a mood that is equally in step and out of time to brilliant effect.

Even better is the recently released digital EP Live in Los Angeles, which adds further weight to the stunning variation of early electric guitar jazz this trio takes in so many different directions across lengthy meditations on Sammy Cain and Irving Kahal’s 1938 standard “I’ll Be Seeing You” and the Arclight highlight “Stop Go Start” cut live at the Los Angeles jazz club The Blue Whale this past June.


Read the full piece from: Observer

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Rising Star Jazzes Up the Philharmonic

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This week the jazz pianist and rising star Aaron Diehl is set to make his New York Philharmonic debut in a prominent slot: opening night.

Mr. Diehl will perform the soloist role in George Gershwin’s Concerto in F on Wednesday, as the composer himself did at the work’s world premiere at Carnegie Hall in 1925. The piece is part of a New York-centric program that will launch the orchestra’s 175th anniversary season, its final one with music director Alan Gilbert.

Classically trained, Mr. Diehl fell in love with jazz in his teens and toured with Wynton Marsalis at age 17.

Now 30, the Juilliard School graduate is known for his meticulous touch and for making music that both nods to and expands on foundations laid by past jazz greats.

He has released two albums on Mack Avenue Records and can also be heard playing with the jazz singer Cécile McLorin Salvant, a frequent collaborator.

“He’s got the soul and the spirit of a jazz player, but he’s got the discipline to play with a symphony orchestra,” said Edward Yim, the Philharmonic’s vice president of artistic planning. “He can fit into our world in the way that not all jazz pianists could.”

The Wall Street Journal sat down for a piano-side interview with Mr. Diehl last week at his Harlem apartment to discuss his debut and the musical layers in Gershwin’s concerto.

WSJ: While jazz musicians have played with the Philharmonic before, this is a very high-profile debut. What does it mean for you to play with New York’s hometown orchestra on opening night?

AD: I’m really grateful.

This is basically my first go-round playing with a major orchestra.

I honestly think the Phil is taking an incredible risk. I’m not Herbie Hancock, I’m not Lang Lang or Chick Corea. So the likelihood of them selling out this concert on my name is low.

But I also think Alan [Gilbert] recognized that I was very serious about playing this piece.

‘I’ve focused on this one piece since March, in addition to everything else I’m doing. I wanted to make sure that I had a specific objective for what I wanted to do at this point, and at that point,’ Mr. Diehl said. ENLARGE

‘I’ve focused on this one piece since March, in addition to everything else I’m doing. I wanted to make sure that I had a specific objective for what I wanted to do at this point, and at that point,’ Mr. Diehl said.

Tell me about this composition.

It is a classical concerto. What makes it so unique, though, is Gershwin’s embrace and use of rhythms, syncopations and folk material that are native to America.

He’s got blues in there...The Charleston is all over the place in this piece.

He has hints of what we call Harlem stride, made famous by James P. Johnson, Willie “the Lion” Smith, and Fats Waller, who wrote “Honeysuckle Rose.” [He plays a few bars.]

You have this boom-chick figure in the left hand. It’s almost like ragtime but it’s a more advanced version, if you will. You have the syncopation in the right hand.

In fact, I take it a step further from what Gershwin wrote, and I make it into a full-blown stride sort of style.

What’s your take on Gershwin’s role in American music?

He definitely set a gold standard for American popular songwriting.

“I Got Rhythm,” “S Wonderful,” “Embraceable You.” They’re just great tunes. I mean... [He plays “Embraceable You.”]

There are several arrangements and orchestrations of classical music of his work. Jazz musicians, we use those songs all the time.

All of these tunes are so rife with harmonic complexity and sophistication. We love that. The more chord changes or harmonic progressions there are, the more we can navigate in our improvisation.

How are you preparing for the concert?

I’ve focused on this one piece since March, in addition to everything else I’m doing. I wanted to make sure that I had a specific objective for what I wanted to do at this point, and at that point.

I met with André Previn yesterday, who has a very definitive recording of this piece.

I told him, I can’t play [the last movement] as fast as you. He said, don’t worry about playing it fast. Worry about being rhythmically accurate.

I played it three or four clicks slower, and it was much better.

Is it different from what you do before club dates or jazz festivals?

With classical music, you can basically plan. I know that the orchestra is going to do what they say they’re going to do. It’s not like playing in a trio, or a small jazz ensemble, where you don’t know what’s going to necessarily happen.

[Whether improvising or playing composed music,] you always make the music feel like it’s fresh and it’s real and it’s tangible. It’s not a museum piece.

You said you do plan to improvise in some spots. How is the orchestra going to handle that?

It’s just a solo by myself, so it’s not going to affect them at all.

I was very aware that this was a piece where you have 80 musicians who are used to having it played a certain way. I found places where I knew that this wouldn’t be too much of an issue for them.

I don’t want to make their job even harder, because what they do is hard enough as it is, and they do it so well.


Read the full piece from: Wall Street Journal

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​GREETINGS FROM CHRISTIAN SANDS!

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GREETINGS FROM NEW YORK!

REACH is mastered! What an awesome experience. Cant wait to share it with you all. CD dropping in April, but get a LIVE sneek-peek next TUESDAY 12/13 at The JAZZ STANDARD NYC - Its going down with the quartet 7:30 and 9:30!
Better see you there! Get tickets while you can and hope to say Hi!

A huge highlight of November at The Blue Note New York.... Such an honor to hang with piano Masters Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock before my late solo set following their night of historic duet. #NoPressure or anything!
Happy 75th Birthday Mr. Corea. What a great hang, thank you!

#RoadLife adventures continue - Got to bring the trio out to sunny CA, played The Loft at UCSD to an amazing crowd! And Spivey Hall Atlanta showed us some GA hospitality. Hope to see you all again really soon!

I know I promised photos from Europe and Azores, but there are toooo many great shots and memories, so go check out the instagram, FB and twitter feeds and let me know what you think!

Dont forget, come by The Jazz Standard next week (Tues 12/1) and hear a little preview of the fresh tracks from REACH - hope to see you there!!!


Read the full piece from: Jazz Standard

Cécile McLorin Salvant On Past, Present, Future

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If jazz is about creating tension between tradition and innovation, singer Cécile McLorin Salvant is an undeniable voice leading the genre today.

Ever since she stunned judges and took first place at the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition in 2010, the 27-year-old has established a legacy through an extraordinary command of jazz mythology augmented with her own eclectic tastes and surprising interpretations. Revue talked with Salvant about where her art is headed next and the inspiration and motivations that are driving her.

You won the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album last February. With that award under your belt, how are you looking to challenge yourself as an artist in the near future?

I’m working on a partly live album right now with my trio: Aaron Diehl on piano, Lawrence Leathers on drums and Paul Sikivie on bass. We already recorded it and now we’re adding the final touches. I’m also excited to be working in different configurations coming up next year — as a duo with a pianist, and across Europe with a band of all female jazz musicians that includes Terri Lyne Carrington, Renée Rosnes, Nat Collins, Melissa Aldana, Linda Oh and Ingrid Jensen. I’m also writing more and exploring other aspects of art that I’m interested in, and how I can incorporate that into what I do musically with jazz.

You’re known for your malleable onstage persona. Any characters you’ve been experimenting with recently?

I’ve been thinking about all the different ways I could pursue that. I’ve never taken an acting class, so even participating in acting in a way that’s separate than music would be interesting. It could also mean auditioning, or bringing more theatrical elements into a show. It would be interesting to see how far outside myself and my experience I can go as a performer.

You do a lot of research to find some of your material. Have you always had a curiosity to uncover things that have been forgotten with time?

I think I’ve always had a fascination with things that are precious and not well known. To me, it’s fun to spend a day listening to albums and finding connections between them. It’s such a wonderful feeling when you discover that one song that only one person has ever recorded, and it’s a great song. It just excites me and I want to share what I’m discovering in my performances.

You got your start in classical and baroque voice when you studied in France. What was difficult or easy about making the switch to jazz?

What was hard was the improvisation. I never wanted to get off the song on the page, so that was something I really had to work at. It was also a question of getting the vocabulary. Jazz isn’t just about being free — it’s about being free with the right tools. On the easy side, I think classical singing helped me with diction and understanding the characters and their arc within the greater context of the work. I always put myself into my performances, since I tend to choose songs that I connect with at a deep level, but it was helpful to have that background.

Your last album seemed more personal. Are you continuing along that route or looking to explore different stories through your writing?

The compositions I’m working on now are less personal in a way. I mean, it’s always personal when you write, but now it’s less about my own little world. My last album was really like a diary, where the songs that I wrote were about specific events and people. Now all of the things I’m writing are personal in the sense that I’m writing them, but are more universal thoughts about life, people and how they interact.

Jazz can seem intimidating for some. What advice do you have for people who want to get into the genre?

I think the first thing to realize is that jazz is such a huge genre with so many different sounds and dimensions. It’s important to not be stuck on one thing if you don’t like it, or you think it’s too difficult or too corny. But I think it’s one of the more enriching types of music because of the dialogue that you have with other musicians. Once you experience that interaction with others, it’s a huge motivation to keep going. 


Read the full piece from: Revue

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A Jazz Pianist Considers Fidel Castro’s Music Education Legacy

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You can hear Harold Lopez-Nussa's training when he plays. The 33-year-old pianist is reluctant to admit the classical influence on his jazz playing, but he's quick to acknowledge that he, like many other great Cuban pianists, was classically trained. "This is the school that we have to learn music in Cuba; it's classical," he says. "I did all my stuff there from 8 years old to 25."

Ned Sublette, author of the book Cuba and Its Music, From the First Drums to the Mambo, says the education Lopez-Nussa received in Cuban conservatories was unique. "He had a level of training that it's really hard to get anywhere else," he says.

Sublette explains that the Cuban Revolution in 1959 led to more investment in music education. "The new revolutionary government made culture a priority," he says. He also points out that this robust system of conservatories is still operating. "You will meet Cuban musicians who have been trained from childhood to be competitive professional musicians — and most of them have a conservatory background," he says.

But music school isn't the only part of a musician's education. Sublette, quoting British musicologist Geoff Baker, says Cuban musicians have four main streams of influence: "family, conservatory, street and religion."

Harold Lopez-Nussa certainly draws on the first two. His grandparents were musicians, his father is a respected drummer and music educator and his mother was a piano teacher. "I have the music in my body and my blood," Lopez-Nussa says. "Eighty percent of what I'm doing today and why I'm a musician is because of my family."

As for as the last two streams of influence, Lopez-Nussa is not particularly religious, but he's certainly aware of the sounds of the street — and Cuba's long tradition of popular music.

Lopez-Nussa started listening to jazz as a teenager with his friends at the conservatory, and he says he's following in the footsteps of great Cuban pianists like Ernesto Lecuona, Frank Emilio Flynn and Chucho Valdés. He remembers seeing Valdés up close at the age of 10, when he came to play for the students at Lopez-Nussa's school. "I was so impressed by his playing the piano, this kind of freedom that he has with the keyboard," he says. "I'm always thinking of this experience." It's no surprise, then, that a tune Valdés made popular with his band Irakere, "Bacalao con Pan," turns up on López-Nussa's new album, El Viaje.

Lopez-Nussa recently signed with an American label, Mack Avenue. He says improved relations between Cuba and the U.S. — ushered in by the Obama administration — have opened new opportunities that he hopes will continue under the new administration in Washington. He wants more Cuban musicians to play in the U.S., and he'd also like more American musicians to start performing in Cuba. "I have a lot of hope about this approach," he says. "It will be better for all of us."


Read the full piece from: NPR

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Christian McBride Celebrates James Brown, the Godfather of Soul

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But even though McBride’s career path had him zeroed in on jazz, he hastened to add that he was a kid of funk pop music. He loved Larry Graham, the original bassist for Sly & the Family Stone, who launched into his own funkelicious solo career, and he was hip to all that was deep-grooved as he told me this fall when I played him a Thundercat track at the live Monterey Jazz Festival Blindfold Test I curate for DownBeat magazine. After listening to the tune “Oh Sheit It’s X” from the electronic bassist’s 2013 album Apocalypse, McBride said, “In the first couple of seconds I was thinking, oh, my, this was something from middle school, but I don’t remember this tune. I was thinking this is right down to 1984 and an MTV classic. It should be something I know, but I don’t. Then after listening to the lyrics, I thought, no, not 1984.” He ended up figuring out it was Thundercat and praised him: “I like that stuff. It’s so funky. Anything with a strong groove, I like. I don’t care what you do on top, as long as the foundation is strong, I’m there.”

Dial back to the Strings interview. Funk was one thing but the soul and strut of James Brown was quite another. He was tops on McBride’s list of pop heroes. McBride has said that JB made him feel “strong, bold, almost immortal” and labeled him as “that rare type of artist that created an impenetrable force around the listener.”

So imagine his pleasant surprise when Brown tuned into his 1995 debut album Gettin’ to It and liked what he heard and invited the youngster to meet him. McBride said that in first talking with JB, the soul god said he was surprised that jazz musicians loved his music. McBride’s response: “Guess what, Mr. Brown? All jazz musicians enjoy your music—at least the ones who like rhythm!”

The friendly JB soon turned ornery and even abusive over the years, obviously souring their relationship—as it turns out not an anomaly given the testimony of former band members who endured abuse from the leader when they were in his employ. McBride kept his distance, only keeping up his communication with his hero through his manager, Charles Bobbit.

Within ten years, McBride’s career soared to the point where he was named the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association’s Creative Chair for Jazz. Part of his job: creatively curate shows. His immediate impulse was to contact JB through Bobbitt in hopes to get the dynamic singer to revisit his 1970 jazz album Soul on Top at the Hollywood Bowl with a full orchestral cast. After a long period of back-and-force communications, Bobbit finally signaled McBride that Brown had green-lighted the event. Much to his delight, Brown performed the work on September 6, 2006 (just a few months before he passed away on Christmas Day 2006). It was a thrill of McBride’s life who not only conducted the band but also played bass.

Now ten years later, McBride has taken another giant step, becoming not only the top go-to bassist in jazz, but also the idiom’s foremost statesman. This has included his artistic director roles—at the Newport Jazz Festival, the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, the National Jazz Museum in Harlem and Jazz House Kids—and his radio shows: NPR’s Jazz Night in America and SiriusXM’s The Lowdown: Conversations With Christian. On the music front he’s a MACK Avenue recording star and a sideman in just about all the major jazz projects going. At the Monterey Jazz Festival this fall, he served as the musical director for the opening night orchestral tribute to Quincy Jones, “The A&M Years,” and was recently announced as the winner of the Bruce Lundvall Visionary Award to be presented by the Jazz Connect Conference in January.

As part of his role at NJPAC, he decided to pay tribute to his old hero and sometimes-friend James Brown with the “Get On Up” all-star celebration of JB’s music as one of the concerts of the James Moody Jazz Festival in the center’s Prudential Hall. Special guests include Sharon Jones—oftentimes called the female JB...but can she do the splits like he did?—Bettye LaVette and the James Brown Alumni Band featuring such former JB sidemen saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis and trombonist Fred Wesley. To top the evening off, Apollo Theater’s DJ Jess will spin JB music for a funk dance afterparty.

McBride has said that in the Hollywood Bowl event “I lived my dream. I shared the stage with the Godfather of Soul, Mr. James Brown.” At NJPAC he’ll no doubt be remembering that experience which will make this show all the more special.


Read the full piece from: Huffington Post

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How Newark became one of the greatest jazz cities in the world

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“It was legendary,” said Junius Williams, a Newark author and educator who also saw Dizzy Gillespie at Sparky J’s back in the day.

Five of the best young female jazz musicians

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It was also kind of prescient. In 2016, Newark is one nonstop, ongoing, jazz parade: Wynton Marsalis, the Robert Glasper Experiment, Dianne Reeves, Phil Perry, David Sanborn and Anjelique Kidjo have been in and out town for shows. Dorthaan Kirk, the widow of Rahsaan who goes by the nickname “Newark’s first lady of jazz”, has hosted longtime greats including Freddy Cole, Jon Faddis and Rufus Reid at a pair of local series she organizes (both of them running through 2017, one of them free). And by the end of the year, a new, intimate club called Clement’s Place connected to the city’s renowned Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers-Newark will have attracted the TS Monk Sextet and the soul-threaded and Eubie Blake Award-winning Houston Person Quartet.

Behind all the action is a celebration of the city’s birthday – 2016 marks Newark’s 350th year – that, together with the TD James Moody jazz festival, an annual celebration of jazz running through the end of November, has revived its reputation as a serious jazz town.

The Grammy-winning bassist and bandleader Christian McBride, who is performing at Moody Fest on 18 November alongside Sharon Jones, Bettye LaVette and the James Brown Alumni Band at the city’s most thriving jazz venue, the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, saw it coming.

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“Newark’s place in jazz history includes Sarah Vaughan, Wayne Shorter, James Moody, Woody Shaw and Larry Young, among others. That coupled with its modern-day vibrancy makes Newark one of the greatest jazz cities in the world,” McBride said in early November from Europe, where he was touring.

He is especially qualified to say so. McBride first played in Newark as a young performer 26 years ago and, since 2012, has been NJPAC’s jazz adviser; he also hosts the NPR show Jazz Night in America, a co-production with Lincoln Center and WBGO-FM, the only full-time jazz format station broadcast in New York and New Jersey. On 20 November he will be among the judges of what John Schreiber, founder of the Moody festival and NJPAC’s president and CEO, called one of the centerpieces of a monthlong event: the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Competition.

“Jazz singing is bred in the bone. And Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald were kind of No 1 and No 2 in terms of the great individual voices of jazz singing,” Schreiber said. “Sarah Vaughan was an authentic Newark girl – she went to high school here and lived a lot of her life here. And so I said, ‘OK, what can we do to honor Sarah?’”

That was five years ago, when Schreiber signed on with NJPAC after decades of producing and curating festivals including Newport Jazz and JVC Jazz.


Read the full piece from: The Guardian

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Oprah catches up with Philly’s Kevin Eubanks on ‘Where Are They Now?’

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The popular and informative OWN series, “Oprah: Where Are They Now?” continues at 10 p.m. Saturday with an episode featuring Kevin Eubanks, one of Philadelphia’s favorite sons, and the former band leader of “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.” The show also features updates on money expert Suze Orman, “Ferris Bueller’s” hypochondriac best friend and actor Alan Ruck, TV pitchman Paul Marcarelli and former child star Karolyn Grimes.

In a particularly timely testimony, Eubanks, who was inducted onto the Philadelphia Music Alliance’s prestigious Walk of Fame in 2010, observes that the short walk across the stage before a nationally televised interview on a late-night talk show can be a borderline out-of-body experience, even for someone with years of experience appearing before the public.

According to the network, Eubanks, who left the “Tonight Show” on May 28, 2010, recalls an appearance by Hillary Clinton, who recently was the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee. For one of Clinton’s appearances, Eubanks tells “Oprah: Where Are They Now?” she requested a particular song to be played while she walked on stage, which was standard procedure on “The Tonight Show.” There was just one problem, Eubanks says. She didn’t recognize the song when the band played it.

The band leader says he was shocked, and maintains that the band had played the correct song.

“What happens when people come out, you know, and they’re not used to being on the show sometimes, even somebody as steeped in politics as Hillary Clinton, when you’re on an entertainment show, variety show or something like that, nobody hears anything. From the time they come out and walk across the stage and sit down, it’s like a blank moment. The applause is going crazy. The lights are flickering. The band is playing.”

Ultimately, Eubanks says, someone from Clinton’s team called to apologize after watching the appearance on tape. For Kevin, it just illustrates how surreal such moments can be for people. “That moment when you come out and then you sit down — that’s like a blank 15 seconds.”


Read the full piece from: The Philadelphia Tribune

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Jonathan Butler At Yoshi’s

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Serious Bay Area fans braved heavily snarled traffic on this rainy dark Thursday night for the second set of renowned South African guitarist Jonathan Butler. Now living in warm Southern California, Butler and his potent band flew in the same day for a two night stand at Yoshis in Oakland. Butler's steadfast band consisted of bassist Dan Lutz, drummer Chaun Horton and keyboardist Arlington Jones.

During his introduction, Butler was greeted with appreciative hoots and vocal support from his eager audience. The nightcap gig consisted of "African Moon, Let There Be Light," "Song for E," "Living My Dream," "Sarah Sarah," "Even The Pain," "Lies," "Free JB."

Butler and company opened the set with blistering instrumental rhythms along with his energized vocalese style. The receptive house quickly got into the funky robust groove with jubilant head nodding. Butler performed a song co-written with imminent bassist Marcus Miller to celebrate late bassist (and retired NBA player) Wayman Tisdale. He talked about how early in his career when he met the band members of the Yellowjackets, a group that was a major influence for him. Over his long career, he loved playing Yoshis and considered it a second home.

Butler planned to perform the title track from his CD Free (Mack Avenue, 2015) but after thoughtful consideration, the Cape Town guitarist decided on an inspirational version of Bob Marley's immortal "No Woman No Cry." The entire venue was mesmerized by his soulful and moving delivery. His performance was an uplifting experience and put Freeinto context. Like an old friend and confidant, Butler said we are all "tested" addressing everyone in the room. He talked eloquently and directly about his faith in God and the extreme times he and his family endured including the devastating house fire. As he scooped up his "screaming grand daughter" from the bathtub in his pajamas and with steely focus for his family's safety, he did not notice he was on fire. After receiving medical attention for his burns, he calmly stated the, "The show must go on," and prepared for a photo shoot for the album cover of Free. The long sleeve shirt he wore hid the bandages. During the subsequent tour, he changed his wrappings nightly, "on the road alone." Recounting the last five years, Butler gave additional testimony to these nearly overwhelming trials he faced which also included a second suicide attempt by his son in San Diego.

Audience members stood up and testified. At one point it felt like you were in an intimate neighborhood church celebrating the Creator. Butler turned the Yoshi's stage into an impromptu pulpit, filling the house with words of strength and optimism. As he thanked everyone at the set's conclusion, Butler had ignited a joyous standing ovation from the sanctified attendees.

Jonathan Butler presented an evening of vibrant music and extraordinary personal faith and strength. His resolute spirit informed his music giving it a soulful, undeniable power and depth. The music gave the listeners exuberance and confirmation. Every heart and the heavens were listening tonight.


Read the full piece from: All About Jazz

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