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“NPR Music’s #1 Songs and Albums of July”


Classic-rock songs often turn into cultural signposts for no clear reason — what does this 1969 Blind Faith epic really mean, anyway, with its obtuse lyrics and addictive, endless vamping? The pianist Christian Sands and his trio make the song matter again. Yasushi Nakamura's exploratory bass line opens the way for Sands's touch on the keyboard, at first light, then increasingly driven by Clarence Penn's kicking drum. In their hands, the song is about questing itself: its loneliness and excitement, the determination it requires, the way the final destination ultimately doesn't matter. Music is the best place to find yourself, getting lost. — Ann Powers

Read Article: NPR

Christian Sands – “Be Water”


Barely out of his 20s, Christian Sands is an extraordinarily complete musician. It isn’t just the quality of his playing, although he has the most deft and sensitive touch at the keys; or his compositions, although they are remarkably accomplished for one so young. And it isn’t even his rapid ascent through the ranks of contemporary jazz, which has seen him sharing stages with everyone from Christian McBride to Wynton Marsalis.

No, it’s the fact that he has developed ideas about music from fields as diverse as film and martial arts. Take this new album – his eighth as leader (he recorded his first at the age of 11). “Be water” is no random phrase but a concept that informs Sands’s whole outlook on music and life in general. While studying martial arts, he was struck by a suggestion of Bruce Lee’s – that in order to be an effective fighter, you must be like water, adapting yourself to the shape of whatever vessel you find yourself in.

The analogy with the shape-shifting world of jazz improvisation is pretty obvious. Sands’s style is free-flowing, and even the titles of the tunes on this new album are saturated with the idea of water in all its forms. Accompanied by his long-time bassist Yasushi Nakamura and more recently acquired drummer Clarence Penn, the melodies pour out of every tune. The Keith Jarrett-like Sonar (the way we can communicate under water) features splashy cymbals and bass patterns that follow the piano as closely as a pilot fish follows a shark. One of my own favourite tracks is Crash, in which Sands disguises himself as George Shearing, with a gorgeous swing tune that features a locked-hands refrain.

All the compositions on Be Water are Sands’s own apart from a straightforward rendition of the old Steve Winwood tune Can’t Find My Way Home. The sunny, optimistic Drive features Marcus Strickland switching mid-tune between bass clarinet and tenor saxophone, and – a revelation to me – guitarist Marvin Sewell, who unleashes a blistering solo that sounds uncannily like Elliott Randall on some old Steely Dan LP. Sands has dubbed Sewell “the greatest guitarist you’ve never heard of”, and on this evidence, that’s a pretty accurate description.

The most beautiful tune is Still (as in “Still waters run deep”), an out-of-time meditation that feels like gliding along in a punt on a summer’s afternoon. This impression is aided by subtle sound effects of trickling water and oars creaking in their rowlocks. Here, Sewell delicately brushes the strings of an acoustic guitar in chalk-and-cheese contrast to his work on Drive, as Sands invokes Claude Debussy on the piano.

Elsewhere he is joined for a couple of tracks by Sean Jones (trumpet) and Steve Davis (trombone), and on the stately Be Water II by a string quartet. This tune does a left turn halfway through, as the quartet wanders off into some curious harmonic exploration which the piano ignores, sailing on with its rather formal melody. By rights it should be a film theme. But that’s another story for some other time.

Read Article: London Jazz News

WBGO - “Take Five”


Billy Childs is known for the elegance of his designs; he’s a composer, arranger and producer with a feeling for the dignity of form. But of course, Childs is also a terrific pianist and keyboardist, and sometimes it’s all too easy to let that part of his identity slip to the side. Not so on a new album, Acceptance, which Mack Avenue will release on Aug. 28.

The album finds Childs at the helm of a stellar quartet with saxophonist Steve Wilson, bassist Hans Glawischnig and drummer Eric Harland. On “Leimert Park” — a tribute to the Los Angeles neighborhood home to the World Stage — rhythm serves as a guiding spirit. (It should be no surprise to learn that Childs developed this groove with Paul Jackson, Jr. and Mike Clark, alumni of Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters.) Stick around for a smart Fender Rhodes solo and some phenomenal drum fills over a vamp in fractured meter.

Read Article: WBGO

Christian Sands: Be Water (Mack Avenue)  A review of the pianist’s third album on Mack Avenue


Empty your mind,” Bruce Lee said famously (by way of his friend, screenwriter Stirling Silliphant). “Be formless, shapeless, like water. You put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle … Now water can flow, or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”

Christian Sands, using those words to introduce “Be Water I,” laces the metaphor throughout. I can’t read Sands’ mind, and the quote serves as deliberate mental conditioning, but armed with Lee for philosophy the pianist/composer spends the album mixing, blending, crashing, and flowing both through and around his sidemen and everybody’s ideas. “Be Water I” itself gives us a quiet but forceful stream, underpinned by Yasushi Nakamura on bass and Clarence Penn on drums; but the “I” sets up “Be Water II,” which has the elegance of a Viennese waltz, complete with string quartet (arranged by Miho Hazama).

The title of “Sonar” alludes to peering forward through liquid. Here Sands pushes ahead often, leaving Nakamura to fill in the gaps and Penn to stand off slightly to one side as if dryly amused by the other two. “Drive” opens in several trickles, Sands testing himself alongside guitarist Marvin Sewell’s obstinate staccato, while saxophonist Marcus Strickland is careful to stay modest and soft enough that you lean in to grab what he’s proffering.

“A good martial artist does not become tense, but ready,” Lee expounded in Enter the Dragon (written by Michael Allin). “Not thinking, yet not dreaming. Ready for whatever may come. And when there is an opportunity, I do not hit … It hits all by itself.” Take the fighting advice and transfer it to the yearning for collective consciousness: Sands expands, contracts, finds form in exploration, finds validation.

Read Article: JazzTimes

The Month In Jazz – July 2020


Christian Sands, Be Water (Mack Avenue)

Pianist Christian Sands’ latest album was originally supposed to come out in May, but then jazz caught the ’rona and a bunch of records were delayed. Anyway, it’s out now and it’s really good. The core band features bassist Yasushi Nakamura and drummer Clarence Penn, with guests — trumpeter Sean Jones, trombonist Steve Davis, saxophonist Marcus Strickland, and guitarist Marvin Sewell — showing up here and there. This track, a version of Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home” begins with almost detuned bass thumps, but when Sands strikes the keys, he’s playing in an almost New Orleans rock/R&B style, reminding me of Leon Russell and/or Dr. John. Nakamura’s solo is forceful, like he’s trying to yank his fingers loose of the strings, accompanied by subtle shaken percussion before the piano comes pumping back in. This is a heavy, committed performance from everyone involved, transforming this song into something transcendent.

Read Article: Stereogum

Review: Pianist Christian Sands’ ‘Be Water’ flows freely


This cover image released by Mack Avenue shows "Be Water" by Christian Sands. (Mack Avenue via AP)

Christian Sands, “Be Water” (Mack Avenue)

The metaphor suggested by the title of Christian Sands’ new album is apt.

The jazz pianist says he was trying to be freer and more flexible on “Be Water,” and it shows. The set’s 10 cuts explore a wide range of moods and instrumental combinations, with Sands’ trio at the core.

Much of the material is built on the same pattern of tension and release found in a body of water. That begins with the opening “Intro,” which settles on the tonic chord after nearly four minutes of shimmering undulation.

The reflective “Still,” featuring Marvin Sewell on acoustic guitar, rides a mere ripple of rhythm. On “Be Water II,” a string quartet plays against the lapping beat established by Sands’ piano. Marcus Strickland’s woodwind work makes “Drive” swing as it crests with a cascading electric guitar solo by Sewell.

Sands rarely cuts loose at the piano — his objective isn’t to be splashy — but he takes an active role as the producer, overdubbing extra keyboards and including sound effects and brief recitations by martial artist Bruce Lee. “Water can flow, or it can crash,” Lee says. Forgive the flood of puns, but “Be Water” flows freely.

Read Article: Associated Press

Pianist Christian Sands Leads Valiant Group Through Serenity/Turbulence on ‘Be Water’ (ALBUM REVIEW)


Pianist Christian Sands is fascinated with the element of water – vital to life, surrounding us in so many ways, calm and beautiful and by turns turbulent and devastating. This is his inspiration for his third full-length album on Mack Avenue, Be Water, from the tranquil to the powerful, malleable and unpredictable. The album takes its title from the philosophy of martial arts master and movie star Bruce Lee. Lee appears on both halves of Sands’ title track offering this advice, “Empty your mind. Be formless, shapeless, like water. If you put water in the cup, it becomes the cup; if you put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle…Water can flow, or it can crash. Be water, my friend.” (And, perhaps coincidentally there is a forthcoming movie of the same name but this Is not its soundtrack.)

The evocative recording finds Sands with his core trio of longtime bassist Yasushi Nakamura and drummer Clarence Penn, with an elite cadre of front line players including guitarist Marvin Sewell, (several electric and acoustic guitars),Marcus Strickland (tenor sax, bass clarinet), Sean Jones (trumpet) and Steve Davis (trombone). On one piece the ensemble is also supplemented by a string quartet featuring Sara Caswell, Tomoko Akaboshi, Benni von Gutzeit and Eleanor Norton. Sands plays acoustic piano on every track, layering in keyboards and voice on the opener, Fender Rhodes on four, and Hammond B-3 on “Drive.”

This is a highly conceptual work, rich in visual imagery if one were to close one’s eyes and imagine the context of water in the song. The opener builds gradually, with the glacial pace and implacable momentum of a rising tide. The simple sounds of lapping waves flow into a dawning melody on arco bass, slowly but forcefully surging to a gripping crescendo as more instrumentalists join in. The piece was modeled on the impactful openings of another of Sands’ major influences, filmmaker Quentin Tarantino. The rollicking “Sonar” takes the concept of navigating via sound as a metaphor for the way in which we relate to our surroundings. Lee’s words usher in the chorale-like “Be Water I,” with its interwoven horn lines over Penn’s shifting tempos. This is the first piece where we hear all three horns, one of only two. Its companion piece, “Be Water II,” is an elegant, majestic dance between the trio and the string quartet, arranged by Sands’ Manhattan School of Music classmate Miho Hazama.

Propelled by Penn’s driving rhythm, “Crash” depicts the impact of waves on the shore, or the collisions among people. It has a nice flowing, repetitive rhythm that builds to a climax with a resounding chord that does great justice to the word ‘crash’. The funky, syncopated “Drive” peers within, imagining personal ambition with the unstoppable force of the ocean, driven by emphatic bass and drums and summoning ferocious solos from Strickland on tenor and Sewell’s jaw-dropping entrance and subsequent solo on his custom slide while Sands dances all over the piano. This piece is explosive! a world apart from Sands’ “Intro” and some of the quieter pieces that follow.

The amorphous “Steam” by its very nature proves to be elusive; abstract and improvisational and highlighting the superb drumming of Penn and bass playing of Nakamura as they respond to Sands’ thrust or engage in their own two-way dialogue. The choice of the lone cover, Steve Winwood’s “Can’t Find My Way Home,” is an interesting one, apparently derived from water’s ability to travel ridiculous distances or begin in the clouds only to fall to earth. This is another trio piece with Nakamura’s prominent Arco bass, Sands’ scintillating piano and Penn’s driving beats. The gospel-tinged take builds to a fast, exuberant tempo midpiece before receding quietly like (dare we say ‘water’). The unlikely pairing of Sewell’s expressive guitar and Sands’ evanescent touch evokes a tranquil lake, reflecting a clear blue sky and gliding birds on “Still.” The fanfare-like “Outro” playfully reverses the “Intro,” ending the album on a cinematically celebratory note, as if a rushing waterfall in spring, as all three horns rejoin the trio, along with Sewell.

Sands delivers a stunning piece of music, with so many passages of sheer beauty countered by captivating moments of unyielding power. It’s a true testament to his imagination and talent. You may never think of water the same way again.

Read Article: Glide Magazine

Podcast 750: A Conversation with Christian Sands


It’s been a pleasure to watch pianist Christian Sands grow as a composer, musician and bandleader. By the time he was ready to graduate from Manhattan School of Music, he had released three trio albums and been nominated for a Latin Grammy as part of the School’s Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra, led by Bobby Sanabria. Tabbed by Christian McBride to be part of his quintet Insight Straight, Sands quickly became known as one of finest young pianists of his generation.

Be Water is his fourth release on the Mack Avenue label, and it finds him to mature as an artist. His compositions show him willing to take chances, and the band he has assembled for the sessions is top notch. Anchored by long-time collaborator Yasushi Nakamura (bass) and drummer Clarence Penn, he continues to bring in ace players like guitarist Marvin Sewell, saxophonist Marcus Strickland, trumpeter Sean Jones and trombonist Steve Davis. On one piece, the ensemble is supplemented by a string quartet featuring Sara Caswell, Tomoko Akaboshi, Benni von Gutzeit and Eleanor Norton.

Sands is more than just a top jazz musician – he is a jazz fan. Out conversation is peppered with his enthusiasm for his musicians, and for others he he has had a chance to work with, including drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr. and singer Gregory Porter. Further, he has spent much of the past few years helping preserve the legacy of pianist Erroll Garner, both by performing Garner’s works with his High-Wire Trio (with bassist Luques Curtis, and drummer Terreon Gully) and serving as Creative Ambassador for the Erroll Garner Jazz Project at the University of Pittsburgh.

Podcast 750 is my conversation with Christian Sands, as we talk about his many projects, including the making of Be Water. Musical selections from the album include one of two songs entitled “Be Water”, plus “Still”, a tune featuring Marvin Sewell, and a cover of the Blind Faith classic “Can’t Find My Way Home.” From Nat King Cole & Me, his recording with Gregory Porter, comes “Pick Yourself Up.”

Article and Podcast: Straight No Chaser



It’s been said that everyone should own at least one Erroll Garner recording and for most people that will be his magnum opus `Concert by the Sea`. After that, adding any one of his remaining albums would be sufficient to bottle his magic except for completists who are compelled to hang on every note. If you are one of those then it’s your birthday because Mack Avenue are in the process of re-issuing twelve of his later albums and the first of these to come my way is his final studio album, recorded four years before his untimely death at the age of 55.

So much has been written about Garner over the years, so much praise heaped on him that all analyses of his style have become clichéd and all superlatives exhausted but perhaps his most perceptive critic was the writer who rather irreverently described him as `a brilliant deceiver`. The American jazz columnist Whitney Balliett, writing in the 1960’s, felt that though Garner’s brilliance remained undiminished throughout his career his style remained essentially the same with his later work “toppling over into self-parody” and that he approached each melody as though it was a “hat-rack” on which to drape familiar mannerisms. Garner’s admirers would never agree to such an assessment but there can be no doubt that his playing was formulaic notwithstanding the energy and ingenuity he invested in each performance. But, as his most enthusiastic adherents might say, “What a formula!”

All the familiar features of his style are on display here from the teasing opening cadenzas which miraculously segue into chugging versions of songbook favourites, the hair-raising dynamics and nerve tingling tremolos, the layers of neo-baroque improvisation overlaid with expressive vocalisations: a sound so rich and monumental that bass and percussion is almost rendered redundant.

Apart from being Erroll’s studio swansong this session is significant that the playlist includes four self-penned originals apart from the usual a slew of standards. Of these a gospel inflected tune, `One Good Turn` utilises organ cadences and tambourine to enhanced atmospheric effect whilst elsewhere the combined percussive forces of the estimable Grady Tate, the hugely dependable, Bob Cranshaw and the propulsive Jose Mangual add an extra dimension of forward momentum to the ever driving mix.

The set opens with Bacharach and David’s `Close to You`, a lachrymose pop hit, which is redeemed with a beneficial shot of rhythmical testosterone, and closes with a bouncy original that wasn’t included in the original album – the sleeve notes of which can be accessed by In between there are tunes by Kern, Gershwin and other Tin Pan Alley notables, making for a nicely balanced, well recorded session that also stands as testimony to the talents of its original producer and civil rights pioneer, the late Martha Glaser.

Read Article: Jazz News

Premiere: John Beasley’s MONK’estra Interprets ‘Come Sunday’


Originally a part of Duke Ellington’s Black, Brown And Beige, the composition “Come Sunday” has taken on a life of its own during the past several decades. And bandleader John Beasley has included the tune on his upcoming album, MONK’estra Plays John Beasley, set for release Aug. 21 on Mack Avenue.

The tune, which features classical baritone Jubilant Sykes, is undergirded by a passionate wash of color, making use of a lyric that’s as salient today as when it was written in 1942.

“I wrote the arrangement of ‘Come Sunday’ shortly after re-reading To Kill a Mockingbird, and it was sort of like scoring that movie for me,” Beasley said. “We’re still struggling with the same issues of justice as in that book, and I hope this arrangement tells a musical story of hope; the hope that African Americans put in their music, and the hope that they share for the future of this country to strive for equality.”

The version here, Beasley said, leans on the idea that Gospel music has reached generations of jazz players, including Ellington and John Coltrane. Whatever the lens, Beasley’s arrangement, replete with a burning saxophone feature toward the final third of the piece, summons the spirit, exaltation and perseverance present in Duke’s original. DB

Read Article: DownBeat

Christian McBride on racism, outrage, hope — and the beauty of jazz


Christian McBride’s list of roles and achievements is nearly endless.

The bassist, composer, arranger and bandleader is a six-time Grammy winner who has recorded 16 albums of his own while appearing on more than 300 recordings as a sideman. He’s also an educator and broadcaster, and he currently serves as the artistic director of the Newport Jazz Festival.

For a long time, McBride has been a voice for social justice. His most recent album, The Movement Revisited, represents his personal dedication to justice with sonic representations of four key figures of the civil rights movement: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Rosa Parks and Muhammad Ali.

McBride joined us for a conversation about what’s going on in the world right now — in particular, the George Floyd protests demanding racial justice across the U.S. and beyond — and about the details of his latest musical projects.

You just celebrated your 48th birthday this past weekend. Happy belated birthday.

Thank you.

I’m guessing it’s one you won’t soon forget.

It was definitely a day of mixed emotions. My mom still lives in Philadelphia, and Sunday evening was when the riots really went up a notch. I spent my whole birthday worried about my mom and all my friends down in Philly.

You’ve been in this for a long time. I understand you were part of a town hall in the Bill Clinton era. So, it’s been almost 25 years, four administrations. I’m wondering if you feel that there’s anything different about what’s happening right now.

I’ve now remembered at least seven or eight major riots and incidents where there’s been some example — and, in many cases, documented examples — of a Black person being killed by the police. Very well-known incidents with Michael Brown, Philando Castile, all the way back to Rodney King, who was not murdered but almost beaten to death, and caught on camera. After all of those incidents, there was always some uproar. The cycle always happens. There’s the outrage, then there’s a riot, and then there’s a healing process. You get everybody from politicians to your everyday citizens saying, “We’ve got to do a better job. We’re going to do a better job. We all need to come together.” And then at some point, everyone goes back to hugging and kissing and we go back to what we had always been doing. However, this really does seem a lot different, and I think it had to do with not just brother [George] Floyd being killed, but that coupled with the Amy Cooper video in Central Park. I think those two things happening back to back… Now, the outrage is genuinely across the board.

You are seeing things in all 50 states. It’s usually particular cities that take the lead. But it really does seem like it’s everywhere. Even here in Toronto, we had a huge demonstration. It’s global, beyond the United States.

I did an interview this morning with a Swedish radio station, and they have protests going on over there.

Are you hopeful?

I think you have to be. If you’re not hopeful, you’re going to live a life of manic depression and pain and anger. You don’t want to live like that. You always have to hope and be the best you can be … At this point, I am so uninterested in what people have to say. I want them to do. I don’t really need to know your outrage. Show me your outrage by changing your behaviour if you need to change it. That’s really all I care about.

George Wein, the longtime head of the Newport Jazz Festival, put out a beautiful statement a couple days ago. Talk to me a bit about that man and what he said.

He’ll be 95 on his next birthday in October. Here’s a man who was in an interracial marriage, travelling through the Jim Crow south when it wasn’t legal. Often you would see a Black man with a white woman; in this case it was a white man with a Black woman. He has seen and experienced discrimination, hatred and racism in his own life. [With] him trying to start a jazz festival in places like New Orleans, which is like the cradle of American musical culture … all the way up to Newport, which is a blue-chip, rich, almost all-white town, George Wein has seen and done it all. That’s one of the beautiful things about music: Notes are sound waves, and those don’t have a colour. A B-flat is just a B-flat. You could have your own little biases on the person who’s playing that B-flat, but the note itself has no colour. That’s why jazz is so beautiful. You have to have empathy when you’re improvising with another group of musicians. So, whatever biases you may have, they go away once you start making music. You have to listen, you have to pay attention, you have to react, you have to respect what that person’s playing. If you choose not to, it’s not going to sound good and no one’s ever going to want to play with you. That’s the beauty of specifically playing jazz. You have to be empathetic.

Amid everything else, how have you and your family been managing over these last few months? Have you found some joy in it all?

We found a lot of joy in this. We obviously don’t like the reason why we’ve had to stay at home — this deadly pandemic that still isn’t over — but we’ve been taking this time to really work on ourselves. My wife Melissa Walker, she’s been moving everything from Jazz House Kids online, like everyone is doing now. The whole world is one big Zoom chat, day after day. We’re planning our annual gala, which is of course going to be virtual. Same thing with the Newport Jazz Festival — we’re planning something. But we’ve actually enjoyed our time at home. It’s nice to not have to rush to an airport for the first time in my life.

On your social media, you’re doing “the week ahead,” and when I watch it, it sounds like that apartment is going 24/7. You’ve got so many things on your plate. It hasn’t slowed you down that much.

I think anyone could probably make a video like that. We’re all hustling and working hard trying to regroup our lives and put it online. I just happen to be officially involved with a couple of different organizations, and I have to get the word out. We’re all hustling, trying to make it happen.

You just released The Movement Revisited in February, but you also have something new coming as well, a big-band recording called For Jimmy, Wes and Oliver. Tell me a little bit about that. Of all the people on which to put a spotlight, why did these three become the ones you targeted?

Because of Joey DeFrancesco. He’s my oldest friend in music. We’ve known each other since middle school. And for as close as we were growing up as kids, we never really made a full album before. Couple of tracks here and there, but never have we sunk our teeth into a real, serious, full-scale project. So, we played together on the Jazz Cruise a couple years ago, and we just sat down and said hey man, let’s stop messing around. Let’s really do this. And it just seemed natural to salute those two great records that Jimmy Smith and Wes Montgomery did together with Oliver Nelson’s big band. Joey is the heir to Jimmy Smith’s throne — I don’t think there’s any argument about that. He’s our greatest living organ player. And I wish I could be as good as Oliver Nelson with the pen. So we thought, who could play the Wes Montgomery role? And again, Mark Woodfield is another of our oldest friends. It just seemed to be the right thing to do. We didn’t exactly do all of the songs from the Jimmy and Wes recordings — just a few, and then I wrote some new arrangements and a couple of originals. It’s a salute, but we’re not exclusively playing music from their albums.

Is there anything else in the pipeline?

Not of my own, but there are two releases coming out. The reunion of the original Joshua Redman Quartet with myself, Brad Mehldau and Brian Blade, that’s coming out on Nonesuch. And then in January, the next release on my imprint, Brother Mister Productions, is Dan Wilson’s new project, and I produced it.

Read Article: JAZZ.FM91

Exclusive Premiere from the Upcoming Christian Sands Album Be Water


Here’s an exclusive premiere of a song performed by pianist Christian Sands for his upcoming album Be Water. Bassist Yasushi Nakamura and drummer Clarence Penn join Sands for this trio performance of “Can’t Find My Way Home,” a Stevie Winwood composition that Winwood recorded with Blind Faith in 1969. Haunting and heartfelt, the song was the highlight of that album, and this interpretation, which plays the melody straight, reminds us what a beautiful melody that is.

Be Water comes out on July 17 on the Mack Avenue label. Guest artists include Marcus Strickland, Sean Jones, Yasushi Nakamura, Clarence Penn, Marvin Sewell, and Steve Davis. Christian Sands’ resume includes his tenure with Christian McBride’s Inside Straight and the Christian McBride Trio—both high-profile gigs with some of the finest players in jazz. This trio performance helps illustrate why Christian Sands is a core member of those groups.

Read Article: The Absolute Sound

Jazz Album Review: Pianist Erroll Garner — The Best Tunes Played With Mucho Gusto


There’s a back story to these 12 reissues of pianist Erroll Garner’s recordings, listed here in the approximate order of their release. The first in the series, Dreamstreet, was recorded over two consecutive nights in December 1959, four years after Garner’s historic (and almost hysterically) popular Columbia recording, Concert by the Sea. It took two years for Dreamstreet to be issued and, when it was, the disc appeared on Garner’s own Octave Records. What happened? Garner had decided to take up struggle “for control of his own catalog,” He was contending with Columbia Records, the giant in the field — the corporation whose recordings had made him a star. It was an admirably daring move on Garner’s part, but self-determination was an integral part of his makeup.

The notes to Dreamstreet were written by his longtime manager Martha Glaser. They suggest (indirectly) what Garner had gone through and the reasons why the battle had been worth it. We are told that Garner won by NOT walking into a studio: “After a history-making hiatus from recording, Garner is here, playing, with the greatest freedom of his noteworthy recording career. These sides embody some of the most spirited, inventive, and moving Garner performances ever recorded. Garner had unprecedented freedom in recording these works, a circumstance for which he, as a prolific improviser, has long striven. Time was no factor: there was room to experiment stretch out, and just ‘blow’ — with complete surety that no material would be released without his personal approval.” On the first of two nights of recording, he and his mates, Eddie Calhoun on bass and Kelly Martin on drums, played from 10 p.m. to 6:30 the next morning. Garner missed the studio. And, for once, time was no factor.

Legends grew up around the obviously feisty Garner: he was 5 foot two and was said to perform on a stack of telephone books. (A paper tower that isn’t visible in any of the photos I have seen of him.) The pianist couldn’t read music, or at least he said he couldn’t, which was not necessarily a desirable failing in the bebop era. But the fact that he ‘played from his head’ helped endear him to the crowds that attended his concerts. Fans also loved how he accompanied his improvisations with grunting vocals. He interacted with listeners in other distinctively winning ways. When I bought his album Closeup in Swing in 1961 what initially stood out were his elaborate musical introductions. He would start out confidently and proceed at length, but it often was not at all clear what tune he was going to play. When, after a long excursion, he finally hit the familiar melody, whether it was “Just One of Those Things” or “Sweet Lorraine,” the audience would laugh and clap delightedly. It was as if he was playing peek-a-boo with a child — an amusingly mischievous relationship was established.

He was undeniably exuberant as a pianist, given to stomping chords, roiling tremolos, and sudden drops in volume. He liked to play melodies in a hush. His left hand would chomp out a steady four four rhythm that always sounded a little rushed — as if it were late for a train. Meanwhile, he would be inventing melodies, interrupting them with thumps and grandiose gestures, double time passages in octaves, or icy single note lines. He marked the end of choruses with huge crescendos, which were inevitably followed by a drop to a pianissimo. His style was all about big contrasts. He begins “St Louis Blues” (on Closeup in Swing) with a stabbing series of chords that could have been made by a pile driver. Then he states the first section of W.C. Handy’s celebrated piece in Latin style. Then he reverts to a still more aggressive four/four, at the point in the song when a singer is telling us she hates to see the evening sun go down.

Of course, his repertoire included his own compositions — he was the composer of “Misty” — but mostly he played a succession of well known standards and show tunes, such as the medley from Oklahoma on Dreamstreet. He famously recorded a West Coast session with Charlie Parker, but he tended to bypass the bop or hard bop repertoire: it would be hard to sound less like Bud Powell than Garner does. Still, later on, in his own way, he latched onto a few jazz hits, including Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man” and Jobim’s “The Girl From Ipanema” (both on Up in Erroll’s Room). Overall, though, his repertoire could also have been played by Louis Armstrong, or by a swing musician such as Lester Young: many songs found here were played by both. (An exception is Blood, Sweat and Tears’ “Spinning Wheel,” found on Feeling is Believing.)

Garner was born in Pittsburgh in 1921. He passed away from heart trouble in 1977. He was a twin, but the serious musical competition in his family of six kids was big brother Linton, a pianist who in 1946 started recording with the famous Billy Eckstine Orchestra. By then, the mostly self-taught Erroll, after a mini-career as what Charles Dickens would have called an infant prodigy, had moved to New York City. The first recordings that have survived were made in the home of Timmie Rosencrantz. They were once available on Classics as Erroll Garner 1944 and 1944, Volume Two. (Other early recordings are on the Complete Savoy Masters.) His trio was a hit soon after he arrived in Manhattan. He got around. In 1945 he recorded with bands led by Slam Stewart, Georgie Auld (featuring Dizzy Gillespie) and, most impressively, saxophonist Don Byas. He moved to California and recorded with the progressive band of Boyd Raeburn, with a newly reconstituted trio and, on February 17, 1947, performed with the Charlie Parker band that made “Cool Blues” and that supported the booming singer Earl Coleman on “This is Always.” By 1950, he was signed by Columbia Records: they re-recorded his “Misty” with an orchestra conducted by Mitch Miller. With Columbia, he made a number of successful recordings, including Paris Impressions.

Nonetheless, by the ’60s, he was on his own, as he desired to be. I doubt that he ever looked back. (I am not sure I’d be able to distinguish his Columbia style from the way he was playing for his own label, but it must have felt different for him.) What Octave has done is take 12 Garner LPs, re-master them expertly, and added some previously unreleased cuts. Now Playing, One World Concert, Dreamstreet, and Campus Concert are trio recordings: on Gemini the trio is augmented by José Mangual on congas. To me, the trio setting seems most natural to Garner — though his rhythm section has to spend a lot of time discreetly waiting for him to get to the tunes. A New Kind of Love gives us Garner playing (mostly) the score for the film of the same name. The movie stars Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, and the session features Garner with an orchestra conducted by Leith Stevens. Veteran arranger Pete Rugolo did some of the arrangements, as in Garner’s version of “Mimi.” Interestingly, and perhaps because he is driven by a large group, Garner sounds less eccentric here, less distinctive then he does on his trio sets. Yet this is a fine collection of tunes, five composed by Garner. The idea was to showcase the pianist’s compositions, but my favorite cut is the delightfully gentle swing of the title track, “You Brought a New Kind of Love to Me,” introduced to the jazz world in 1930 by Ethel Waters. The tune never disappeared, with later recordings coming from Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Peggy Lee. Garner’s instrumental version is in that league.

Garner is back to his grunting self on That’s My Kick, in front of a band that includes a rhythm guitar, multiple percussionists, and the veteran bassist Milt Hinton. I rather like Garner’s witty composition, “Nervous Waltz.” The first notes we hear on Up in Erroll’s Room are by the bassist, who sets up the groundwork for “Watermelon Man.” Here, Garner is joined by a brass choir. In one introduction the pianist seems to be making a mambo out of “I Got Rhythm.” That is followed by “True Blues,” which is striking because it points out how few blues Garner recorded. Feeling is Believing puts a great bassist, George Duvivier, in a supporting role, and offers an expanded rhythm section. They play an uptempo “Strangers in the Night” and, with unusual daintiness, Garner’s “Mood Island.” The album Magician contains another notable blues, “It Gets Better Every Time,” along with an occasional use of Norman Gold’s organ. Finally, there’s a collection of American classics, Gershwin and Kern, tunes recorded at various times in the ’60s and first collected and issued in 1976.

Thanks to Octave and Mack Avenue, a significant section of Garner’s storied career is back, sounding better than ever before. It’s hard to sum up his appeal. Garner is mannered; his style barely budged once it was set in the ’50s. Yet the pianist is always having a ball and that exhilaration is infectious. Listeners know that he plays the best tunes, and he does so, as one of his titles suggests, with mucho gusto.

Read Article: Arts Fuse

Album reviews with Ian Sinclair: June 22, 2020


Erroll Garner
Feeling Is Believing
(Octave Music)

BEST-known for his best-selling and swinging 1955 live record Concert By The Sea, US jazz pianist Erroll Garner was a legend in his own lifetime, though arguably he never quite received the critical acclaim he deserved.

A 1970 album of reinterpretations of popular songs, Feeling Is Believing is one of 12 Garner albums being restored and rereleased and it will hopefully raise the profile of the self-taught maestro a little. The song choices, such as The Look Of Love and The Supremes’ You Turned Me Around, very much feel like an attempt to stay relevant.

But what could have been embarrassing turns out to be a wonderful showcase of Garner’s distinctive talent, with his playing inventive, lively and accessible. The Beatles’ Yesterday is transformed into a bluesy stomp, while he blasts through Stevie Wonder’s For Once In My Life.
A joyous set.

Read Article: The Morning Star

Watch Pianist Harold López-Nussa Re-Contextualize “Windmills of Your Mind” (Video Premiere)


Pianist Harold López-Nussa’s forthcoming album Te Lo Dije, due out August 28 on Mack Avenue Records, takes its name for the Spanish equivalent of the English phrase “I told you so.” It’s a fitting title, because if you haven’t started paying attention to this Cuban keyboard sensation yet, you better start soon. He’s already released two phenomenal albums on the Mack Avenue label — Un Dia Cualquiera and El Viaje — and with his latest, he is poised to position himself among the top ranks of modern jazz pianists. So if you blink and next thing you know he’s a superstar, well … te lo dije.

Musically, Te Lo Dije is all about bridging the gap between jazz and Cuban pop music, an audacious project, but one that his working ensemble — with drummer Ruy Adrián López-Nussa, bassist Julio César González and trumpeter Mayquel González — rose to the challenge to accept. When I first told the guys that I wanted to mix reggaeton with jazz they looked at me like, ‘Are you crazy or what?’” López-Nussa saidin a press statement. “They have nothing in common. The same with Mozambigue or Songo. But I told them it would work.”

And work it does. Songo, Mozambigue, Son Montuno — from a panoply of styles López-Nussa is able to fashion a completely new and totally original musical aesthetic. Even contemporary reggaeton finds a place in his patchwork of sounds, with all of it enlivened by the fleet-fingered jazz style that has become his signature. Te Lo Dije also benefits from the inclusion of a number of special guests, including Afro-Cuban funk superstar Cimafunk; singer Randy Malcom of famed Cuban reggaeton band Gente de Zona; and vocalist Kelvis Ochoa, another longtime collaborator.

Award-winning French accordionist Vincent Peirani appears on the group’s version of “Windmills of Your Mind,” which has its video premiere here. The tune is a nod to López- Nussa’s French ancestry, and for his fondness of the composer Michel Legrand, who composed the score for the 1968 film The Thomas Crown Affair

López-Nussa’s arrangement preserves the swirling sense of mystery and longing at the song’s core, but injects it with a healthy dose of groove courtesy of a propulsive piano ostinato, a searing solo by Pierani and some white-hot cajon work from Ruy Adrian López-Nussa. Stick around until the end of the video for the funky, chopped-up breakdown, in which the group pivots hard and fast toward a new groove. It’s a bracing and pleasant surprise, as if the tune’s energy suddenly explodes out of its original container.

Te Lo Dije is available for pre-order on the Mack Avenue website. More information on Harold Lopez-Nussa can be found here.

Read Article: Jazziz

Connie Han: Iron Starlet (Mack Avenue) - A review of the pianist’s third album


Trumpeter Jeremy Pelt and sax man Walter Smith III wander in and out of this set, anchored by the leader’s piano and Rhodes, Ivan Taylor’s bass, and drummer/producer Bill Wysaske, who discovered Han when she was 14 at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. Drummer and pianist have worked together ever since then, although Wysaske, much to his credit, doesn’t try to horn in on or thump over the others—though he does contribute the original tunes that Han doesn’t. Indeed, the overall theme of this record (Han’s third, and second on Mack Avenue) reads as respect. Nobody stomps, nobody shouts, and nobody gets in anybody else’s way. The acolyte manifests respect to the master second by second, and the master gives a short, but not curt, nod: Stoke the groove and solve problems.

Han’s got the discipline to edit herself too: The second track, Wysaske’s “Nova,” doesn’t explode like a supernova but burns low like a star making a dignified exit. On the Rhodes, she dials her left hand down to a pilot light, accentuating the plaintive pinging from her right fingers. Smith and Pelt, when they turn up, spend a pleasing percentage of their time riffing off each other: one throwing out a figure, the other sailing deftly through the spaces left by the first. I’m reminded of Eric Dolphy’s exchanges with, say, Freddie Hubbard, but with more breathing room between standpoints, and wider intervals between notes. Relax, everybody seems to say. Relax, but focus. Stay with the beat, stay disciplined, and we’ll make it all the way home.

Read Article: Jazz Times

Songs of Hope and Persistence by Jon Batiste, Christian McBride, Nicole Mitchell and More


Another link to the freedom struggle of the 1960s can be found in a new single by bassist Christian McBride, “Medgar Evers Blues.” For those who may not know, Evers was a civil rights activist and war veteran who died in 1963 at the hands of a white supremacist in Mississippi. (Friday was the anniversary of his death.)

The song was composed by guitarist Mark Whitfield, who introduced it on his 1990 debut album, The Marksman. Whitfield is featured on the melody in this new version, the second single from a forthcoming album by the Christian McBride Big Band. Both McBride and Whitfield were part of a wave of so-called Young Lions in the early 1990s — and so too was organist Joey DeFrancesco, who joins them in the rhythm section along with drummer Quincy Phillips.

For Jimmy, Wes and Oliver will be released on Mack Avenue Records on Sept. 25; preorder here.

Read Article: WBGO

“On the Turntable” — Christian McBride’s The Movement Revisited: A Musical Portrait of Four Icons


Just as it did during the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War protests, music is playing an important political and inspirational role in the Black Lives Matter movement and the worldwide protests in support of it. As of this writing, the two-day old, 65 song “Black Lives Matter” playlist on Spotify already numbers almost one million followers, and features artists from four generations, including James Brown, Billie Holiday, Sam Cooke, Nina Simone, Bob Marley, Gil Scott-Heron, N.W.A., Public Enemy, Kendrick Lamar, Esperanza Spalding, Nipsey Hussle, Ludacris, and Killer Mike. The list’s diversity of musical styles shares the common theme of exposing and fighting the systemic racism that for too long as been a centerpiece of America’s story.

In light of this, a jazz recording that has caught my ear is Christian McBride’s The Movement Revisited: A Musical Portrait of Four Icons, an hour-long suite of recreated oral history and McBride’s original, interpretive music. (The album was recorded in 2013 but released by Mack Avenue Records for the first time earlier this year).

The top bass player of his generation, McBride’s suite is comprised of notable quotations by four of the civil rights era’s most important leaders – Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, and Martin Luther King – interspersed with compelling, often powerful music performed by an impressive array of revered jazz musicians and the gospel choir Voices of the Flame. The result is political, of course, but it is also a poetic, theatrical, spiritual, and spirited reminder of how far we have come, and how far we have to go.

It remains to be seen if this album will ever be viewed as a cultural force in the way those on the Spotify list are, although given the extent of this era’s protests it is entirely possible. Regardless, McBride has done important work here, and at the very least it is a meaningful addition to any “Black Lives Matter” playlist.

Read Article: Jerry Jazz Musician

Connie Han Iron Starlet


It’s rather rare for serious jazz musicians to market themselves the way pianist/composer Connie Han does on her second album, Iron Starlet. If one were to view the press photos, let alone those in the CD, one might think they promote a dominatrix. No matter: most of you are listening digitally these days anyway. Han’s music is attention-getting regardless. She drew raves with her 2018 debut Crime Zone, and now the 23-year-old pianist/ composer returns with a fierce set of tunes that pays respect to her forbearers like the late McCoy Tyner and Hank Jones to the Young Lion period artists spearheaded by the Marsalis brothers, Kenny Kirkland and Jeff “Tain” Watts, among others. Han expresses it this way, “The intention of this music is to continue a legacy of tough, primal, raw but still intellectually engaging straight-ahead jazz. I am an aspiring star in this music, but I am not a naïve, uncertain girl that people wrongly associate with that term.” So, that’s the gist of the album title, an iron-clad star who easily repels sniping, stereotypical quips. She’s not fooling around.

The toughness she references is rooted in the rhythm section, anchored by Han, bassist Ivan Taylor and drummer/producer Bill Wysaske, who also composed three selections. Han wrote five and two are covers. Veteran saxophonist Walter Smith III returns from the debut and is joined on the front line by trumpeter Jeremy Pelt to provide a mix of grit and sophistication – that fine line that Han insists on treading, fueled by the piano-drum partnership with Wysaske that has been in place for years and keeps evolving.

The title track opens as Wysacke’s percussive barrage paves the way for Pelt’s Freddie Hubbard-like trumpet entrance, segueing to Han’s relentless solo, propelled by a dialogue with the drummer. “Nova,” a live set staple, has Han on the Rhodes for an intricate, constantly shifting tune. As an aside, some of these titles like “Mr. Dominator,” “Boy Toy,” and “Dark Chambers” do seem to play into those alluring cover photos but we’ll let that ride and return to the music. The former is a nod to the Jones brothers, Hank and Thad. The swinging “Boy Toy” is a Wysaske composition and ‘Dark Chambers” is an aggressive tune recalling the groove of Kirkland’s “Chambers of Tain” from Wynton Marsalis’ Black Codes (From the Underground), a seminal album for this band and its music.

Han’s percussive piano style on “For the O.G.” is a direct nod to the late McCoy Tyner. “I don’t think anyone else did as much for the modern jazz piano as McCoy Tyner did,” Han says. “He really pushed the instrument forward as a percussive and interactive instrument, especially in tandem with the drums. Plenty of other piano players in the history were known for playing a lot of piano, but when McCoy Tyner plays, he’s able to be aggressive and full while also inspiring the rhythm section and provoking the drummer to react. I did my best to showcase my admiration in this tune.”

They take Joe Chambers’ “Hello to the Wind,” with Han again on Rhodes, to exploratory heights, injecting snippets of show tunes and themes from the Simpsons composer Alf Clausen. The standard “Detour Ahead” reveals her more delicate expressive side. “Captain’s Tune” carries a gentle sway as does the jazz waltz “The Forsaken,” showcasing Han’s nimbleness on the keys, supported by Taylor’s cushioning bass and Wysacke’s brush finesse.

“This band can go from the blues to the esoteric,” she says. “But we always strive to bring out the darkness, grit and depth in this music as much as possible. Those are the elements that we’re inspired by and the values that we hold quite dear.” Make no mistake. Han and band have the requisite chops and then some. This is straight-ahead jazz, inspired by tradition.

—Jim Hynes

Read Article: Elmore Magazine

Filled with the sound of Rachel Therrien, Connie Han, Al Gold, a Popcorn Blues Party and more


Connie Han says her music is “tough, primal, raw but still intellectually engaging.” She’s not kidding. An exquisite pianist in the McCoy Tyner mold, she also plays the hell of the Fender Rhodes keyboard. The follow-up to the outrageous potential of her 2018 Crime Zone debut, Iron Starlet (Mack Avenue Music Group) is what she is. A new voice for a not only a new generation, but for the generations who lived through the fusion and bebop revolutions, she’s also a bandleader of a dream quintet with bassist Ivan Taylor, drummer/producer Bill Wysaske, sax man Walter Smith III and trumpeter Jeremy Pelt (the new Freddie Hubbard!). Highlights include the 1948 jazz standard “Detour Ahead,” Han’s jazz waltz “The Forsaken” and a roots-reverent cover of “Chambers Of Tain” off Black Codes From The Underground, the Wynton Marsalis album that fueled the ‘80s New Traditionalist movement.

Read Article: Goldmine

Erroll Garner – Feeling is Believing (Octave/Mack Avenue)


Fame is a fickle and frequently finite condition for artists of any idiom. Pianist Erroll Garner experienced his fair share of notoriety over a thirty-year career, peaking with the release of Concert by the Sea on Columbia in 1955 and what would become a million made in record sales. Rooted in swing, his popular, but personalized keyboard style was flexible enough to embrace the advent of bebop and the primacy of pop. Feeling is Believing comes from the latter end of that spectrum and finds Garner trying to retain relevancy by embracing a selection of au courant songs alongside original compositions. Cobbled together from six recording sessions, the album is also evidence of Garner searching for the right combinations of players for the circumstances. What the album cedes in a constancy of personnel, it recoups in variety of sound.

Garner’s piano is a fixed ingredient, but the rhythm section chairs are revolving, involving George Duvivier and Gerald Jemmott on bass, and Jimmie Smith, Joe Cocuzzo, and Charlie Persip on drums. Conguero Jose Mangual lends skins and percolating textures that further date the project to its 1969 origins. Garner’s “For Once in My Life” kicks the set off with a jaunty collision of block chords that sounds more like Jaki Byard than its composer before locking in a Mangual-accented rolling groove anchored on Duvivier’s unflappable strolling bass line. Lennon and McCartney’s “Yesterday” arrives as the first of the pop song retoolings, equal parts cascading two handed dexterity and cocktail cool, with Garner adding unintelligible mutterings atop his deft keystroke musings.

“You Turned Me Around” is both the longest and elaborate of the originals. An uncredited guitarist strums chords in concert with Jemmott’s bulbous electric bass fills and Smith’s barely-there drum accents. Mangual’s palms percolate, and the combinative results gel into a robust groove for Garner to glide up and down the keyboard around. “Mood Island” brings in some lightly Latin-spiced exotica while a boogaloo-stamped cover of Blood, Sweat & Tears’ “Spinning Wheel” and the old amorous staple “Strangers in the Night” are similarly suited to the feeling of a relaxed cigarette-scented club recital. Co-curated by the Octave and Mack Avenue labels, the Garner reissue program is now up to a dozen releases. Each is worth revisiting and offers proof that even when rock and pop had made major label outings by his peers less common, he was still sustaining enviable degree of productivity.

Derek Taylor

Read Article: Dusted Magazine



Broadening its efforts to aid musicians following the collapse of the live music business in the wake of the international pandemic, the Jazz Foundation of America has assembled a consortium of record labels, online music outlets, and charitable foundations to provide donations for its COVID-19 Musicians’ Emergency Fund.

Blue Note Records, Concord Jazz, Mack Avenue Records, the Verve Label Group, and Warner Music Group along with Amazon Music and Apple Music, have contributed to the 31-year-old non-profit organization’s COVID-19 Musicians’ Emergency Fund, which has raised more than $1 million since its inauguration in March.

The JFA brought its fundraising efforts to the public nationwide with “#TheNewGig COVID-19 Musicians’ Emergency Fund Concert,” an online benefit this month featuring performances by Elvis Costello, Sheryl Crow, Robert Cray, Donald Fagen, Herbie Hancock, Patti Smith, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Stanley Jordan, Ivan Neville, Kim Wilson, Angelique Kidjo, Milton Nascimento, and other notable artists.

JFA Executive Director Joe Petrucelli says of the consortium initiative, “We deeply appreciate the commitment of these companies to channel their resources to support vulnerable artists through the Jazz Foundation’s relief program at such a critical time.”

Denny Stilwell, President of Mack Avenue Records spearheaded the effort, convening biweekly meetings of industry executives starting at the beginning of April to address the urgent needs facing musicians. Stilwell says, “These are unprecedented circumstances that call for extraordinary actions and creative solutions. It’s heartening to see jazz industry leaders come together like this to support our creative community. It's important to us all, and we want to make a difference.”

According to Blue Note President Don Was, “We are proud to have contributed to the COVID-19 Musicians’ Emergency Fund and will continue to bolster jazz musicians through this time of upheaval and a future of uncertainty for live performances. These musicians are so deserving of our support, and there’s lots more to come.”

Petrucelli notes that donations to the COVID-19 Musicians’ Emergency Fund have not been limited to corporate contributors. “Supporters to date include institutions like the Herb Alpert Foundation, the Howard Gilman Foundation, and other major donors and arts philanthropists addressing profound need in the jazz ecosystem; plus thousands of individual fans from around the world showing their compassion for musicians through grassroots donations to #TheNewGig.”

While the JFA has been best known in the past for charity events like its celebrated “A Great Night in Harlem” concerts at the Apollo Theatre in New York (which was postponed this year) and its intimate shows at Herb Alpert’s venue Vibrato in Los Angeles, the organization may have attained its most visible success on a national level with the three-hour online benefit, hosted by Relix, which was helmed by Grammy and Emmy Award winner and “Great Night” artistic director, Steve Jordan.

“#TheNewGig concert felt like a triumph artistically and emotionally, and it was a great success as a fundraiser, helping us reach a significant milestone for the COVID-19 Musicians’ Emergency Fund,” says Petrucelli.

“However, an immense amount of work remains to be done, and the tremendous response we have received to date only scratches the surface when you consider the thousands of musicians and families in economic free fall across the country who are now in need of emergency financial support for basic necessities like groceries and utility payments.”

Next up, plans call for an album benefiting the COVID-19 Musicians’ Emergency Fund that will feature music supplied by the JFA’s consortium partners and other industry sources. Details will be announced in the near future.

Petrucelli concludes, “The Jazz Foundation has been a resource for musicians in crisis since 1989. We are dedicated to these artists for the long haul and honored to be joined by our generous consortium partners on the road ahead.”

For more information on The Jazz Foundation of America, please visit:

Erroll Garner – Magician (Octave/Mack Avenue)


The reliably dazzling pianist Erroll Garner was best known for composing the melody of the Johnny Mathis hit “Misty” and bringing jazz to the masses with his album Concert by the Sea, which was a Top 20 entry on the pop charts in 1958. He was also a pioneer in the defense of artists’ rights, battling Columbia Records for control of his music and launching his own Octave Records label in the ‘60s.

Magician is the 11th in the reissue series of a dozen Octave albums that began last year, and it’s a total delight. Seemingly fluent in any style, Garner ranges from originals like the gorgeous “Nightwind” and the gospel-flecked “One Good Turn” to gems such as “Someone to Watch Over Me” and the Carpenters smash “(They Long to Be) Close to You,” transforming the saccharine Bacharach-David tune into a rowdy expression of joy. If Garner sometimes seems too extravagant in his approach, possessed by the urge to play too many notes, his obvious exuberance renders any reservations moot. Just listen to his romping take on “I Only Have Eyes for You” and try not to smile. It can’t be done.

Read Article: The Big Takeover

PREMIÈRE: Harold López-Nussa Mixes Reggaeton and Latin Jazz On First Taster off New Album


The apparent go-to Cuban jazz pianist at present, Harold López Nussa has appeared on all kinds of projects, ranging from the Gilles Peterson-organised Havana Cultura to the El Comité release reviewed here early last year. His latest track, “Jazzton”, is a super-charged shot of Latin jazz infused with reggaeton rhythms, and is arguably the stand-out track from the pianist’s forthcoming Te Lo Dije album. It features the voice of Randy Malcom of the award-winning Cuban duo, Gente de Zona, in combination with some crackling brass, serious timbales and a fine solo from López Nussa himself.

Here’s López-Nussa to give his take on the track:

“I really love the idea that music is just one big thing. Good music is so impactful that it doesn’t matter what style or genre you choose to express yourself in. That’s why I wanted to mix reggaeton with jazz. Reggaeton is the most controversial style of music in Cuba, and at the same time, the most popular style for the last decade. I had the great opportunity to make this song with one of the most important reggaeton artists in Cuba: Randy Malcom, a great friend of mine. We have known each other for a long time, and even though we perform different kinds of music, we share the same passion and respect for all music. At the onset, I thought mixing these two styles would be a big challenge, but we embraced the risk and I love the result.”

“Jazzton” will be released as a single on May 29th, and will feature on Harold López-Nussa’s upcoming album Te Lo Dije, to be released by Mack Avenue Records on August 29th.

Read Article: Sounds and Colours

****RINGER OF THE WEEK****Connie Han: Iron Starlet


This is the second album I’ve heard by pianist/composer Connie Han, and although her album covers look like something from a graphic novel, the music is vintage Blue Note bopping grooves. She teams up with trumpeter Jeremy Pelt and tenor saxist Walter Smith III for a hard hitting front line along with bassist Ivan Taylor and drummer Bill Wysaske. Pelt has fire in his brass as he sears through the torrid “Iron Starlet” with Han keeping right up with the hairpin turns, while she switches to keyboards for a hip and soulful “Nova” with the trumpeter. Smith III is warm and smoky on the CTI-ish “Hello To The Wind” and gallops like a stallion with Pelt on the avalanche of “Dark Chambers”. The trio format is tighter than Han’s leather skirt as they go through tricky and sharp tuns on “Boy Toy” and get classy on the pretty “Captain’s Song”. Han’s fingers slink on a bluesy “Mr. Dominator” and sashay to Wysaske’s brushes on the delicate “The Forsaken” with some dark moods bowed by Taylor during “Detour Ahead”. I missed her last time around in LA; I’m not going to make the same mistake twice. She might dress like a Bond girl, but she plays like Hancock!

Read Article: Jazz Weekly

Christian Sands: Be Water .


A small opus which rises from within, "Intro," unassuming title and all, begins Be Water, a true wealth of music which pianist Christian Sands has designed to flow not only like the awe-inspiring, fear-inducing title element, but like mercy, freely and without boundary.

And so it does. For next is "Sonar," a romping festival of feisty performances from Sands and his core trio of bassist Yasushi Nakamura and drummer Clarence Penn which is meant to assure each other and listeners alike that they're setting out for points as much known as unknown on all cylinders. They're cutting no corners. They'll call upon the masters one moment, (Art Blakey effortlessly and thankfully comes to mind) or they'll push their collective sense of new bop to the margins.

For a little perspective, Facing Dragons (Mack Avenue Records, 2018) was hailed uniformly, by friend and foe alike, to be a wide-ranging master class. Be Water, Sands' fourth release for Mack Avenue Records, goes beyond that, positing new horizons with new promises and new voices brought to the fore. That said, the next voice you hear is Bruce Lee, (yes that Bruce Lee) Buddha-like urging "Be formless, shapeless like water" and thus "Be Water I" takes the shape of expectation driven by Penn's boundless sense of time, Sands' ever more expressive Rhodes, and the entwined front line featuring tenor saxophonist Sean Jones and trombonist Steve Davis.

"Drive" at first takes the shape of edgy 70's jazz/rock as guitarist Marvin Sewell tickles, Sands probes, and Penn holds the tension, before Strickland unapologetically elbows in, only to have all combine for one of those rousing anthems powered to completion by Sewell's stinging, surging solo. Speaking of rock, Steve Winwood's haunting, 1969 Blind Faith classic "Can't Find My Way" goes full gospel with Nakamura at the helm, as Sands unleashes his exuberance for Winwood's mournful melody and Penn crashes away. "Steam" finds the trio at their abstract best. And yes, though for some it might cut a little too close to what was once called new age, Sands' innate and intimate sense of melodic spaciousness holds both him and Sewell in its elegant grasp on the shimmering impressionism of "Still."

Though he really made his debut as leader at thirteen on Footprints (Stanza, 2002), Sands' growth has been exponential, and on full public display since leaving puberty. Be Water is his latest giant step forward, encompassing not only our shared experience and imagination but our humanity too, and that is a triumph no matter what age you are or find yourself in.

Read Article: All About Jazz

Jimmy Greene: While Looking Up


One of music’s most gentle souls both musically and spiritually is saxist Jimmy Greene, who’s had a Job’s amount of trials in his life. This latest album with an all star cast of Aaron Goldberg/key, Stefon Harris/vibes, Lage Lund/g, Reuben Rogers/b and Kendrick Scott/dr has the pilgrim using the nadir’s of his life struggles as an opportunity for looking heavenward.

On soprano, he gives a sweet soulful line to “So In Love” while playing a variety of reeds and woodwinds on the ethereal “April 4th with a floating support by Scott and Harris. “Steadfast” is a hopeful prayer while he cries on tenor on a personal aria in trio format with Rogers and Scott on “Good Morning Heartache”. You can feel his personal pleas hear an don his romantic “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)” while he gets optimistic on the post bop title track. Rogers sounds like he’s wrestling with The Lord as he pleads on the warm “Simple Prayer” as Green sends messages on high waiting for an answer. The music is so intimate that you almost feel you are interrupting someone’s personal prayer closet.

Read Article: Jazz Weekly

Mack Avenue Music Group & Octave Music Partner With Vinyl Me, Please For Erroll Garner’s Magician


Mack Avenue Music Group and Octave Music are proud to announce a partnership with Vinyl Me, Please on Erroll Garner’s Magician as their May Classics Record of the Month. The record is also featured as the 11th release of the critically acclaimed year-long 12-album Octave Remastered Series featuring newly restored and expanded editions of classical Garner albums from the 1960s and ‘70s. Vinyl Me, Please’s package includes 180g black audiophile vinyl and an exclusive listening notes booklet by Ted Gioia.

The selections Garner committed to tape in the fall of 1973 for Magician include what may be some of his best original compositions, alongside a series of timeless contemporary takes on American Songbook classics. Though it would turn out to be the final studio album of his life, it makes clear that Garner was continuing to innovate on his distinctly individualistic style, and surely would have for decades to come.

Additionally, Vinyl Me, Please is hosting a giveaway for a free lossless download of a previously unreleased bonus track, "Grill on the Hill." The song was written and recorded during Garner’s October 1973 sessions for Magician. It was discovered and given its title by pianist Geri Allen in 2015. The newly Plangent processed version appears for the first time on the digital release of Magician as part of the 2020 Octave Remastered Series.

The Octave Remastered Series spans 12 releases with a newly discovered unreleased bonus track on each album: Dreamstreet, Closeup in Swing, One World Concert, A New Kind of Love, A Night at the Movies, Campus Concert, That’s My Kick, Up in Erroll’s Room, Feeling Is Believing, Gemini, Magician, and Gershwin & Kern.

Magician, along with the rest of the series, were transferred and restored using the Plangent playback system. Employing a wideband tape head, preamp and DSP package to capture and track the original recorder’s ultrasonic bias remnant, the Plangent Process removes the wow and flutter and FM/IM distortion from the recorded audio. This returns the listener to the original session experience, bringing to life Garner’s incomparable performances of his own compositions as well as classic works from the jazz cannon. You can read more about the process in an exclusive interview with Octave Remastered Series senior producer Peter Lockhart on Vinyl Me, Please.

Read Article: Analog Plant

Warren Wolf: Reincarnated


Warren Wolf: Reincarnated

Warren Wolf: Reincarnated "I truly believe that the only way that music can continue on is if you have people like myself and others that are open to teaching and sharing the knowledge that we have." —Warren Wolf

Warren Wolf is a Baltimore-born vibraphonist and a member of the SFJAZZ Collective. Reincarnation (2020), his fourth album as leader on Mack Avenue Records, sees Wolf dive into an entirely different side of his musical personality. We got together via ZOOM to talk about his musical influences, how he's staying creative during the COVID pandemic and his new album.

All About Jazz: Were you born and raised in Baltimore?

Warren Wolf: Yes, Baltimore is home! I grew up in a really rough part of Baltimore and in order to keep me straight and away from trouble my after-school activities consisted of practicing music. I'd come home from school, watch television for a while but as soon as 5:30pm came around I automatically knew it was time to go down in the basement to practice. I would typically practice from 5:30pm until 7pm, five days a week. I would spend 30 minutes practicing each instrument, so 30 minutes on the vibraphone or marimba, 30 minutes on the piano or on keyboard studies and the other 30 minutes on drums. This continued even when I was taking lessons at Peabody Conservatory where I studied with Leo LePage who was a member of the Baltimore City Orchestra for I believe 25-30 years. I was also taking lessons at Peabody Preparatory on Saturday mornings. I had six days of formal music education along with the basic music education that I got at school but I was honestly learning more at home. I did this from the age of three up until I was 17 years old and this included summers. In summertimes my rehearsals actually doubled. My father is a Vietnam veteran so he was pretty strict.

After high school I moved to Boston to attend Berklee College of Music. I attended Berklee from September of 1997 until May 2001. When I finished, I stayed in Boston for another three years moving back to Baltimore in 2004.

AAJ:If you had to introduce yourself through music by five albums that you are not a part of which five albums would they be?

WW: Miles Smiles by Miles Davis, Gold Experience by Prince -he has a song titled "Eye Hate You" on there and I love that song! Sweet Love by Anita Baker, D'Angelo's Voodoo album, Snoop Dog's Doggystyle album and if I could sneak in one more it would be 2Pac's All Eyes On Me. I named these particular records because I feel like every single track on these albums are just masterpieces.

AAJ: How did you develop your love for music and what were you listening to growing up in your formative years?

WW: The majority of what I listened to growing up is soul music, hardcore hip-hop, jazz music and Motown so all of that music had an impact on me. My parents grew up in the whole Motown era so of course I heard that in the house a lot. I also have two older sisters and they always played a lot stuff like New Edition, so I had combination of old and new school blending together to help form my personal taste in music.

My father was played a lot of Stanley Turrentine, Anita Baker, Yellowjackets, Spyro Gyra and all of those type of groups. I was definitely getting a mixture of influences. Once I actually started developing my own choice of music I was listening to a lot of early Run DMC and LL Cool J.

When the 90's came around I started taking music a little more seriously. In the mid 90's, I was still in Baltimore but if you went off of the music I listened to and the way that I dressed there's no way you could have told me that I wasn't from the west coast (laughs)! In high school, I used to wear plaid shirts with heavily creased jeans... yeah, I had he whole Death Row Music look! And actually when you go back and revisit the music from that era you hear a lot of George Clinton samples so I was getting an introduction to P-Funk music and didn't even realize it.

Around this time my father realized how serious I was getting about playing my own music so he got me into listening to a bunch of classical composers like Bach, Beethoven, Shostakovich, Vivaldi, Stravinsky. He got me into jazz at the same time so we started checking out Milt Jackson, Charlie Parker and artists like that. I definitely had a lot of different styles of music in my ears that just stuck with me.

AAJ: I know that you play a lot of different instruments but how did the vibraphone become your instrument of choice?

WW: My dad was a history teacher in the Baltimore City schools. He taught United States and World history. On the side he had his own band (Wolf Pac). They played a lot of the same music that my father used to listen to around the house. They did gigs at a lot of the clubs and jazz spots right here in Baltimore and in Washington DC. My father was always a fan of hand percussions and as soon as he learned he was having a son he knew he wanted to get me into music. My dad was a big fan of Roy Ayers and Bobby Hutcherson so he decided to buy a vibraphone sometime in the late 70's; I was born in November of 1979 and all these things combined and pretty much put me on my path to playing the vibraphone. My father and his band used to rehearse at our house on the weekends and I would come down and listen to what they were playing and pretty much just soaked everything in.

AAJ: I saw on your instagram account (@warrenwolf1) that you recently picked up a rain stick and a didgeridoo, how are you coming along with those?

WW: It's been fun so far! With the didgeridoo I honestly just thought that you blew into it and it would make some noise. After watching some videos on them on YouTube I realized that there's a lot of different things that you can do with them. The whole purpose of me getting these instruments was to help me deal with the times that we are in now with the whole COVID -19 pandemic. I want to try to stay creative and make some different types of music and having different percussion effects can easily help me with that.

AAJ: What are some of the things that you are doing to stay busy during COVID-19?

WW: The hard thing for me right now with the whole social distancing thing is actually trying to stay creative. I have plenty of friends right here in the Baltimore area who actually want to play but we are all taking the safe precautions of not going to each other's homes so right now I'm just practicing by doing a bunch of backing tracks on YouTube whether it's jazz, hip hop or r&b but it's just not the same as actually playing live.

I'm also an educator and I'm currently employed at the Peabody Conservatory which is a part of John Hopkins University and I work at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music as well and with that I'm currently teaching 30-minute weekly lessons for a lot of the students. I also have people that reach out to me online and on social media so I've been offering lessons that way as well. I have one regular student that lives in Germany and we meet up online for lessons every Saturday and we've been doing this for about a month now. I try to average at least two or three lessons per day. I love sharing my passion and knowledge of music so anyone out there that may be interested in lessons can reach out to me at: warren I truly believe that the only way that music can continue on is if you have people like myself and others that are open to teaching and sharing the knowledge that we have. I have had plenty of good teachers in my life and I'd be doing them a disservice if I let all of their knowledge end with me.

AAJ: Have you thought about what you want to do as soon as this pandemic is over?

WW: I just want to travel somewhere. I'm usually never home for more than two weeks at a time even if I'm just away for a day or two. It's kind of weird for me to be at home for this long of a period of time but at the same time it's also pretty cool because it gives me time to be at home and spend time with my family. It's nice to be at home and actually spend time with the kids and they're not asking "where's daddy?."

I'm also eager to just hangout at one of the jazz clubs around town. That's something that I do quite often even if I'm not sitting in on a set. I like to just go and see who's playing and what type of music people are vibing out to and just congregate with people. I miss doing that and just experiencing live music in person. I know right now everybody is live streaming and putting on shows from their living rooms and that's cool and all but it's just not the same as actually being there in person to experience it and soak it all in.

AAJ: You obviously have a love and appreciation for music but when did you realize that it was something that you could do professionally?

WW: Actually I realized that when I was in middle school. I knew I was good at music but I never really thought about it seriously until our middle school band put on an assembly. One of the tunes we played was "Louie, Louie" and I remember when I played my keyboard solo the whole class just stood up and gave me this loud ovation and it felt really good. That made me want to take things a lot more seriously so that's when I really began to focus in a lot more on my music. At this time I was 11 or 12 years old and from that point on I knew there was no turning back.

AAJ: You write and compose a lot of your own music, what is that creative process like for you?

WW: I've always been a composer that writes for other people. It can be about a particular situation, it can be about something that's funny. For example I have a tune that I recorded with Christian McBride titled "Gang,Gang" and people always ask "what is that?." The song was composed for my wife. She is a retired classical ballerina dancer. Well one day we we're watching Eddie Murphy's Coming to America and there's a scene right before Prince Hakim (Eddie Murphy's character) get's married and everybody is happy and dancing and my wife said, "look at all of that gang, gang dancing." It was a lot of tribal and African style of dancing and my wife mentioned that they don't do that type of dancing in the classical world. I decided to take the feel of the tribal music from the movie and blend it with a classical style of music that my wife was more accustomed to dancing to. So that's a good example on how I like to write songs for people.

One of my students recently asked me if I have been composing lately and I have. Actually one of the songs that I'm working on is an 8 bar vamp, at least for now, and many different rhythms can fit over it. The purpose behind that is to show exactly what this pandemic is doing to the music industry as a whole. Not just to jazz music but to country, hip-hop, pop music and the whole industry. So with these 8 chords I can create all different types of moods and feelings and it can be related to all music. I love to write music like this but it has to be for a purpose.

AAJ: So with that being said there's a song on your new album Reincarnation titled "The Struggle"; what was your inspiration for that song?

WW: My family was going through a lot of pain and heartbreak when I composed that song but at the same time we were able to rise above it. My ex-wife—mother of three of my five kids—was involved in a very horrific accident. It was a very windy day in Massachusetts and while she was sitting in her car a huge massive tree fell right on top of her and she almost died. She lost feelings in a lot of parts of her body but miraculously after about 9 months of rehab she is healthy and back to normal.

In addition to that I lost three relatives to gun violence right here in Baltimore and my family members and I all came together and were able to rise above the pain and sorrow of losing them. I had another family member that was a leader of a gang that almost lost his life to gun violence, he survived being shot 15 times, and has since been able to turn his life around and is now an activist in the Baltimore area. He too has been able to rise above life's challenges. Lastly, another family member of mines lost his life in a car accident. He left behind a beautiful daughter that struggled dealing with his passing but she's been able to find the courage and strength to rise above it. So "The Struggle" is about hope and dealing with life's challenges.

AAJ: That's pretty powerful and gives the song new meaning for me. You also have a song on the album titled "Living the Good Life"; tell us a little about that.

WW: Dope song! I can say that because I wrote it, [laughs]. But it's basically talking a little about how I dealt with my divorce. I had some dark moments during that whole experience but when I came out on the other side of it I met my current wife and had my two babies so I'm at a great place now and I am definitely living the good life!

AAJ: My favorite song on the Reincarnation album is "The Heat of the Night."

WW: Thank you! A lot of people like this song. My inspiration for it came from D'Angelo's "Untitled -How Does it Feel" from his Voodoo album. When you listen to the lyrics of "The Heat of the Night" it's basically about a woman that misses her man so she goes to his house in the heat of the night and things just kind of take off from there.

AAJ: Your approach to this album was a little different from all of your previous albums. How do you think it's being received so far?

WW: I think it's been received pretty well. I think for those that sit and listen to it with an open mind love it. I have read a few comments online where people haven't really made it pass the first track. It's pretty much a smooth, laid back song and it's just a straight groove and some people don't know how to take it because they are so used to me going straight jazz and playing all these different notes. That's fine and it is a part of who I am but it's not my only style. I don't want to showcase just one style of music for the rest of my life, I don't want to be pigeon-holed. The folks that have listened to the whole album realize that this is still very much a jazz record just without the swing feel.

I've been kind of hinting at going in this direction for a long time now. On my previous album Convergence [Mack Avenue Records, 2016] I did Stevie Wonder's "Knocks Me Off My Feet." Mind you I changed it up a bit but I've always been hinting at going in this direction, and it was going to come at some point and I may even continue on with it. The jazz playing is going to always be there, that's always going to be a part of who I am.

AAJ: Can you tell us about your involvement with the SFJAZZ (San Francisco) Collective?

WW: This will be my sixth or seventh year with the group and our new season is scheduled to start this October. This past year I had the pleasure of being the musical director of SFJAZZ. Last year we highlighted the 50th anniversary of two iconic records in Miles Davis's In a Silent Way and Sly and the Family Stones's Stand albums. These two records came out within two months of each other back in 1969 so we decided to take those albums and mix them up a bit.

One thing that really excites me about this year's band is that the music we're playing is totally different from anything that we've played in the past. We are playing a lot of funk and we also added a dope vocalist in Martin Luther McCoy and the amazing guitarist Adam Rogers so the band is awesome! Obed Calvaire, Etienne Charles, Edward Simon, Matt Brewer, David Sanchez and I fill out the rest of the collective. Each year we take a particular composer and pick eight of their hottest tunes and rearrange them and then we also add eight original songs giving us a total of sixteen pieces of music. It's a great band to be a part of and I love that we actually get to rehearse. With this group we get together and rehearse five days a week for about eight hours a day so we actually have time to fine tune things and build chemistry, we all love each other and look at each other as brothers and sister.

Photo Credit: Warren Wolf website

Read article at: All About Jazz

Mack Avenue Records supports artists through “allONE” campaign.


Many of our readers, instead of the concert, club gig or festival ticket they planned to buy have re-channelled this money and provided a much-needed form of financial support by directly buying albums from musicians. We are thrilled and encouraged to see the jazz community step up reinforcing our Lockdown motto: "You can quarantine people but you can't quarantine music."

We’re proud to support a similar campaign this weekend by our good friends at Mack Avenue Records. In fact, the Mack Avenue Music Group is gearing up for what they hope will be their most robust and important web event to date – one that directly supports the outstanding artists on the label who make the music we all love.

Launching with International Jazz Day on Thursday, 30 April and extending through Sunday, 3 May, Mack Avenue is launching the allONE initiative: a webstore event where one hundred percent of all sales from will go directly to the artists on the label.

Mack Avenue Music Group has always strongly valued taking a humanist approach while working with respect to the music, artists and communities. “These past several weeks I have been reminded of the amazing and resilient jazz and music community that we’re a part of as we confront unexpected realities,” says Mack Avenue President, Denny Stilwell. “I am grateful for it and moved by it daily. It calls to mind how we really are one, connected through the love of music. I hope you will visit the site and support our event and find something for you, a friend, or family member to enjoy. Thank you in advance for championing the artists, their music.”

During our allONE event, you can support the amazing artists on the Mack Avenue roster. For 4 days, Thursday, April 30 – Sunday, May 3, 100% of the sales from will go directly to Mack Avenue artists. So, play your part in these tough times! Stand with the artists, because we are all ONE!

And please help spread the word using the hashtag’s. #mackavenue #allONE

Read article at: Jazz In Europe



To our customers and marketing partners: 

I hope this note finds you healthy and able to keep your spirits up in these trying times. For music fans like you and me, revisiting our favorite albums, songs and artists reminds us of music's role as a primary comforter or source of inspiration when the world seems to tilt off its axis.  

By now you have probably read many letters from businesses of all shapes and sizes addressing the coronavirus. The impact on Mack Avenue was felt immediately and even greater hardship is being laid at the feet of those independent music creators that craft so much of the music that stirs us in one way or another.

Mack Avenue responded quickly with a donation that kicked off the Jazz Foundation of America's COVID-19 Musicians’ Emergency Fund and now we are gearing up for what we hope will be our most robust and important web event to date –– one that directly supports the artists who make the music that we enjoy so much.

From April 30th to May 3rd, we are hosting allONE, a 4-day event at with 100% of the sales distributed directly to Mack Avenue artists. This isn't a sale in the traditional sense, where discounts are offered. These unique circumstances call for a slightly different approach. All products –– CDsLPsmerchandise and special bundles –– will be offered at full price and we are committed to distributing the funds within 14 days after the event, so artists benefit fully and immediately.

These past several weeks I have been reminded of the amazing and resilient jazz and music community that we're a part of, as we confront unexpected realities. I am grateful for it and moved by it daily. It calls to mind how we really are one, connected through the love of music. I hope you will visit the site and support our event and find something for you, a friend, or family member to enjoy. Thank you in advance for championing the artists, their music and for choosing to do business with us.

Denny Stilwell


We will be offering new bundles and exclusive products such as master classes from our artists during the event, check back on April 30th for more details.

Review: Saxman Jimmy Greene’s album is spirited, spiritual


Jimmy Greene, “While Looking Up” (Mack Avenue)

Change is a constant on jazz saxman Jimmy Greene’s new album, “While Looking Up.” The 68-minute set flies by because of the way he varies the performing cast and mood.

Greene’s daughter was a Sandy Hook shooting victim, and the album title refers to the direction he looks for peace and strength. He conveys plenty of both with playing that’s by turns lyrical, soulful, spirited and spiritual.

Greene performs three covers, and they’re all excellent. A quintet including guitarist Lage Lund gives Cole Porter’s “So In Love” a childlike innocence. “Good Morning Heartache” has a stark, bluesy throb played by a trio. Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)” becomes an unlikely highlight, with Greene taking the lyrics to heart and flipping the song’s familiar mood with a mournful interpretation.

There are lighter moments. Keyboardist Aaron Goldberg injects bits of wit by quoting “Summertime,” “Carmen” and “Swinging on a Star,” while Stefon Harris joins in on marimba to help a sextet find delightful syncopation in “Always There.”

On the closing “Simple Prayer,” Greene’s tenor leads a swaggering, righteous quartet that soars at the end, looking upward.

Read the review: AP News

Raul Midón: The Mirror


Eleven studio albums into his career, Raul Midón has fashioned a singular approach; his voice and guitar are instantly identifiable. But more important, his music comes with a guarantee—put on a tune, any tune, and the warmth of it will embrace you, no questions asked. When Midón, in the jaunty, lyrical, samba-esque opening track, declares, “I Love the Afternoon” (which features a background vocal by Manhattan Transfer’s Janis Siegel), there isn’t a hidden agenda—what he means is that he loves the afternoon, and his words explain why; if you’ve not considered it recently, then he’ll have you realizing soon enough that you do too. That isn’t to suggest that there’s a lightweight quality to the songs on The Mirror (or any of Midón’s previous efforts), only that the feel-good qualities he exudes are natural and real. “Deep Dry Ocean”—which features and was co-written by the superb pianist Gerald Clayton—is spare and bucolic, lilting rhapsodically, the verses framed by a tidily executed Midón acoustic guitar solo that manages, in under a minute, to exude the soul of his playing. A pair of spoken-word tracks add another dimension—“If I Could See,” yes, is the work of a blind man, but its sentiments are universal. And “One Day Without War” is another vibe entirely, but maybe not—it’s a musing on an ideal state that this planet may or may not ever experience. Without a hint of stridency, Midón wonders if that can ever be and maybe, just for a minute or two, he’ll make you wonder too.

Read the review: Relix

New York Times Playlist (February 7th)


The esteemed bassist Christian McBride was born just after the close of the Civil Rights Movement, so he remembers learning about its heroes by flipping through the copies of his grandmother’s copies of Ebony and Jet magazines from the 1950s and ’60s. For many years he has worked on “The Movement Revisited,” a musical suite celebrating four figures from those pages who inspired him as a child: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Rosa Parks and Muhammad Ali. The suite, finally released as an album Friday, mixes hard-nosed small-group playing, soaring big-band orchestration, spoken readings from figures like Sonia Sanchez and Wendell Pierce, and choral singing. On “Sister Rosa,” the piece dedicated to Parks, a big band and a choir both savor the deep, mid-tempo swing feel, leaning on McBride’s bass for support as the voices unite in a long, weary drawl, quoting Parks: “I’m tired.” RUSSONELLO

Read the full piece from: The New York Times

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The True Story of Erroll Garner, the First Artist to Sue a Major Label and Win


It’s not at all unusual for artists to engage in creative or financial differences with their record labels, but only a few end up in court. Last year, Kanye West sued his label, Universal, and publisher, EMI, claiming that his deals amounted to “servitude” (the EMI suit was settled in September), echoing Prince’s famous battle with Warner Bros. 25 years before, in which the artist painted the word “slave” on his face to protest his contract with Warner Bros. before parting ways with the label in 1996. Brad Paisley sued Sony Music over a royalty dispute in 2014, Trent Reznor engaged in a bitter legal battle with his first label, TVT; the list goes on.

However, you have to dial back to 1960 to find the major precedent: when star jazz pianist Erroll Garner sued Columbia Records for breaking his contract — and won after a nearly three-year battle in a New York Supreme Court decision.

It was a landmark case that has been largely forgotten. “The Erroll Garner story is an important one,” says UCLA history professor and author Robin D.G. Kelley. “The context is the ‘50s at the height of Garner’s power. He was winning DownBeat polls and other international prizes. He was at the top of his game, and his manager, Martha Glaser (pictured above, right, with Garner), had worked out a contract with Columbia with an unprecedented clause giving Erroll the right to approve the release of any of his recorded music.”

Best known for composing the classic “Misty,” Garner had been a goldmine to Columbia thanks to his 1955 album “Concert by the Sea,” recorded live with his trio at Carmel-by-the-Sea in California. It was a hit album of his characteristic swinging, eccentric, polyrhythmic singular style that had sold a million copies by 1958. Glaser had signed the artist to a five-year deal with Columbia in 1956 and was in the midst of renegotiating it when in 1960, the label began to release songs from Garner’s prodigious backlog of studio recordings without his consent. Legendary jazz A&R executive George Avakian had championed Garner at Columbia, but he was replaced R by pop producer Mitch Miller, the mentor of singer Johnny Mathis (who’d incidentally scored a big hit with “Misty” in 1959). Somewhere in the mix, Columbia overlooked Garner’s right of release approval.

Legendary talent scout and producer John Hammond (who discovered Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, and Bruce Springsteen, among others) had just returned to Columbia after a hiatus. Garner reached out to him via a telegraph. He wrote in 1960: “I must demand that you immediately withdraw ‘Swinging Solos’ record album which your Columbia Records subsidiary released … this took place despite my written notice to your record people … the material was not approved and was unworthy of public sale. As a matter of ethics I am amazed that release took place precisely at the time my manager was meeting with [you] at [your] request and while [you] were assuring her that the album would not be released.

“Is it you feel you can sandbag me because I am a Negro artist?,” Garner continued. “Must demand that sale and distribution of album stop immediately and that it be recalled from press, radio people and record dealers who have previously received it … because it not only violates my artistic integrity but that of every artist on your label.”

Garner and Glaser sued Columbia, the label hit back with a countersuit in federal court, which meant the pianist had to pony up $40,000 for a cash bond; friends helped him to fund it. In a statement at the time, Garner wrote: “I paid the cash bond because I felt, and I feel, that not only my rights are at issue in this case, but the rights of my fellow members of the record and music industry are involved, and it became deeply urgent to sustain the injunction. I truly hope that the future for all recording artists might hold greater security for creative property as a result of this action.”

During the course of the lengthy litigation of lawsuit and counter lawsuits, Columbia released two more of Garner’s sessions (“The One and Only Erroll Garner” and “The Provocative Erroll Garner,” a title that in itself was provocative, given the situation). The pianist was forced to sit out two and a half years of recording at the height of his career. Some speculate that the absence is a major reason why he’s not as lionized today as contemporaries like Dave Brubeck.

Kelley points out another factor in the dispute, which started in 1958, when the Saturday Evening Post wrote a negative portrayal of Garner, a self-taught master improviser who couldn’t read music. “They portrayed him as a happy, naïve guy,” Kelley says. “They said he was out of touch with reality. When asked about Bach, the writer said Erroll thought it was some kind of beer. They said he was illiterate and set Garner up as someone who had nothing to do with money and didn’t care. The mainstream press saw him as an idiot savant.” In contrast, Kelley says that the black press, where his battle was a headline story, heralded him as a sober, articulate, intelligent David-who-beat-Goliath. I feel this can be seen as a civil rights case as well as a precedent for artists.”

When Garner won his landmark case of making a groundbreaking statement on an artist’s freedom, he received a cash settlement, his masters were returned and Columbia agreed to recall and destroy the records it had released without his approval, although many of those albums ended up for sale on the black market (it’s possible that distributors, rather than Columbia, were responsible for illegally selling the albums).

The money funded the launching of Garner’s own independent label with Glaser. With Glaser producing, Garner recorded 12 albums in 18 years for Octave Records. Those albums were distributed by different companies through the course of the label’s existence.

“That was also a remarkable feat,” says Peter Lockhart Senior Producer of the Erroll Garner Jazz Project and a vice president of Octave Music. . “As far as we know, that was the birth of an artist doing his own licensing deal.”

Kelley agrees. “What Erroll did was set a precedent for artists,” he says. “They could have the rights to their own material.”

In her 1981 correspondence with Hammond, four years after Garner’s death, Glaser contended that the lawsuit was about much more than finances. The exec replied, “I often wonder how an artist with Mr. Garner‘s legal problems vis a vis with CBS, given his artistic and sales importance at the time, would be treated today by lawyers and executives for the company. Erroll was possibly the first Black artist — or artist of any color — to stand up to a major record company (at a time when Black artists had difficulty even in getting good lawyers)….The public knew little of what was happening (unlike today when any squabble between an artist and a company is headline news) because Mr. Garner’s attorney insisted on no publicity for the three years of litigation and Garner’s recording career was on ice.”

For his part, Hammond wrote in the correspondence, “Erroll was a wonderful artist. The greatest mistake he ever made was in leaving CBS for purely financial reasons. I did my best to patch things up.”

While Garner’s Octave output didn’t have Columbia’s marketing muscle, it did give him the freedom to record new music, including live shows. This year the Octave Remastered Series, issued by Mack Avenue Records, was launched with the rerelease of all 12 Octave Garner albums, with restored master takes and newly discovered unreleased songs. “You can hear how Erroll plays with a freedom on these albums,” says Lockhart, the senior producer of the series. “For ‘Dreamstreet,’ his first album on Octave, he was discussing repertoire with Martha. While Erroll played an ‘Oklahoma!’ medley at his concerts, he had never recorded it. He wasn’t sure, but Martha said, ‘You can do whatever you want now.’ So Erroll jumped at the chance and recorded [‘Oklahoma!’ songs] ‘Oh, What a Beautiful Morning, ‘People Will Say We’re in Love’ and ‘Surrey With the Fringe on Top.’ He didn’t have to ask a label for permission.”

The Octave Remastered Series began in late September with four Garner albums and will continue with reissues monthly through June of next year.

“There is so much to discover about Erroll,” says pianist Christian Sands, the estate’s creative ambassador, whose goal is to reimagine Garner’s music in his band for audiences into the foreseeable future. “He was at the forefront of so many things. In his music, he was a pioneer in crossing genres from classical to jazz to pop to Latin jazz. And he broke barriers socially. Here was a black artist with a Jewish manager at a time in the heat of an environment of racism. And Martha was on the front lines of the civil rights movement. And the two of them were great at dealing with contracts. They pushed back. If things weren’t right, they said, ‘Okay, we’ll walk.’ They knew how to call their bluff.”

Read the full piece from: Variety

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Erroll Garner’s ‘A Night At The Movies’ Reissue Radiates Joy



This is FRESH AIR. The late jazz pianist Erroll Garner is the subject of a new series of CD reissues of albums he recorded for various labels between 1959 and 1973. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead has a review of his pick from the series so far.


KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: Erroll Garner, 1964, giving a big Hollywood buildup to "I Found A Million Dollar Baby (At The Five And Ten Cent Store)" (ph) - a song from 1931. It's from his album "A Night At The Movies," my favorite so far from the ongoing Octave Remastered Series of Garner albums. They're being issued one a month through next June. As an album concept, songs from the movies is about as loose as it gets. This one's even looser because some songs, like that last one, actually come from Broadway. A few selections are older than talking pictures, like 1913's "You Made Me Love You," a vehicle for Al Jolson, who did it slower than Erroll Garner does.


WHITEHEAD: Erroll Garner is among the most charming and chipper jazz pianists. He's got that relentlessly bouncy beat, he gets a big, brassy sound from piano, and he has a way of circling back to the tune during an improvisation. Those qualities in his old-timey repertoire here can make Garner sound like a throwback to 1920s novelty ragtimers, but he was a modernist as well. The German song "Just A Gigolo" was a favorite of Thelonious Monk. Erroll Garner puts his own spin on it, tinkering with its timing his way.


WHITEHEAD: The Garner trio's buoyant beat was a three-way effort with Eddie Calhoun's bass, Kelly Martin's drums and Erroll's left hand all in sync. But Garner's roaming right hand was the trio's free agent. His improvised line would step across that firm beat and slip into the cracks between accents. That line hovers over the rhythm the way his variations hover over a melody. This is "Stella By Starlight."


WHITEHEAD: I'm leery of discussions about how music makes you feel because the same performance may evoke a wide range of reactions from different listeners, but it's hard to miss the joy that radiates from Erroll Garner's piano as he spins out new and old melodies and cracks his little musical jokes. He's as listener-friendly as jazz gets. He improvises with wit, style and grace, and he swings like mad. That joy he radiated is still contagious. You could catch it even now.


GROSS: Kevin Whitehead writes for Point of Departure and The Audio Beat. He reviewed "Night At The Movies," one in a series of reissues of recordings by pianist Erroll Garner. Tomorrow on FRESH AIR I'll talk with Marielle Heller about directing "A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood," the new film starring Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers based on the friendship that developed between Rogers and a cynical journalist assigned to profile him. I hope you'll join us.

FRESH AIR'S executive producer is Danny Miller. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Mooj Zadie, Seth Kelley and Joel Wolfram. I'm Terry Gross.


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Ugly Beauty: The Month In Jazz – September 2019


A really cool set of reissues came out this month, too, from a pianist who’s revered in certain circles but whose legacy isn’t what it should be. Erroll Garner was a hugely successful pianist and composer of the standard “Misty”; his 1955 album Concert By The Sea was massive at the time, and was reissued as a three-CD set in 2015. But he died in 1977, and doesn’t have the posthumous profile of Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Art Tatum, or other well-known pianists of the bop era. He couldn’t read music, but he had a prodigious memory for it; there was a story of him attending a classical concert and returning home to his apartment to play much of what he’d heard from memory. He appeared on The Tonight Show many times, and was reportedly Johnny Carson’s favorite jazz musician.

Garner’s style was extremely florid and romantic, swirling jazz, classical, and old-timey music into a style that encompassed the entire keyboard and almost made backing musicians redundant. In the early 1960s, he formed his own label, Octave, and the first four (of twelve) albums released on that imprint are being reissued by Mack Avenue: 1961’s Dreamstreet and Closeup In Swing, 1962’s One World Concert, and 1963’s A New Kind Of Love. The first three are performed with his trio of bassist Eddie Calhoun and drummer Kelly Martin, while the fourth is a movie soundtrack featuring Garner and a 35-piece orchestra. One World Concert, recorded at the World’s Fair in Seattle, is particularly explosive; check out this version of “Movin’ Blues”:

Read the full piece from: Stereogum

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Hear “Paris Mist” from a New Reissue Series Celebrating the Legacy of Piano Master Erroll Garner


Pianist Erroll Garner’s legacy may well forever rest on a cloud of mist. His best-known composition, “Misty,” has become by some reports the second most-recorded jazz standard in history (Duke Ellington’s “Satin Doll” and Thelonious Monk’s “Round Midnight” are its only competition). Singer Johnny Mathis made the tune famous in 1959 with a modish new arrangement, and a decade later, director and noted jazz fan Clint Eastwood would employ the song in its original form as the eerie musical underpinning of his film Play Misty For Me. Today, it is one of the most recognizable jazz tunes in the canon.

But “Misty” was hardly Garner’s only career milestone. In 1947, shortly after leaving his native Pittsburgh for New York, he appeared on early recordings by Charlie Parker. And his 1955 live album, Concert By The Sea, became the first jazz recording to register more than $1 million in sales. He was a virtuosic and talented performer with a lively following of fans and passionate admirers, and his style has been praised, emulated and adored by countless musicians — Geri Allen and Dick Hyman were particularly keen enthusiasts.

And yet for all his impact and influence — and for all the longevity that “Misty” has achieved — Garner’s name isn’t lionized to the same extent as other best-selling jazz pianists, such as Dave Brubeck or Herbie Hancock. That could be because his catalog had for years been tangled up in litigation. In 1960, Garner sued Columbia Records for releasing albums without his permission. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court of New York. Garner won, marking the first time a label had to pull an album from circulation due to a violation of an artist’s rights. In the wake of these events, Garner would go on to form his own label, Octave Music, but one unfortunate reprecussion was that classic albums he made during the height of his career have for years sat dormant, never to be reissued after initial release.

Recently, however, Garner’s legacy has moved gallantly back into the spotlight courtesy of the combined efforts of Mack Avenue Records and Octave Music. Together, these parties have announced the Octave Remastered Series, a bold musical initiative that plans to unveil 12 newly restored and expanded editions of classic Erroll Garner albums over the course of a year.

Erroll With Producer/conductor Leith Stevens tracking A New Kind Of Love (Photo: Courtesy Mack Avenue Records) The first four titles in the new series – Dreamstreet, Closeup in Swing, One World Concert, and A New Kind of Love – will be released simultaneously on streaming services and in physical CD format on Sept. 27. The subsequent rollout will feature one album per month – A Night at the Movies, Campus Concert, That’s My Kick, Up in Erroll’s Room, Feeling is Believing, Gemini, Magician, and Gershwin & Kern – leading up to Garner’s Centennial year celebration, which begins in June 2020 and concludes on this 100th birthday in June 2021. The exciting new venture follows a trio of earlier releases from Octave Music — The Complete Concert By the Sea from 2015, Ready Take One from 2016 and Nightconcert from 2018 — that have marked a promising resurgence for the deserving piano master.

Today, we are proud to take part in the expansion of Garner’s legacy by premiering a track from the Octave Remastered Series. Yet again, it arrives on a cloud of mist. “Paris Mist (Waltz and Swing Version),” from the forthcoming reissue of A New Kind of Love, can be streamed via the player below.

The song was originally written as part of a score Garner composed for a film of the same name. Full of sweeping pianism, vital string accompaniment and driving swing, it’s the perfect showcase for Garner’s vivid compositional mind and improvisational savvy. “George Wein called Garner ‘Orch,’ because he was an orchestra all by himself,” explained series co-producer Peter Lockhart in a phone interview. “But to hear him with an actual full orchestra behind him is just amazing. The strings are playing his written material, and he’s improvising on top of it, and he sounds incredible.”

The piece is actually one of three versions of the song to appear on the album. The first, written with a bossa nova feel, was derived from the original score, as was the above version, featuring Garner’s trio of bassist Kieth Mitchell and Albert Stoller shifting between waltz and swing time. The third version features just Garner and his trio, and is included in the new release as a bonus track. All 12 reissues in the series will feature one such previously unissued bonus track, most of which are Garner originals derived from the Garner archives.

But it isn’t the only fresh material audiences will be hearing on the reissued albums. “A lot of Garner records that came out over the years have been edited or shortened in some way, whether for time or artistic decisions,” said co-producer Steve Rosenthal. “That means a lot of Garner’s musical and spoken introductions have been taken out, and most of them are incredibly unusual, much more ‘out’ than people typically associate with Garner. Part of what we’re trying to do is recreate what he played and what he felt during the making of these recordings.”

Erroll With Guitarist Barney Kessel tracking A New Kind Of Love Acoustically, Garner has rarely sounded better. That’s because all of the audio for the Octave Remastered Series was transferred using the Plangent Process, a playback system for analog tape that cures issues of wow (low-cycle speed variation), flutter and other inaccuracies that normally carry over from vintage masters. The result is a stunning audio product that sounds refreshingly crisp without losing its sense of authenticity or vintage charm. “It was really important to untangle his discography and try to represent these records in the way that he meant for them to be listened to, with the album art that he wanted and the track order that he wanted,” said Lockhart.

In addition to the monthly releases, Mack Avenue and Octave Music will also be producing a podcast series dedicated to Garner and hosted by jazz scholar Robin D.G. Kelley. Details are forthcoming, but announced guests include pianists Jason Moran, Eric Reed and Chick Corea.

It’s all in hopes that by reintroducing the world to Garner’s music, people will be able to see his genius through the mist. After all, said Rosenthal, Garner’s true artistry, was his ability to lift people up with his music even as he astounded them with his technical skill.

“Garner’s playing was joyful,” said Rosenthal. “It was a celebration of life. It’s deeply felt and expertly executed. People feel that joy when they listen to him. It’s an extraordinary thing to be able to express, and he could do that in a way that no one else could.”

To pre-order a copy of A New Kind of Love, use this link:

For more information about Erroll Garner or Octave Music, visit

Read the full piece from: Jazziz

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Hear a Taste of Erroll Garner at the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, From a Deluxe New Reissue Series


The Century 21 Exposition, better remembered as the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, left an indelible mark on the skyline of that city: the iconic Space Needle was created for the event, along with the Seattle Center and its elevated monorail.

There were also major musical performances: a whole mess of them, by the Seattle Symphony Orchestra (conducted in one concert by Igor Stravinsky); by folksingers like Theodore Bikel and Josh White; and by jazz artists including Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie and Nat King Cole. Also among that last cohort was pianist Erroll Garner, a star attraction at the height of his powers.

Garner’s performance would yield One World Concert, his first live album since the world-beating Concert By the Sea. (On the cover of One World Concert, a subhead declares: Recorded in Actual Performance at Seattle World’s Fair.) This was the third release on Octave Records, which Garner had established with his manager, Martha Glaser. Originally distributed by Philips, it has never had a fully dedicated reissue.

That’s about to change, thanks to the Octave Remastered Series. A joint initiative of Mack Avenue Records and the Erroll Garner Jazz Project, it’s a batch of reissues spanning Garner’s total output on Octave: 12 albums from the 1960s and ‘70s. The first four — along with One World Concert, they include Dreamstreet, Closeup in Swing and A New Kind of Love — land on Sept. 27.

Here is a track from the refurbished One World Concert: “Movin’ Blues,” whose title tells you almost everything you need to know.

Note that I said “almost.” It must be said that Garner is working alongside his usual terrific rhythm team, bassist Eddie Calhoun and drummer Kelly Martin. Listen for how he shifts from his rumbling introduction to the song’s main theme, which includes an answering chime voiced like a train whistle. (A nod to Duke Ellington’s locomotive onomatopoeia, perhaps.)

Then there’s the improved sound quality, which is really this series’ raison d’être. Like The Complete Concert By the Sea, released in 2015, and Nightconcert, which arrived last year (and for which I wrote liner notes), the albums in the Octave Remastered Series were transferred and restored using the Plangent Processes Playback System. This method removes wow and flutter effects in analog tape transfers, which is a more technical way of saying it dramatically cleans up the sound.

Each album in the Octave Remastered Series will also feature one previously unissued track, the majority being new Garner originals. “It’s truly shocking, and one of the greatest joys of this work, to find these fully realized tunes just sitting there on tape,” says Peter Lockhart, who with Rosenthal has produced the reissue series, in a press release. The bonus find on One World Concert is a trio version of “Other Voices,” the balladic title track from a 1957 orchestral album.

Following the Sept. 27 batch release, the Octave Remastered Series will issue one album each month leading up to the start of Garner’s centennial year, next June. These next six albums are: A Night at the Movies, Campus Concert, That’s My Kick, Up in Erroll’s Room, Feeling is Believing, Gemini, Magician, and Gershwin & Kern.

In addition to this rollout, the Octave Remastered Series plans to release a limited podcast, with an episode devoted to each album. Titled Erroll Garner — Uncovered, and produced by our own Alex Ariff, it will be hosted by noted jazz scholar Robin D.G. Kelley. (The One World Concert episode will feature a conversation with pianist Jason Moran.) More information about the podcast is forthcoming.

For more information about Erroll Garner or Octave Music, visit

Read the full piece from: WBGO

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The ‘Confessions’ of Veronica Swift


The new album by self-assured 25-year-old jazz singer Veronica Swift begins with an auspicious announcement of sorts: “I may be unknown, but wait till I’ve flown,” she confides over a delicate, insinuating piano introduction. “You’re gonna hear from me.”

With those lyrics, courtesy of a 1965 song by André and Dory Previn famously sung by Barbra Streisand, Frank Sinatra and Nancy Wilson, Swift stakes her claim as one of the most irresistibly talented jazz vocalists of her generation.

Although it’s her major label debut, Confessions (Mack Avenue) is not her first. That came in 2004 when she was a precocious child. Produced by her father, the late jazz pianist Hod O’Brien, that early effort featured backup vocals from her mother, noted jazz singer and vocal instructor Stephanie Nakasian, and Richie Cole on saxophones.

Listening to the 9-year-old Veronica sing bebop standards like “Twisted” and “Donna Lee” is a mildly unsettling experience. She isn’t in the least intimidated by the material, and she scats with abandon. Yet, while she remains firmly in tune, she couldn’t, at 9, sing with precision the complicated bebop lines in her head. But what’s in her head is incredible.

Back then, when Swift was just a talented kid, she accompanied her parents on the road, sometimes taking a nap backstage in the bass case. Today, Swift is headlining at jazz festivals around the world, including Monterey, Montreal and, this past summer, Umbria, Italy, and Marciac, France. In December, she performed with Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra on their annual holiday tour and has appeared as a featured performer with trumpeter Chris Botti.

The new album, two years in the making, is a carefully curated collection of standards. An artist who clearly relishes jazz tradition, Swift manages to find the contemporary in American classics, bringing a combination of passion, humor and just a touch of millennial insouciance to her readings of lyrics that might be 50 or 70 years old. Accompanied alternately by two immaculate, powerhouse piano trios—led by Benny Green and Emmet Cohen playing Swift’s own arrangements—she takes on repertoire from composers like the Previns, Dave Frishberg, Mel Tormé, Dietz & Schwartz, and longtime family friend Bob Dorough. There is one original: “I Hope She Makes You Happy,” a composition that sounds like a vintage tune, perfectly suited to the collection. “She is an amazing creative spirit,” Nakasian said recently in a phone interview from Rhode Island, during a break from her own summer tour. “I’m proud all the time.”

Nakasian, who first gained fame in the mid-1980s touring and singing with vocalese legend Jon Hendricks, said she and O’Brien were protective parents, never pushing Veronica onstage. But one night, when the couple was performing at New York’s Jazz Standard, they allowed their daughter to sing a number with them. “And afterwards she said, ‘Mommy, I’m sorry!’” Nakasian recalled. “I said, ‘What do you mean?’ She said, ‘I got more applause than you did.’”

Then there was the time when Nakasian and a 12-year-old Swift went to see bebop singer Annie Ross (the Ross of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross) perform in New York, and the youngster sat in on a number. Afterward, Ross said to her, “My goodness, Veronica, that was amazing ... but don’t come back too often!”

Fast forward to 2019: an evening in late June, and Swift is singing at Birdland, where she used to hold a residency on Saturday nights, way back when she was 23. Now a seasoned pro, on this night she’s a special guest of the Django Festival All Stars, the virtuosic exponents of Django Reinhardt and Le Jazz Hot, with whom she has appeared off and on for two years. “Two years is a long time when you’re 25,” she told the packed house.

On her first number, Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust,” she displayed exquisite control and nuanced phrasing, wringing fresh pathos out of the familiar lyric, and commanded the stage in a way that’s highly unusual for someone her age. A scat conversation with the group’s accordionist, Ludovic Beier, followed, Swift imitating the timbre of a muted trombone with gusto and imagination. Many of her best qualities were represented during the performance: her remarkable gift for scat singing, her vulnerable emotionality and commitment to the lyric, her mastery of her vocal instrument, her pure tone (which often calls to mind Ella Fitzgerald) and her flirtation with time (influenced by her admiration for Anita O’Day).

A few hours before the Birdland show, Swift arrived at Elephant & Castle, a brunch spot in Greenwich Village. She’d just come from an on-air WBGO interview with Michael Bourne for his “Singers Unlimited” program. It wasn’t her first time on the show, either. Years ago, the radio host interviewed her parents, then asked the young prodigy a few questions; she was 10. What did she have to say? “You think I remember?” she joked. “Probably something like, [assuming a little girl’s voice] ‘Hi, I’m 10. I like jazz.’”

Swift adopted her stage name, with her parents’ permission, before her childhood debut album. “My dad was adopted,” she explained. “His biological father’s name was Swift. I wanted to establish my own name.” Even then she had a sense she would be an artist with her own identity.

She doesn’t remember a time when she didn’t listen to jazz. “That was all I was exposed to. Before I was even born, in utero, Mom was doing concerts. I was always hearing bebop ... it’s like when you hear your language growing up. There’s a language and vocabulary to the music. I’ve been hearing it before I even could speak.

“When I was 4 or 5 years old, I was obsessed with Stravinsky and Bach. The Rite Of Spring was—is—my favorite piece of music. It evokes every emotion I’ve ever felt in one sitting. I was singing Bach lines before I was in grade school. I didn’t think I was anything special. I just liked to sing stuff that kids my age didn’t listen to. So, I knew I was different.”

Her current path has not been without a few twists and turns. Before coming in second at the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition in 2015 (Jazzmeia Horn won that year), she had been thinking about doing something completely different.

“When people ask what I do, yeah, I’m a jazz singer, but I’m really a storyteller,” she said. Her mother remembers her as a child telling stories from the back seat during long drives, “for 20 minutes at a clip. It was an early sign of her abilities as a storyteller.”

In 2013–’14, while studying at the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami, Swift said she went through a rough patch emotionally; she cited the loss of her childhood home in a fire and difficulty adjusting to the demands of college as contributing factors. She dealt with it by taking a semester off to explore goth-rock as both composer and performer, writing an alt-rock opera called Vera Icon about a nun with a dark side. “I did rock ’n’ roll stuff for two years,” she said, “and I felt free and at peace with myself onstage from singing rock ’n’ roll.”

In all, she said, she has written three musicals and three screenplays. “I couldn’t be the artist I am today without having sung the rock stuff. I think it gives me that edge. It helped me find my own voice.”

She first met pianist Cohen, 29, when she attended a concert he played at the Frost School (the pianist is also an alumnus). When she got to New York, it was Cohen who took her under his wing and introduced her to the jazz scene, including players like bassist Russell Hall, drummers Kyle Poole, Evan Sherman and Bryan Carter, and singer-trumpeter Benny Benack III, who gigged regularly at Smalls, Dizzy’s and Smoke. He also introduced her to several living jazz masters with whom he’d played, including Jimmy and Tootie Heath, Jimmy Cobb, Houston Person and Ron Carter.

Cohen, winner of the American Pianists Association’s 2019 Cole Porter Fellowship award, said, “We had instant chemistry. She hadn’t felt that from a peer up until that point, and neither had I from any singer I’ve known. She can access the emotion of a song more directly than any other singer I’ve ever worked with, feeling the sadness of a lyric and relating it to her life. I’ve seen tears well up in her eyes when she sings.”

Swift and Cohen’s compatibility is based, in part, on a shared interest in vintage songs, he said. “Whether it’s the repertoire of Jelly Roll Morton, Fats Waller or Thelonious Monk, I like putting a modern twist on them, and so does she.” One example from the new album cited by Cohen: a minor but clever update to Frishberg’s immortal lyric to “I’m Hip,” revising “I’m gettin’ my kicks/ Watchin’ arty French flicks with my shades on” to “I’m gettin’ my kicks/ Yes, I’m watching Netflix with my shades on.”

Confessions, as the title implies, has an aura of autobiography to it, even if the lyrics might not directly correspond to events in Swift’s own life. “My parents taught me never to sing about something I hadn’t experienced,” she said.

“She simply won’t sing a song that doesn’t have meaning for her,” Nakasian said. “It’s very personal with her. What you see on stage is who she is. I learn from her, seeing her go for the jugular all the time. I like who she is. She’s loving. She could she get a tougher skin, but she’ll get that as she goes on.”

Although her mother never gave her formal voice lessons, both parents gave her hard-won wisdom about programming and managing a music career. Swift said this included “being grateful for what you have, and—maybe the most important thing—how to manage my time. My mom and I both tend to say yes to too many things. You have to make priorities constantly.”

The way she brings drama to her songs is something she shares with another leading jazz vocalist, Cécile McLorin Salvant. “The drama part is important to her,” Nakasian said. “Jon Hendricks said to me, ‘In real art, there is no competition.’ She and Cécile are both theatrical, although very different. There used to be a distinct line between cabaret and jazz. It’s more blurry now. Now, it’s not unhip to be theatrical.”

Having learned so many songs from her parents gives Swift yet another advantage. A good example is her choice of “A Little Taste,” the second cut on Confessions. The song is a classic instrumental by Johnny Hodges to which Frishberg wrote a wry, witty lyric about indulging in adult beverages. It’s rarely been covered.

“That song was her choice,” said Green, whose trio accompanied her on the tune. “She comes up with this really hip repertoire, obscure songs with a brilliant lyric or an intriguing melody. She owns that now, doesn’t she?”

Swift had the opportunity to perform the song for Frishberg, now 86, at Portland’s PDX Jazz Festival, along with “I’m Hip” (written with the late Dorough). “He said he was touched,” Swift said. The memory overwhelms Swift with emotion.

Losing her father at a young age has clearly had an impact on Swift. Hod O’Brien, a bebop pianist who played with Chet Baker, Donald Byrd and Art Farmer, died of cancer on Nov. 20, 2016, at the age of 80, when Swift was 22. “I was born when he was 58. I always had the oldest father of any of my friends. So, I was aware of his mortality,” she reflected.

“He wasn’t much of a talker. But I learned from him when to talk and when not to talk. And when he did talk, everyone listened. He had a spiritual presence.” She takes some comfort knowing that, before his passing, “he saw me arrive,” she said. “I feel lucky that we had a complete relationship. That’s all we can hope for. There’s no perfect ending or closure. That’s a fallacy. But a complete relationship—that’s a beautiful thing.”

In the past few years, Green, 56, has become a special kind of a mentor to her. “Playing with him is like playing with a long-lost older brother,” she said.

“All the older cats love her,” Green said. “It’s important for Veronica to feel that connection with older musicians. For me, working with her has been an inspiration. I’m very particular. I mostly work as a leader these days. So, for me to work with someone younger, and for them to lead my trio, is a bit of a stretch. Ultimately, it’s not about how old the person is or how well known they are. It’s about, ‘Are we on the same page musically?’ It’s really a gas to play with someone who’s so right-now and old-school at the same time.”

Or, as Cohen put it, “She’s the total package. Once I asked [drummer] Tootie Heath if he missed the New York jazz scene. He said, ‘Nah—I am jazz.’ When I meet someone like Veronica, that’s what I feel—she is jazz.” DB

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Premiere: The Soul Rebels Dish On ‘Real Life’ In New Video


New Orleans brass ensemble The Soul Rebels are gearing up to release a brand new full-length album, titled Poetry In Motion, on October 25. To aid in its promotional efforts, the group is premiering a second new single and its accompanying music video, directed by Leff at Vincent Lou Films.

“It's about having a dream and bringing it to life,” trumpet player Marcus Hubbard says of “Real Life.” “A lot of times people have dreams and don't believe they can really happen. This is telling you to believe in your dreams and go after them. Don't worry about outside influences or what people are saying.

"It's also about going through real life circumstances,” Hubbard adds, “and having to make decisions to keep pushing forward and fighting for what you believe in in life. In life we are faced with hard times, challenges and moments that test our strength. The song is about dealing with hardship and coming out strong on the other side. It's a reflective song.”

Utilizing the strongest elements of funk, soul and hip-hop, The Soul Rebels have crafted a truly memorable modern offering that’s full of old-school spirit and charm. Its explosive rap verses only add to its effect as one of the best songs of 2019.

You can view The Soul Rebels’ video for “Real Life” below.

The Soul Rebels have several live performances lined up into 2020. You can view the group’s dates on their website.

Read the full piece from: Forbes

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Veronica Swift: Confessions


A born be-bopper, it's literally impossible not to love the energy that 25 year old Veronica Swift brings to her game. Soulfully infused with an infectious passion for jazz past and future, she is building a grand foundation for a long and colorful career, guaranteeing plenty of great performances and listenings along the way.

So it is certain that it is no accident that she opens her raucous and ballsy Mack Avenue Records debut Confessions with Andre and Dorie Previn's "You're Gonna Hear From Me." "Move over sun 'n give me some sky," she declares with a gleeful defiance, kicking off a joyride that doesn't roll often: demanding and commanding your undivided attention for her talent's sake, not for her fashions, her passions, or her Twitter feed.

Daughter of celebrated jazz vocalist Stephanie Nakasian and late be-bop pianist Hod O'Brien, Swift comes by it all most naturally and the music fits her like a second skin. Handling all twelve expressive arrangements with a youthful, carry-you-away zest, each performance becomes its own highlight reel. Johnny Hodges's "A Little Taste," is fashioned as a playful seduction. From the Thoroughly Modern Millie songbook comes "Forget About the Boy," an exuberant pop/rhumba plaything played with Broadway precision by the equally formidable Emmet Cohen: pianist superb Emmet Cohen, bassist Russell Hall, and drummer Kyle Poole. Cohen and company empower eight of the twelve tracks, while the other four keynotes, including the sumptuous "Interlude," Swift's own cool, sparkling angsty throwback "I Hope She Makes You Happy" and the intense late-night medley of Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz's "Confession" and Jessie Mae Robinson's "The Other Woman," are brought to lively, vigorous life by the dynamic shadings of pianist Benny Green and his compatriots, drummer Carl Allen and bassist David Wong, while Swift sings with a heartbreaking blues melancholy beyond her years, a skill she channels as easily as she breathes, exemplified again on the coupling of Mel Torme's "Stranger In Town" and Victor Schertzinger's Billie Holiday gem "I Don't Wanna Cry No More."

The street crackling hipness of "I'm Hip" and the saucy assurance of "No Regrets" only proves further Swift brings it all to fore, conjuring Ella Fitzgerald with her easy scatting, Sarah Vaughn with her natural timing, Anita O'Day for attitude and humor, and Ethel Waters for the sheer force of her personality. It's all here waiting for you to be heard in Confessions.

ps: Veronica Swift's ascendancy consist of: It's Great To be Alive! (Snob, 2007), Birdland Big Band (Birdland Records, 2017), Then and Now Benny Green (Sunnyside, 2018) and her debut Veronica's House of Jazz (Snob, 2004).

Track Listing You’re Gonna Hear From Me; A Little Taste; Interlude; Forget About The Boy; A Stranger in Town; I Don’t Wanna Cry Anymore; I Hope She Makes You Happy; Confession/The Other Woman; Gipsy In My Soul; No, Not Much; I’m Hip: No Regrets.

Personnel Veronica Swift: vocals; Emmet Cohen Trio: Emmet Cohen, piano; Russell Hall, bass; Kyle Poole, drums (1, 2, 4-6, 9-12); Benny Green Trio: Benny Green: piano; David Wong: bass; Carl Allen: drums (3, 7-8).

Read the full piece from: All About Jazz

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Artist Spotlight: Veronica Swift


At 25 years old, Veronica Swift possesses the cool confidence of a seasoned performer. Elegant onstage, the up-and-coming vocalist can slide seamlessly from a difficult syncopated rhythm to a wistful love song to a fresh arrangement of an old standard.

Swift’s jazz bona fides were evident from the start. Born in Charlottesville, Va., to renowned pianist Hod O’Brien and acclaimed singer Stephanie Nakasian—both jazz artists—she first appeared at New York’s Jazz Standard with her parents. She recorded two CDs as a child: one at age nine with saxophonist Richie Cole, her father’s rhythm section, and her mother, and one at age 13 with saxophonist Harry Allen. Swift’s first appearance at Jazz at Lincoln Center was at age 11, when she performed at the “Women in Jazz” series at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola. 

Veronica Swift and Emmet Cohen perform “I’m Hip” on WBGO’s Singers Unlimited

Singing in her high-school choir taught Swift about blending and voice-leading, while playing trumpet in the jazz band taught her about improvisation.

“I noticed that I could actually sing this stuff better than I could play it on trumpet,” she told JazzTimes, “so why don’t I just scat?”

Soon after, Veronica Swift was earning accolades. In the fall of 2015, she won second place at the Thelonious Monk Jazz Competition. In 2016 she was asked to perform a concert of her own at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center in New York City, and she was a guest artist with Michael Feinstein at Jazz at Lincoln Center with the Tedd Firth Big Band, Marilyn Maye, and Freda Payne.

In the summer of 2016 she headlined at the Telluride Jazz Festival, her 10th appearance there but her first as a headliner. She had first appeared there at age 10 with Dave Adams’ Young Razzcals Jazz Project and Richie Cole; later she sang a duet with the featured artist, Paquito D’Rivera. In April 2017 she was booked for a residency at Birdland Jazz Club in New York City. On into 2018, Veronica began touring with her trio, featuring pianist Emmet Cohen, as well as the Benny Green Trio, Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, and Chris Botti, appearing at Jazz Showcase, the Monterey and Montreal Jazz Festivals, two runs at Jazz at Lincoln Center Shanghai, China, and Marians Jazz Showroom in Bern, Switzerland.

Her 2015 album Lonely Woman features some of the hottest young jazz players on the scene, including Cohen, Benny Benack III, Daryl Johns, Matt Wigler, and Scott Lowrie. Her debut album for Mack Avenue Records, Confessions, is due out on August 30, 2019.

In addition to performing the Great American Songbook and bebop and vocalese classics, Veronica is also a passionate devotee of ’20s and ’30s music and has sung with Vince Giordano, Terry Waldo, and Drew Nugent.

But her musical tastes aren’t limited to jazz alone. Swift cites Marilyn Manson, Freddie Mercury of Queen, Michael Jackson, and Lady Gaga as some of her biggest influences. She may even cover a couple of Queen songs on her next album.

Read the full piece from: JAZZTIMES

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Artist Feature: Veronica Swift


Child prodigies—defined as a person under the age of ten who produces meaningful output at an adult level—come along in one out of 10 million or so births. Jazz singer Veronica Swift qualifies. At nine she recorded her debut album, Veronica’s House of Jazz, and also began touring with her parents, pianist Hod O’Brien and jazz singer Stephanie Nakasian. Her second album, It’s Great to Be Alive, was released four years later. In between, at 11, there was an appearance in the Women in Jazz series at Dizzy’s Club. Early video shows a youngster with poise, advanced skill and a vocal tone already rich and warm. 

Swift has just turned 25 and has already had a full and important career to which other performers would aspire. Confession, her latest album and Mack Avenue debut is due out at the end of August, with pianists Benny Green and Emmet Cohen’s trios. Yet, growing up in Charlottesville, Virginia, she says she had a very “normal” school experience, despite knowing that hers was not an average childhood. “It wasn’t until high school that the other students really got what I did,” she says, “but I never had a problem connecting with other people my age.” 

In the 2015 Thelonious Monk Competition she was the second place winner and earned a Bachelor’s degree in jazz voice in 2016 from the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami. That same year, her father died after a battle with cancer; to deal with the anger she felt she wrote a gothic-rock opera, Vera Icon, about a homicidal nun. Intensely self-aware, she muses that, in art, nothing ever fulfills its purpose or reaches its full potential. “So it’s just the beginning for Vera Icon,” she says. “Writing it was the greatest joy of my life—very much how it must be to be pregnant.” One of her goals is to bring Vera Icon to the New York stage in an Off Broadway production. 

Swift’s drive was no more evident than in a recent performance at Birdland, where she has found a New York home. Club owner Gianni Valenti was quick to spot her talent and sign her to his AB Artists career management company. During the set in the newly opened Birdland Theater, Swift was in a contemplative mode, having just experienced the loss of a friend. She is aware that great songs can come from unhappiness— anger, sadness, dejection, grief—as well as the interpretation of them. Her therapy is the music, in putting those dark feelings into her work. She honored in song her father, “Uncle” Bob Dorough with “Nothing Like You (Has Ever Been Seen Before)” and Jon Hendricks with a vocalese rendition of Mercer Ellington-Ted Person’s “Things Ain’t What They Used to Be”. It became obvious that Swift, with her natural presence and beliefs about the dark side of life, knows how to harness the wind. 

She uses the word “edge” to describe a certain angst or energy from underneath that flows through each and every song, adding intensity and yearning to it. “For me edge is mostly these negative, but powerful, energies that one experiences and are being channeled through these songs with the power of love,” she says. “If that aspect isn’t represented in these songs,” she affirms, “then you’re not seeing a true person on stage in front of you.” 

Swift’s repertoire is extensive, changes with each performance and includes numbers from the ‘20s-30s, plus Swing Era standards and other classics of the songbook. She’s also at home with the bebop canon and much more. Her personal listening and tastes have been wide-ranging; she cites such disparate influences on her work as Anita O’Day and Marilyn Manson to opera. All of these elements inform her performances in specific ways, serving their own purposes. She explains: “Jazz allows me to feel warm, safe and grounded. Rock and metal and opera give me strength and empowerment. Electronic music makes me feel as if I’m high or in a trance-like state.” 

With an uncanny ability to deliver flawless vocalese, she says she well understands that this vocal style is not for everyone, especially since the words fly by so quickly. She discloses that for her, the very attraction to it is the words. “When written well, vocalese is an ingenious way to tell a story through more complex narrative and deeper emotional concepts,” she explains. “The fact you have more melodic lines to put words to gives you the opportunity to tell the stories of these songs in a completely new light. You’re writing a musical in a sense, creating characters and such.” Swift adds that vocalese also allows her to solo in an instrumental form, often mirroring and mimicking instrumental lines, particularly horns. 

In the few years since graduating from college, Swift has enjoyed a full-time career as an artist, leading her own bands and starring with the likes of Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Chris Botti, Michael Feinstein, Clint Homes, Nicolas King, Benny Green and many more.

A little surprisingly though, she admits there’s more satisfaction for her in acting. “I am most happy performing when I am in a stage or film production,” she reveals. When she can be someone else, deal with props and work with other actors, then that story becomes a gateway to another universe. “When I can enter someone else’s world and tell their story, that’s when I’m at peace and most satisfied with my work,” she says. 

As to the future of jazz in the hands of her generation, Swift cites Cécile McLorin Salvant, Cyrille Aimée and Jazzmeia Horn as jazz singers who bring fresh sounds yet also honor tradition. She admires their ability to maintain their own integrity and passions. Swift considers herself, as well as these artists and those like them, as voices who will preserve the art form but add to it as well. 

“We just have to keep creating and staying true to our roots in this music,” she concludes. “As long as we do that we will be able to communicate and reach those across borders of all kinds.”

Read the full piece from: New York City Jazz Record

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‘Gratitude’ CD Review


For those not in the know, known for consistently cranking out chart-topping singles that deploy big vibrant pop hooks, contemporary jazz saxophonist Steve Cole is actually much more than that; for he is also a professor/adviser of music business at the University of St. Thomas.

The Chicago native exploded onto the scene in 1998 with the album Stay Awhile that was produced by fellow Chicagoan Brian Culbertson. The disc scored two #1 hits and earned Cole the Oasis Smooth Jazz Award for best new artist shortly before his sophomore set, Between Us, was released in 2000.

His catchy singles made him an instant radio favorite and he cranked them out with regularity on subsequent albums NY LA (2003), Spin (2005), True (2006), Moonlight (2011), Pulse (2013), and then Turn It Up in 2016.

It’s during the times when we’re confronted with life’s hardest struggles that we learn to appreciate the humanity around us. On his latest album, Gratitude, Cole offers thanks for the people who’ve helped see him through some of his tough times – the loved ones, the musicians and collaborators who rallied around, and the often-nameless professionals whose job is to help and to heal.

Releasing on July 26th, 2019 via Artistry Music / Mack Avenue Records, Gratitude arrives on the heels of a health scare in Cole’s family.

The successful battle left the saxophonist feeling rejuvenated, with a renewed sense of hope and faith in his fellow humans.

"Going through something like this," Cole says of the recent health scare, "and seeing all these marvelous people who care so much about others has really imbued my music with optimism and gratitude."

Ergo, that depth of feeling shines through on the album’s ten tracks, which joyously spotlight Cole’s gift for infectious grooves, soulful melodies, and vibrant pop hooks.

1. 'Good News Day'
2. 'Neo Sol'
3. 'Gratitude'
4. 'Soho'
5. 'Starting Over'
6. 'Love Ballad'
7. 'Five6oh83'
8. 'Can't Get Enough'
9. 'Let's Go!'
10. 'Toronto'

The first track from his brand new ninth album is the upbeat, addictively funky and definitely the only track you would need playing in your open top car on a summer drive 'Good News Day' and that's backed by both the gentle jazz lite flow of 'Neo Sol' and the quieter title track ballad 'Gratitude.'

The beat gets turned back up on the finger-snappin' beauty 'Soho' which is backed seamlessly by both the gently distorted slap bass and guitar of 'Stating Over' and the truly lush, and aptly titled 'Love Ballad.'

Bringing back the funk for 'Five6oh83' that's followed by one of my own personal favorites here, the windswept hipsway of 'Can't Get Enough.'

The album then rounds out in some style with Cole showcasing his immense sax talents on the fun 'Let's Go!' with the laid back ease of 'Toronto' bringing this quite stunning new album to a close.

Read the full piece from: Exclusive Magazine

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Saxophonist Steve Cole to Release New Album “Gratitude” on July 26th, 2019


It’s during the times when we’re confronted with life’s hardest struggles that we learn to appreciate the humanity around us. On his latest album, Gratitude, saxophonist Steve Cole offers thanks for the people who’ve helped see him through some of his tough times – the loved ones, the musicians and collaborators who rallied around, and the often-nameless professionals whose job is to help and to heal.

Gratitude, due out July 26 via Mack Avenue Music Group’s Artistry Music, arrives on the heels of a health scare in Cole’s family. Their successful battle left the saxophonist feeling rejuvenated, with a renewed sense of hope and faith in his fellow humans. That depth of feeling shines through on the album’s ten tracks, which joyously spotlight Cole’s gift for infectious grooves, soulful melodies, and vibrant pop hooks.

Co-produced with longtime collaborator and fellow saxophonist David Mann, Gratitude in no way reinvents the trademark sound that has seen Cole consistently top the contemporary jazz charts, both solo and with the much-loved sax trio The Sax Pack, over the last two decades. But it does find an artist with a love of life and an overflowing passion for self-expression, the formula for an invigorating and moving set of music.

“Having a close family member go through something like this,” Cole says of the recent health scare, “and seeing all these marvelous people who care so much about others has really imbued my music with optimism and gratitude.”

The ensemble on Gratitude includes his regular rhythm section, bassist Lamar Jones and drummer Khari Parker, along with guitarist Bernd Schoenhart, organist Ricky Peterson and horn players Trevor Neumann and Dan Levine. As he has been since Cole’s second album, David Mann was a crucial partner: producing, playing multiple instruments, and even providing the album’s heartfelt title track.

“It’s a beautiful song, and perfect for me as an artist,” Cole says. “I feel like Dave knew the record needed that — and that I needed it.”

Another reason for appreciation came via one of Cole’s Sax Pack partners when Marcus Anderson delivered the funky “Can’t Get Enough.” As Cole marvels, “He just laid it at my feet, completely finished. Marcus said, ‘I was thinking of you,’ and he gave me this awesome song. It was an incredible gift from one of my saxophone brothers.”

Having created one of his strongest albums to date, Cole hopes that the music of Gratitude returns some of the healing energy and positive emotion that he received from so many people back into the wider world. He’s seen it happen firsthand: “Writing music is a dream, and it always blows me away when someone tells me a story about how my music has affected them in a profound way,” he says. “Joy is baked into this record, and hopefully it means as much to the listeners as it does to me.”

Read the full piece from: TheUrbanMusicScene

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The Soul Rebels Bring the Bounce With Big Freedia-Assisted ‘Good Time’ Video: Premiere


As New Orleans natives, The Soul Rebels naturally know how to have a good time. With the brass band heading for the release of their Poetry in Motion album this fall, the eight-piece ensemble teams with a couple of fellow Big Easy residents in Denisia and bounce pioneer Big Freedia for the sun-drenched "Good Time" visual.

The clip, which premieres with Billboard on Thursday (Aug. 8), finds some of The Soul Rebels enjoying a game of dominoes over a few cold drinks at a summer barbecue. There's even a giant inflatable water slide to occupy the kids that Denisia sings in front of while bubbles float across the screen. Big Freedia spices up her guest appearance before the visual comes to a close, as the scene switches to the 41-year-old captaining a ship at sea.

"Our new album reflects The Soul Rebels sound and style, and challenges and expands upon the perception of a New Orleans brass band," trumpeter Julian Gosin says of what influenced the band's sonic direction. "We are breaking the stylistic and artistic boundaries of what it means to be a brass group from New Orleans."

Poetry in Motion is due out Oct. 25 and will feature Tarriona “Tank” Ball, Big Freedia, Robert Glasper, Branford Marsalis, Matisyahu, PJ Morton, and Trombone Shorty.

Watch the "Good Time" video below.

Read the full piece from: Billboard

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Julian Lage: Love Hurts


Julian Lage is a tremendously talented acoustic guitarist and by all accounts a polite, mild mannered kind of guy. Though this might not be the whole story. The cover picture of his album is of twenty used matches, which is thought to refer to his worries of becoming burnt-out after being hailed as a child prodigy then burdened with the lofty expectations of his admirers.

Lage was an accomplished blues guitarist when featured in the Oscar-nominated film documentary Jules at Eight. A year later, at nine, he was invited on stage to trade licks with Carlos Santana. Then, into his teens, he performed with, in turn, virtuoso banjo player Bela Fleck, bluegrass flat and finger picking ace Doc Watson and jazz vibraphonist Gary Burton. Now in his 30s, he no longer feels the need for such demonstrations of virtuosity.

Lage, based in New York, told Rolling Stone magazine: "I remember very vividly being a kid and people saying, 'You're so good for being such a young age.' I'd say, 'Thank you,' but I'd be thinking, I want to be good for any age. That was always my goal."

He kicks off with the melancholy "In Heaven," by Peter Scott Ivers, a harmonica player, songwriter and television personality murdered in 1983 at the age of 37. Ivers' killer has never been brought to justice. There's some microphone distortion on this track early on, but it doesn't get in the way that much and the rest of the album is fine.

Next up is a dazzlingly fast treatment of the title track of Ornette Coleman's 1959 album, "Tomorrow Is The Question." Then Lage stays with jazz for Keith Jarrett's "The Windup," a second Jarrett number, "Encore (A)" and a lesser known piece by Jimmy Giuffre, "Trudgin'"

But what he does best is to revisit and transform melancholy old pop numbers. His arrangement of the title track, an Everly Brothers' hit from 1965, is quite stunning and his playing of it makes you forget the number's lachrymose country origins.

Better still is the old Tommy Dorsey hit, "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You." On this, Lage abandons any consideration of what might or might not be expected of him and takes it along nice and slowly, exploring the beautiful old melody to the full.

He quietly exits with another sensitive treatment of a pop weepy, Roy Orbison's "Crying," from 1962.

Read the full piece from: All About Jazz

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Jazz Organ Master Joey DeFrancesco Collaborates with Pharoah Sanders on ‘In the Key of the Universe”


The first track on the latest recording from Joey DeFrancesco is what you might expect from the organ expert and swinging veteran. "Inner Being" is a graceful, upbeat tune that layers DeFrancesco's organ colors with both Sammy Figueroa's percussion and the organic drumming of veteran Billy Hart. The passages of the composition in which the organ plays in melodic sync with the soprano saxophone of Troy Roberts (the native of Perth, Australia who has made New York his home in recent years) are lovely, launching an engaging set of solos. If the whole album were like this, well, it would be a beautiful slice of what DeFrancesco has been offering listeners for many years: Hammond B3 playing for a new century. Tasty. Lovely.

But In the Key of the Universe offers something more. On three tracks, DeFrancesco features the legendary Pharoah Sanders, the tenor saxophone giant whose work with John Coltrane and solo career from the '60s through the '80s made a huge mark on the music. In the last 20 years, Sanders seemed to vanish from the scene, even as some of his original ideas have been revived in various forms, becoming more relevant than ever.

DeFrancesco says that "this is something I've wanted to do for a long time," ever since Sanders sat in with him on a gig in Vienna in 2004, playing "Body and Soul" and a blues. "He was unbelievable. At that time I was just finishing up a record with Jimmy Smith called Legacy. I thought it would be great to have Pharoah, but scheduling didn't allow it."

The result is a recording that brings Sanders' voice back into circulation in a thrilling way and opens up DeFrancesco's music to a newer avenues as well.

"My music has naturally been growing in a more spiritual direction over the last decade," says DeFrancesco. "So this was a natural."

The thirst to revisit Sanders's work of the '70s and '80s is hardly confined to DeFrancesco. The Epic by Kamasi Washington (Brainfeeder, 2015) is possibly the most talked about jazz recording of the last five years, and it's unimaginable without Sanders as a role—and sonic -- model. DeFrancesco's take on Sander's legacy is less transformative, but it brings the leader's music into a different place while giving Sanders a chance to reintroduce himself.

Sanders appears on three tracks on In the Key of the Universe. DeFrancesco positions them at the center of the order, and they deserve to be its core. Sanders doesn't outplay Roberts on the saxophone but he brings a gravity to each of these tracks that places them on a different plane. Sanders also brings his famous tune, "The Creator Has a Master Plan" to the album.

"I've seen Pharoah many times over the years," DeFrancesco recalls, "and I have all his records. But when you're in the studio with him and he puts his horn together ... As soon as he plays his first note, it puts you in a zone. He starts explaining how to play 'The Creator Has a Master Plan'—that intro. He comes in just as strong as in 1969, and to hear that in front of you, it's a spiritual experience."

The version here is shorter than Sanders's original, but it still has grandeur. The 1969 version from Karma (Impulse!) is more than 30 minutes long. It's arrayed with percussion and flute, coming in as a great rumble of life, the tenor saxophone both gruff and tender, the tremolo of piano sounding like drums, the drums sounding like a deep form of melody. The groove of the original has a simplicity, sounding almost childlike, shot through with wonder while still cluttered with a tribal communion.

DeFrancesco doesn't try to mimic that, exactly, but he has the great Billy Hart on drums with Figueroa adding texture and his own piano filling the space more fully. The tempo is a bit faster, with Sanders entering earlier and the band getting into a pulsing groove that, frankly, out-swings the original. DeFrancesco's organ becomes a beautiful voice that matches Sanders, both when he plays and when he sings the song's famous lyric ("The creator has a master plan / Peace and happiness for every man"), a smooth, fluid thing.

The organ, after all, is a church instrument, a spiritual voice even as it's been associated with the greasy blues. To DeFrancesco, they can be one and the same. "It's all blues. When you listen to 'The Creator Has a Master Plan'—that's a total blues line. But it's a freer concept of that. John Lee Hooker has real spiritual depth too. There's a misconception that the blues is about struggling, but it's about everything. It's a feeling, but it's not about being 'blue'."

There's a graceful sway of keyboards beneath all of the performance, a set of polyrhythms among the different voices that resemble the various voices in Hart's drum kit, bouncing, kissing against each other, forming the chain of pulses that are the life of the song. It's only a third the length of the original but still, at 11-minutes, it stretches out—not with long solos but with several episodes of collective feeling. It grabs you and holds you.

"Musically, you have to get past chord changes and time," DeFrancesco explains. "I love when you get really open and allow the time to let the feeling develop. You feel a whole other closeness when you approach the music this way."

Sanders plays in cooperation with DeFrancesco's muted trumpet on "And So It Is", a languorous theme that bobs with a gentle Latin feeling above a rhythm section that also layers organ and Fender Rhodes. Sanders takes the first solo, rambling in excellent tone over the changes, with his hard-edged sound rounded off quite a bit. DeFrancesco plays a busier solo on Rhodes, with the tines of the electric piano being matched, tonally, by Figueroa's bell-like hand percussion. The best part of the tune, though, comes after the melody is reprised. Sanders solos again, this time in impressionistic conversation with Joey's B3. The two voices really belong together.

The title track, "In the Key of the Universe" is the most conventional of the three Sanders tracks, with its swinging bass line (played by Roberts, actually) over a modified blues structure. All the players seem loosest here, with DeFrancesco taking a smoking solo. But there's something that each player gets from the other: a sense of being prodded, pushed, inspired. "I never knew I was going to go this way—it just happened naturally," DeFrancesco says. "Coltrane had the foresight to hire Pharoah and other free players. Trane was smart to sponge off of that. A lot of people don't want to do that or don't know if they want to do that."

Reaching for Communion It can be hard to say what it is, exactly, about this music that gives it a sense of spirituality. But DeFrancesco suggests it has something to do with spontaneity. "Staying fresh and always being on the cutting edge—Pharoah has always been there. That never goes away. You can stay in one bag and play standards forever, and even within that approach there are ways to stay fresh because you're improvising.

"There are different definitions of freedom. Spiritual music is a good term. It's about being in the moment and being aware of yourself. It's all one big thing. it's endless. There are so many sounds but there are only twelve notes. But it's in how you approach them—the feeling and the time feeling. Is there anything new?"

Some of the tracks with Roberts on saxophone and without Sanders also reflect the sense of the spiritual. "A Path Through the Noise" may be the best example. It's a ballad and there's something powerfully intimate in that format, particularly with the Hammond organ purring beneath every note, a beautiful, shivering thing. The way the colors of the organ shade the tenor sax melody seem spiritual in the way that light coming across a mountain range at dawn suggests things bigger than our normal concerns. It's not a catechism but a feeling.

"You have to have the right feeling. When the spiritual aspect is there, it's really happening," says DeFrancesco. "As you grow older, it opens you up more spiritually. Being aware of more things is important. It's not even about religion. It's about being in touch, in key with the universe. This makes me understand guys like Pharoah more. It's about other cultures, not just bebop scales, though that was spiritual too."

"Vibrations in Blue" gets at that intercultural element to spirituality. The tune simulates a sitar drone at the start and finish, using bent tones and unusual timbres. The instruments move across a non-Western scale until the groove kicks in, slow at first and then slipping into a swinging tempo at an odd time signature.

The other element of spirituality that DeFrancesco hears in this project is that of communion, bringing together the musicians who can lift his music up to a higher level. "Miles Davis is a perfect example of how you move your art along by having different musicians, the right musicians. As great as Miles was as a trumpeter, his great gift was putting musicians together. The musicians that surrounded him influenced him. That's how you're true to yourself—by taking these different things that you like that you're hearing and bring those people in." DeFrancesco played briefly in Davis's band in 1988 when he was only 17. "We remained very close. It was so cool to have that relationship, and he was so kind to me."

Bringing in Billy Hart for In the Key of the Universe qualifies as critical communion, of course. "He was on the original [of "The Creator Has a Master Plan"] and now, 50 years later, he's approaching it a different way, influenced by all the music he hears," said DeFrancesco. "He's seventy-eight-years-old and has the energy of an eighteen-year-old. He works three hundred fifty days a year. There are a lot of great players today, but when I have something in mind, I like to go directly to the source, and I'll always do that. When the guys are still walking the earth, you have to learn from these people."

Spanning Time It's clear at the same time that DeFrancesco draws a stream of power from younger bandmates too. The leader and Roberts are twinned and deeply simpatico on "Away and Blissed", which flies out of the gate in swinging four-four, DeFrancesco soloing on both B3 and electric piano. "It Swung Wide Open" is also up-tempo, with tight unison playing between Roberts' tenor and DeFrancesco's organ—a real old school driver with the players trading eights like sparring partners. "This is what keeps the music evolving," says DeFrancesco, "different influences. Troy started playing later, when he was thirteen, in Australia. He's a genius. Within three years, he was playing with the top people over there. His father is a big music fan, and he had access to all the great records. His favorites were Time Out [The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Columbia, 1959] and Kind of Blue [Miles Davis, Columbia, 1959]. He's one of those."

In the Key of the Universe doesn't feel like a pivot point for DeFrancesco, despite these influences, senior and junior. His music is a steady thing, so deeply powered by a tradition larger than any one moment—the jazz legacy of both his native city, Philadelphia, and his main instrument, the Hammond B3 organ. But there is an evolution. He keeps reaching backward in order to reach forward.

The past inspires the future, makes it possible. The spiritual legacy of Pharoah Sanders, of course, lives on in Sanders himself, whose playing is still pure and clear. And new players climb aboard too. In the Key of the Universe doesn't sound like an attempt to remake the moment quite the way Kamasi Washington's The Epic did, but it also feels more aware of its debt to something powerful.

"I know what I'm doing, what my approach is. There's room for everybody in creative music," DeFrancesco says.

Read the full piece from: Pop Matters

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Julian Lage winner of the Paul Acket Award 2019


At a very young age Julian Lage performed with renowned guitarists and received recognition from, among others, Carlos Santana and Pat Metheny. He was taken under the wing of Jim Hall, one of the most influential masters of the jazz guitar. Nowadays Julian Lage is seen as a leading guitarist himself, with a unique sound. Last year he was awarded the title ‘Rising Star Jazz Artist’ in the famous Downbeat Critics Poll.

Member of the jury Bartho van Straaten of Paradox: “Julian Lage is a guitarist who has it all. A phenomenal technique, a beautiful tone and he plays the most beautiful compositions on various guitars with great ease. Despite his young age (31), he has already made the tradition his own and translated it into a unique sound of his own.” Other members of the jury were Carlo Pagnotta (Umbria Jazz, Italy), Martyna Markowska (Katowice JazzArt Festival, Poland), Mijke Loeven (Bimhuis, NL) and Spike Wilner (Smalls, US). They nominated 22 musicians, after which international jazz critics and programmers cast their votes.

Previous winners of the award, named after the founder of North Sea Jazz, include Kaja Draksler (2018), Donny McCaslin (2017), Cécile McLorin Salvant (2016), and Tigran Hamasyan (2015).

Julian Lage will receive his prize at the festival where he will perform with John Zorn presents Bagatelles Marathon on Friday 12 July, and in duo with Ben Wendel and Kris Davis on Saturday.

Read the full piece from: North Sea Jazz Festival

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Herlin Riley’s Swinging, Modern Style Shines On ‘Perpetual Optimism’



This is FRESH AIR. New Orleans drummer Herlin Riley has played in some high-profile settings with pianist Ellis Marsalis and Ahmad Jamal, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and New York's Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. Herlin Riley is also a bandleader who makes his own records. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead really likes his latest.


KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: Drummer Herlin Riley's quintet with Bruce Harris on trumpet. It's from the album "Perpetual Optimism." Riley's side folk are native or transplanted New Yorkers, but the leader lives in his hometown New Orleans. That city's musical culture stamps the band's interplay, rhythmic buoyancy and high spirits. In New Orleans music, drums and drumbeats reflect and represent centuries of African American folkways and culture. That's a legacy Herlin Riley takes seriously. He honors the elders.


HERLIN RILEY: (Rapping) Music is the thing that can heal your soul - black or white, rich or poor, young or old. It came to me at an early age, with me all my life as I turned each page. I got a lot of knowledge from folks who taught me. We need to pass it on to people we teach. A great musician who taught a whole lot of fellas - he wrote this tune. His name is Ellis Marsalis, Ellis Marsalis, great Ellis Marsalis, the Ellis Marsalis. The dad of Branford, Wynton, Delfeayo and Jason Marsalis, Ellis Marsalis.

WHITEHEAD: On his album "Perpetual Optimism," Herlin Riley does a couple things drummer-leaders like to do, such as playing drum solos within the band instead of all by himself or playing in odd time signatures. Riley plays Willie Dixon's Chicago rave-up "Wang Dang Doodle" in 5/4 meter, which adds an extra beat to every bar for extra swagger. It's Riley's only other vocal on the album. Check out those slinky horns behind him.


RILEY: (Singing) Tell automatic Slim. Tell razor-toting Jim. Tell butcher knife-toting Annie. Tell fast-talking Fanny. We going to pitch a ball down to that old union hall. We're going to rump and trump 'til midnight. We're going to fuss and fight 'til daylight. We're going to pitch a wang dang doodle all night long.

WHITEHEAD: Herlin Riley wrote most of the music for his new album. The standout composition "Be There When I Get There," with its rhythmic and interlocking phrases for trumpet and alto saxophone, sounds like drum music orchestrated. The parts fit together like different components of a drum set. Russell Hall is on bass.


WHITEHEAD: The members of Herlin Riley's quintet are close listeners, working together in subtle ways to feed the band's percussive texture. There's a good example on their airy reading of the standard "You Don't Know What Love Is." Behind Godwin Lewis' alto solo, new star pianist Emmet Cohen chimes in with high notes behind Riley's heavy beats. That adds a little extra ping to the snare drum sound.


WHITEHEAD: We don't have time to skim all the highlights of Herlin Riley's "Perpetual Optimism." The music is solidly in the suave and swinging modern style, but Riley's New Orleans-infused jazz has its own distinct character. The leader's upbeat nature and attention to detail shine through.


DAVIES: Kevin Whitehead writes for Point of Departure and The Audio Beat. He reviewed "Perpetual Optimism" by drummer Herlin Riley's quartet. Tomorrow on FRESH AIR...


GLENDA JACKSON: Now we have divided in three our kingdom.

DAVIES: Glenda Jackson's now starring as King Lear on Broadway. Terry Gross talks with the 82-year-old two-time Oscar winner about her life and career. Jackson took 23 years off from acting to spend two decades as a member of the British Parliament. I hope you'll join us.

FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our associate producer for digital media is Molly Seavey-Nesper. Therese Madden directed the show. Terry Gross returns tomorrow. I'm Dave Davies.


Read the full piece from: NPR

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Herlin Riley: Perpetual Optimism (Mack Avenue)


New Orleans-based drummer Herlin Riley may be best known for his 10-year stint with Wynton Marsalis, during which he often held down a traditional groove with immaculate timing and a raw, sometimes rowdy pulse. A master then and now, Riley has only gotten better, if that’s possible.

“Snap Crackle” may be Roy Haynes’ nickname, but Riley steals some of Haynes’ thunder on Perpetual Optimism, playing with immense fire, wit, and snap crackle-worthy dynamics. Despite his NOLA background, the compositions and performances on here can’t be pigeonholed: this is simply wonderful music, jazz of the highest order. Featuring an equally striking group of Emmet Cohen on piano, Russell Hall on bass, Godwin Louis on alto saxophone, and Bruce Harris on trumpet, Riley’s band rages on 12 tracks of high-flying improvisation.

Perpetual Optimism begins with fiery energy. Opener “Rush Hour” bounces kinetically over a second-line pulse with the accent on the backside eighth-note of each bar—Riley driving the pocket, the band handclapping the offbeats. “Be There When I Get There” raises the tempo and the pulse with Riley’s driving, four-to-the-bar rim clicks and the frontline’s blazing ensemble figures. “You Don’t Know What Love Is” provides a relaxing break, and the title track reignites the fire. Following his previous recordings Watch What You’re Doing, Cream of the Crescent, and New Direction, Riley’s PerpetualOptimism is infectious, engaging, and irresistible.

Read the full piece from: JazzTimes

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Herlin Riley: Perpetual Optimism review – good-natured ease, brilliantly done


When Herlin Riley came to Britain with Wynton Marsalis’s band some years ago, his serene smile behind the drums radiated what Ira Gershwin might have called his sunny disposish. This album does the same. It has the kind of good-natured ease that could seem casual if it weren’t so brilliantly done. The tunes are lucid, the rhythms catchy, and the bright ideas keep on coming. Riley’s band are the young quintet who made their debut album, New Direction, in 2016.

The basic sound is quite distinctive, particularly the blend of trumpet (Bruce Harris) and alto saxophone (Godwin Louis), each with his own felicitous solo style. Five of the 10 pieces are Riley compositions, and the title track sums up the attractions of the whole set. You can tell by the clipped phrasing that this is the work of a drummer, and there are some tricky little turns to keep us on our toes, but it’s so rhythmically elegant – as befits a New Orleans-born percussionist. Other numbers range from the sparsely voiced, almost abstract Touched to a joyously unbuttoned excursion into the old Willie Dixon favourite Wang Dang Doodle.

Read the full piece from: The Guardian

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Standards, Old and New


Cyrille Aimée, whose initial experience with singing Sondheim came only six years ago during a series of City Center performances in New York, has taken a fresh look at this music, setting it in new and exciting arrangements. The results have been captured on her new album, “Move On: A Sondheim Adventure” (Mack Avenue 1144). The opening track, “When I Get Famous”, is an a cappella set-piece featuring Cyrille and a digital looping machine—a far cry from anything heard in a Sondheim musical! A joyous New Orleans groove propels the optimistic “Take Me to the World”, in which Cyrille finds room for an extended scat solo. The verse of “Love, I Hear” has a recognizable touch of Sondheim’s style, but the style soon changes to a loose-limbed jazz waltz featuring Cyrille’s bubbly vocals, Mathias Levy’s elegant violin, Assaf Gleizner’s cushiony Rhodes and Jérémy Bruyère’s dancing bass. The same rhythm section (with Thomas Enhco subbing for Gleizner on acoustic piano) transforms “Loving You” into a smooth-swinging jazz feel. The borderline neurotic lyrics of “Marry Me a Little” are tempered by Diego Figueiredo’s acoustic guitar and an elegant string quartet. As she does on all of these tracks, Cyrille’s exquisite diction and her persuasive delivery retain the original messages intended by the composer (nowhere better than on the title track) and it is to Sondheim’s credit that his words and music can retain its power, even in the most radical transformations, including the burning samba treatment of “Being Alive”, the double-tempo Gypsy jazz arrangement of “So Many People” or the electronics-infused setting of “I Remember”. Cyrille’s mixed meter rendition of “Not While I’m Around” may lack the fierce intensity of the version from “Sweeney Todd”, but we still believe that she will protect her lover from all adversaries. I am particularly impressed with the bass/vocal duet on “They Ask Me Why I Believe in You” and the gospel arrangement of “No One is Alone” (featuring Bruyère and guitarist Ralph Lavital, respectively), and I wonder if Sondheim—who claims to know little about jazz—was surprised at the new settings. When he first heard Cyrille sing one of his songs at City Center, Sondheim admitted that he broke into tears. He attended Cyrille’s performance of this music at the Manhattan jazz club Birdland earlier this year, and the photos show him to be very pleased. Perhaps Cyrille’s example will inspire other performers to examine Sondheim’s work as songs, not as mere Broadway specialties.

Article shared from Jazz History Online

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REVIEW: Joey DeFrancesco’s New Album, “In The Key Of the Universe”


Jim Macnie for Downbeat Magazine – Pop-centric music sites make room for reviews of ancient Impulse! reissues, Kamasi Washington reignites the concept of soul-groove expressionism as both prayer book and political manifesto, and writers measure the breadth, value and impact of “cosmic” improv in pieces that dot the internet. The fire music that certain maestros conjured during the late ’60s is enjoying a heyday, and its trickle-down is having a bit more reach than even its most ardent supporters might have imagined.

A couple years ago, I wouldn’t have bet that a Pharoah Sanders and Joey DeFrancesco collab was in the cards, but In The Key Of The Universe, finds the 47-year-old organ virtuoso and 78-year-old reed magician celebrating “The Creator Has A Master Plan,” the half-century-old song of praise that was the centerpiece of Sanders’ earthshaking album Karma.

Though there’s plenty of bounce and swing in play throughout the 10-track program, DeFrancesco’s self-professed embrace of spiritual jazz employs the kind of contemplative aura that gave so many of yesteryear’s exploratory efforts their personality. Functionally, it can come from the use of dreamy long tones and pensive phrasings. At several points here, a simmering heat, rather than a roiling squall, shapes the record’s temperament. A bit less predictable than previous groove-fueled DeFrancesco discs, In The Key Of The Universe is marked by a strain of passion that prioritizes grace. Even the emotions that Sanders reveals during “And So It Is” are refined, their gravitas bolstered by a fierce rendering of lines, not a tempest of multiphonics. With veteran drummer Billy Hart – who was part of the original “Creator” recording in 1969 – contouring the action, there’s an exquisite flow to the entire program.

To some degree, this aesthetic shift could be spotted in the cool fervor of “Life Every Voice And Sing” and “A Change Is Gonna Come” from DeFrancesco’s 2017 album, Project Freedom. That’s where the thoughtful impact of Troy Roberts came into play. The saxophonist has a key role here, as well, bringing eloquence to his nuanced solos on “Vibrations In Blue” and “A Path Through The Noise,” and tastefully echoing Trane when bolstering the music’s searching quality. There’s a sobriety to his work, identifiable even on the boppish ditty “It Swung Wide Open,” where DeFrancesco returns to the kind of barn-burning romp that earned him his rep.

When Sanders and Roberts’ horn blow side by side on the title track (which sounds like it could be pinched from McCoy Tyner’s songbook), the air gets thick. And the bookend solos of the elder’s pithy excursion, and the keyboardist’s curt stroll, are a sweet intergenerational trade reminding listeners that improv can be a place where various roads converge, and everyone benefits from the exchange.

Read the full piece from: Downbeat

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Joey DeFrancesco: In The Key Of The Universe


Joey DeFrancesco has stretched himself regularly throughout the course of thirty-plus albums. Just since Project Freedom(Mack Avenue, 2017) he's collaborated very productively for two albums with the Irish soulman Van Morrison—You're Driving Me Crazy (Sony Legacy, 2018) and The Prophet Speaks(Caroline, 2018). And, on In The Key of the Universe, the organist/trumpeter reaffirms his connection with jazz history through fruitful work with estimable musicians including saxophonist Pharoah Sanders and drummer Billy Hart.
DeFrancesco himself sounds effortless as he applies a light touch in play on "Inner Being," but that approach extends to the collective, incorporating the solid rhythmic presence of percussionist Sammy Figueroa. "Vibrations in Blue" is suitably atmospheric, but the ensemble swings nonetheless: on this record, metaphysics are no less important than the earthy side of life. Accordingly, the droning of sitar for the intro and outro of that latter cut resides right next to the high-stepping excursion that is "Awake and Blissed; " as with its surrounding tracks, the musicians are so fully engaged the visceral impact of this music equals the cerebral.

"It Swung Wide Open" continues at a similarly fast pace before DeFrancesco and company, including Troy Roberts, the saxophonist for his own band, embark upon deeply spiritual excursions at the heart of this album. For the title song and "The Creator Has A Master Plan"—on the original thirty-two plus minutes of which Hart accompanied Sanders—the instrumental excursions are curtailed somewhat), but the playing time most certainly does not belie the depth of passion.

A comparably novel effect arises from DeFrancesco's trumpet playing on yet another aptly-named title here, "A Path Through the Noise," where his horn lines dances around the subtle beats of Figueroa. Likewise, Roberts cements the emotive power of his own playing when he appears so prominently in sequence, on the ever-so-lush "And So It Is" and "Soul Perspective," hardly residing in the shadow of his iconic counterpart, he simultaneously broadens the scope of In The Key of the Universe, deepens its accessible quality and reaffirms this record's continuity with Joey DeFrancesco's body of work at large.
Track Listing: Inner Being; Vibrations In Blue; Awake And Blissed; It Swung Wide Open; In The Key Of The Universe; The Creator Has A Master Plan; And So It Is; Soul Perspective; A Path Through The Noise; Easier To Be.

Personnel: Joey DeFrancesco: organ, trumpet; Pharoah Sanders: tenor saxophone, vocal; Troy Roberts: soprano, alto and tenor saxophone, bass; Sammy Figueroa: percussion; Billy Hart: drums.

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Recent Listening: Chucho Valdes


Valdes’ Jazz Batá was considered a departure into the avant garde when he made it in 1972. That trio recording was a preview of advances to come from the great Cuban pianist and composer. Nearly half a century later, the followup finds him as adventurous as ever, heading a quartet that concentrates on mastery of the batá tradition of West Africa, long a major component of Cuban music. In their rhythmic power and harmonic acuity, Valdes’ piano solos throughout are riveting, none moreso than his work on “Ochún,” a Haitian merengue that recalls Chucho’s father Bebo because of the elder Valdéz’s close association with Haiti.

Violinist Regina Carter’s empathy with “Ochún’s” blues-drenched harmonies takes shape in the first of her two striking guest appearances on the album. She is sensuous, flowing and forceful in “100 Años de Bebo,” described as “a danzón-mambo” that Chucho heard his father play when he was a child. This new album, packed with performances that can serve as guides to rhythms that abound in Cuban music, closes with a Valdés unaccompanied piano performance of “The Clown,” dedicated to Maurice Ravel. In it, he reflects Ravel’s impressionism and something of the French impressionist’s whimsy.

You may wish to make note of the names of Valdés’s young Cuban bandmates—bassist Yelsy Heredia, percussionist Yaroldy Abreu Robles and batáist-vocalist Dreiser Durruthy Bombalé. They are all superb. If they record again with Valdés, it will be something to look forward to.

Article published on Arts Journal

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Cyrille Aimée: Move On-A Sondheim Adventure


For her first few albums, optimistic sounding vocalist Cyrille Aimee’ has been part of a bohemian gypsy swing team with a wholistic sound. She has recently had a good terms departure with her longtime friends and bandmates, testing new worlds and sounds on this new album. It was a wise and courageous choice, exemplified by this strong collection of interpretations of the Stephen Sondheim songbook.

She mixes and matches musicians, with the most core team of Assaf Gleizner/p, Jeremy Bruyere/b, and Yoan Serra/dr giving a rich and sophisticated feel to the material. But she shows that she’s in for doing something different on the opening salvo “When I Get Famous” as she multi-tracks the swinging a capella piece. There are some cozy trio tracks such as “Not While I’m Around” and “ Loving You” which has her both sensuous and girl-next-door. She then shows her moxie and confidence in a series of duets; “Take Me Two the World” with Serra is a deft delight while her duet with Bruyere on “They Ask Why I Believe In You” is both flexible and bohemian and the duet with nylon guitarist Diego Figueredo is soft and delicate.

Some works with strings create an almost soundtrack feel during “Marry Me A Little” and “Being Alive” with a bit of experimentation taking place with some effects and sax work by Warren Walker making “I Remember” a nourish contemplation. Aimee’ steps out here, and she is sure footed.

Read the full piece from: Jazz Weekly

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Kenny Garrett Interview


Kenny Garrett is a Grammy award winning saxophonist originally from Detroit Michigan who started his career at the young age of 18 years old as a touring member of Duke Ellington band. He has had a legendary career which included being a member of the Miles Davis band for over five years, a Grammy-winning record and numerous with Chic Corea in 2010 and numerous recordings with many household names in the jazz world! His impressive solo career and numerous Down Beat readers poll awards have cemented his legacy as one of the greats!

Darrel Craig Harris: Hi Kenny how are you doing today? You’re in New Jersey correct?

Kenny Garrett: Great, Yes that’s correct!

DCH: Even though you’re on the East coast now, I understand that you grew up in Detroit in the ’60s and early ’70s, what was that like for you growing up in the home of Motown records with all of that music coming out of there? Did it have an influence on you musically?

KG: Well, I would definitely say that I enjoyed listening to the music of Motown, but you know I was listening to everything! I met people, actual jazz musicians who were playing with Motown, and a year before I went to my high school (McKenzie High in Detroit) James Jamerson jr. ( Motown bassist) was actually in the band there and graduated from McKenzie before I came there the next semester! So a lot of those guys and their fathers that were there I definitely met.

DCH: The interesting back story with Motown records, was that Barry Gordy rounded up a bunch of great jazz musicians from that had been playing in the various clubs in Detroit that could read music and recruited them to play in Motown records studio house band.

KG: Well yes, and I think that’s what made the Motown music so powerful because they were jazz musicians! If you think about Stevie Wonder, to me Stevie is a jazz musician. We don’t say that he’s a jazz musician, but if you listen to his music and his chord progressions you can hear that he studied with a lot of those Motown guys meaning he hung around and was influenced by them not really formally studied you know. A lot of that music if you listen to it, it was on such a high level!

I mean I was listening to Junior Walker not too long, the tune was called “These Eyes” I was like this guy is playing the same melody but the production was a mother! I was like wow man, so you start understanding that man these guys were about writing songs and there was a lot of musicians so they had more information to draw from.

So guys like Stevie Wonder, the people that I’ve known that have been around or played with say that he’s often playing Giant Steps for his soundcheck’s.

DCH: Let’s jump to you getting your first big break as a young 18-year-old musician going on the road with the Duke Ellington Orchestra conducted at that time by Mercer Ellington, what was that experience like coming just out of high school?

KG: Well, it was really a learning experience, you know coming right out of high school. Of course, I knew about the Ellington band, but to actually play the music and learn about guys like Johnny Hodges who I have so much respect for and who had a beautiful sound. In Duke’s band there were so many different personalities that he could use as tools for his writing, but I think the main for me is that I was able to sit under two of Johnny Hodges protégés, one was Norris Turner and the other was Harold Minerve and those guys really taught me so much. They were both playing like Johnny Hodge, but with different approaches to it.

Harold Minerve I actually had the longest opportunity with, because he was playing he was playing lead alto (sax) when I joined the band, so it was just a great time and Like I said I was learning to blend with 18 other musicians, not just the sax section but with the entire band you know! Cause I had played with big bands in Detroit, but that was on a professional level!

DCH: I would imagine, that many of the musicians in that band had been there for several years at that point?

KG: Well, there was Chuck Connors who had been there for a while, there was Dick Love, Harold Minerve had played with Duke, but the special thing for me was that I got a chance to play with Cootie Williams who had come out of retirement and I really learned a lot from him because I sat right across from him on the bus you know, so it was a great experience for me for my three and a half years with the Ellington band.

Well you know that was a big band, so on the road, we had to room with people and there was a guy by the name of John Waldo sr. who use to tell me stories all the time, one was that he use to teach Wynton (Marsalis) and this is before Wynton showed up on the scene, so he would talk about Wynton and also his brother Brandford all the time because he had taught both of them. So I learned a lot from him also just by sharing a room with him, he knew a lot about classical music and he was always playing classical music and I would try to play the classical tunes along with him so I really learned a lot! It was such a blessing to have that as my first experience coming out as a young player.

DCH: That’s really the great thing about being on the road at such a young age with these really experienced older guys, you’re learning both about music but also about life which is such a valuable thing.

KG: Yes, and you know growing up I had some great teachers back in Detroit like Marcus Belgrave (trumpet) who was a Pillar of the community who taught people like Geri Allen, Bob Hurst, Rodney Whitaker so all these people came through him, and then there was my high school band director who was Bill Wiggins I mean he taught me so much and he allowed me to go to his shows to see how he would sight read the music and just show me different things. So there was a lot of great musicians in Detroit! There was just so much great music that came from there and so many different styles.

DCH: After Ellington band what was your next move?

KG: So, after the Ellington band I move to New York and I was playing with different big bands like Lionel Hampton, Frank Foster big band, played with the Ellington band still subbing you know, really whatever I could do at the time just to survive.

DCH: What was your transition into becoming a bandleader, and heading up your own projects?

KG: Well you know that came years later, I mean I was writing and working in New York and I had a lot of great experiences I mean the first one after the Ellington band was working with Dannie Richmond doing the music of Charles Mingus, and I had met Freddie Hubbard through Marcus Belgrave and that was great! Freddie was still playing at his apex, he was still playing on a high level and I mean for me to hear that and stand next to him every night I really had to get my stuff together you know!

Also, I knew about Woody Shaw because my roommates in New York played with Woody so I had a chance to hear that music every time they were playing in New York, even just from tapes and things so I was hearing that music all the time. Then eventually on my first solo CD “Introducing Kenny Garrett” (1984 Criss Cross label), I was able to call Woody Shaw to play on my first CD, so I really learned a lot!

DCH: Something that I really noticed listening to your music over the years on your various albums is that you really seem to draw from a lot of different influences musically, obviously straight-ahead jazz is there but also many other things in that mix, is that something that’s always been there for you?

KG: Actually my high school band director Bill Wiggins used to always say the C7, which is a chord that is the same all around the world as you know because you’re also a musician. You know, my mom use to listen to Motown my stepfather was listening to people like Joe Henderson, Stanley Turrentine, Maceo Parker so I was really listening to all kinds of different music growing up so my thing was just never like you had to just play one style it was all just music!

If you think about jazz historically, it was music that appealed generally to a select group of people who liked and listened to jazz but now that it’s in schools its had much more exposure but it’s still like that in a way. I always say as a musician I want people to hear my music and be exposed to people, obviously not reaching as many people as someone like Beyoncé but of course, we would like for people to know who we are!

So for me, I like to do music that I like and in turn, you hope that people like that cause I listen to a lot of different genres. I mean I listen to every kind of music possible because I’m drawn to finding the spiritual stream in the music you know it might come from Gospel or whatever but I’m looking for that stream! I just love music and to be a good melody is a good melody, so that’s just how I live you know.

Studio photo’s by Jimmy Katz | Live photo’s by Carl Hyde.

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Gifted pianist showcases instrumental brilliance on this new release.


Often, the term prodigy is applied with minimal context. In the case of jazz pianist Christian Sands, it is appropriate. He has studied piano since the age of four and began composing at five years old. By ten, he was performing. After years of formal music education, he became a protege of Dr. Billy Taylor. Like his mentor, Sands is devoted to playing and music education. His initial break came when he sat in with Christian McBride’s big band (Inside Straight) at the Village Vanguard. He became a member of McBride’s celebrated trio and played on the Grammy-nominated 2013 release, Out Here. Additionally he has worked with Oscar Peterson, Gary Burton, Geri Allen, Randy Brecker, Terrance Blanchard, Dianne Reeves, Russell Malone and Patti Austin to name a few. His debut on Mack Records, Reach and Reach Further established Sands as an upcoming important recording talent.

Not yet thirty, Sands is poised to ascend to a new level and his latest Mack Avenue release, Facing Dragons may be the vehicle to get him there. The double vinyl (also available on CD) consists of eight originals and one cover, transformed by a unique musical vision. Side A opens with a piano-based number, “Rebel Music”. It is propelled by a left hand groove that displays bop resonance. Backed by bass and drums, there are a variety of styles, surrounding hard bop. There is a Latin-infused transition with great percussion. Sands’ playing is complex. His solos are sophisticated with articulate timing and phrasing. The jam moves to a swing mode with percolating bass and fierce drumming. Sands exerts command with gritty technique, shaded with open spaces. It is multi-faceted and always compelling. “Fight For Freedom’ is reminiscent of hard bop larger ensembles. Sands lays down a nasty groove and is joined by the muscular tandem of Keyon Harrold (trumpet) and Marcus Strickland (saxophone). Both sax and trumpet get to solo. The arrangement stretches out and returns to a cooler jazz shade. Sands’ piano solo is riveting with powerful notation balanced with lyricism. He also maneuvers adroitly under the horn/sax unison lead that concludes in a wild free jazz finish.

There is unrelenting energy to Sands and his music. Side B contains the sole cover, The Beatles momentous hit “Yesterday”. Sands reinvents the whimsical ballad, adopting a bluesy vamp with a pulsating funk vibe. He distills the melodic essence and translates the song into a soul jazz opus, replete with punctuated tempo and gospel flourish. After a solo by bassist Yasushi Nakamura, Sands explodes on a virtuosic solo that features dazzling speed and improvisational agility. The underlying melody invariably returns and the slower, melancholic ending exudes melancholy. Sands embraces the essence of Venezuelan polyrhythms on “Sangueo Soul”. With an underpinning of intense drumming, Sands matches the ferocity on piano. He injects a lighter jauntiness intermingling with the percussion. His extended solo incorporates gospel, funk, soul, and Latin-infused jazz. The prominent chording and sparkling notation render the listener breathless. Side C takes on a genre-bending twist. “Sunday Morning” begins as advertised, soothing gospel piano with B3 accents. Everything gets a Memphis “kick” as a groove-laden guitar joins in against a double bass fill. Then out of nowhere there is a delightful reggae transition that morphs into tight funk. There is never a singular type of interpretation. The jagged electric guitar adds a rock element. Sands’ piano has an aspirational quality.

Various jazz structures and arrangements are intermingled throughout Facing Dragons. “Frankenstein” is more ensemble focused. His opening (not quite 3/4 time) piano pays homage to greats like Herbie Hancock or Chick Corea. But the swing transitions with double saxophone and trumpet solos are pure 60’s traditional jazz. His piano lines are erudite with carefully executed flourishes. Each side of this album explores different musical constructs (vinyl sequencing). Side D exudes a softer aesthetic. “Her Song” is a quartet with the guitar (Caio Afiune) exuding a gossamer radiance with echo and reverb. There is delicate cymbal work, and Sands deep, hypnotic solo is evocative ending with a nimble sustain. His version of jazz balladry is unique. “Samba De Vela” is subtle Brazilian cadence, but has a playful jaunty break. The back and forth between low-keyed and medium tempo is appealing and contemporary. The finale “Rhodes Meditation” is nothing short of stunning. The meditative flowing reverie is reflected in the glowing tonality that infuses spirituality. It is unusual to hear a solo Fender Rhodes track.

Facing Dragons is compelling jazz. Regardless of instrumental size and combination, the mic placement and overall mix result in a full, rich sound. It has resounding power and creates a musical tapestry.

Original article posted in Audiophile Audition

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A Half Century of Sondheim Collaborations


One night last week, father (Paul) and son (Alex) Gemignani dropped in on Stephen Sondheim at his town house in Turtle Bay. He bought the building in 1960. “I call it the house that ‘Gypsy’ built,” Sondheim said. The musical Gemignanis go back almost that far with the composer. Paul began as a drummer on “Follies” in 1970, and has conducted nine Sondheim shows, including the original “Merrily We Roll Along,” in 1981. Alex grew up to sing John Hinckley in “Assassins,” at the Roundabout, in 2004—“Dad conducted”—and orchestrated and arranged the current version of “Merrily,” which opened at the Laura Pels Theatre last month. Time goes by. Paul is now eighty-one; Alex is thirty-nine. And everything keeps shrinking. Paul had twenty-one musicians in his orchestra; Alex has eight. Paul had a chorus in his show; Alex does not. Sondheim, who will be eighty-nine next week, loves them both. “It’s like a this-size firecracker versus a that-size firecracker, but it’s a firecracker,” Sondheim said. He wore a black T-shirt with the word “Golem” on it, fruit of a visit to Prague.

“Merrily” is full of brilliant songs: “Old Friends,” “Not a Day Goes By,” the title song. But critics always savage the story about three young artists and the disillusionment that awaits them. Alex’s version received something of a drubbing this past week, too. Sondheim didn’t care. “They panned it back then,” he said. “And they ain’t going to admit that it’s any good now.” Alex assured him that morale among the actors was good, adding, “The audiences have been strong.” Sondheim offered his own proof of this. His internist wanted tickets and couldn’t get them without help. “He better take good care of me,” Sondheim said. “I got him six seats for ‘Hamilton’ when it was hot stuff!”

Sondheim turned to Paul. “And how is everything at ‘Kiss Me’ ”—he paused—“ ‘Kate’ ?” Paul is conducting the current revival at Studio 54. “It’s the same as it was twenty years ago,” he joked. (He also conducted the show in 1999.) The three agreed that the Cole Porter musical was brilliant—except, Sondheim objected, for one line in the song “Where Is the Life That Late I Led.” “ ‘It’s lucky I missed her gangster sister from Chicago,’ ” he recited, with disapproval. “Oh, c’mon, Cole. That’s a joke that belongs to George Jessel.”

Sondheim’s collaborator, George Furth, based the book of “Merrily” on a play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. “Kaufman was somebody you didn’t want to cross,” Sondheim said. He told a story. He’d once sent a draft of his adaptation of Kaufman’s “Beggar on Horseback” to the playwright. It was his first musical. “I put the script in a binder and mailed it to him,” he recalled. “And back it came with a letter saying, ‘I’m terribly sorry, but I cannot give you permission to produce this as your show.’ ” Beat. “And he kept the binder!”

Attempts were made to explain the long-standing Gemignani-Sondheim collaboration. “When Paul gets in front of an orchestra,” Sondheim said, “Paul does something I’ve never seen a conductor do, which is he fucks the orchestra and the result is”—he made a sputtering sound—“remarkable.” He added, “In a sense, it’s what Lenny did.” Alex talked about growing up “wearing out the recordings” of the Sondheim shows his father had conducted. But there was no pressure on him, he said, to follow in Paul’s footsteps. “My dad,” he said, “when I was, like, ‘I think I’m going to be an actor,’ was, like, ‘Sigh. O.K.’ ”

“That’s his reaction to everything!” Sondheim put in.

Paul laughed. “I don’t want it to sound sentimental, but we’re three people who can’t live without music, and I think one of the reasons that we’re all sitting here is because that sensibility is so strong, and no matter what disagreements or differences of opinion, whatever—”

Sondheim: “Which are rare.”

Paul: “Which are very rare.”

No more. Paul checked his watch. The curtain for “Kiss Me, Kate” was in an hour. Alex had to get home to his four-year-old daughter. Sondheim was left alone on the stage set of his parlor. He ran his fingers through his long white hair. Then he remembered: Cyrille Aimée, a French jazz singer, was devoting a night to his songs at Birdland, on Forty-fourth Street. “The fun is allowing people to reinterpret,” he said. The next day, he reported back: “She’s terrific, and I’m not even a jazz aficionado.” ♦

This article appears in the print edition of the March 18, 2019, issue, with the headline “Side by Side by Side.”

Read the full article from The New Yorker

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Joey DeFrancesco, with Pharoah Sanders – ‘In the Key of the Universe’ (2019)


Here is what magically happens when you cross spiritual soul-jazz with bluesy soul-jazz.

For his latest album, Joey DeFrancesco chose to name it In the Key of the Universe, which is a very Pharoah Sanders type of title. Perhaps that’s because the iconic saxophonist himself is on this record: the de facto heir to the legacy of Jimmy Smith features the de facto heir to late-period John Coltrane mysticism.

Sanders — like Ornette Coleman in his latter years — is enjoying long-overdue appreciation for the artistic peaks he climbed in the 60s and 70s even as he has all but ceased to record any new music for a long while. The Creator Has a Master Plan from 2003 is the last official studio record under his own name (though it was a recycling of his old tunes), and sideman recording gigs since then are few and far between. So any new appearance of the old master is good news.

The even better news is that Sanders inspires Joey DeFrancesco to raise his game further. And his combo is already star-studded: you have Billy Hart on drums, Sammy Figueroa on percussion and another ace sax player — Troy Roberts — to complete a roster of players brimming with quality.

The title song is where Sanders is first heard, but Roberts stays put, treating us to a double tenor sax attack. Sanders solos first, showing no worn edges from his pointed articulation, and DeFrancesco afterwards does his quicksilver thing. Then there’s a cover of Sanders’ signature song, the majestic epic “The Creator Has A Master Plan.” Pared down to a ‘mere’ eleven minutes, the creator of “Creator” is as mystical as ever on his tenor horn, and instead of Leon Thomas’ unforgettable chant, it’s Sanders himself singing those uplifting lines. But the song’s original drummer — who happens to be Hart — is present, and Roberts moves over to acoustic bass. DeFrancesco of course is on organ but also piano to maintain that vintage vibe.

A well-done remake of that iconic song is hard to beat, but “And So It Is” does its best, with DeFrancesco playing muted trumpet on this soul ballad to harmonize and trade solos with the old master. Ironically, it’s here where just a little of the ol’ abrasive side of Sanders comes out, as the B3 maestro comps on a comfy electric piano.

Sanders may only appear on three of these ten cuts but his influence is felt on some of the other tracks as well. “Inner Being” is an uplifting melody made more so by Roberts’s joyful soprano sax. A tabla ushers in “Vibrations in Blue” and reappears throughout, though the song quickly settles into a blues groove and leading to one of DeFranscesco’s technically astounding B3 solos.

Other tracks are pure Joey DeFrancesco. “Awake and Blissed” and “It Swung Wide Open” are hot bop numbers, pared down to the DeFrancesco/Roberts/Hart trio with the former including a surprise turn by the leader on electric piano and both featuring the supple tenor sax of Roberts. The soprano and tenor saxes that grace the sensuous “Soul Perspective” are both Roberts’, but the highlight comes at the end when his bigger sax exchanges remarks with DeFrancesco’s Hammond. Roberts employs both horns for the introspective ballad “A Path Through The Noise,” but this time is joined by DeFrancesco on trumpet.

Can both transcendental and earthly jazz coexist on the same record? With In the Key of the Universe Joey DeFrancesco answers with an emphatic “yes.”

In the Key of the Universe goes on sale March 1, 2019 through Mack Avenue Records.

Read the full piece from: Something Else! Reviews

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Grammy-nominated guitarist Julian Lage, only 31, has already developed a reputation as one of the world’s best. On Love Hurts Lage does his freewheeling interpretations of pieces written by a range of artists and songwriters in different genres, reflecting his never-ending musical appetite. Lage recording and self-produced the album at Wilco’s studio in Chicago’s Irving Park. This marks his third Mack Avenue LP recorded with a trio, and his first to feature bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Dave King (The Bad Plus).

The New York-based Lage has already built a strong resume as a sideman (Gary Burton and John Zorn), duo partner (with Nels Cline, Chris Eldridge and Fred Hersch, among others), and as soloist and bandleader. This is his third album in a trio format but the first with this rhythm section. “For me, this recording completes a trilogy of approaches to the trio,” says Lage. “They’re all similar but illuminate different fascinations.”

The ten tunes covered span artists from Roy Orbison (“Crying”) to Ornette Coleman (“Tomorrow Is the Question”) to Peter Ivers (“in Heaven”) to Keith Jarett and Jimmy Giuffre ((“Trudgin’”). The title track, of course, was made famous by the Everly Brothers and later by Gram Parsons. There’s even one from the Great American Songbook ((“I’m Getting Sentimental Over You”). All considered Lage courses through pre-bebop, free jazz, country swing, and rock n’ roll. “The covers on this record are like when you move into a new apartment, the last thing you do is hang your pictures on the wall,” Lage says. “Those pictures define your aesthetic in a way. So the tunes we chose kind of define the aesthetic I love but hadn’t put on a record yet.”

The focus tracks belong to Keith Jarrett. Lage does “Encore (A)” and an epic version of “The Windup.” Using Jarrett as a centerpiece, Lage’s goal was to draw connections between Jarrett’s music and al the tributaries that go away or lead to it. Then he wanted to mix it with early rock n’ roll, which at the time was also new, refreshing and effusive. Essentially, he was looking at it in terms of couplets, casually saying we’re doing “Love Hurts” and “The Windup” in the same breath, building the narrative in that way.

The sessions were inspired by a series of live date where Lage and bassist Jorge Roeder were joined by drummer Dave King. The three continued to talk throughout 2018, building a gigantic list of tunes they may want to play. When the got to The Loft (Wilco’s studio), Lage even put down his trademark Telecaster and played one of Jeff Tweedy’s vintage Gretch Duo Jets. The album was done in mostly first takes, taking only a day and a half to complete.

Although with his inspired interpretations and arrangements, Lage offers two originals, “In Circles” and “Lullaby”. He sees them as interstitial vignettes, meant to glue the rest of this American music together, as he aimed to build a fluid continuum from improvised music to actual songs. Throughout Lage’s sense of melody and his improvisational flair are on display, but one of the most striking aspects of the recording is his pristine guitar tone and the fluidity of his playing. His improvisational technique is free but purposeful too. He ever loses sight of where he’s headed, linking these different eras of American music rather magically and seamlessly.

Lage says, “I’ve been so lucky to be a part of a lot of music making that’s kind of different from one another, whether it’s with acoustic guitar or what I do with Nels Cline or John Zorn or Charles Lloyd, and now with my band. I want to not distill but maybe focus those efforts, so you could hear one song by us and say, wow, there’s all these things going on. It’s living in harmony with itself. That’s the dream.”

This is another strong addition to Lage’s catalog and as he says, completes a trilogy of trio works. If you haven’t yet heard Lage, this is as good an introduction to one of today’s best guitarists as any.

Read the full piece from: Glide Magazine

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Alfredo Rodríguez & Pedrito Martinez Share a ‘Duologue’ of Afro-Cuban Delights


Duologue is a reminder that one of the surest ways to get to the music of West Africa is to stop in Cuba first.

Pianist Alfredo Rodríguez and percussionist/vocalist Pedrito Martinez have each established a foothold in a Cuban music scene that has its roots in West Africa. They combine their impressive musical talents on an album that demonstrates how flexible those traditions can be when matched with visionary musicians and a seemingly boundless innovative spirit.

Setting Martinez's inspired vocals against a patchwork of beats — including a bit of jazzy funk, as well as Afro-Cuban santería references — Duologue reminds us that the piano is considered a percussion instrument. The mind-melding between the two is sublime, with melodic rhythmic patterns performed on piano as well as a variety of beat-makers big and small.

Cuban music fans will recognize references to the country's classic songs in Martinez's improvisations, but the most obvious nod toward musical history isn't Cuban. Their take on "Thriller" makes the hips move a different way than when Michael Jackson did it, thanks to the deep Afro-Cuban rumba groove they insert in the middle. Their collective forward-thinking is as much a pleasure to experience as their homage to their roots in the Cuban son of "El Punto Cubano."

Alfredo Rodríguez is a product of Cuba's legendary music education system, which emphasizes the rigors of classical training and turns its nose up at the music played in nightclubs, street parties and barrios. But he did what so many others have done: leave the practice rooms of the academies, then head straight for dance bands that move bodies and spirits. Jazz became a passion, and it wasn't long before he was playing festivals around the world; that's how he caught the ear and attention of the legendary Quincy Jones, who produced this album.

Pedrito Martinez brings to mind Chano Pozo, a legendary percussionist, composer and entertainer who was one of the first Cuban percussionists to come to the U.S. in the mid-'40s. Like Pozo, Martinez isn't waiting for the world to catch up to his vision of combining mind-blowing drumming skills, an engaging singing voice and the knowledge of what it takes to engage and hold an audience's attention. His million-watt smile, charisma and penchant for cool sneakers are winning new fans at every appearance in clubs and jazz festivals around the world. Hearing him perform on a duo record — getting a sense of his and Rodríguez's shared essence — gives Duologue a sense of intimacy and warmth. Each is on his own musical trajectory, but for at least one album, it's a joy to hear their visions combine.

Read the full piece from: NPR Music

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Signing Story: Jesse Palter


A melancholy yet exuberant reflection on a love left behind, “Paper Trail,” the title track to Jesse Palter’s debut EP, is the perfect metaphor for the journey the multi-talented singer-songwriter has been on these past few years. As serendipity would have it, just as she was transitioning from being an accomplished jazz singer, Aristry Music, a division of Mack Avenue Records, was looking to expand from its jazz foundations into other genres. She is now the label’s first signed developing singer-songwriter.

After moving from her native Detroit to Los Angeles, Palter raised $30,000 in 10 days via Kickstarter to record an album. Just as an interested indie label was about to sign her, it changed ownership and all signings were put to a halt. On one of those “feeling down on my luck days,” she had a small but jarring accident pulling into her garage––which sparked a sudden urge to take action. She had the number of Mack Avenue’s A&R rep Al Pryor stored in her phone and decided to call; the label had shown passing interest in her years earlier when she was a rising jazz singer in Detroit.

Though she quickly hung up, Pryor immediately called back and she filled him in on the last several years of her life, the Kickstarter album and her goals. She sent him her latest music and her pop-oriented song “Hold My Hand” immediately captured the interest of Pryor and label President Denny Stilwell. “The label saw themselves going in the singer-songwriter direction and they asked if I could deliver an album of songs in line with that genre,” she says.

They offered no guarantee of signing, but Palter was encouraged that she had their ears. “Around that time,” she says, “I got a lucky break when a few friends connected me with my manager David Passick, who also encouraged me to focus on being a singer-songwriter and write honest music. I put my nose to the grindstone and the songs started pouring out of me. I was self-funding the demos at first, but when that got too costly, I started asking for favors, doing trades and exchanging publishing credit––honestly, whatever I needed to do to get them recorded. Once we felt we had honed in on a direction and had enough songs, David went back to Artistry and they were so blown away by the music, the deal was offered not too long after.”

Date Signed: Dec. 8, 2016
Label: Mack Avenue Records/Artistry Music
Type of Music: Pop
Management: David Passick Entertainment
Legal: Charley Londono
Publicity: Karen Sundell, [email protected]
A&R: Denny Stilwell

Read the full piece from: Music Connection

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Raul Midón: If You Really Want


Not every singer knows how to connect with a full orchestra and, certainly, not every orchestra is equipped to accompany a non-classical vocalist. But Raul Midón and the 50-pluspiece Dutch Metropole Orkest have it down. The orchestra, founded in 1945 and conducted on this latest collaborative effort by Vince Mendoza, has been working with vocalists for years. Their command of pop and jazz comes naturally; it’s not slumming to them. Midón, although accustomed to working within much smaller settings, is more than capable of matching the grandeur of the Orkest, but also acutely aware of when not to flaunt the bigness at his disposal. He understands dynamics and allows a song to dictate what it needs. If You Really Want is Midón’s Grammy-nominated 10th album, following the also nominated Bad Ass and Blind, and is a bold statement on his part. Often, as on the opening “Ride on a Rainbow,” it’s the restraint and the subtle accents that give a song its strength: Midón’s voice, guitar and, on this track, banjo, are never overwhelmed. “God’s Dream,” the ballad that follows, finds the singer enveloped, but never swallowed, by the swells and swirls of the orchestral arrangement. The crescendos come and go, sometimes arriving with great flourish, at other moments disappearing into the fabric. In “Sunshine (I Can Fly),” Midón takes a ride on the percussion underlying his words, while on “Everyone Deserves a Second Chance,” he’s content to luxuriate in the romance of the strings. Throughout, there’s that voice— passionate and confident—with Midón giving each word his full attention so you know he means it.

Read the full piece from: Relix Magazine

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Tia Fuller, fierce woman in jazz, takes shot at 1st Grammy


NEW YORK (AP) — Saxophonist Tia Fuller was crying in bed. And praising God.

She’d just received the news that she was nominated for her first-ever Grammy Award — but it’s not just any nomination: Her inclusion in the best jazz instrumental album category is a historic moment for women because they have rarely been nominated for the coveted award throughout the Grammys’ 61-year history.

And if Fuller wins, she becomes just the second women to take home the prize.

“I feel really blessed. Anytime I think extensively about being in the category and (anything) Grammy-wise, I start tearing up,” said Fuller, this time smiling ear-to-ear with light tears of joy in her eyes. “It’s really a dream come true. I’m realizing that dreams can become reality and everything is tangible.”

Her nominated album, “Diamond Cut,” is a smooth and striking collection that has brought the skilled performer, who once played with Ray Charles during her college years and toured with Beyonce, to the next level. The album, her fifth, was produced by another woman making critical waves in jazz, Terri Lyne Carrington. The drummer, who came to national prominence decades ago in “The Arsenio Hall Show” band, became the first female to win best jazz instrumental album at the 2014 Grammys.

Carrington describes the win as bittersweet because of the “many great female instrumentalists that weren’t nominated ever, so that was really disheartening.”

“It just shows that there’s a lot of work to do when it comes to gender equity in jazz and the music industry in general,” she added.

It’s one of the reasons Carrington, a three-time Grammy winner, is excited for Fuller’s success and has been a mentor to the artist.

“I feel like this record is showing her growth and her evolution,” Carrington said. “If nothing else, I believe that she’s really motivated to keep pushing herself and keep evolving into all that she can be.”

“Diamond Cut” is Fuller’s first album in six years. She’s been busy as a professor at the prestigious Berklee College of Music since 2013, and that decision to move to Boston to fulfill a lifetime dream came at a crossroads: In the same 24-hour period that Fuller was offered the teaching position, Beyonce asked Fuller to perform again with the band.

“That was the year I think they were doing the Super Bowl and she was going back out on tour,” recalled Fuller, who performed with Beyonce from 2006 to 2010.

“While I was on tour with her something came over me and spoke, ’You have to move in faith and not fear. Don’t be afraid of what may not happen, or get attached to the artificial result of, ‘I’m playing with Beyonce,’” she said. “So the reason why that I ended up not going back is because I realized that it was time for me to move on.”

Fuller’s decision was very Beyonce-like: “She’s always pressing forward. Always growing. Always evolving. ...I sat back and I just watched how she would never take ‘no’ for an answer. She would always find a ‘yes.’ And that’s something that now, I’ve incorporated into me being a leader, a band leader, a businesswoman, a professor at Berklee, all of that.”

The 42-year-old, who was born and raised in Aurora, Colorado, has followed in the footsteps of her parents, who are also musicians and educators. Fuller first started playing the piano at three, then moved on to the flute. But once her grandfather handed her a saxophone, she was hooked.

“I was in the upper level of my parent’s house, like the loft. I just remember how it reverberated throughout the house. I was like, ‘Oh this is way better than flute, I can be loud.’”

Fuller has making noise ever since, and doesn’t plan on slowing down. She wants to be a voice for women in jazz, especially instrumentalists, who don’t get as much as credit as the men.

“I’m representative of all of these women out here that are grinding. Terri (Lyne Carrington) served as that for me prior to me even knowing who she was. Seeing her on Arsenio Hall’s show, and then of course hearing her name on the scene, watching her on different TV shows. That was an unspoken, internal narrative that spoke to me, ‘She’s doing it, you can do it,’” she said. “For me, I don’t think it’s necessarily a historical thing, but hopefully I’m a beacon of light for not only other women, but men, too. And also changing this inadvertent narrative, the male, patriarchal perspective in the jazz world, actually in the musical world. (Women) have always had just as much influence over the music.”

Her career — and success — has not come without challenges: “I’ve dealt with sexism, inadvertent sexism, sometimes racism — sometimes a combination of both.”

She recalls coming to New York in the early 2000s to build buzz as a performer, going from jazz club to jazz club to share her music and sound with listeners. “There was a long line of people, of course I’m the only woman up there, so I go onstage and I’m about to play and somebody just cuts me off and starts playing. That was like my first year. That was the first and last time that happened.”

She’s also faced people assuming she’s dating a successful musician to justify her seat at the table, or “even club owners trying to hit on you, not taking you as serious.”

But Fuller has preserved, and she’s using her role as a teacher to help change the narrative in jazz, and in music.

“I was directing a band full of young men. I’m like, ‘What is your job and what is your role in this whole thing?’ You can’t just sit back passively,” she said. “Accountability to me is key for not only women to hold men accountable, but for men to hold their brothers accountable.”

In 2017, along with Carrington and 12 other female artists, Fuller developed We Have Voice, a collective that has created a code of conduct that performing arts venues, jazz festivals, schools and others have adopted. The goal, she said, is “to bring the level of consciousness up.”

“I think slowly but surely we’re doing the work and there is some shift happening,” she said. “I especially see it with my students and the younger generation. That’s something that’s near and dear to my heart. I’m seeing the pain, psychological, physical, emotional pain that it’s caused with women and sometimes men, too.”

And in between the teaching and playing — she’s also busy dress shopping for her big day at the Grammys, taking place Feb. 10 in Los Angeles.

“I actually reached out to one of Beyonce’s stylists and he responded, so he’s going to help and connect me with some of his designers,” she said. “I’m trying to find a healthy mix between making a statement and me being me.”

Read the full piece from: Associated Press

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‘The Window’ Showcases The Wide-Ranging Talent Of Singer Cécile McLorin Salvant


McLorin Salvant's powerful voice takes center state on her new album, a duo with pianist Sullivan Fortner. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says the music on The Window is riveting.

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Jazz singer Cecile McLorin Salvant has a new album, and we're going to hear my interview with her. I love her voice and her repertoire, which ranges from jazz standards to forgotten old songs, show tunes and originals. Salvant was described in The New York Times as the finest jazz singer to emerge in the last decade. She won best vocalist in the NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll last year, as well as in 2013 and 2015. Her new album is called "The Window." We're going to start with our jazz critic Kevin Whitehead's review of the album. Kevin says this one has the smallest cast of musicians of any album she's made, but her voice is as big as ever.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'VE GOT YOUR NUMBER") CECILE MCLORIN SALVANT: (Singing) Well, my sweet chickadee, I've got hot news for you. I've got your number. I know you inside out. You ain't no Eagle Scout. You're all at sea. Oh, yes, you brag a lot, wave your own flag a lot. But you're unsure a lot. You're a lot like me. And I've got your number. 

KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: Cecile McLorin Salvant has a wide vocal range and pleasing tambour, clear enunciation, charm, good taste, quiet wit, a sense of the dramatic, a knack for finding obscure tunes - a lot of virtues for one singer. Her new album, "The Window," a duo with pianist Sullivan Fortner, leaves her voice more exposed than ever. It presents this jazz singer in the role of superlative cabaret singer, one of those supper club chanteuses who sing familiar standards and seek out overlooked material like jazzy tunes by pop or soul singers or songs from forgotten musicals. 


MCLORIN SALVANT: (Singing) Tell me why you make me feel this way. Could you be the one I dreamed I'd love someday? Tell me why we ever came to kiss. In my dreams, it never happened quite like this. 

WHITEHEAD: I love the way she quacks the word like there, not taking herself too seriously. "Tell Me Why" from 1947 by Saul Chaplin, Betty Comden and Adolph Green from a show that didn't make it to Broadway. Cecile McLorin Salvant can treat a tune with kid gloves, make you hear it's beauty. But she's no stranger to blues' feeling. 


MCLORIN SALVANT: (Singing) So what can I say? I've got it bad, and he's gone to stay. I'm gone. I'm like a king without his throne ever since the one I love's been gone. 

WHITEHEAD: Sullivan Fortner is an exemplary accompanist. Backing a star singer takes strength of character. No matter how great a pianist he is - and Fortner gets his moments to shine - this setting is not about him. On song after song, he makes creative choices that never try to steal the spotlight. As usual, the bilingual McLorin Salvant sings a bit in French, including a chanson from 1930, "J'ai L'Cafard," which roughly translates as I've got the blues, and literally, I have the cockroach. Here, Sullivan Fortner plays droll theater-style organ. (SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "J'AI L'CAFARD")

MCLORIN SALVANT: (Singing in French). 

WHITEHEAD: Where some jazz singers treat a song as a launching pad, an excuse to get going, Cecile McLorin Salvant drills down into the song itself, getting it to the story or philosophy of the words. She's so good at that, a couple of breezy lyrics here seem like easy pickings. Anyone can sound smart singing Larry Hart's "Everything I've Got" or Oscar Hammerstein's "The Gentleman Is A Dope." Her offbeat selections aren't always whimsical. The album starts with Stevie Wonder's song "Visions." 


MCLORIN SALVANT: (Singing) I'm not one who make-believes. I know that leaves are green. They only turn to brown when autumn comes around. I know just what I see. Today's not yesterday. And all things have an ending. 

WHITEHEAD: With her laser-like focus, Cecile McLorin Salvant can get pretty intense at times. And there are moments when she pushes her amazing voice a little too far, not least on a few pieces recorded live at The Village Vanguard. On "The Peacocks," saxophonist Melissa Aldana sits in, and there's one raucous episode where she and the singers slide out of sync. In a way, those glimpses of the road to excess make McLorin Salvant's music more riveting. As a character in a movie once said, that quality of personal danger is what makes a star a star. The risks involved make her successes all the sweeter. 

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead writes for Point of Departure and is the author of "Why Jazz?" Cecile McLorin Salvant's new album is called "The Window." We're going to hear my interview with her. She was exposed to a lot of different music growing up in Miami, with a father who's from Haiti and a French mother who was born in Tunisia and lived in several African and Latin American countries. We spoke in 2015 after the release of her album, "For One To Love." Her recordings have always had some surprising choices, like this one, "Stepsister's Lament," from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, "Cinderella." 


MCLORIN SALVANT: (Singing) Why should a fella want a girl like her, a frail and fluffy beauty? Why can't a fella ever once prefer a solid girl like me? She's a frothy little bubble with a flimsy kind of air, and with very little trouble, I could pull out all her hair. Oh, oh, why would a fella want a girl like her, a girl who's so unusual? Why can't a fella ever once prefer a usual girl like me? Her cheeks are a pretty shade of pink, but not any pinker than a rose's. Her skin may be delicate and soft, but not any softer than a doe's is. Her neck is no longer than a swan's. She's only as dainty as a daisy. She's only as graceful as a bird, so why is the fella going crazy? Oh, why would a fella want a girl like her?

Read the full piece from: NPR

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Tower of Power’s Emilio Castillo says he’s “very proud” of band’s “diverse” new album


This year, veteran Bay Area band Tower Power has been promoting its 25th studio album, Soul Side of Town, with an expansive tour that's also commemorating the horn-driven outfit's 50th anniversary. 

Tower of Power co-founder and tenor saxophonist Emilio Castillo tells ABC Radio that with the anniversary in mind, the group put its best effort into making a quality album, inspired by something one of the band's old managers told him. 

"He said, 'This isn't the time to just throw 12 songs together and put it out. You gotta make the best record of your career,'" Castillo recalls. 

Emilio explains that the group set out to achieve this by using "the Michael Jackson method, where you record way more than you need and pick the best 12." With help from producer Joe Vannelli, Tower of Power wound up with 28 finished tracks, 14 of which appear on Soul Side of Town. 

"I'm very proud of it," Castillo says of Soul Side of Town. "It is a very diverse record. It's a radio-friendly record. It's creative. We pushed the bar musically, production-wise, engineering-wise, lyrically...[on] every level." 

Released in June, Soul Side of Town debuted at #1 on Billboard's Jazz Albums chart. Meanwhile, the band has been chosen to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award from the online soul-music resource SoulTracks, which will present the honor to the band as part of its Readers' Choice Awards on December 10. 

Tower of Power's final series of 2018 tour dates is mapped from a show tonight in Madison, Wisconsin, through a New Year's Eve performance in Las Vegas. The band's 2019 U.S. itinerary is set to begin with a March 8-9 stand in Brooklyn, New York. Here are all of Tower of Power's confirmed stateside shows: 

11/15 -- Madison, WI, Capitol Theater 

11/16 -- Fort Wayne, IN, The Clyde Theatre 

11/17 -- Findlay, OH, Marathon Center for the Performing Arts - Donnell Theater 

11/29 -- Honolulu, HI, Blue Note 

11/30 -- Honolulu, HI, Blue Note 

12/1 -- Honolulu, HI, Blue Note 

12/2 -- Honolulu, HI, Blue Note 

12/8 -- Robinsonville, MS, Horseshoe Casino's Bluesville 

12/14 -- Monterey, CA, Golden State Theatre 

12/15 -- Napa, CA, The Uptown Theatre Napa 

12/27 -- Lincoln, CA, Thunder Valley Casino Resort 

12/28 -- Lincoln, CA, Thunder Valley Casino Resort 

12/29 -- Santa Clarita, CA, The Canyon 

12/31 -- Las Vegas, NV, South Point Casino Ballroom 

3/8/19 -- Brooklyn, NY, Brooklyn Bowl 

3/9 -- Brooklyn, NY, Brooklyn Bowl 

3/12 -- Hopewell, VA, The Beacon Theatre

3/15 -- Nashville, TN, City Winery 

3/16 -- Nashville, TN, City Winery 

4/6 -- Naperville, IL, Pfeiffer Hall 

4/18 -- Irvine, CA, Irvine Barclay Theatre 

4/19 -- Pasadena, CA, The Rose

Read the full piece from: ABC News Radio

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Jonathan Butler remembers when black South Africans gained the right to vote


In the wake of Tuesday’s midterm elections, Jonathan Butler is remembering when black South Africans gained the right to vote in 1994.

The Grammy-nominated singer was born in Cape Town, South Africa, and for him, it was a dream come true when Nelson Mandela was elected the first black president of South Africa in the ’94 elections. Butler remembers it was the youth of South Africa that led the revolution.

“That movement and to be able to vote in South Africa for a new South Africa, for a free South go to South Africa today and you see a black and a white kid and a mixed-race kid. They are friends," Butler tells ABC Radio.

Butler, now a U.S. citizen, says voting develops pride, and a better future for the youth of a country.

“That’s what we voted for in South Africa,” he says. “That’s why today there’s a sense of pride when you walk down a street in Jova, Capetown. There’s a sense of belonging and not displacement."

"I think that is something that’s so important, and voting in South Africa meant that we always remembered our story, from Robben Island, [where Mandela was imprisoned] -- for every political leader that was put in prison. And we have the power in our hands to vote and to change the country.”

Butler now lives in Los Angeles, but he returns regularly to his home country.

Read the full piece from: ABC News Radio

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Cécile McLorin Salvant: Wide Open Window


On a cool evening in late September, Cécile McLorin Salvant wafted onto the stage of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium as if in a trance. Dressed in a billowy white gown that she had designed herself, she stood wordlessly for an uncomfortable moment, gazing out at the audience with inscrutable eyes, and began to sing. “There’s a woman lived in the woods on the outskirts of town,” she intoned, in a line reminiscent of Bob Dylan’s timeless folk song “Ballad of Hollis Brown.” “Her skin was chocolate brown,” Salvant went on, as though she were summoning a ghost. “Upon her head she wore a crown of bones, human bones.”

The 29-year-old singer was performing to a sold-out crowd at the premiere of her exquisite 90-minute song cycle, Ogresse, arranged and conducted by the bandleader Darcy James Argue, who had assembled an unconventional mini-orchestra including banjo, marimba, melodica, oboe, tuba, and string quartet. The show, which had no intermission, is a dark fairy tale with pockets of absurd humor. It tells the tragic story of a grotesque woman with a taste for human flesh who, in an act of ill-advised vengeance, ends up eating her lover in what amounts to a kind of perverse murder-suicide.

Salvant wrote the grim story, which flits between several narrative voices, and as she made her way through the set, which contained elements of baroque music, bluegrass, and French jazz, among other influences, it became clear that Ogresse was a daring, and genre-defying, departure from anything she had done before.

At the same time, it was completely in line with Salvant’s singular artistic vision, a grand synthesis of all her creative interests to date: jazz (of course), musical theater, mythology, visual art (Salvant wrote and illustrated the accompanying songbook in pen), cooking (there are recipes for human flesh interspersed amusingly throughout), fashion, acting, race, sexuality. “This was at the deepest core of who she was,” said pianist Aaron Diehl, who has played with Salvant on several of her records. “I think that she was very, very nervous.”

“We joked that we were conspiring to alienate her entire fan base with this project,” said Argue, who worked closely with Salvant to fine-tune the piece.

Salvant needn’t have worried—she received a standing ovation at the Met—but the project did represent something of a risk for an artist who, over the past eight years or so, has established herself as a master interpreter of the vocal jazz tradition, with laser-sharp intonation, perfect diction, and a sonorous voice that recalls, most of all, Sarah Vaughan. Her uncanny capacity to embody old songs and imbue them with new meaning—in particular those a modern audience might typically cringe at, such as “Wives and Lovers” and “You Bring Out the Savage in Me”—earned Salvant two Grammys in the Jazz Vocal Album category, the most recent of which was awarded for her 2017 album Dreams and Daggers.

This year’s followup, The Window, Salvant’s fourth release for Mack Avenue, came out the same day she premiered Ogresse. It’s a collection of quiet yet buoyant duo recordings with the ace pianist Sullivan Fortner, including recherché love songs by Stevie Wonder, Richard Rodgers, and Stephen Sondheim. The 71-minute album, featuring in-studio cuts alongside live recordings from the Village Vanguard, is deeply affecting, almost eerie in its intimacy. It’s a beautiful record, but in a manner somewhat akin to Jeanne Lee and Ran Blake’s outsider-ish 1962 duo album The Newest Sound Around. In other words, it isn’t trying to put you at ease.

Taken together, Ogresse and The Window strongly suggest that Salvant is the kind of performer who does it her way. At this point in her still relatively new career, she’s earned the rare opportunity to write her own ticket, and make outré gestures that defy expectation. Refreshingly, she isn’t chasing any commercial ideal of what a jazz singer should be—and in fact, it isn’t even apparent that she wants her audience to regard her as a jazz singer in the first place.

“My perception is that she cares deeply about that tradition and that it’s an ideal vector for her expression, something she has mastered,” said pianist Dan Tepfer, who will perform French chansons with Salvant at the Fisher Center at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y., on Dec. 22. “But the key for her is she’s not using it in order to be a jazz singer—she’s using it in order to express ideas about the world we live in today.”

Diehl put it a little more succinctly. For Salvant, he explained, “jazz is just like a drop of water in a big sea.”

Salvant has always had omnivorous tastes that hinted at the path she might take. She grew up in a French-speaking household in Pinecrest, a suburban neighborhood outside Miami, the daughter of Haitian and French-Guadeloupean parents. Early on, she was intrigued by the singing she saw on TV. At one point, around the age of six or seven, she got it in her head that it might be fun to do voice-overs for Disney movies—she liked Pocahontas in particular—a sophisticated thought for a child, who might not be expected to separate a cartoon character from the voice behind it. That this interested her is “ironic” now, she said, given her approach.

“The last thing that I want is to sound like a Disney version of jazz, which is something that I felt like I heard a lot in jazz today, this kind of flawless, clean sound that, quite frankly, annoys me,” Salvant told me candidly in an interview one misty afternoon at a coffee shop near her apartment in the Boerum Hill section of Brooklyn. “Like, I miss the grit. So it’s funny that, before, I wanted that, and afterwards, I was kind of pushing back against it, and now I’m sort of finding a way to bridge those two.”

In high school, Salvant would often pass the time doodling in the margins of her exams, a preoccupation she now puts to more productive use by illustrating the covers of her albums, which, as a result, come off as complete artistic statements. “Sometimes teachers would get mad, because I would draw some pretty obscene things,” she recalled. “I remember particularly drawing a devil creature breastfeeding a child, and the teacher being like, ‘What are you trying to do?’”

Salvant studied at the Darius Milhaud Conservatory in Aix-en-Provence, focusing at first on classical voice performance. “The baroque voice teacher that I had really, really made it a point for me to get the diction completely right for every song that I sang,” she said, “for me to get the text completely right, understand it, before even having the privilege of singing it.”

Those lessons stayed with her when she switched her energy to jazz after another teacher, the French tenor saxophonist Jean-François Bonnel, realized her potential. Any time she gets a text, Salvant treats it as if it were a monologue rather than a song, in much the same way an actor reads a script. “I’m like, ‘Oh, this is a story, these are words, this is my opportunity to actually infuse meaning into these words,’” she mused.

Bessie Smith’s oeuvre was an especially potent source of inspiration for Salvant as she dug into the history of jazz and early 20th-century American music. “The repertoire is so varied,” she said with a scholarly sense of awe. “She sings songs about suicide, she sings songs about being in prison, she sings about flooding, about food, about sex. It’s a much broader spectrum of material than you get almost from anyone else in American popular song, I would venture to say.”

With Bonnel at her side, Salvant recorded her first album, Cécile & the Jean-François Bonnel Paris Quintet, a somewhat dutiful yet profoundly mature assemblage of standards establishing her command of the American songbook, in 2010. Performing English-language songs in France presented an extra challenge for the young chanteuse. “I couldn’t just rely on people understanding what the song meant,” she said.

Consequently, Salvant went out of her way to tell the story contained in each song through the sound of her voice and through facial expressions, a technique that carries through to her stage appearances today.

Serious jazz listeners first became aware of Salvant the same year she released her debut album, when she won the Thelonious Monk Institute’s International Jazz Competition in Washington, D.C. Al Pryor, Mack Avenue’s A&R chief at the time (soon to become Salvant’s producer), was in the audience. He recalled being blown away in particular by her rendition of Bessie Smith’s “Take It Right Back,” an anthem of rugged female empowerment. “She had an extraordinary voice and range and an ability to inhabit the song, and the meaning of the song, that I thought was preternaturally beyond what I figured her actual age was,” Pryor enthused. “She’s kind of like an old soul living in a young woman.”

A broader spectrum of listeners would get the same impression, three years later, from Salvant’s sophomore release, WomanChild, the album that put her on the map, featuring a judiciously curated assortment of songs like “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,” “What a Little Moonlight Can Do,” “John Henry,” and “Nobody,” by the vaudeville-era entertainer Bert Williams, who performed in blackface. The title track, which Salvant wrote herself, was a throwback to Abbey Lincoln, telling the abstract story of a naïve woman doomed by fate: “Woman child falters/Clumsy on her feet/Wonderin’ where she’ll go/When her time has come/Good she’ll never know/Until she comes undone.”

The lyrics have something in common with Ogresse, which features a similarly ill-fated woman whose innocence ultimately does her in. It’s a story, Salvant told me, that she often likes to tell of herself, though she isn’t entirely sure why. “We need to do a whole therapy session on that one,” she joked.

Whatever the reason, for Salvant, Ogresse represents a logical extension of that story. “There’s the whole idea of the strong woman, the beautiful woman, this ‘Oh, I woke up like this, I’m amazing’ thing, ‘I am powerful, I am woman, dah dah dah, I’m not flawed, I am perfect as I am,’ you know—that type of presence, which I think is very exciting and interesting,” she explained. “But I also like the idea of a deeply flawed, troubled, grotesque, ugly female. I think that idea, and what that entails, and what that means, and the consequences of that, excite me a lot. And so I wanted to work with that idea in whatever way I could think of.”

Salvant wrote Ogresse while on tour, over the course of a year. Originally, she approached Argue, whose large-scale jazz orchestrations she admired, to arrange some songs she had composed for an album. But as they collaborated, the project switched directions and became a kind of multimedia work to be performed on stage. “Cécile plays her cards pretty close to the vest,” Argue said, “so I didn’t know this was the sort of thing she would be interested in.” After she had tweaked the piece, Salvant sent Argue a demo in which she sang the entire thing through while accompanying herself on piano. “I was amazed at how naturally she took to this and how she had really threaded melodic ideas and recurring motives,” Argue told me. “There was a real cohesiveness to it, and a real maturity.”

As Salvant prepares to leave her twenties, it’s clear that her talent as a performer could take her in several directions, and she has told friends and acquaintances that she yearns to try her hand at acting, which is something she gets close to in Ogresse. “It’s the great frustration of my life,” she said, only half-seriously. “I realized a couple of years ago how much I actually did want to be an actress and how music is almost like a means to an end.”

I asked her which roles appealed to her, and she immediately mentioned Yentl, the title character in Barbra Streisand’s 1983 romantic musical about a Jewish woman in pre-Holocaust Poland who poses as a man so she can study the Talmud in a yeshiva. “I love those kinds of movies,” she said. “I love when there are layers. You’re an actor playing in a role and the person that you’re playing is also playing a role of something else. That makes me insane. I love that, especially when it’s gender stuff.”

But Salvant believes it’s too late to break into acting because she’s never taken a class—and both film and theater, she said, seem forbidding, given her path so far (though one gets the sense that she’s a little too modest in her self-assessment). Thus, listeners can likely expect that in the future, as Salvant grows into herself and sheds her influences, she will continue to write songs and excavate the past for new material, confounding expectations of what a jazz vocalist can be. “Early on, I heard a lot of her influences,” said pianist Fred Hersch, who has played with Salvant. “But now people are starting to hear her as her.”

On an evening in mid-October, Salvant performed with Fortner in an intimate, off-the-cuff set at Steinway Hall in midtown Manhattan that doubled as a record release party for The Window, which is sure to garner Salvant another Grammy nomination, if not a win. “What are we gonna play?” she said, appearing before the audience in a gold dress and black lace gloves she had made herself, casually holding a glass of white wine in one hand and a microphone in the other.

Salvant and Fortner, who have an easy, lighthearted rapport on stage, cracked jokes with one another in between songs, but when they began a tune, the mood in the room became deadly serious, and Salvant became a different person, as though each lyric were her own lived experience. Taking requests from the crowd, they ran through a number of songs that have become identifiable with her, including Rodgers’ “The Sweetest Sounds,” Bernstein and Sondheim’s “Somewhere,” and “Fog,” a ballad she wrote.

Many of the people in attendance had seen Salvant play before, and probably more than once, but it was clear from their rapturous reaction at the set’s conclusion that she had shown them a side of herself they’d never witnessed before. “She’s still a mystery to me,” Fortner told me in a phone interview a day before the show. “Even now, there are nights when I’m surprised at what she does and what she can do.”

Read the full piece from: Jazz Times

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Macy Gray Still Makes Her Entire Crew Do Shots of Fireball Before Shows


A lot has changed since Macy Gray won her first Grammy. But some things never will.

She's still obsessed with Goldfish and strongly believes they're the superior snack. Before every show, she still makes her crew take fireball shots, so they can be on the "same level." And she's still chipping at her gambling debt from frequent visits to Las Vegas.

The ugly side of being famous doesn't really reveal itself until it's too late. After over 20 years in the business, she's got some wisdom on how other artists figure out how to play the game.

"Your out is always that you're young. You're new at the whole fame and being a artist professionally," she said as a word of advice to younger artists. "There's a real craft to fame and how to handle it and how to keep it."

Read the full piece from: Vice News

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‘Old School Is the Sh-t’: Inside Veteran Soul Singers’ Battle to Make New Fans


As the lead singer of L.T.D. in the second half of the Seventies and then a solo act with more than a dozen R&B hits, Jeffrey Osborne has enjoyed his fair share of commercial glory.

But pop music tends to reward youth, so like many older singers — Osborne is now 70 — the former L.T.D. frontman has trouble keeping his new music in the public consciousness. “People come up to us and say, ‘You know, you haven’t had a record in years,'” Osborne explains. “I’m like, ‘Dude, I’ve got a record out now.’ That happens to all of us. It’s just that we don’t get any airplay now. The airplay we get is ‘Jamming Oldies.'”

This year, however, Osborne managed to transcend Jamming Oldies: For a time, his single “Worth It All” was reaching around two million listeners a week thanks to the support of the radio format known as Urban Adult Contemporary or Adult R&B.

And Osborne is not the only singer in his age group enjoying moderate success in this space, which caters primarily to black listeners between the ages of 25 and 54. Adult R&B has also been playing “Fine,” a stepping-ready single by Lenny Williams, a 73-year-old veteran of Tower of Power, “You and Me Together, Forever,” a romantic ballad from L.J. Reynolds, the 66-year-old singer who once led the vocal group the Dramatics, and “Love Like Yours and Mine,” a comeback single from the 67-year-old Peabo Bryson.

“The one common denominator is that even if you had a big song 20, 30 years ago, until you have that next hit, that song that is radio friendly and accepted by radio and the public, that is when you are welcomed back,” says Jesus Garber, a longtime radio promotions veteran who campaigned on behalf of Osborne’s new single. “But as far as the artist is concerned, they never went away.”

Osborne’s last major hit was “Only Human,” a big-old-we-all-make-mistakes ballad that reached Number Three on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart in 1991. But for the last decade plus, the singer has not been releasing new songs. “I’ve had a couple of albums where I covered some R&B songs and then I covered some jazz, but this is the first time I’ve done some original material in 13 years,” he says.

R&B has changed a lot just during that period, and it’s wildly different than it was when “Only Human” was on the charts. “You don’t see many songs that have a bridge and a hook today,” Osborne points out. “Everything’s written off the verse and they just change the vocal melody [during the chorus] — musically it doesn’t go anywhere. When I was recording, things were dry. Today, everything is just wet, full of echo.”

Garber came up with a plan to help Osborne fit into the “wet” modern world. “I knew the radio people in America that their batting average is very high, so I asked them to put an ear to [the new album],” Garber says. The high-powered focus group narrowed the choice of single down to “Worth It All,” but, “they said it needed to be remixed and updated so that it would be the sound of 2018.”

Osborne’s team enlisted Gregg Pagani — who co-wrote massive Urban AC hits like Charlie Wilson’s “There Goes My Baby” and Johnny Gill’s “This One’s For Me and You” — to tweak the original. The primary change is in the drums: The album version of “Worth It All” is beat-less, but Pagani’s version ticks and rattles like everything on the radio.

This had exactly the intended effect: “Worth It All” rose to Number 12 on the chart. “Radio people basically make an opinion in the first ten seconds,” Garber says. “If you come to them and say, ‘remember that song that I played for you six months ago? I just did a remix,’ the problem is they’ve already formulated an opinion. And, if that opinion was not favorable, it’s still hard to get over that first impression.”

Read the full piece from: Rolling Stone

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Review: Christian Sands: Facing Dragons


Sands, unbridled by the past and hugely aware of all the music around him, brings it all.

Read the full piece from: All About Jazz

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Album Review: Cécile McLorin Salvant’s ‘The Window’


If you love Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith and Betty Carter and you live in the 2010s, you have a pretty clear choice about what to do with your buying choice.

Read the full piece from: Variety

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Cecile McLorin Salvant


Arguably the leader in a resurgent scene of fully modern jazz singers, Salvant makes great tonal leaps throughout.

Read the full piece from: Pitchfork

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Jeffrey Osborne: The Legend Who is ‘Worth It All’


Jeffrey Osborne’s voice undoubtedly defined an era, launched worldwide romances and created a lasting connection with fans and musicians alike, and it’s about to happen again, on the wings of Osborne’s new album, “Worth It All” which will be released next month on May 25th. The album collection includes all original songs; the first “original” album tracks in more than 10 years.

Osborne began his career as the lead singer of the popular L.T.D. Band and after more than ten years with the influential group, embarked on his solo career. His charismatic voice as a solo artist brought him four Grammy Award nominations, five gold and platinum albums, and three hit singles, including his debut self-titled album “Jeffrey Osborne,” “Stay With Me Tonight,” and “Only Human.”

Forward Times had the privilege of talking exclusively with Osborne about his highly anticipated new album, his music being sampled in hip-hop, the Jeffrey Osborne Foundation, Osborne’s new vegan lifestyle and its effect on his health and vocal stamina, and his national tour in support of the new album, which will stop in Houston, TX on Friday, April 20 at the Arena Theatre.

Chelsea Lenora White: Let’s talk about the album, “Worth It All” which debuts May 25th. How did the name “Worth It All” come about?

Jeffrey Osborne: There’s actually a song on the album called “Worth It All.” So it’s a title track and it also has a double meaning. It’s been a long time since I’ve put a record out and this is the first time that I’ve had an album of original songs in about ten years or so. So people have been waiting and I felt like, I’ve finally got this record out and I think that the wait is “worth it all.”

CLW: What can we expect from the new album, stylistically?

Osborne: It’s interesting because when I first talked to Mack Avenue [Records] about doing a record, we were talking about doing a smooth jazz record; seeing that they’re basically a smooth jazz label. So I signed under the intention of doing a smooth jazz record and as I started writing, I realized that it wasn’t going in that area.
So I called them and asked, “How would you feel about me going back to my roots and doing an old school R&B record?” And they thought that it would be incredible. I wanted to go back to where I started, back to the L.T.D. days and my early solo albums. That’s basically what the record is. I say that the record is for grown folks. At this point in my career, I didn’t want to try to do anything that sounds like today’s youth. So I figured that the best thing for me to do was to go back and do what I do best; and that’s old school R&B.

CLW: Your music transcends across all generations. I know that a lot of artists sample your music, like Rick Ross to name just one. How do you feel about your music being sampled by newer artists, and specifically hip-hop artists?

Osborne: I think it’s an honor. It’s like paying respect. Any time I hear young people sampling any of the veteran artists’ music, I think that it’s a sign of respect and honor. The music inspired them to do what they do and it’s amazing because what they do on top of something that I’ve recorded is totally different than what I would do. So it’s amazing what my tracks inspire out of them and the way that it motivates them to come up with what they come up with. I love it when people do that.

CLW: You just kicked off the first show of your tour in Brooks, California for the new album. How amazing was it to perform the songs that we all know and love, as well as introduce the new music to fans?

Osborne: Well, I didn’t do any of the new music. I’m waiting because I want people to hear it first. I’m real old-school. I’ve gone to shows where artists have had so many hit songs and people were so into the songs that they’ve come to hear and then they introduce a song that they haven’t heard and it kind of kills the momentum of the show to me. So I tend to wait until people have heard the album, although my band is now rehearsing some of the new material. I’m reluctant to play it until radio plays it. Once radio plays it, I will feel more comfortable. I think that people can then connect to it. I will have advance copies of the new album that I will take to the show in Houston. We felt like it would be nice to give the fans that come out some advance copies and receive their feedback.

CLW: Your voice is absolutely golden. What do you do to maintain your vocal health on these demanding tour runs?

Osborne: I believe in getting up and exercising. I work out 4-5 days a week. I just try to keep my body in good shape and in turn, that makes me feel good as a singer. It opens me up. There are a lot of little things that I do, that I call vocal hygiene. After a show, I’ll steam. Steaming is healthy and takes the inflammation out and I’ll gargle with some goldenseal, which is one of the best herbs in the kingdom. It’s nasty but it works.

You just have to take care of yourself. I’m blessed that I am able to still go out and do shows and that my voice sounds pretty much the same. I changed my diet completely nine months ago and now I’m vegan. I think the first month was the hardest month when I first got into it. The hardest thing for me to stop eating was seafood because I grew up in Providence, Rhode Island, right on the water. I loved seafood. I loved everything out of the ocean. But now I have no craving for anything. I’ve cut out all meat, fish, and dairy. It’s just strictly a plant-based diet and I feel better than I have ever felt. My mantra now is, “Don’t live to eat; eat to live.” We have to turn our minds around to accept that.

CLW: Switching gears here, tell us more about the Jeffrey Osborne Foundation and what it does for children and the arts.

Osborne: We’re in our eighth year now and I started the Foundation in my hometown of Providence, Rhode Island. I started it with the Jeffrey Osborne Golf Tournament and trying to get it off of the ground was interesting. Magic Johnson, who is a good friend of mine, actually hosted it for me and from that point on, it was just home runs from there. Magic [Johnson] hosts it every year and I have people like Smokey Robinson, the O’Jays, Eddie Levert, Johnny Gill, Bell Biv Devoe and Earth Wind & Fire who come every year. Those are just some of the entertainers that come. Then you have Dr. Jay, Cedric the Entertainer, George Lopez, Chris Tucker, Sugar Ray Leonard who come out. It’s an amazing tournament.

I give back to six charities in Rhode Island. I see these tournaments where people give back to like 25 charities and they all get about $1,000 apiece and it’s not a very significant amount to me. So I keep it at six and I try to give them each a really nice, healthy check each year. I donate to the Boys & Girls Club; the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra and together, we put music back into the public school system. I have another organization that I donate to, St. Mary’s Home for Children, and they provide care and treatment for abused children. Then I donate to an alternative high school, called The MET where kids can go and actually take classes that are going to specifically help them with their career of choice after they graduate. I also donate to a place called the Amos House which feeds the homeless and also helps them to rebuild their lives. They find jobs for them and teach them culinary arts and it’s just an amazing community organization and safe haven. I also support a little nine hole golf course and it’s the only golf course in Providence. They go to schools during recess and teach kids about golf; not just the sport but the social game.

It is a proven fact that you can gain so much from the game of golf. I’ve donated over $1 million to charities and that all comes from the game of golf.

CLW: Houston is so excited to have you here on April 20th on that revolving stage at the Arena Theater. You’ve been commanding stages for quite some time. Do you ever get used to the fans’ excitement and energy, singing your songs word-for-word?

Osborne: That is what truly keeps me going. That’s the most exciting part about what I do, for me. The studio can be cold. It’s just me in the studio with an engineer but live performance is where you actually get that feedback and the chemistry happens between you and the audience. You give it and they give it back. That is what I feel that I live for. The toughest part is the traveling but that hour and a half to two hours on stage makes it all worthwhile.

Read the full piece from: Hosuton Forward Times

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Singer Cécile McLorin Salvant and pianist Bill Charlap revitalize mainstream jazz tradition from wit


This fantastic double bill testifies to the enduring power and malleability of mainstream jazz tradition, where dazzling facility, individual voice, and casual erudition can bring new vitality to decades-old approaches. For me, no current jazz singer can touch the effortless mastery, range, and imagination of Cécile McLorin Salvant, who just won a Grammy for Best Vocal Jazz Album for her stunning 2017 double CD Dreams and Daggers (Mack Avenue). Her aesthetic is rooted in the sounds of classic singers such as Sarah Vaughan and Dinah Washington, and she essays standards and blues with dazzling pitch control, improvisation-rich phrasing, and an easygoing theatricality that emphasizes her nuanced lyric reading—a skill she often utilizes to sharp comic effect. On her version of Bessie Smith’s vehicle “You’ve Got to Give Me Some,” where she’s accompanied by guest pianist Sullivan Fortner, she manipulates the song’s racy double entendres with over-the-top, postmodern savvy. McLorin Salvant locks in so completely with her nimble working trio of pianist Aaron Diehl, bassist Paul Skivie, and drummer Lawrence Leathers that she erases any lingering question of her superior musicianship; the way she can switch gears from gentle cooing to full-throated exhortations to earthy laments to comic showboating without a hiccup in terms of pitch or rhythm continually blows my mind. She’s not concerned with revolutionizing jazz singing, but she’s so naturally inventive and agile she seems to do it anyway when she performs.

Pianist Bill Charlap’s trio is known for tackling standard repertoire with peerless technique and refinement. On last year’s wonderful Uptown Downtown (Impulse), where he’s deftly supported by bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington (no relation, although they’ve worked together for decades, starting with their fruitful partnership with tenor saxophone great Johnny Griffin), Charlap elaborates on timeless melodies with nonchalant rhythmic verve. This builds the momentum of the Sondheim-penned title track in subtle waves that toggle between spry, dancing single-note lines and sudden chord swells. He’s less extroverted than Salvant, but like her he makes what’s old feel utterly new. Charlap performs with his trio, while pianist Adam Birnbaum and drummer Kyle Poole sub in Salvant’s band.

Read the full piece from: Chicago Reader

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First Listen: Alfredo Rodríguez, ‘The Little Dream’


Alfredo Rodríguez is a figurehead of the new generation of Cuban jazz musicians who observe and honor their roots while constantly seeking new avenues for expression. The 32-year-old pianist's new album, The Little Dream, evokes Keith Jarrett, Jaco Pastorious and Pat Metheny in equal parts, but the rhythms of Cuba, those guïro grooves can get anybody reeling and rocking, are etched into the music's bones.

Rodríguez, bassist/guitarist Munir Hossn and drummer Michael Olivera flesh out ethereal, almost pastoral soundscapes, lending a delicate, child-like wonder to the album's heaviest compositions. In "Bloom," the melodies spread and grow, as if they were mirroring the growth and blossom of some magnificent, delicate flower. "Tree of Stars" shrinks the vastness of a starry night into a piquant, delicately pointed rendering of each star's twinkle. "World of Colors," an almost solo feature for Rodríguez, captures ecstatic joy and melancholy in the span of 120 seconds.

For every tone poem, Rodríguez reinterprets the sounds of his homeland in spry, whirling dances. The rhythms that animate Santería rituals, the mambos that spring forth new romances on the daily, these are what animate the delicate dance of piano, guitar, and drum kit on the celebratory "Alegria," the hymnal "Vamos Todos A Cantor," and industrially inclined "Silver Rain."

The Little Dream's title track serves as the album's manifesto. Vibrant passages of harmonic development, heralded by a Yoruba choir, give way to unified tangos up and down the fret and keyboard. With each melodic pirouette, the music takes on more and more the shape of a ballerina, dancing delicately en pointe.

Read the full piece from: NPR

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Take a musical journey with Dave Bennett, Pittsburgh Pops


Some enthusiasms are merely passing fancies, even ones that are intense for a while. Others become life-long passions.

Dave Bennett was 10 when he realized what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. He'd just started playing clarinet and before long was making music on guitar and piano as well. Now 33, he's enjoying a very successful musical career, with his newest CD "Blood Moon" just released.

Bennett will headline the Pittsburgh Symphony Pops' "From Swing to Rock," with conductor Sarah Hicks, Feb. 16-18 at Pittsburgh's Heinz Hall. He'll also be accompanied by his combo ­— Jeff Kressler, piano, Shelly Berger, bass, and Peter Siers, drums.

In elementary school in Waterford, Mich., where he still resides, Bennett was very much into art.

"Like any other kid I was drawn to Superman and Batman, drawing those sort of things," he recalls.

In fifth grade, when he became eligible to join the school band, his life changed.

"I was already aware of swing music because I liked to watch Abbott and Costello," he says. "I remember my grandfather said to me that I'd have a lot of fun with the clarinet. No one really played music in my family, not my grandparents or parents although I had a couple of cousins who played guitar. So he and my grandmother went to a local pawn shop and bought me a clarinet. Shortly after they got me a tape of Benny Goodman purely because they thought I would get a kick out of what the clarinet could sound like. When I heard that, my whole life changed."

Bennett never had much formal musical training. He did have an instructor who was a clarinetist who showed him the foundation of a good embouchure. And he was playing repertoire in band. But within a month of getting his clarinet Bennett realized he could play by ear. The first melody he "discovered" was "I'll Be with You in Apple Blossom Time."

In sixth grade Bennett dug out an old Elvis LP and began to teach himself guitar. The next year he got into was Jerry Lee Lewis and began work on piano.

Bennett's Pops program is mainly chronological, mirroring his own path pursuing his musical enthusiasms. He'll begin on clarinet in the swing era with "In the Mood," "Four O'clock Jump" and "Jumpin' at the Woodside." After playing Artie Shaw's "Stardust" and Glenn Miller's "Serenade in Blue," Bennet will move to piano and conclude the first half music by Jerry Lee Lewis, including "A Whole Lot of Shakin' Goin' On" and "Chantilly Lace."

After intermission Bennett will take up the guitar for music by Elvis and Johnny Cash, as well as some songs Bennett has written from his new album. The concert will conclude with two rousing hits: "Sing, Sing, Sing" and "When the Saints Go Marching In."

Mark Kanny is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

Read the full piece from: Trib Live

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Jazz review: Various artists: Oscar, With Love


The Canadian pianist Oscar Peterson was one of the few pure jazz instrumentalists to become a household name. Others got there by making singing a large part of their act. Peterson won fame by emulating the baroque sophistication of his idol, Art Tatum, but adding intensity and speed. No other pianist has matched his dazzling technique, or the distinguished list of artists with whom he played.

To mark the tenth anniversary of Peterson’s death a number of jazz pianists were asked to record his compositions — as well as pieces linked to him — at his home studio on his Bösendorfer Imperial piano (yes, that’s how successful he was). It casts a rare spotlight on Peterson the writer, showing him to be more of a romantic balladeer than his reputation for high-octane swinging might suggest.

Michel Legrand takes Harcourt Nights through a range of styles, from boogie-woogie to bossa nova, yet states the rhapsodic theme with bittersweet passion. His playing on the Gershwin-esque Dream of Me is boldly bluesy with an inventive left hand. The soul-jazz veteran Ramsey Lewis takes a similarly eclectic approach to Laurentide Waltz with hesitant passages blossoming into delirious outbursts.

Kenny Barron enlivens the limpid Ballad for Benny Carter with a quirky stride solo, while Monty Alexander puts a bit of grit into The Gentle Waltz. Chick Corea’s original One for Oscar is a rather lugubrious portrait, underlining the notion that the pianist was more than a straightforward showman. Give this intriguing set a listen and you many never hear Peterson in quite the same way again. (Mack Avenue)

Read the full piece from: The TImes

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Modern Lore is the newest album by one of the great contemporary jazz guitarists, Julian Lage. The second project working as a trio, he creates a nuanced, yet spunky blend of jazz, country, and good old rock ‘n roll.

The album is a rhythmic journey. Each track contains something different, sometimes drastically so; but the twang of his Telecaster remains a constant that is pleasing to listen to. Lage really loves to play that electric guitar. It boldly drives the music forward while the rhythm section jams along with creative additions. The first track of Modern Lore is called “The Ramble,” a high-energy tune that gives a perfect insight to the boldness of the entire album. The band pulls all the stops with changing time signatures, contrary keys, and wildly good musicianship. These guys know how to play, and each has a moment to shine in this one.

A vast majority of the record has an upbeat tempo, rarely going below a steady jogging pace. That being said, there are a couple of moments where the band indulges with a slower tune. The most noteworthy is “General Thunder,” a sultry song that is adventurous but nostalgic. It has that feel of an old western film but in a deconstructed, jazzier version. The guitar playing is front and center and Lage takes full advantage by playing with lots of reverb, further enhancing the various tones and rhythms. “Whatever You Say, Henry” is another one of these indulgences that is obviously well performed, but its subtlety is underwhelming.

There are a ton of great moments in Modern Lore and the song “Earth Science” is one of, if not the best. It’s a shame it’s the shortest number on the album because it is the most diverse and intriguing. Lage uses free jazz elements in a way that is exciting and carefree but nuanced enough for it all to seem purposeful. Julian Lage is a genius on the guitar, but Kenny Wolleson on drums is something really special; adding delicateness and wickedly fast accenting.

Overall, Julian Lage’s Modern Lore is a record totally worth listening to. Lage, Wolleson, and Colley are masters at their respective crafts and together created a work that keeps listeners engaged. It is diverse in its influences but blends together in a very interesting way. This is what makes it feel familiar yet new at the same time. The rhythms evoke memories of past genres like swing and classic jazz, while that Telecaster brings a bit of country to the mix.

This album is accessible to everyone, no matter what genre of music you are comfortable or listen to the most. Chances are, you will find hints of it hidden amongst these songs.

Read the full piece from: Indie Band Guru

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Julian Lage: Modern Lore [All About Jazz]


Modern Lore constitutes a measure of guitarist Julian Lage's grasp of the pragmatic values of a working musician. Adhering to the same three-piece unit with which he recorded his prior solo album, Arclight (Mack Avenue, 2016), he applies continuity to a career that has in recent years included solo work and duo shows with Nels Cline as well as his high-profile membership in the Gary Burton's New Quartet

The uniformity within this record is comparable to the last in terms of both conception and execution. Yet Modern Lore isn't merely more of the same as the last record, if only because right from the start of "The Ramble," Lage, bassist Scott Colley and drummer/vibraphonist Kenny Wollesen exude such a bright confidence through their interaction(s). Such fluidity shouldn't be any surprise given their history together in the studio and on the road, but it's a rare virtue and not one to be taken for granted.

Nor is the production expertise of Jesse Harris who also oversaw the preceding record. Whether the group is moving at a sprightly pace or at the more measured tempo of "Atlantic Limited," the sound of the instruments, individually and collectively, comes through without clutter. And to whatever extent Harris was involved in determining the track sequence of this album, he deserves abundant kudos for his fine ears and objectivity: even as each successive track unfolds in great detail, the sense of growing momentum is unmistakable.

That sensation may, in fact, be grounded in the almost subliminal sound of Harris' Casio on "General Thunder," not to mention the similarly-nuanced keyboard additions of Tyler Chester. On a half-dozen of the eleven cuts that comprise Modern Lore, "Splendor Riot" or "Pantheon," to name just two, the latter doesn't so much make room for himself as find a place for himself in the arrangements. And that's not too fine a distinction to make because he impact of the sparse sound also becomes more resonant through the relative brevity of the recordings: the economy Lage, Colley and Wollesen share is particularly notable on the two-minute fifteen seconds of "Earth Science" where the core trio formulates a complete statement in remarkably short duration.

Although he's never merely workmanlike in his playing or writing (he composed all the material on the album), Julian Lage is too understated a musician/composer to literally grab attention. Rather, he entices a listener with the warm incisive fingerwork on his Nachocaster (sic) and piques the curiosity, during a track like "Wordsmith," slowly and inexorably. The quietly dramatic result is altogether similar to the effect rendered by the deceptively simple front cover art of Modern Lore: initially cursory examinations yielding to a firm, unwavering hold on the observer in very short order. Likewise, this music, as with the entire body of work by the guitarist to whom it's credited, holds the potential for consistently rewarding listening over an unusually extended period of time.

Track Listing: The Ramble; Atlantic Limited; General Thunder; Roger The Dodger; Wordsmith; Splendor Riot; Revelry; Look Book; Whatever You Say, Henry; Earth Science; Pantheon.

Personnel: Julian Lage: guitars; Scott Colley: bass; Kenny Wollesen: drums, vibraphone; Tyler Chester: keyboards; Jesse Harris: maracas, casio, acoustic guitar.

Title: Modern Lore | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Mack Avenue Records

Read the full piece from: All About Jazz

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Q&A with Alfredo Rodríguez: Global References


It’s difficult not to think of political controversy surrounding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival when noticing the title of Alfredo Rodríguez’s latest disc, The Little Dream (Mack Avenue). Even though the 33-year-old pianist and composer wasn’t a child when he first arrived in the United States from Cuba, the contentious American policy hits close to home.

“I’m very happy to be in this country, because the United States has so many opportunities,” Rodríguez said. “The Little Dream comes from me wanting to provide inspiration to children. I believe that children are the hope for the world. I hope to help and inspire them to really behold their cultures for the better of humanity. I’m aiming for peace, community and mutual understanding, instead of separating children.”

For sure, The Little Dream beams with optimism as Rodríguez leads his agile trio mates—drummer Michael Olivera and bassist/guitarist Munir Hossn—through an inviting set of mostly originals that exhibit musical characteristics well beyond Cuba and the U.S. Rodríguez’s jubilant piano melody and Hossn’s spidery guitar accompaniment at the beginning of “Dawn” reveals African Highlife music as a touchstone, while the evocative “Silver Rain” prances to lithe rhythms and melodies one might expect to hear somewhere in the Middle East.

In an interview with DownBeat, Rodríguez talks about his global references on The Little Dream, explains why he opted to record with just a trio after featuring larger instrumentations on his previous discs—Sounds of Space, The Invasion Parade and Tocororo—and shared thoughts on the current relationship between the U.S. and Cuba.

The following his been edited for length and clarity.

Why did you opt to focus on the trio setting this time?
The trio has been the base for all of my CDs. But also on my CDs, I’ve had many collaborations. That’s something that I’m extremely happy about, because from them I’ve learned so much. But I wanted to have a CD with just the guys whom I’ve been touring with a lot.

How long has this trio been together?
[Drummer] Michael Olivera and I basically grew up playing music together in Havana. After I came to the United States, we didn’t play together for about four years. But since he’s been living in Europe for the past six years, we started playing together again.

Munir Hossn, the Brazilian bassist and guitarist-I’ve been playing with for almost four years. I met him through Michael; Munir is based in Paris. I’m happy that Munir plays electric bass and guitar, because I wanted to change the sound of my trio.

Talk about the nature of the songs and of the compositions on the album. “Dawn” and “Vamos Todos A Cantar” sound very South African.
We’ve been exploring a lot of music from different parts of Africa. A lot of that comes out through the electric guitar. Obviously, the Afro-Cuban music that I grew up with plays a strong role on the disc. Africa has such a strong presence in Cuban music, particularly the Yoruba. I love music from South Africa, Benin and Senegal so much, and I wanted to go deeper in the direction.

You’ve performed a few times in Africa, correct?
Not in Benin or Senegal, but I have played in South Africa three or four times-a couple of times at the Cape Town Jazz Festival and I’ve done concerts in Jo’burg. I wish that I could perform in other countries in Africa. I’m planning on doing some research and exploring the wonderful culture that Africa has. I’ve also been to Morocco—a couple of times.

Did your experience in Morocco shape any of the songs on the new album, like the melody and rhythm for “Silver Rain?”
The music is just a reflection of my life, because I consume a lot of music from different countries. I love folkloric music from just about every country. So, I’m sure, you’re hearing something that could sound like it came from Morocco.

Also through Munir, I’ve been listening to a lot of music from Lebanon. Munir has an interesting blend of cultures. Of course, there’s the Brazilian side. His mom’s [family] is from Lebanon. So, my goal in my music has been trying to combine all of our influences and musical heritages.

I’ve always tried to bring different people together from different cultures with my music. I really do believe that music is medicine for the soul.

What are your thoughts on the current relations between the U.S. and Cuba. Toward the end of the Obama administration, there seemed to be a thawing, but that’s ended with the Trump administration.
Because of what’s happening here in the United States regarding immigration, I think relations between the U.S. and Cuba are going to get worse. It was getting better. I was excited, because I saw some of my friends from Cuba come here. But now, I think relations are going to go back to the way it was before Obama.

I’m not happy about it, because I wish that Americans and Cubans could share our stories together easier. It’s difficult seeing people come from there to the United States, because I’ve been blocked from visiting Cuba. Last year, Havana was the host city for International Jazz Day. I was invited by the Thelonious Monk Institute, but the Cuban government said that I was one of those musicians who couldn’t come. It’s not the Cuban people who don’t want me to come back.

Still, I love it when American musicians come to Cuba to share their music and history. I remember living there and wishing that I could talk and play with American musicians.

How has working with Quincy Jones shaped your artistry and your view of the global jazz community?
Quincy is a legend. For a young musician like me, you can learn so much from just being by his side. Quincy taught me how to find beauty out of any kind of music—no matter what it is. He’s the most opened-minded music producer that I know. He lets you be yourself, which is something that’s very important for me. I just want to play music that I love. It’s been more than 10 years since I [met] him. He’s an extremely humble and giving person. I admire that a lot. His goal also is to bring people together; I just want to keep that goal in my music. DB

Read the full piece from: Doownbeat

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Julian Lage: Modern Lore Review [Paste]


Julian Lage contains many guitar personae within his slender frame. A prodigy from an early age, the now-30-year-old has spent his career sliding fluidly between projects like the languid cool jazz of his work with saxophonist Dayna Stephens, folksy duets with David Grisman, and thoroughly modern fare as with his recent recording of John Zorn compositions.

When he takes the lead, as he does on Modern Lore his new trio album recorded with drummer Kenny Wollesen and bassist Scott Colley, he gives the many sides of his musical personality a turn in the spotlight. And the result is a snappy, multi-colored affair that gives him ample room to show off his unmatched skills with his chosen instrument.

For much of the album, Lage looks for ways to expand upon the mode of the country picker. Opener “The Ramble” takes its title very seriously, evoking a bumpy and aimless drive through some dusty landscape. But it’s rhythm and pacing also give off a spirit of Chet Atkins somehow guesting with peak ‘70s-era Genesis. If you can imagine “Watcher Of The Skies” reimagined by a country swing band, you’re getting close. “Wordsmith” leans much more jazzy but returns to this bluesy, Duane Eddy-like feel that adds a nice noir-ish sliver to its otherwise pleasant atmosphere.

Elsewhere on the album, he and his band write songs that feel like adult contemporary pop hits just waiting for a vocalist to help take them to the charts—if Stevie Nicks were a part of the process, ”General Thunder” could fit neatly into the running time of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours without anyone noticing— and more meditative explorations (“Revelry” and “Pantheon”) that give Lage and Colley ample room to stretch out and let their notes hang in the air a little longer.

Modern Lore even drops a little experimental number in the mix. But just a little. Still, that small diversion, titled “Earth Science,” is a blast of sharp electricity that resets focus before the album winds to a close. Lage sticks hard to one jagged repeating guitar phrase, while the rhythm section collapses into multiple heaps behind him. So when Colley switches to bowing his bass towards the end of the track, the effect is almost comforting. And a great lead-in to the album’s closing number.

The itchy feeling of “Earth Science” may cut through the otherwise rosy glow of the record, but it’s also what helps turn Modern Lore from a good album into something closer to great. The comfort that Lage and his bandmates evince needs those small shakeups to keep from devolving into something pleasant but unengaging. The trio toes that line at times on this new release without completely falling into pure background fodder. It’s a delicate balance that only the best players could attain. Time will tell if they can maintain it.

Read the full piece from: Paste

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Cecile McLorin Salvant: Race, sex and all that jazz


But that's on record, or on stage. American jazz singer Cecile McLorin Salvant's speaking voice is a lesser thing, especially when it arrives all strangled and tinny with a wash of echo down the phone from New York.

"How do I handle praise?" she says when I read her scattered lines from a few frothing reviews. "I don't pay too much attention to it because otherwise it would be problematic. I take it as a compliment without lingering on it too much."

She's coming here, in just a few weeks, with gigs in both the New Zealand Festival in Wellington and the Auckland Arts Festival. Cue widespread outbreaks of ecstatic "jazz hands" from local music fans.

Born in Miami with a French mother and a Haitian father, classically trained in France, Salvant has been called "the hottest new voice in American jazz right now".

Her third album For One To Love won the Best Jazz Vocal Grammy in 2016.

"The finest jazz singer to emerge in the last decade" said The New York Times, celebrating Salvant's ability to reinvigorate jazz standards and find fresh thrills within vaudeville, blues, gospel and folk music.

Partly recorded live at New York's Village Vanguard, her fourth album Dreams And Daggers arrived late last year, and had critics lining up to testify to her "swinging virtuosity", her "gorgeously refined" vocal arrangements, her "titanic abilities".

"You only get a singer like this once in a generation or two," said jazz giant Wynton Marsalis, who's such a fan of this Miami-based vocalist, he hired her to front his jazz orchestra, twice.

"Well, you know, I like to think that the songs I choose are as interesting as my voice," she says. "I like songs that talk about identity and power dynamics in an unexpected way. I also like songs that are funny, or inappropriate in some way, to the extent that you might not expect to hear them in a jazz context. People often think jazz means clean and family friendly, but really, this is music that began in the brothel. I like songs with a little edge."

As an example, she cites a succession of sexist and racist songs she covers both live and on record, their sentiments even more jarring when delivered by such a spectacular voice.

"To me, if you laugh at something that's hurtful, that has so much more power than crying over it. Humour helps you heal, and it helps you express complicated and difficult ideas in a way where people will let them in more easily. Also, in the history of American music, sexist or racist songs are part of our tradition too. We like to try and clean everything up retroactively, like… nah, we're all good. But really, we're not, and some songs written 50 or 70 years ago make you think- Well, how much has really changed?"

Salvant's killer rendition of Wives and Lovers is one such song. Written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David in 1963 and made famous by Frank Sinatra, it's a stark and un-ironic cautionary message to every married woman that she should be pretty and subservient at all times so her man doesn't leave her.

"Hey, little girl, comb your hair, fix your make-up, soon he will open the door…" sings Salvant, eyebrow arched. "Don't think because there's a ring on your finger you needn't try any more. For wives should always be lovers too, run to his arms the moment he comes home to you. I'm warning you…"

When she sings it on stage, Salvant can feel the tension building. There's often an audible sigh of collective relief from the audience when the song finishes.

"Oh, I love that song! It's about how certain unreasonable responsibilities are heaped onto people. In this song, it's the woman's fault for not staying pretty enough to keep her unfaithful man. It's interesting where the blame is placed."

One of Salvant's primary inspirations when it comes to vocal power, personal politics and song choice is Bessie Smith.

"Bessie Smith is iconic and incredible to me. She had strength, vulnerability, power and frailty, and an amazing, exciting repertoire of songs. A lot of her songs deal with things people didn't sing about at the time, like sex and food and savages and women trying to regain the rights to the house and land when they split from a man. She has one song about suicide, where she lists all the different ways she's gonna kill herself. It's such a taboo topic, but there she is, not just threatening, like, if you don't love me, I'll kill myself. She goes into detail: I'm gonna poison myself, jump out of a tree, throw myself off a building or a bridge. It's really intense, and I love that. She's thought through all the options!"

It strikes me that part of Salvant's appeal is that she steers away from many well-worn jazz singer tropes. She started out singing classical music, and doesn't go in for extended bouts of meandering melisma or cocktail bar clichés.

With a bell-clear soprano and an unusually juicy bass register, Salvant's voice is rich, striking, endlessly nuanced, a straight-up heartbreaker. She connects to the emotional current of her songs like a plug in a socket, giving the listener a hefty jolt.

"What can I tell you? I'm a failed actor! I always wanted to be an actress, but found out I could sing, so I dramatise the hell out of these songs. I've always been interested getting into character, and really get to the root of how to express a complex emotion."

Weirdly, singing also makes her feel like she's pulling her weight.

"If I spend too long without singing, I feel like I'm a useless leech on society!" she says, letting loose a big throaty chuckle. "When I sing, I feel like I have a purpose, and it's very affirming to me. I also like to challenge the misconception that jazz is some sort of musical museum piece, but I guess some artforms are doomed to be misunderstood and not attract the larger audiences they deserve. Think of poets, and how small their audience is, yet they're making some of the most moving and beautiful work a human being can make. Jazz is similar. It's frustrating that people think of it as old and dusty and no fun and too challenging or whatever. And it's just not true."

Who comes along to her live shows? Are there many young fans, or does she look out over a sea of grey-headed aging hipsters?

"There are a lot of older jazz fans, for sure. And some young. And people on dates!"

She laughs again, clearly tickled by the idea that her painstakingly selected repertoire- songs of wronged women and no-good men; ballads of busted relationships going down in flames; gnarly race-comedy tunes reclaimed from "blackface" plantation minstrels of the late 1800s- might have been chosen by listeners who are hoping to get laid.

"Some people think my show's gonna set up some sort of romantic atmosphere, but that's often not the case. I sang a song at one gig about adultery, and this man came up afterwards. He said – 'Please can you sign this CD for my wife and tell her I will always love her. We got into a huge fight because that song reminded her of something I did. Now I really need to get back in her good graces'. I just said – Sorry I ruined your date."

Cecile McLorin Salvant and the Aaron Diehl Trio play the New Zealand Festival in Wellington on Tuesday, March 13 and Auckland Arts Festival on Thursday, March 14.

Read the full piece from: Stuff

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New Music by Christian Sands, Walter Smith III, Kneebody and More, in Take Five


Last year, pianist Christian Sands released an album aptly titled Reach. Among other things, it was a demonstration of that very idea, showcasing Sands’ flexibilities of intention and style. Now there’s a new EP on the horizon that seems likely to expand the canvas still farther, judging by this track, an exclusive premiere.

As on Reach, “J Street” features Sands’ smart trio with Yasushi Nakamura on bass and Marcus Baylor on drums. They’re swinging bright and brisk, with an alert attunement to some nifty syncopations in the tune. So it’s worth noting that this Thursday, Sands will lead a slightly different trio (with Nakamura and drummer Jerome Jennings) in two sets at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola. Their repertoire will focus on material associated with Erroll Garner, befitting Sands’ new position as creative ambassador and co-producer of the Erroll Garner Jazz Project. (As you may recall, Sands paid sparkling tribute to Garner in a WBGO Yamaha Salon Concert.)

Read the full piece from: WBGO

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When I was young, I played music with my father. He played guitar and started kind of around the same time that I did. He started, and I wanted to do something with him.

So, for me, playing guitar was a very familial thing; it wasn’t a thing that was designed for the public.

The time I was growing up was fortunately before Youtube and a lot of exploitative outlets. But still, word would get around, “there’s this kid and he plays guitar” and that name of “prodigy” kind of came up.

But, I associate it with my parents’ outlook on everything, which I admire so much. It became very clear that the word “prodigy” said more about the people saying it than about me. I think it was kind of a protective thing that I had to come to terms with very quickly. It wasn’t important for me to think it was freakish or unusual that I was doing something with music, because I knew I wasn’t that good!

I knew of the masters like Jim Hall, Django or Pat Metheny. The bar is very high, so when I hear people talking that way I would think “why do they need me to be a prodigy in their eyes?” For some reason it had to be part of their narrative, and that’s ok.


It’s funny that you say that, because I think about it a lot. My outlook on it tends to be relationship based. What I mean by that is that I feel so lucky to have genuine friendships with these people that I’m working with, and the projects we develop grow out of that.

So, whether it’s Chris Eldridge, Nels Cline, Fred Hersch or whomever, it’s not that the music comes second, but it’s not designed as a business tactic. “It’s gotta be with this and that.”

No, it’s that I love these people, and I’d be remiss if we didn’t do a project together. So, simultaneously, there is that effort to build somewhat of a foundation as either a bandleader or a solo artist. So, when you go out and do projects, it eventually leads people to things that you’ve done under your own name as a solo musician.

My experience has been that it’s best not pick one over the other, but just do it all, throw it against the wall and see what sticks!

I seem to operate well that way. At least I enjoy it! (laughs) I like the challenge of saying “I’m obsessed with my solo guitar thing right now, but Steve Swallow is coming over tomorrow and we have to make some tunes, and I have to get ready for that.”

There’s a humbling balance that comes from being in my own bubble. I count on it.


It doesn’t mean I can make my own sound at the same time, God willing of course. It’s a matter of time. I feel that when you’re playing with people you want to make music with, it’s important to seized the moment. When I was younger I had musical relationships where I didn’t do that. I didn’t make a record of my own until I was 21 or 22. I was saying “I’ll get to it later; let’s just push it down the road.”

But during that time I was very protective about recording with other musicians. I didn’t want the first thing to be a collaborative project. I don’t want to say I regret that decision…but I think I was too precious with it. And rightfully so; you only get one chance to make a first impression, and I didn’t want to come out in a blurry way. I wanted to say “here’s my band.”

If you stand back and squint your eyes to look back at the projects, they actually do add up to a kind of a focus. If you look at the Nels world, the bluegrass world, the various world music influences and the jazz and electric trio, it’s under this umbrella of “American Guitar.” In and of itself, it’s a very diverse medium, and that’s one of the things I come back to as the grounding agent.

The actual instrument, the practice and the dedication to being a guitar player in 2017 involves a lot of nuanced aspects, and for me it’s inappropriate to say, “That’s all right, but I’m really just a bebop guy.”

I think what the public sees is a commitment to one realm as well as being a part of other communities, which I love.


Once there’s a consensus that we want to do it, there’s a very practical aspect, which is just putting dates on the calendar. That’s the engine that prevents it from being just a pipe dream. God willing, you don’t know what’s going to happen within an hour, but the thinking is something like, “OK, I have next summer free, so why don’t we ask our agents to hold out three weeks.”

The agents do their job, and before you know it, it’s the summer of next year, and you’re on tour with the project that you almost forgot about.

It’s a little unglamorous. It’s like “We oughta do something, but I’m on tour for six months. I have 3 days in August. OK! “ Then the agents do their thing, and you have to write music and you have to get your act together.


How does what I’m doing benefit the people around me? Not in an altruistic way; not in a martyrdom kind of way. But, if you look back in history, that’s how we contextualize history.



Great question. It’s kind of both of those. It’s not a science at all; at least not yet.

One of the ironies of doing various projects is that you would think you have to do something different as you approach each project. It’s common sense, as you’d think “this is my Nashville thing,” or “this is my avant garde thing.”

Ironically, I don’t change all that much, except for maybe the actual instrument that I’ll play. The repertoire is obviously different.

But if I don’t change that much, everything else changes, and that’s what makes it sound like I’m playing differently.

That’s the kind of thing that you see with people who make collaborations a priority, such as (Fred) Hersch (John) Zorn or (Bill) Frisell. You change the context; you don’t change, and it’s very liberating.

Conversely or ironically, if you do only one thing, you end up re-inventing yourself a lot because you want to keep it interesting.


It’s more the latter. I’m not an advocate for returning to anything. In many ways the electric guitar was a great thing for jazz, because we’re talking coming from the teens and 20s where the big inventions were the banjo and Hawaiian steel guitar. There was some acoustic steel string guitar and Spanish guitar in the 30s with guys like Eddie Lang or Nick Lucas at the forefront.

It was great, but it was challenging. You had to play very hard just to be heard. Its timbre fit into a certain spot and not much else.

I feel that the Hawaiian steel guitar mixed with that soaring, lyrical thing, mixed with that percussive thing with the banjo added and turned into the vocabulary that became the root of electric guitar as we associate it with jazz guitar with guys like George Barnes and Charlie Christian. You could now be percussive and syncopated, but you could also now be lyrical.

At the turn of the new century, we’re looking back and there are things that we’ve kind of moved away from, in regards to acoustic jazz guitar of which I’m a fan.

Volume, for one; guitars have gotten very loud and very big sounding. At the end of the day I do appreciate the qualities of the guitar back then when they actually still weren’t hyped and massive. The guitar was still an instrument that you played in your living room.

Little details like that inform how I see integrating guitar into jazz. But, am no way am I flying the historical flag because I “should,” but because I “can.”


Gladwell was an unusual record. Here was a band that was started 1 ½ to 2 months before our first record. We put a band together, and I thought “I just put a band together, and yet I have this record date with Emarcy Records in two months!”

So the philosophy was to put it all together relatively quickly based just on instincts. No traditional drums, cello would be beautiful, and do this with the arranging, etc.

We then toured for a couple of years. We played and we practiced, and Gladwell was a record that was basically the outcome of what we were doing live. But the funny thing about it was that it wasn’t clear how we could translate it into a record. So, we started putting music together and writing songs and developed this narrative that helped us make sense in the modern jazz climate that we were in.

We weren’t playing tunes; if we couldn’t write it we didn’t play it. It was a chamber group with strictly composed forms. It was just the nature of having classical musicians and jazz musicians together.

Gladwell’s narrative was just that we were going to basically be “tour guides” and show various orchestral corners of our world that at that point were becoming pretty normal to ourselves. That was the basis; a total concept record from beginning to end. It was meant to present an otherwise working band.

That band was really challenging in a lot of ways, because it wasn’t low hanging fruit. It wasn’t like “Oh, I can play guitar with them.” I felt that in so many ways I was the least appropriate instrument in that band, probably because of the frequency ranged that it occupied.

The cello and the bass were the foundation. The drums were an extension of the low end, with few highs, as it wasn’t a “cymbal” band. The saxophone was a rich middle ground that could go all the way to altissimo. The guitar was mostly at its best when I was playing rhythm. They disagreed and were very supportive, but I got to a point after Gladwell and said “I think I’ve built a structure where it’s hard to lead. It would be a better band if I stay out of it and just write for them.”

I used it as a catalyst because I love the idea of an agile band where I can just show up with an electric guitar, play and put to use the training I had grown up with as a jazz guitar player. That band had more music in it, and I feel that if I had more time I could devote more time to just writing for it.

So, Gladwell was like the final effort before I changed my mind and started paring down to playing with one other person at a time.


I grew up with Dayna, Ambrose (Akinmusire) and Taylor Eigsti. We were kind of a group, of which I was the youngest. That was the community I grew up with; it all gets back to that thing that I said before. If it involves the people that I care about, I’m a big fan of investing in it.


It’s a modern day attitude, but who knows, maybe it’s as old as time. I think that there’s a lot of pressure for people to pick their lane and stay in it. The irony of that is that our community is already so small to begin with, and if I’m being objective there’s a handful of people that I’m lucky to keep running into throughout my life since I was eight years old.
I feel that regardless of trends or how the media handles jazz or regardless of cd sales, at the end of the day you have your neighbor.

When I look to the people that I really admire like John Zorn, someone who’s built up a lifetime of music already, one of the traits that you see is that he’s a community leader. He wakes up, he creates music that creates opportunities for the people he cares about. They benefit; he benefits, and at the end of the day it’s all insular. He owns all of it and he’s in charge.

That’s the question that I ask myself constantly. How does what I’m doing benefit the people around me? Not in an altruistic way; not in a martyrdom kind of way. But, if you look back in history, that’s how we contextualize history.

We don’t just look at Bix Beiderbecke. We look at Bix Beiderbecke with Eddie Lang and Frankie Trumbauer and that community that was coming out of that part of Iowa. We look at Charlie Parker and see the Kansas City thing. With Charlie Christian we think “Wow, that was the Oklahoma sound with a real territorial community.

Nowadays everything is so globalized in a way that it’s almost diffusing the reality. No; I’m going to work with people within a 60 mile radius!


Not just one book. I didn’t grow up in a religious household, although I am Jewish because of my mom’s side, as she’s Jewish. I’m always on a bit of a spiritual quest, so I’m always reading things from the Buddhist world, a lot of (Jiddu) Krishnamurti who’s a neat philosopher. Also Joseph Campbell; things by intelligent people.


Yes, and I’ve come to appreciate that more as I’ve become an adult than when I was growing up. Probably because I’m living in New York with a large Jewish community. So, I’m thinking , “Yes, there is this whole thing to learn.”

But my background is a lot in something called Alexander Technique. (editor’s note; it’s a process to remove muscular tension by retraining physical movements and reactions) It’s been around for over 100 years; a lot of actors study it. It’s something I’m trained to be a teacher in. It took me four years of study and get all my hours in.
I was going to teach it along with music, but now I just consider it for my own well being and entertainment, but within that technique there is a lot of discussion about how we think about ourselves, how we use ourselves in a very pragmatic way. But, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that it occupied a spot of being an influential philosophy.


There are some new records coming out, all in short order to be announced.

This is kind of a global thing, but my dream is to continue to reconcile the acoustic and electric world under the guitar umbrella.

At the end of the day, they are different instruments, and I play them differently. But I don’t feel that I’ve done my job to sew them into a fabric that covers everything I care about in a focused way. God willing, I have my work cut out for me.



Read the full piece from: Jazz Weekly

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Review: MONK’estra shows why Monk’s music thrives


Last year, the world celebrated the centennial of Thelonious Monk, whose music — at this late date — still sounds remarkably fresh and utterly original.

One hesitates to make hard-and-fast judgments about why any composer’s work endures, but surely in Monk’s case part of the reason lies in the idiosyncrasy and originality of these compositions. The quirky rhythms, piquant dissonances and angular melodies that distinguish so many of Monk’s compositions render them unlike anyone else’s and, therefore, ever fresh.

Or as conductor-arranger-pianist John Beasley put it from the stage of Orchestra Hall at Symphony Center on Friday evening, “Monk’s music is very pliable.”

Meaning that no matter what you do to a Monk tune — play with its chord structures, embellish its melody, change its rhythmic context — the spirit of Monk somehow prevails.

Beasley has tested that thesis in two eponymous albums with his MONK’estra, which, as its name suggests, brings Monk’s music to an orchestral palette. What’s more, Beasley’s arrangements in some cases apply funk, electronic and other seemingly anachronistic influences to Monk’s music, as if pushing this repertoire to a stylistic breaking point.

Each listener will decide whether the experiment works, but in concert Beasley and the MONK’estra made a compelling case for the extraordinary malleability of this music. As Leonard Bernstein used to say of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” Monk’s tunes ultimately are indestructible.

Considering all the instrumental firepower that Beasley convened, the concert got off to a surprisingly lackadaisical start, with Monk’s “Epistrophy.” The casual tempo, nonchalant delivery and bland tonal palette represented an anemic way of opening the set. But by the time Beasley and friends reached the final pages, they’d begun to summon the rhythmic energy and sonic heft that would define the best parts of the evening.

Certainly the arrival onstage of harmonica soloist Gregoire Maret, to collaborate with Beasley and the band in Monk’s “Brake’s Sake,” brought much-needed tension to the proceedings. To hear Maret improvising freely over the orchestra’s pulsing accompaniment was to savor the clash of two epochs: Maret’s bebop-inspired lines and the band’s funk-tinged backdrop. Though these forces sometimes pushed volume levels too high for this room, the excitement of the give-and-take at least explained why. And a concluding passage in which Maret took flight with only the reeds backing him gave this piece — and the entire enterprise — quite a lift.

Indeed, with each work the musicians sounded increasingly persuasive, as if warming to the repertoire and its demands. The melancholy undertone they expressed in “Ask Me Now” and the exquisitely detailed orchestral writing in “Criss Cross” — the tour de force of the evening — underscored the value of this enterprise.

For once, Beasley and the band found their voice, they left no doubt that Monk’s music can adapt to practically any aesthetic circumstance.

Tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana opened the evening leading a quintet, her Orchestra Hall debut reaffirming earlier impressions of her work in a club setting. For even in a large auditorium, there was no mistaking the airy translucence of her sound, nor the cerebral quality of her phrase-making.

She opened with her “Over There,” the nearly vibrato-less quality of her timbre and the ornate nature of her lines giving listeners a great deal to ponder and absorb. This is not a musician, in other words, who opts for theatrical, audience-pleasing ostentation. On the contrary, Aldana tries to pack as much melodic content and harmonic complexity into her solos as possible, the sheer intricacies of her statements worth studying.

Aldana has found an excellent foil in trumpeter Philip Dizack, whose ballad “Box Office” gave this set some of its most lyrically profound moments, especially when he and Aldana played in unison.

The saxophonist produced meticulously sculpted phrases on the standard “Never Let Me Go” and conjured considerable rhythmic drive — while maintaining characteristically cool control — in her “Turning.”

If anyone wondered why she won the 2013 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition, the reasons were plain to hear, and plentiful.

Read the full piece from: Chicago Tribune

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From Morrison to Monk, a weekend of tantalizing music


John Beasley MONK’estra; Melissa Aldana. The Symphony Center Presents Jazz series kicks off the New Year with a powerhouse double-bill celebrating the music and legacy of Thelonious Monk. Though the world observed Monk’s centennial last year, this intriguing program stands to put a fresh perspective on its subject. As its name suggests, Beasley’s MONK’estra refracts Monk’s music through an orchestral perspective, though, as Beasley has said, “it’s not your grandfather’s big band.” The arrangements are edgy, rhythmically volatile and stylistically wide-ranging, as Beasley and friends have proven on two eponymous recordings on Mack Avenue Records. For this occasion, the band will be joined by guest harmonica player Gregoire Maret. Melissa Aldana, who won the 2013 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition, opens the program; and though she has said she plans to devote much of her set to original scores, it seems nearly inevitable that she’ll play some Monk, considering her Monk contest triumph and the nature of this double-bill. Aldana will be joined by pianist Sam Harris, drummer Tommy Crane and bassist Pablo Maneras, with guest trumpeter Philip Dizack. 8 p.m. Friday in Orchestra Hall at Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan Ave; $15-$61; 312-294-3000 or

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Cécile McLorin Salvant Soars at the Village Vanguard


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: The Village Voice

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Raul Midón Is Bad-A**, Blind & A 2018 GRAMMY Nominee


Raul Midón certainly does things his own way.

Originally from the Land Of Enchantment — New Mexico — Midón began his remarkable career in the late '90s by cultivating his own recipe of jazz, rock, flamenco, and more into an experimental joy ride, which has seen him shred, pound, clap, and croon his way into a one-man-band.

His efforts landed him on "The Late Show With David Letterman" in 2006 in support of his major label debut album, State Of Mind. Eight studio albums later, Midón began work on the album that would earn him his first GRAMMY nomination, 2017's Bad A** And Blind, a project aptly named for its creator (and a title endorsed by soul singing legend Bill Withers) given the musically adept Midón has been blind since birth.

But Midón's inventiveness and tenacity have shaped his artistic vision that sees beyond the lines and notes of traditional music. And while his nod for Bad A** And Blind comes in the Best Jazz Vocal Album category, his music continues to resist the boundaries of classification and instead strives for something more simultaneously direct and universal.

"Like with all my records, this album is for those who are interested in going beyond notions of genre," Midón said. "It's for listeners with open ears, open minds, open hearts."

The drive to push beyond the notions of genre has led Midón down an experimental path, throwing harmony and melody into the blender and throwing the standard cookbook out the window, experimenting with various modes, psychedelic textures and adventurous techniques.

“As a listener, you don't need to know anything about the Phrygian or Dorian modes to get this music," Midón said. "It just sounds different, intriguing, exotic.”

The musical polymath shared with us that when he found out about his first career GRAMMY nomination, he was "in the basement working" when his wife called with the good news. Midón thought it was a mistake at first — but it was true. Nearly two decades into his career, his vision and dedication to his art have put him in the running for music's highest honor on Music's Biggest Night.

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John Beasley salutes as well as recasts the music of Thelonious Monk


John Beasley gets his best ideas using two tools: his iPhone and a pair of walking shoes.

Both were essential while composing his Grammy-nominated album “MONK’estra, Vol. 2” (Mack Avenue), a second volume of new works that reimagine Thelonious Monk melodies within a big band setting. Beasley, a pianist, conductor and arranger as well as composer, would take breaks to take long walks. Suddenly, a song’s complete architecture would appear, which he would sing into his phone to transcribe later.

“Once I’d input it in, it would lead to another rabbit hole,” he said, laughing. Thanks to his live band, the experimental process had grounding. Beasley found himself writing for specific musicians, which would then give him the opportunity to hear playback immediately. The project evolved into a time machine that collected ideas born more than 60 years ago with those that hint at other flavors: Afro-Cuban rhythms, hip-hop, New Orleans funk. (Beasley’s Monk’estra with special guest Grégoire Maret on harmonica appears at Orchestra Hall for an SCP Jazz concert Jan. 26; opening is tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana.)

Beasley’s MONK’estra project is ambitious. It involves a 16-piece big band, plus numerous special guests: tenor saxophonist Kamasi Washington, singer Dianne Reeves, jazz violinist Regina Carter, trumpeter Dontae Winslow, among others. They serve as dynamic instruments to help recast Monk melodies away from their original bebop framework to new and often unexpected territories. The first volume, released in 2016, was also Grammy-nominated; the current set is up for best large jazz ensemble and best arrangement awards.

Beasley says Monk’s music lends itself to such playfulness because “he harmonically leans toward the 20th century.” “His music is very pliable as well as audacious and playful, so it sets up a template to be able to incorporate contemporary rhythms that combine with that 20th-century harmony.”

Even though he didn’t intend it, he acknowledges that both MONK’estra volumes also serve as ways to introduce young people to Monk’s work. The genre-flipping is a natural fit for a generation used to swiping through decades of music on their phone. “Young people are doing the same thing they’ve always done, having one foot forward and one foot in the past,” he said.

Beasley, 57, has the credentials to dabble with a late master’s works. His resume includes stints with several other jazz icons: as a keyboardist for Freddie Hubbard and Miles Davis, as well as Sergio Mendes, Herbie Hancock, Chaka Khan, Steely Dan and many others. His year-long stint with Davis came when Beasley was only 28. He recalls being floored at the dedication Davis showed toward every manner of his work, even at such a late stage in his career.

“We would be on the road, and he would listen to every concert off a board tape every night and have comments for everybody. He would keep tweaking it,” Beasley said. “In hotel room, he would be painting a canvas on the floor and then go to his couch and practice his trumpet. He would talk to valet about designing clothes. It seemed to be constant art all the time.”

Beasley understands the allure of being pulled in different directions. Besides his jazz credentials, he also is a successful film composer and performer (the James Bond films “Spectre” and “Skyfall” as well as “Finding Dory,” among others), and music director for such pop franchises as “American Idol.”

The Monk project remains his standing passion. Besides the Chicago performance, he will debut a cinematic presentation of the music at Walt Disney Hall in Los Angeles on March 9, which will feature archival footage of Monk himself “playing” alongside the band.

His Chicago performance will have a set list but he is open to “scorching it,” depending on the crowd. “I know it’s a symphony hall, but I hope people will get up and shake their booty a little bit and clap along,” he said. “I love that.”

Read the full piece from: CSO

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The irreproachably hip, fiendishly virtuosic Cécile McLorin Salvant continues her one-woman revitalization of the once-grand vocal-jazz tradition with another fine showcase for her savvy and adventurous approach to both song selection and interpretation. Dreams And Daggers is at once a step forward and something of a victory lap for the fêted chanteuse: It’s a double album, but that’s less a signal of expanding ambitions than an opportunity for Salvant—and, especially, her top-flight backing trio—to stretch out over an eclectic set of standards, nearly all of it recorded live at the Village Vanguard. The erudite curation favors Salvant’s well-established modes: ribald and/or proto-feminist pre-war blues; smirking takes on outmoded would-be kitsch (“If A Girl Isn’t Pretty”); sprightly romps by folks like Berlin, Dorough and Loesser; lesser-heard ballads; fascinating artifacts like Kurt Weill/Langston Hughes aria “Somehow I Never Could Believe.” She makes it all her playground, offering sometimes acrobatic but always sensitive readings. Regrettably, Salvant’s own compositions—often the poetically affecting highlights of previous albums—take a backseat, limited to a handful of brief, haunting vignettes (with gorgeous string arrangements) interspersed throughout, which suggest a variety of themes (desire, uncertainty, gender, race) without quite elucidating them.

Read the full piece from: Magnet Magazine

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Cameron Graves – Planetary Prince


If Cameron Graves played electric guitar instead of piano, his debut solo album, Planetary Prince, would be a heavy-metal record. Graves’ playing style is most notable for its relentlessness, and his supporting musicians prove equal to his ferocity. Drummer Ronald Bruner Jr. and alternating bassists Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner and Hadrien Feraud animate this scorching collection of funk, rock, and hip-hop grooves, demonstrating the ability to sustain unhinged momentum without ever sounding forced or redundant.

Although it was released in February, Planetary Prince was recorded in a single 11-hour session during the same studio residency that produced tenor saxophonist Kamasi Washington’s 2015 magnum opus, The Epic. As members of the Los Angeles-based jazz collective The West Coast Get Down, Graves and his sidemen — some of whom he’s been playing with since high school — all contributed to Washington’s record. But despite the overlap in personnel, Graves has no difficulty in establishing an independent identity. In fact, the pianist’s compositional voice is so distinctive and narrow that many tracks risk sounding nearly identical at first. “Satania Our Solar System,” “The Lucifer Rebellion,” “The End of Corporatism,” “El Diablo,” and the title track are all built on knotty, off-kilter chordal vamps with urgent, often odd-metered rhythms that sound like tremors from some massive, pent-up source of energy.

Fortunately, variety in form keeps the music fresh. Some pieces open with florid piano improvisations that resemble romantic-era cadenzas — likely a product of the bandleader’s classical training — while others launch into the beat like an alarm clock. Trombonist Ryan Porter, trumpeter Philip Dizack and, naturally, Kamasi Washington lend a soulful grandeur to tracks including “Adam and Eve” and “Isle of Love.”

Thrilling technicality, earnest passion and an acute sense of style justify even the record’s over-the-top moments. Some listeners might grow exhausted by the ceaseless intensity with which Graves realizes his cosmic aspirations, but the band members most certainly do not. Planetary Prince is an 80-minute explosion of musical ideas that reflects the musicians’ decades of prior collaboration.

Asher Wolf

Read the full piece from: Jazziz

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And Look—She’s a Star!


All the regulars at the Village Vanguard know the rules: no photography, no texting, no talking or unnecessary noise during a performance. Operating in the same location since 1935 and virtually unchanged over those years, the Vanguard is the closest thing to a holy space in the world of jazz. The prestige of being booked at the club is tantamount to sanctification, and the experience of seeing musicians play there has a quality of bearing witness. There’s quiet and stillness and an air of reverence in the room, no matter who’s onstage—or so there had been at the dozens of shows I’ve attended at the Vanguard until this fall, when I saw Cécile McLorin Salvant.

A full month before the event, I started to notice that something extraordinary was in the works. As soon as I got the announcement that Salvant would be playing a week of duo shows at the Vanguard, accompanied by the pianist Sullivan Fortner—two sets a night for six nights—I logged on to the club’s website to make a reservation, only to find that all 12 shows were sold out. News of this sort would be the opposite of news for Beyoncé or Taylor Swift, but it’s rare for even the biggest stars in jazz, the bigness of their stardom being a relative matter. I e-mailed the club manager, asking if there was standing-room space available, and was told my only option would be to arrive early and get in line with the people hoping for cancellations. I did just that and waited on the sidewalk on Seventh Avenue for nearly an hour—and then everyone on the line was sent away. There were no cancellations for this show.

Two nights later, after going through the same routine twice more, I finally got in through the door and squished my way into a seat in the grossly, thrillingly overpacked space. The crowd was a mix of smartly put-together millennials and jazz bigwigs. I spotted Renee Rosnes and Bill Charlap, two pianists who have also headlined the Vanguard this year, a few feet from the stage. Off to one side of them, there was the jazz singer Catherine Russell, and not far behind her was a table full of musicians from the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. It was like a summons had gone out to assemble people certified as cool.

I had seen Salvant perform once before, a year and a half earlier, in a one-off night with Fred Hersch in his annual “Duo Invitation Series” at the Jazz Standard, another New York club. Salvant was 26 at the time; she was celebrated for having won the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz International Vocals Competition and had already released three albums—including one, WomanChild, for which she’d earned her first Grammy nomination. I found her impressive overall but a bit tentative onstage, and I thought she sounded too much like Billie Holiday. She sat on a stool, nearly motionless, for most of that show, and closed her eyes or looked down at the floor much of the time she was singing. For the ballads that dominated the set, Salvant’s minimalism came across as internalism—rumination appropriate to the material. I walked away thinking of her as a promising young heir to the Holiday tradition.

What I experienced at the Village Vanguard in October was something more than the fulfillment of that promise: I saw Salvant transcend the conventions of multiple traditions in jazz singing, including Holiday’s, without abandoning the tenets of emotional maturity, deep musicality, and rhythmic drive that distinguish jazz. Onstage at the Vanguard, as well as on her latest album, Dreams and Daggers, Salvant made a kind of jazz that honors the history of the music while speaking with ringing, stinging cogency to a 21st-century audience.

In place of reverence, quiet, and stillness, there was an atmosphere of shared excitement. If the regulars remembered the rules about keeping quiet, it didn’t show. And there seemed to be many more newcomers than regulars in the place—unbridled fans cheering in full voice during a song, picking up on Salvant’s cheeky humor and laughing along, even calling out requests, an act of apostasy at the Vanguard. About halfway into the set, someone yelled for “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,” the Rodgers and Hart ballad that Salvant reconsiders on Dreams and Daggers—a double-CD set of standards, vintage obscurities, and new songs written (or co-written) by her, including some tracks recorded at a show at the Vanguard in late 2016 that I didn’t attend. Salvant’s pianist responded, “You read our mind,” and a woman in the audience called back to them, “You’re reading mine!”

At the end of the set, about half the audience rose to give Salvant a standing ovation, something I had not seen in the venue in years—not since the first show that the pianist Barry Harris played after suffering a stroke. On my way out, I saw the Vanguard’s longtime owner, Lorraine Gordon, sitting near the exit with her daughter Deborah, who has taken over the club’s day-to-day operations. “It hasn’t been so hard to get into this place since Barbra Streisand,” I said, referring to the evening in 2009 when Streisand booked the Vanguard for a show recorded and filmed for a live album and DVD. (The room was stocked that night with the likes of Bill and Hillary Clinton and Barry Diller.) Lorraine, now 95, smiled a little smile and said, “I like this girl better.”

Deborah, gesturing to the line of people waiting to enter for the second set, added, “And look—she’s a star!”

There are jazz singers today more famous than Cécile McLorin Salvant: Diana Krall headlines major theaters like the Beacon in New York City and performing-arts centers around the country, and others like Kurt Elling, René Marie, Dianne Reeves, Janis Siegel, Esperanza Spalding, and Cassandra Wilson are all established success stories in vocal jazz. (I’ve put Elling first on this list going alphabetically, not because he’s one of a small handful of men to rank among the most popular singers in jazz.) Quite a few young or youngish singers have gotten serious critical attention in recent years: Laila Biali, José James, Jo Lawry, and Jen Shyu, among others. And a group of gifted lesser-knowns have the potential to break through next: Nancy Harms, Aubrey Johnson, and Camila Meza, among those I’ve seen and admired thus far. So what does Salvant have, what does she do, to earn her status as jazz’s most exciting new star?

A major element of her success in this taxing discipline is her unfailing technical proficiency. A singer since childhood, Salvant took lessons in both voice and piano and went on to study music at the Darius Milhaud Conservatory in France. (She also took some classes in law.) She has superb intonation and can hit a note dead on. She also understands the greater wisdom in varying her pitch for expressive purposes—for instance, lowering a tone to communicate misgivings or regret. At the Vanguard, she did this deftly at multiple points in Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life,” for instance, singing the last word in the phrase “I was wrong” so low on the register that you could see her there in that small dive.

Salvant has superb breath control and command of dynamics. She knows how to lower her voice to a near-whisper to draw listeners into her inner world, or belt out a phrase with full lung power. Even more impressively, she uses these techniques only for their emotive capacity—never merely to demonstrate how fancy she can get. And she rarely scats; Salvant gives the impression that music is important to her as a vehicle for bringing out the meaning of words.

The marvel of Cécile McLorin Salvant is the complexity of her point of view as an artist. Like most jazz and cabaret singers, she works in a milieu that is essentially interpretive rather than expressive. She sings songs that others wrote at various points in the past, including material that a great many other singers have sung and continue to sing. While she has written or co-written some songs, the bulk of her repertoire consists of popular standards (“The Trolley Song,” “You’re My Thrill”) and deeper cuts (“Growlin’ Dan,” “Tell Me What They’re Saying Can’t Be True”). But she chooses her material so astutely, and interprets it so adroitly, that the songs come across like the personal expression of an idiosyncratic individual with an utterly contemporary sensibility.

Salvant has a gift that I’ve never seen developed so well in a singer of vintage material. She accomplishes two seemingly incompatible feats simultaneously: taking on a standard with a palpable respect for the intention of the material and bringing forth the essence of the song, while at the same time communicating a second meaning, an analytical or ironic commentary. It’s almost as if she has two selves, the first one singing for all she’s worth and the other standing alongside, offering her own thoughts.

Among the highlights of the Vanguard set I saw was a torch song called “Gone Again,” best known, to the degree that it’s known at all, through a recording by Dinah Washington (under the title “He’s Gone Again”). The lyric, co-written by Gladys Hampton, wife of the legendary vibraphonist Lionel Hampton, is a plainspoken statement of regret for hanging on to an unreliable man. Salvant put the idea across clearly and potently, seeming to embody the song’s ill-treated woman, while—with no more than a slight squint as she sang “I’m his completely” and an arched eyebrow for the words “I miss him”—she sent out another set of meanings.

With her ability to tease out such complexity in every song, Cécile McLorin Salvant has created a repertoire twice as deep as other singers’. How wonderful, and strange, that a singer can nowadays achieve a kind of stardom for such a thing.

Read the full piece from: The Nation

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Grammy-nominated John Beasley goes off the hook on Vol. 2 of ‘MONK’estra’


“My father would have approved your arrangements for MONK'estra because he wrote these compositions for musicians to take it and improvise on them. You’ve kept his compositional integrity. You’re carrying on this tradition. Anybody that has a love for my father’s music and has put in time like you… has my admiration.” — T.S. Monk

Read the full piece from: Festival Peak

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The 2017 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll


This is what consensus in jazz looks like now: In winning the vote for 2017's best new recording in NPR's Fifth Annual Jazz Critics Poll, Vijay Iyer's Far from Over was named on 53 of 137 ballots — almost twice as many as either Steve Coleman's Morphogenesis or Tyshawn Sorey's Verisimilitude, which finished second and third, respectively. (Thelonious Monk's music for the 1960 French film Les Liaisons Dangereuses, unused by the director Roger Vadim and released only this year, made a whopping 66 ballots to finish first in Rara Avis, a category reserved for reissues and vault discoveries. Then, Monk is settled law.)

Read the full piece from: NPR

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15 Great Albums You Probably Didn’t Hear in 2017


Cécile McLorin Salvant is also a master curator, deconstructing American artifacts like a bomb squad technician (see her 2013 cover of Valaida Snow's "You Bring Out the Savage in Me"). This double LP is less about crate-digging cultural critiques than re-imagining classics hiding in plain sight. A mix of live recordings made last year at the Village Vanguardm with her sharp trio and studio recording backed by strings, it's a showcase for her jazz bonafides: her playfully cocky, abstractly virtuosic swing on Irving Berlin's "The Best Thing for You (Would Be You)," her sexy time-warping on Rodgers and Hart's "I Didn't Know What Time It Was." She also finds humor and tragedy in the queer subtext of Noel Coward's "Mad About the Boy" and smirking, simmering anger in the double-standard of "If a Girl Isn't Pretty." And with Salvant, 28, now writing her own stuff – including "Fascination," a chamber-music setting of Langston Hughes' writing – it also shows a fully-formed artist still evolving. Will Hermes

Read the full piece from: Rolling Stone

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Music Review: Cecile McLoren Salvant, Dreams and Daggers


She didn't attend any of the prestigious jazz conservatories and schools, she almost missed the deadline for the most important jazz vocal competition which gave her the first break.

In 2010, the well storied panel judged her the Thelonious Monk Award and she's been attracting plaudits ever since.

She made her recording debut in 2013 with WomanChild, grabbing Grammy nominations.

NPR Music and Downbeat magazine shouted her praises and in 2015 she hit pay-dirt and the Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal album for the follow-up, For One to Love.

Now Cecile has stepped up to the plate with a wide ranging new release in Dreams and Daggers.

It's a peach of an album; well, two albums really. There's a generous track listing of 23 songs across the two records, among them a number of Cecile McLoren Salvant originals mixed with standards from Noel Coward, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin and Rodgers & Hart.

The settings are mostly a small combo of piano, double bass and drums, giving Cecile plenty of room to demonstrate that her voice is a very special instrument. The other tracks also feature a string quartet.

In both formats Cecile's voice is the stand-out sound; rich and offering subtle phrasings and a range that's impressive.

Dreams and Daggers will offer you a high level of reward and you'll want to add the name Cecile McLoren Salvant to your future watch-list.

Read the full piece from: Hamilton News

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