Archive for the CD Reviews Category

Album Review: Nicole Zuraitis – Pariah Anthem

Posted in CD Reviews, Who's New in Jazz with tags , , , on February 11, 2014 by curtjazz

The following review first appeared in the February 2014 issue of Eric Nemeyer’s Jazz Inside Magazine

Nicole Zuraitis

nicole zuratis

PARIAH ANTHEM – Self Release  Stinger; Watercolors; Try, Love; Secret; Staring Into The Sun; To The Hive; Dagger; The Bridge; If Only For Today; Pariah Anthem

PERSONNEL: Nicole Zuraitis, vocals, piano; Dan Pugach, drums; Scott Colberg, double bass; Julian Shore, rhodes, organ; Victor Gould, piano; Ilan Bar-Lavi, guitar; Billy Buss trumpet, flugelhorn; Jon Paul, acoustic guitar; Nandini Srikar, vocals

By Curtis Davenport

In my younger days, I used to frequent what we called “Wine and Cheese Cafés”, where you could usually find some very good and reasonably priced wines, a diverse assortment of cheeses and more often than not, an eclectic assortment of some of the best music around, setting the atmosphere. It was generally a mix of soft rock, mellow but funky R&B and tasty contemporary jazz of the type that was popularized by CTI Records. Often, I would hate to leave because the music mix was more intoxicating than any alcoholic beverage being served. Invariably, there would be an artist that captured that perfect mix of the genres and I would ask the waiter “Who is that playing now?” If now was then, I would have certainly asked about the music of Nicole Zuraitis.

Nicole Zuraitis is a young New York based singer/songwriter/keyboardist.  The NYU graduate has performed or recorded with Winard Harper, Jane Monheit and Don Braden. Her own music as evidenced on Pariah Anthem, which is her second album, is a well crafted hybrid of rock, jazz and R&B, which fits very well around her impressive voice. And that voice is hard to ignore. On most selections, Ms. Zuraitis hangs out in that corner of the alto range that was once so well occupied by the great Angela Bofill. Then just as soon as you’ve gotten comfortable there, Ms. Zuraitis will suddenly sweep into a glissando through several octaves that places her close to Minnie Riperton territory. I couldn’t help but stop and take notice.

The songs on Pariah Anthem were all written by Zuraitis and many of them are quite good. “Secret” is sweetly soulful, with a swirl of jazz chords and a dreamy rhodes backdrop by Julian Shore. It sounds like a lost track from Ms. Bofill’s Angel of the Night album. “Staring Into the Sun” is a lovely duet between Ms. Zuraitis and Victor Gould’s piano. It gives her a chance to show off her remarkable range to great effect.  “To The Hive” starts as an insistent jazz-rock tune that takes an unexpected turn with the addition of a Hindi verse by Indian singer Nandini Srikar. When Srikar and Zuraitis rush toward the coda in an English/ Hindi counterpoint, it is exhilarating. On “Dagger”, Ms. Zuraitis and company drop a nice neo-soul groove, led again by Julian Shore’s rhodes. This cat knows how to pull an atmosphere out of his keyboard. “If Only for Today” is a torchy ballad, performed again as a duet between Ms. Zuraitis and Mr. Gould. They are so good together that I would gladly listen to an evening of them playing duets.

Nicole Zuraitis is a gifted performer and Pariah Anthem is an album that will grow on you with repeated listening as the nuances reveal themselves. It’s music that doesn’t easily categorize itself.  And you know what? That’s not a necessarily a bad thing.  Keep an eye on Ms. Zuraitis, for I think that she has a bright future ahead of her.

Album Review: Rudy Royston – 303

Posted in CD Reviews with tags , , , on February 9, 2014 by curtjazz

The following review first appeared in the February 2014 issue of Eric Nemeyer’s Jazz Inside Magazine

Rudy Royston

rudy royston

303 – GRE-CD-1035  Mimi Sunrise; Play on Words; Prayer (for the People); Goodnight Kinyah; Gangs of New York; High and Dry; Miles to Go (Sunset Road); 303; Ave Verum Corpus; Prayer (for the Earth)

PERSONNEL: Rudy Royston, drums, percussion; Sam Harris, piano, Yasushi Nakamura, bass; Mimi Jones, bass; Jon Irabagon, saxophones; Nadja Noordhuis, trumpet; Nir Felder, guitar

By Curtis Davenport

Rudy Royston has put in a lot of work over the years on his way to his first set as a leader. Jazz fans have heard him keeping time behind Dave Douglas, Bill Frisell, Tia Fuller, J.D. Allen and others. His versatility has made him a first call drummer for straight-ahead jazz, avant-garde, soul jazz and everything in between. On 303, the first album under his name, Mr. Royston has put together a band of mostly unknown but capable musicians to produce a very forceful debut.

While 303 (named for the area code in Royston’s hometown of Denver) is definitely a jazz album, it’s one that can’t easily be categorized, which isn’t a surprise, considering the breadth of Royston’s experience. Royston is also confident enough to let the music take its time and for the personalities of his colleagues to show through in their solos.  You don’t doubt that this is the drummer’s album but we are spared the spectacle of ten minute drum solos or of the drums being mixed way out front in order to prove it. Royston is joined by Sam Harris a strong young pianist who has also recorded with Ambrose Akinmusire and is currently playing with Linda Oh.  Yasushi Yakamura and Mimi Jones split the bass duties. They are considered two of the top young bassists on the New York scene with Ms. Jones just having released her critically acclaimed second album, Balance. Jon Irabagon, a darling of the downtown free jazz scene (Mary Halvorson, Other People Do The Killing, etc.) and Nadje Noordhuis, an impressive Australian born trumpet player with a full, warm tone, are the horns and Nir Felder, a guitarist who is new to me but has been quite busy of late with Terri Lyne Carrington, Joey DeFrancesco and Eric Harland, rounds out the band.

Most memorable among the cuts are “Bownze”, a track that Mr. Royston says was inspired by Michael Jackson’s recording of “Rockin’ Robin”. While I didn’t hear any of the King of Pop in this cut, I did really dig Royston’s drum work and the way Irabagon’s staccato tenor punctuated the performance and Harris piano added some sweet chord fills. “Play on Words” is a driving straight-ahead tune on which Felder’s guitar and Irabagon’s tenor really shine, especially as he trades eights with Harris.  “Miles to Go (Sunset Road)” is an irresistible laid back groove that rides along on Ms. Jones’ bass and Felder’s guitar, while the horns repeat a hypnotic figure. My only complaint about it is that it ended too quickly, which is too bad because there was an awesome Reggae/Jazz jam about to break out. “Gangs of New York”, which Royston says was inspired by both the Scorsese film and by the hardcore braggadocio of NYC rappers, starts out beautifully, contradicting its stated inspirations. Then, after a gorgeous trumpet solo by Ms. Noordhuis, the piece suddenly turns edgy, with short horn bursts announcing the “war” that is brought on by Felder’s rock tinged guitar. It was not expected but it was quite interesting.

Rudy Royston’s 303 is an impressive debut. It is the work of an artist who is willing to stretch jazz’s conventions as he grows but who is prepared to let others join him on the ride. I hope that Royston continues to work with this group of musicians because I think that they still have a lot more to say as a collective.

Album Review: Mimi Jones – Balance

Posted in CD Reviews, Who's New in Jazz with tags , , , , , on February 6, 2014 by curtjazz

The following review first appeared in the February 2014 issue of Eric Nemeyer’s Jazz Inside Magazine.

Mimi Jones

Mimi Jones Cover Shot

BALANCE – Hot Tone Music HTM 103  Nothing Like You; Traveler; Speedbump; The Incy Wincy Spider; The Spinning Tree; Patriot; Someone Like You; To Be; The Edge of a Circle; Everybody Loves The Sunshine; Junk Funk; Dream

PERSONNEL: Mimi Jones, bass, voice; Ingrid Jensen, trumpet; Camille Thurman, flute, voice; Luis Perdomo, piano, Wurlitzer, rhodes, moog; Enoch Smith, Jr., piano; Mike Hamaya, piano, Wurlitzer, rhodes; Marvin Sewell, guitar, piano; Sean Harkness, guitars; Shirazette Tinnin, drums, percussion; Justin Faulkner, drums; Mala Waldron, vocal

By Curtis Davenport

Attractive young woman…plays a killer jazz bass… sings well…not overly concerned with genre boundaries…

If I were lazy, I would make this review about a comparison between Mimi Jones and a certain Grammy winning artist who also meets all of the above criteria. But I’m not going to do that. This is all about Mimi Jones, because she deserves to be considered solely on her own substantial merits.

Mimi Jones (birth name: Miriam Sullivan) is a New York City native who grew up with a multitude of musical influences; from the Caribbean music of her parent’s birthplaces, to straight-ahead jazz, to ‘70’s R & B to The Doors and Streisand.  She originally studied the guitar before enrolling in high school and discovering that the school did not have a guitar program. She then switched to the cello but destiny could not be denied as young Miriam was discovered by a music teacher, spinning a friend’s upright bass and playing the iconic bassline from the Barney Miller TV show.  The teacher immediately drafted Miriam into the school’s jazz band and then began to study the instrument that she excels with today. She has learned quickly; studying with bassist Lisle Atkinson and others leading to work with Roy Hargrove, Joshua Redman and Kevin Mahogany and recordings with Tia Fuller, Terri Lyne Carrington and Lizz Wright, among others. In 2009, Ms. Sullivan recorded her debut album as a leader A New Day. She also adopted the alter ego by which she is now professionally known, Mimi Jones.  A New Day was, for the most part a contemporary jazz album, with a heavy dose of vocals and a decided R & B influence in most of the performances. On her new album, Balance Ms. Jones leans more in a traditional jazz direction, though there is still a nice dose of the contemporary. Ms. Jones has matured as an artist and composer in the four years between albums and it’s quite evident throughout. While A New Day was good, I found Balance to be much more satisfying for me as a listener.

Ms. Jones has an impressive list of guest stars to help put forth her vision; Ingrid Jensen appears on trumpet on a couple of tracks; Luis Perdomo, a terrific pianist/keyboardist who you should know if you don’t already, also guests as does guitarist Marvin Sewell.  Equally if not more impressive is the work of the lesser known musicians who come up strong throughout this date. “Nothing Like You” the Bob Dorough composition jumps out at you from the beginning in an instrumental trio version which allows Ms. Jones to show off her bowed and plucked bass skills.  Mr. Perdomo takes it to the next level with a fiery piano solo. “Speedbump”, written by Jones and Perdomo is excellent post-bop with Ms. Jensen blowing hard and sounding like Miles fronting his last great quintet. Perdomo eggs her on while Ms Jones and drummer Justin Faulkner are a powerful rhythm duo. Perdomo’s sudden shifting of gears into 4/4 in the middle is very striking.  A very pleasant surprise is an easygoing take on Roy Ayers’ “Everybody Loves The Sunshine” on which Ms. Jones gets some formidable support from two of her Hot Tone label mates, drummer Shirazette Tinnin and Camille Thurman on flute and ethereal soprano vocals.  Ms. Tinnin is a very strong percussionist as she proves here and on a couple of other tracks. And Ms. Thurman’s vocal harmonies and scatting set the perfect groove. Though she doesn’t play it here, Ms. Thurman is also a formidable tenor saxophonist, watch out for all three of these young ladies, who are simultaneously releasing new albums. But my favorite track was “Incy Wincy Spider”, the quirkiest take on that old children’s song that I’ve ever heard. It starts with a foreboding and slightly dissonant piano line, followed by Ms. Jones’ haunting vocal. Just when things have turned as dark as possible, the sun comes out and the performance turns bright and swinging on the back of Miki Hayama’s piano, another strong bass solo by Ms. Jones and Tinnin’s perky cymbals. It looks like everything turned out okay for that spider after all.

Mimi Jones is an exciting talent and Balance is a very, very good album. It kept my attention from first note to last, which isn’t an easy thing to do. It is accessible and diverse but I never felt like the musicians were pandering to anyone’s tastes. It is an album that I expect to return to many times throughout this year.

Album Review: Coltrane Rules (Tao of a Music Warrior) – Gary Bartz

Posted in CD Reviews with tags , , , , , , on February 1, 2014 by curtjazz

The following review first appeared in the December 2013 issue of Eric Nemeyer’s Jazz Inside Magazine.

Gary Bartz

gary bartz

COLTRANE RULES (Tao of a Music Warrior) – OYO Recordings  After the Rain; I Concentrate on You; Dear Lord; To Your Lady; Nita; Dahomey Dance/Tunji; Birdtrane; Vilia/Ole; Pristine; The Song of Loving/Kindness; After the Rain

PERSONNEL: Gary Bartz, soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, bass clarinet, vocals; Barney McAll, piano; James King, bass; Greg Bandy, drums; Andy Bey, vocals; Rene McLean, flute; Makea Keith, vocals; Eric Rose, vocals; Ommas Keith, vocals

By Curtis Davenport

Many times recordings are made, mastered and then shelved. Why? Sometimes it’s because all involved realize how bad the music is and for anyone to hear it would damage an artist’s reputation. Other times the music is good but there are financial squabbles between the artists and the producers/management/record company.  And other times the record company goes under and the recording is orphaned. Those are just a few of the many reasons that tapes can stay on the shelf for years. Sometimes this will deprive the listening public of the chance to hear some good music and sometimes keeping an album on the shelf is a great public service. Veteran saxophonist Gary Bartz’s most recent release Coltrane Rules (Tao of a Music Warrior) consists mostly of tracks that were recorded in 2000. Having now heard them, I can now say “what took you so long”.

Though he has never achieved wide acclaim, Gary Bartz has been on the jazz scene since the mid 60’s when he joined the Max Roach / Abbey Lincoln group. His career has been a series of up and downs and he has dabbled in just about every jazz related musical style from bop to modal to free jazz to jazz-rock fusion to funk/disco and then back to his roots. He made his recorded debut as a member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers on Soul Finger and he joined Miles Davis in 1970, right in the middle of Miles’ electric/fusion phase.  So when I heard that Mr. Bartz had recorded a Coltrane tribute, I thought that it had possibilities since he, unlike many others making similar projects, was an actual contemporary of Trane’s. It could also, given Bartz’s eclectic history, go in a number of different directions. What would Bartz do? Would he concentrate on the boppish Prestige/Atlantic years, would he use the avant-garde projects of the mid 60’s as a base or would it be a combination of both?

It turns out that Bartz and his quartet at that time chose to concentrate mostly on the mainstream side of Trane, which may disappoint fans of the latter years but it will please many others and probably garner this project a good share of airplay in the jazz radio world. Mr. Bartz was at the top of his game on these 13-year-old recordings, his vinegary tone on alto was strong and his sidemen were swinging like mad, which inspired the leader. He often plays here in the low-end of the alto’s register, which gives him a sound that at times is eerily Coltrane-like.  To his credit, Bartz avoided the over familiar Coltrane works for the most part and he even composed a couple of his own works that fit in so easily that I at first thought that they may have been “lost” Trane pieces.

Things start with a bit of the unexpected; an up-tempo, almost 15 minute take of “I Concentrate on You”. Bartz on starting out on alto, sounds great as he throws out inventive solo lines stretching at times to the boundaries of convention, while pianist Barney McAll is deep into a McCoy Tyner bag, comping behind Bartz with Tyner’s patented block chord figures. After McAll solos, Bartz returns on soprano swinging hard right down to the last minute of the piece, where they create a natural fade out. It’s good stuff. This is followed with a pleasant surprise, “Dear Lord” featuring vocals from the great Andy Bey, one of Bartz longtime musical partners. Mr. Bey’s rough-edged but still velvety baritone fits around the lyric perfectly. “Nita” a Coltrane rarity that he originally recorded on Paul Chambers’ Whims of Chambers sessions, is a hard swinging 4/4 flag-waver; as is “Birdtrane” a Bartz composition, with an arrangement reminiscent of “But Not for Me” on the My Favorite Things album. Also quite compelling are two medleys, where Bartz weaves together two similar compositions; one blends “Dahomey Dance” and “Tunji”, the other very effectively combines “Ole” with “Vilia” from the operetta The Merry Widow.

The name of Mr. Bartz’s new record company is OYO, which stands for “Own Your Own” (as well as being the name of a Nigerian tribe). It is through this type of self empowerment that we finally get to hear these first-rate recordings. Let’s hope that Gary Bartz has more like Coltrane Rules in the vaults.

12 Years a Slave – A Jazz Perspective from T.K. Blue

Posted in CD Reviews, Under The Radar with tags , , , , , on January 17, 2014 by curtjazz

T.K. Blue - Follow The North StarWith an outstanding movie now out that has just received a slew of Oscar nominations to go along with its other plaudits, the fascinating autobiography of Solomon Northup is garnering some very well deserved and long overdue attention from the general public. In this case however, jazz cognoscenti can look at all of this Northup hype and say, “where y’all been?” For  the jazz world paid a very impressive, albeit unheralded tribute to 12 Years a Slave back in 2008, with Follow the North Star an album by saxophonist T.K. Blue.

In 2007, Mr. Blue (aka Talib Kibwe) received a commission from the NY State Council on the Arts to compose a suite dedicated to the early African-American presence in the Hudson Valley area of New York. His research led him to 12 Years a Slave and Northup’s amazing story. Mr. Blue then composed a jazz suite as a musical retelling of Mr. Northup’s journey. The suite, titled Follow the North Star, was recorded in the fall of 2007 with Blue being supported by some of New York’s finest jazz musicians including Onaje Allan Gumbs, Steve Turre, James Weidman and Essiet Okon Essiet. The finished album was released in 2008 0n Blue’s JaJa Records Label.

Musically, Follow the North Star is first-rate straight ahead jazz, with a few quasi African embellishments such as Mr. Turre’s famous shells and Mr. Blue’s very competent work on the kalimba.  Mr. Blue’s compositions are extremely strong and the group of committed musicians make it work. This music grabs you with equal parts of ecstatic joy and heartbreaking pain. As I wrote in Jazz Improv Magazine at the time of the album’s release: “Mr. Blue takes us on a wordless but yet richly satisfying journey through Northup’s life, from his ancestry to his return to his family, making all of the painful, harrowing, and joyous stops in between… I found the music to be most compelling when listened to from beginning to end, like a symphonic movement…” (Jazz Improv, July 2008). But in spite of the high quality of the music, Follow the North Star made barely a ripple, even with the jazz buying segment of the population.

So with interest in 12 Years a Slave and Solomon Northup running at an all time high now, it’s a good time for jazz fans to revisit this excellent but virtually ignored work of art.  The CD is available from CD Baby and the mp3 version from For more information on T.K. Blue, who is also the chairman of the Jazz Studies program at the C.W. Post campus of Long Island University, you may visit his website at You may also want to check out some of Mr. Blue’s other fine albums, including 2011’s LatinBird (Motéma) and his brand new self released album, A Warm Embrace (CD Baby).

Album Review: René Marie – I Wanna Be Evil: With Love to Eartha Kitt

Posted in CD Reviews with tags , , , , on January 13, 2014 by curtjazz

The following review first appeared in the January 2014 issue of Eric Nemeyer’s JazzInside Magazine

René Marie

Rene Marie - I Wanna Be Evil

I WANNA BE EVIL (With Love to Eartha Kitt) – Motéma Records MTM-129  I’d Rather Be Burned As a Witch; C’est Si Bon; Oh, John; Let’s Do It; Peel Me a Grape; My Heart Belongs to Daddy; I Wanna Be Evil; Come On-a My House; Santa Baby; Weekend

PERSONNEL: René Marie, vocals; Wycliffe Gordon, trombone; Adrian Cunningham, tenor saxophone, clarinet, flute; Etienne Charles, trumpet, percussion; Kevin Bales, piano; Elias Bailey, bass; Quentin Baxter, drums, percussion, washboard

By Curtis Davenport

Leave it to René Marie to wreck my plans. At this point in the year, I felt fairly comfortable with my personal list of the best jazz albums that I’d heard in 2013. Now along comes Ms. Marie with I Wanna Be Evil, a tribute the immortal Eartha Kitt.

Most serious jazz fans are by now familiar with much of René Marie’s back story. The Virginia native did not sing professionally until age 42; after raising her sons who encouraged their mother to finally pursue her dream. Singing represented freedom for Ms. Marie in many ways. She married young and spent many years feeling oppressed in her marriage and by the strict conservatism of the religion that she practiced during those years. I’ve watched Ms. Marie since she first came on the scene and it has been fascinating to watch her artistic growth, from the tentative joy of her debut album, How Can I Keep From Singing to the unexpected brilliance of Vertigo; to her arresting “comeback” after some controversy, with Voice of My Beautiful Country, to this new album where she demonstrates that any of her past shackles have been cast aside as she revels in her hard-earned personal and artistic independence.

Ms. Marie had sworn to never do a tribute album but the lure of Ms. Kitt, who not coincidentally also courted a bit of controversy in her day, was too great to resist.  To her credit, Marie has avoided impersonations of the legendary diva but instead has taken a fresh look at some of the tunes associated with her. She is aided by stellar work from her musicians, especially the horn section of reedman Adrian Cunningham, trombonist Wycliffe Gordon and trumpeter/arranger Etienne Charles, whose charts are consistently on the money. “I’d Rather be Burned As a Witch” sets the table perfectly as the lyric practically gives Ms. Marie’s rationale for everything that follows it on the album, with a hard swinging vocal, a horn arrangement where three do the work of a big band, punctuated by a growling statement by Mr. Gordon. “Let’s Do It” after a sedate reading of the rarely heard verse, turns on the bass riff from Horace Silver’s “Señor Blues”, set by Elias Bailey and a driving beat from Quentin Baxter. Marie then mines this usually sly and sedate Porter tune for all the soul that its worth as she sings with grittiness that she has rarely displayed on record. She is pushed there by Gordon who makes his ‘bone talk like a preacher telling the truth on Sunday morning. The other Porter chestnut, “My Heart Belongs to Daddy” gets perhaps the most Kitt-like reading as Marie slinks through the lyric, raising temperatures during the coda as she repeats increasingly intense variations on the phrase “…’cause daddy treats it so well…”. The title track is tongue-in-cheek fun where Marie has a ball with the lyric and the musicians drop some great solo turns (Mr. Charles’ gifts as a horn arranger are a revelation). Marie and company even tackle that most indelible of Kitt songs, “Santa Baby”. They slow it down to a sensual crawl, with just Bales, Bailey and Charles’ trumpet accompanying the vocalist’s breathy smolder.  If I’m Santa, I would answer this request first.

The set concludes with the album’s only original composition, “Weekend” a compelling piece by Ms. Marie that touches on some very adult issues. It is made more interesting by the fact that it does not pass judgment on any of its characters nor does it offer a definitive conclusion. Marie tells the story and then leaves it to the listener to answer the questions, which makes the track all the more memorable.

I Wanna Be Evil may have come late to the 2013 party but it was worth the wait. It’s easily one of the best albums of the year and perhaps the best of René Marie’s relatively short but consistently impressive career.

Album Review: Eric Reed – Reflections of a Grateful Heart

Posted in CD Reviews with tags , on January 12, 2014 by curtjazz

This review first appeared in the January 2014 issue of Eric Nemeyer’s JazzInside Magazine

Eric Reed

Eric Reed - Reflections of a Grateful Heart

REFLECTIONS OF A GRATEFUL HEART – WJ3 Records WJ31015  I Love The Lord; In Case You’ve Forgotten; Changed; Psalm 8; ‘Tis So Sweet; Hymn; New Morning; This Day; God Cares; Prayer; Spiritual; I Love You Lord Today/We Praise You Lord

PERSONNEL: Eric Reed, piano

By Curtis Davenport

Like many other fine jazz pianists before him, Eric Reed did not spring forth from the womb playing bop or swing. Though you clearly can hear Monk, Powell, Ellington, John Lewis and others in his style, his first piano idols were men such as Thomas Whitfield, James Cleveland, Richard Smallwood, Edwin Hawkins and others; artists whose names are virtually unknown in jazz but who are legends in the world of gospel music.  This should come as no surprise because Mr. Reed is the son of a minister, who started playing piano at the age of two and cut his musical teeth playing in his father’s storefront church. The jazz influences came later. So like his contemporary, Cyrus Chestnut and his predecessors like Bobby Timmons, Mr. Reed’s sound is never too far from the church. His latest project Reflections of a Grateful Heart is as the title implies, a reverent appreciation, first of God and then of the music of the under-appreciated masters of the music that has meant so much to him, spiritually and stylistically.

This is not Reed’s first “All-Gospel” recording; 2009’s Stand! was a swinging trio date featuring original Reed compositions with titles that left no doubt as to their subject matter.  Mercy and Grace from 2003 was like Reflections of a Grateful Heart, a solo piano album but it concentrated on traditional spirituals such as “Jesus Loves Me” and “Wade in the Water”.  Reflections… is an amalgam of its predecessors, a solo piano album that features compositions by some of the aforementioned influences and some Reed originals. But where the two prior albums were a “church service”, mixing the uptempo foot-stompers with the slower pieces; Reflections… is worship time. The song selections are obviously very personal and reverential.  We the listeners are afforded the opportunity to listen in as Mr. Reed spends intimate time speaking to and thanking God for the great gifts that He has given him.

Reed chose two compositions by Richard Smallwood a classically trained pianist, who writes some of today’s most beautiful Gospel songs. The stately “I Love the Lord” opens the album with Reed taking his time, building the theme toward a hushed crescendo. A lesser pianist might have given in to the temptation to play with abandon. The fact that Mr. Reed doesn’t, adds to the effectiveness of the performance.  “Psalm 8” is the other Smallwood piece. Here we hear a little more of Reed, the jazz pianist as he draws the blues chords in the melody to the fore. The opening words of the Psalm (“O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is Your name in all the earth…”) permeate Reed’s playing. Thomas Whitfield, another brilliant contemporary Gospel composer, who died far too young, is represented by “In Case You’ve Forgotten”. Reed opens his version with a quote from John Lewis’ classic “Django” before moving into the rich melody.  Mr. Reed also leaves some room for his own impressive non-secular compositions, including “New Morning” and “Prayer”, which had been performed on Stand! Stripped of any bass and drum adornments, these two beautiful works become even more personal. I don’t know if lyrics have been composed for either of these pieces but they certainly cry out for them. The time of devotion closes with a medley of “I Love You Lord Today”, one of the more popular contemporary worship songs and Reed’s own “We Praise You Lord”. The two pieces mesh together seamlessly, to leave instill a feeling of overwhelming peace and hope in those who have experienced this album.

Eric Reed’s Reflections of a Grateful Heart is an artistic statement of rare beauty. We often hear artists perform for us but how often do we get to hear an artist bare his soul? As someone who shares Mr. Reed’s religious beliefs, I was as much moved by the worship experience as I was by Mr. Reed’s stellar piano playing.

Album Review: Etienne Charles – Creole Soul

Posted in CD Reviews, JazzLives! with tags on November 8, 2013 by curtjazz

Etienne Charles will be appearing tonight, Friday, 11/8 at SubCulture in NYC. Two shows, at 7:30 & 10 pm. Check him out if you’re in the Big Apple this evening!

Curt's Jazz Cafe

The following review first appeared in the September 2013 issue of Eric Nemeyer’s Jazz Inside Magazine

Etienne Charles

etienne charles

CREOLE SOUL – Culture Shock Music EC004  Creole (intro); Creole; The Folks; You Don’t Love Me; Roots; Memories; Green Chimneys; Turn Your Lights Down Low; Midnight; Close Your Eyes; Doin’ The Thing

PERSONNEL: Etienne Charles, trumpet, flugelhorn, percussion; Brian Hogans, alto saxophone; Obed  Calvaire, drums; Jacques Schwarz-Bart, tenor saxophone; Kris Bowers, piano, fender rhodes;  Ben Williams, bass; Erol Josué, vocals; Daniel Sadownick, percussion, vocals; D’Achee, percussion, vocals; Alex Wintz, guitar

By Curtis Davenport

One of the reasons that jazz is struggling with the public lately, is a lack of fresh voices. Whether it’s intentional or not, so many artists have a sound that is extremely derivative of someone who came before them. We who write about the music often aren’t much help as we rush to crown “the next Miles”, “the…

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Album Review: Ted Nash – Chakra

Posted in CD Reviews with tags , , , , , on November 4, 2013 by curtjazz

The following review first appeared in the November 2013 issue of Eric Nemeyer’s Jazz Inside Magazine

Ted Nash Big Band

ted nash - chakra

CHAKRA – Plastic Sax Records PSR-2  Earth; Water; Fire; Air; Ether; Light; Cosmos

PERSONNEL: Ted Nash, conductor, alto sax, alto flute; Ben Kono, alto sax, soprano sax, flute, clarinet; Charles Pillow, alto sax; clarinet, flute, piccolo; Dan Willis, tenor sax, clarinet; Anat Cohen, tenor sax, clarinet; Paul Nedzela, baritone sax, bass clarinet; Kenny Rampton, lead trumpet; Alphonso Horne, trumpet; Ron Horne, trumpet; Tim Hagans, trumpet; Alan Ferber, lead trombone; Mark Ferber, trombone; Charley Gordon, trombone; Jack Schatz, bass trombone; Christopher Ziemba, piano; Martin Wind, bass; Ulysses Owens, drums

By Curtis Davenport

If it should be nominated for no other awards this year, Ted Nash’s new album Chakra gets my hands down vote for “Best Album Cover”. The cover photo of actress/model Tatyana Kot’s back, painted with the seven Tantric Chakra tattoos, is stunningly beautiful. Mr. Nash has put together a short video about the making of this cover (it has quite an interesting story), which is playing on his website. It makes for fascinating viewing. As for the music, it is every bit as attention-grabbing as the cover.

Warning: Portions of the video below are NSFW

Chakra is the second big band album by Mr. Nash, a saxophonist who has been on the jazz scene for over thirty years, releasing numerous albums as a leader. His most notable association has been with Wynton Marsalis as a member of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. Nash composed “Portrait in Seven Shades” for the JLCO, which they recorded in 2010. The work received two Grammy nominations, including best instrumental arrangement.  For the uninitiated, “Chakras” are points in the human body that are considered the centers of life force or vital energy in Hindu metaphysical tradition.  Each of the seven selections is named for one of the Chakras. One would expect an album with such ties to Hinduism and Buddhism to have at least a hint of the music of the Far East in its sound. Instead the compositions and arrangements are thoroughly contemporary big band music. It is dense, it is powerful, it is complex and at times, it swings like mad. The band is peppered with top drawer musicians as soloists such as Anat Cohen, Tim Hagans, drummer Ulysses Owens (who grows more impressive each time I hear him) and of course Mr. Nash himself. In addition there are a few young musicians who turn in revelatory performances.

One of those youngsters is trumpeter Alphonso Horne, a Florida State University graduate and student of piano great Marcus Roberts. Mr. Horne first grabbed my attention on “Ether (Throat Chakra)” a piece about the ability to communicate. Well, Horne does just that with a confident, growling plunger mute solo, “talking” like a preacher as the rest of the band shouts musical encouragement behind him. Horne returns on “Light (Third Eye Chakra)” a hard swinger that starts with Horne and Nash in unison before Owens comes bursting through and kicks the band into high gear. Nash drops a tasty alto lick which gives way to Horne stabbing his way through his upper register with another hot statement. No doubt about it, young Mr. Horne has tremendous potential. “Fire (Solar Plexus Chakra)” is about the ability to be confident and in control. It demonstrates just that through a lush opening statement of flutes, piccolos and clarinets in counterpoint to blaring brass, followed by a crisp trombone solo from Alan Ferber, then by Anat Cohen, IMO the best clarinet player in jazz today, doing what she does best. All the while they are being pushed by Mr. Owens who is playing as if he is dying to say something. Owens finally gets his chance after Martin Wind’s strong bass solo. His solo is fairly brief but he makes full use of his entire kit, with muscular press rolls and bombs. And there’s “Water (Sacral Chakra)”, which begins in a rather tranquil way with insistent triplets that lead to Charles Pillow’s alto. Mr. Pillow picks up where the band leaves off and slowly guides the band into a land of groove populated by Tim Hagan’s fiery trumpet. It’s a masterful arrangement.

Ted Nash has long deserved wider recognition for his gifts as a musician and arranger.  Chakra is a very good album that stands as additional proof of that statement.

Album Review: New York Voices – Let It Snow

Posted in CD Reviews with tags , , , , , , on November 3, 2013 by curtjazz

The following review first appeared in the November 2013 edition of Eric Nemeyer’s Jazz Inside Magazine

New York Voices

new york voices

LET IT SNOW – Five Cent Records FCR-0001  Let it Snow; Christmas Song/Christmas Time; O, Little Town of Bethlehem; O Come, O Come, Emanuel; We Three Kings; Holiday for Strings; Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas; Sleepers, Wake!; O Come All Ye Faithful; The Merry Medley; I Wonder as I Wander; We Wish You a Merry Christmas; Silent Night

PERSONNEL: Darmon Meader, vocals, tenor sax, alto sax, soprano sax, flute; Peter Eldridge, vocals, piano; Kim Nazarian, vocals;  Lauren Kinhan, vocals; Andy Ezrin, piano; Paul Nowinski, bass; Marcello Pellitieri, drums; Bob Mann, guitar; David Finck, bass; Ben Wittman, drums; Tyler Kuebler, alto sax; Andy Axelrod, alto sax; Tedd Baker, tenor sax; Grant Langford, tenor sax; Doug Morgan, baritone sax; Brian MacDonald, trumpet; Kevin Burns, trumpet; Rich Sigler, trumpet; Time Leahey, trumpet; Joe Jackson, trombone; Jim McFalls, trombone; Dave Perkel, trombone; Lee Gause, trombone; Roger Rosenberg, baritone sax, bass clarinet; Frank Greene, trumpet; Matt Holman, trumpet; Randy Andos, trombone; Mike Davis, trombone; Studio Orchestra.

By Curtis Davenport

This album was as inevitable as snowfall at the North Pole. New York Voices have been moving in this direction since they appeared on the GRP Christmas Collection II singing a gorgeous version of “I Wonder as I Wander” in 1991. They then backed the great Nancy Wilson on a few selections on her first full length Christmas Album a decade later. Now in their 25th year as a group, we finally have the vocal quartet’s first disc of Holiday tunes, Let It Snow. It is just what you would expect from them; swinging, tasteful arrangements, strong vocal harmonies and a few well-placed surprises.

Over the years, New York Voices has been compared, understandably, to The Manhattan Transfer. They are both vocal quartets comprised of two men and two women that are closely associated with jazz. However, perhaps due to their lack of pop chart success, the NYV over the years have taken a few more chances than their more famous predecessors. This is also the case on their respective Holiday releases. I’ve always thought that the Manhattan Transfer’s Christmas Album, with the notable exception of a couple of tracks, was a disappointingly staid affair. Let it Snow, on the other hand, swings hard right out of the gate and keeps that pace going through the majority of its 13 selections.

The arrangements, which range from big band to full orchestra to a cappella are right on the money. “Let It Snow”, with a big band charts by the legendary Don Sebesky and a tenor sax solo by NYV’s jack of all trades Darmon Meader, is a joyous opener; full of blaring brass and scatted vocals. “O Little Town of Bethlehem”, arranged by Meader is a finger snapper, with creamy harmonies and a cool as winter guitar solo by Bob Mann. “We Three Kings” takes on a Middle Eastern air, appropriate for the subjects of the song, with beautiful contrapuntal harmonies. “Holiday for Strings” is a pleasant surprise as Meader’s vocal adaptation breathes new life into this old MOR radio staple. I’ve never cared for this song until now, as Meader has uncovered the hidden swing that was always there. Another winner is “The Merry Medley”, a mashup “The Man with the Bag”, “I’d Like You for Christmas” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”, encased in a big band setting. Each group member takes a quick turn as the leader and “Santa…” even takes a turn as a Bossa. “I Wonder As I Wander” is back, in an arrangement quite similar to the one from GRP 20 years ago, the big difference is this time the horns are real, instead of synthesized. It still mainly exists as a showcase for their vocal harmonies, which are some of the best in the business. “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” is done as an extremely pleasant jazz waltz highlighted by Andy Ezrin’s tasty piano solo,  Peter Eldridge’s vocal  duet with bassist David Finck and some Swingle Singers inspired group scatting.

Let It Snow is a very strong Holiday album from one of the best jazz vocal groups around today. New York Voices manage to walk a fine line, with enough jazz content to keep their fan base happy and manage to keep things lively and accessible enough to be enjoyed by those who may be looking for something new for their seasonal celebration. I’m glad that New York Voices finally got around to making the album that they always had in them.