Thursday, August 18, 2016

Carol Duboc releases new CD on August 19; employs top female musicians for project


On August 19th, contemporary jazz vocalist, pianist, composer and  producer Carol Duboc will release her CD "Open the Curtains. While seven of the ten songs on Open The Curtains are originals penned by Carol, she chooses to pay tribute to a trio of women who have long inspired her – Nina Simone, Patrice Rushen and Peggy Lee. Duboc performs an unforgettable version of the Eddie Cooley/Otis Blackwell song “Fever,” which was one of Peggy Lee’s signature songs. Duboc transforms this chestnut and turns it upside down reinventing it as a cool shuffle swing. Trombonist Aubrey Logan adds a nice touch to the mix. “Peggy Lee was a songwriter, as well as a jazz singer, so this song seemed like the perfect choice.” Duboc reunites with the groundbreaking pianist, vocalist, composer and producer Patrice Rushen. The two recorded Wayne Shorter’s classic “El Gaucho” on Duboc’s second album Duboc (2002). It was not a hard choice for Duboc to select one of her favorite Rushen songs – the 1980s Top 40 pop hit “Forget Me Not.” “She is humble and kind, like an angel from God,” says the singer and pianist of her friend Patrice. “Everything she plays has feeling and she has a huge musical vocabulary drawing from classical, jazz and R&B. She just knows the right thing to play and when to play it. She really understood what I was trying to convey musically and it was a blessing and a joy to have her on this album!” Duboc dips into Nina Simone’s repertoire and serves up a splendid version of “Feeling Good.” While not a Nina Simone composition, it is one of the songs most often associated with the High Priestess of Soul. Carol says, “I spent a lot of time watching Nina Simone perform and ‘Feeling Good,’ struck a nerve in me. When she played piano and sang, she commanded everyone’s complete attention. She is exactly the kind of female jazz musician I wanted to give homage to on this album.”

Among Carol’s original songs on Open the Curtains is the triumphant, soulful and percussive “In Pieces,” featuring the undeniable Afro-Latin percussive funk of Sheila E. and the soulfully swooning saxophone of Mindi Abair. Inspired by a musical partnership that went awry, “In Pieces,” displays Duboc’s resilient spirit as she sings, “I’m not falling to pieces … I may get bent but never broken again.” “I’m a huge Prince fan and I am so saddened by his death, so for percussion I was ecstatic when I reached out to Sheila E. and she said, ‘yes,'” shares Duboc. “She is so musical and put all the right percussion parts on the tracks. It was devastating because Prince died the week following the recording of the album.” Saxophonist Mindi Abair is someone who Carol Duboc has wanted to work with for some time. “Mindi is by far one of the best sax players I have ever recorded and I have recorded them all!,” shares Carol. “She takes chances and is 100% unique. A true talent and everything a jazz musician should be.”
“Whisper” is a tender, meditative and emotive composition about an amicable break-up. Duboc’s cool, sweet and lilting vocals intertwined with Patrice Rushen’s keys, guitarist Bibi McGill, bassist Rhonda Smith and drummer Cora Coleman create a beautiful synergy that caresses every note from beginning to the end. “When I broke up with my husband,” explains Carol, “it was peaceful, almost friendly and I still loved him though we were so terribly broken.” Open The Curtains also features “Faces,” a personal favorite of Duboc’s. It’s a rockin’, high-octane and funk-fueled number that allows everyone to cut loose and strut their stuff including guitarists Jennifer Batten and Bibi McGill, who was Pink’s musical director as well as Beyoncé’s for eight years. “Bibi’s solos are melodic and intense. Not to mention she is a beautiful person inside and out and an expert Yoga instructor. Talk about keeping yourself centered.”

The Female Phenoms kick it up a notch with the invigorating and dance-inducing “Miss You Missing Me.” This song will never be ‘just another memory’ as the song says, as it is one of the album’s highlights. Queen Cora Coleman serves up some serious rhythmic magic on this track and throughout the album. Carol shares, “My dad was a drummer so I have listened to every drummer from Buddy Rich to Harvey Mason and of course I have recorded with Vinnie Colaiuta numerous times, but Cora is unique! She looks forward, straight ahead and poised as if nothing is happening while she rips around her toms. WOW, give me a break! And she is so funky. I totally understand why Prince toured with her and Beyoncé chose her for her all female band.” The sultry R&B ballad “Precious,” featuring Mindi Abair’s ethereal soprano sax is a sublime R&B ballad about a love that is perfect and precious. Duboc’s pure vocal quality and impeccable phrasing shine brightly. It is one of Carol Duboc’s first compositional credits. Chanté Moore originally recorded it in 1992. The bluesy “I’m Gone,” brings Open The Curtains to a rousing finale. Opening with Stevie Wonder-esqe harmonies, “I’m Gone,” is a funky and groove heavy tune that finds Duboc laying down the law and moving on. The track features some gritty guitar work from Jenny Bitten. “Early on in my career, my first producer was Michael Jackson’s producer, and my first record deal was given to me by Larkin Arnold who oversaw Michael’s Thriller album at Sony! So reaching out to Michael Jackson’s infamous female guitarist was a must. Jenny did not disappoint. She took a few hours off from her busy touring schedule to play two solos and I feel BLESSED! She is gifted!”

Hailing from a musical family in Kansas City, MO, by the time Carol Duboc was four she was already dazzling family members with performances of the entire musical My Fair Lady. By five she was playing the piano and it was not long before she began studying the saxophone. Her father, who was a drummer, introduced her to a lot of music including Lionel Hampton and Frank Sinatra, who were frequently playing in the house. Duboc, went on to join the Kansas City Performing Arts Company as a singer and actress. Incidentally, the Renaissance woman actually made a cameo in the 2005 film Be Cool starring John Travolta and Uma Thurman! Duboc eventually relocated to Los Angeles to attend U.S.C.’s School of Music as a double major in composition and vocal performance and a minor in music engineering, which led to numerous collaborations recording with various artists. Carol Duboc had the distinction and privilege of working alongside founder and leader of the legendary Earth, Wind & Fire and was in fact once signed to his label. Singer Deniece Williams whom Duboc credits as another pivotal influence collaborated with White in the 70s. “People used to say I sound a little like her and so I learned some of her songs while I was still in college,” recalls Carol. “I met her backstage at the Hollywood Bowl years ago, the biggest bit of advice she had for me is to put God first. I think I just now really get that!”

In addition to her own solo career, Carol Duboc has composed songs for a stellar list of artists. “It is amazing that when you say you are a writer and you are a woman, people assume you are just writing the lyrics,” bemuses Carol. “I never just write the words even when I collaborate. Often they assume the guy you are working with is doing everything. This is never the case with me!”

Duboc has written songs for everyone from Patti LaBelle to Chanté Moore and Stephanie Mills. Launching her own label Gold Note Music, with distribution through Orchard and City Hall Records, Carol Duboc, made her recording debut as a leader With All That I Am in 2001 and Duboc followed in 2002. In 2005 she released her third solo effort All of You, followed by Songs For Lovers in 2008, Burt Bacharach Songbook in 2009 and 2013’s Smile. In 2015 Duboc released Colored Glasses with her friend and keyboardist Jeff Lorber.

Open The Curtains is about standing in your brilliance and owning your place in this world. It could very well be the musical soundtrack to Dr. Maya Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman,” as Carol Duboc orchestrates a tapestry of uplifting, introspective and empowering anthems. Duboc, considers herself a composer first. Her wide reaching influences are a dynamic aspect of her music but no matter what she writes, there is one constant – great grooves and memorable melodies. “I am always writing something,” says Duboc. “If I am out and I get an idea I will write the melody down and sketch it on whatever I have. I have files full of napkins and scratch paper with bass lines or melodies on them!” The music featured on Open The Curtains derives from a very personal place. “During the time when I was working on this album my nine year old daughter wrote her first song and shared it with me,” explains the Los Angeles based musician. “It was so touching because in her lyrics she said she wanted the Universe to see her as important and she wanted to feel loved. After hearing her song I immediately thought ‘Open the Curtains and shine! Honey, you are important!’ I want her to remember that her gift comes from God and that staying humble and putting God first no matter what is the most important thing in life by far.” Duboc and her daughter were able to come full circle as they recorded the compelling track together. The lyrics to the inspiring album opener state “Open the curtains, let us hear your voice … as long as it is your choice!”

Monday, August 08, 2016

Vocalist Allison Adams Tucker Documents a Travel Memoir Through Song on WANDERlust - Available August 19 on Origin Records


Fascinated from an early age by the diversity of the world's languages and cultures, vocalist Allison Adams Tucker offers a travel memoir in song on her third album, WANDERlust. Tucker sings in six languages on the album, which vividly captures the yearning of the inveterate travel for the romance and adventure of experiencing far-flung corners of the globe.

Recorded in New York City under the direction of award-winning producer Matt Pierson (Brad Mehldau, Becca Stevens, Joshua Redman, Jane Monheit), WANDERlust features a stunning all-star ensemble that not only bridges west and east coasts but adds flavors from around the world. The singer and her longtime pianist Josh Nelson are joined by New York jazz heavy-hitters Chris Potter, Matt Moreno, Scott Colley and Antonio Sánchez, along with percussionist Rogério Boccato and guitarist Romero Lubambo (both from Brazil) and French guitarist Stéphane Wrembel.

Tucker's versatility is remarkable not only for her ability to sing in a half-dozen different languages but to weave entrancing and expressive stories in each of them. Regardless of whether the listener understands English, French, Portuguese, Italian, Spanish and Japanese, the emotion of every word is crystal clear thanks to Tucker's lucent articulation and supple, silken phrasing.

"I'm fascinated with foreign cultures and languages, foreign communities and foreign ways of thinking," Tucker says, the yen to move and explore obvious into her voice. "WANDERlust is all about the longing to experience things outside your own backyard. Music can open you up to a culture in an authentic way; it's usually the thing that connects me with people."
Photo by James DiPietro
Growing up in the border city of San Diego, Tucker was exposed to intermingling cultures from an early age. While still in kindergarten, a Spanish-language children's book suddenly brought to light the fact that people in different places spoke different languages, and the desire to explore those far-off places was ignited within her. "It was an epiphany for a five year-old child that there was another world out there that was very different than mine and had all these different ways to communicate," she recalls.

That same year she began taking Spanish lessons, a study she continued through her college years in Indiana, while at the same time that she was touring the Midwest with a new wave cover band. Tucker majored in linguistics with a minor in music, maintaining both passions. She began traveling after graduation, visiting Jamaica, Australia and New Zealand and living for a time in both Japan and Spain. "I got bitten by the travel bug and wanted to see as much of the world as I could," she says. "I decided to bring into my repertoire all of the music that I'd learned on my travels and start exploring other cultures of music, and I've been building on it since."

Having sung a wide spectrum of styles, from a cappella Elizabethan madrigals to punk rock to country to commercial jingles, Tucker found the most natural fit to be jazz. The genre's freedom of expression and intellectual tilt were both appealing, as was its openness to absorb styles and accents from throughout the vocalists travels. The songs on WANDERlust are musical postcards from distant points of interest, from Rome to Paris to Takeda, Japan--and even destinations that exist purely in the mind's eye.

The album kicks off with Tucker's sprightly, samba-tinged take on "When in Rome (I Do As the Romans Do)," Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh's wry celebration of taking a vacation from strict fidelity. The passion goes from casual to heated on Astor Piazzolla's "Vuelvo Al Sur," a sultry tango about returning home to a native land and a distant lover.

Longing can be a state of mind as well as a state of being, a feeling captured by Christina Perri's "A Thousand Years," originally penned for the soundtrack of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn. The same notion is expressed by "Pure Imagination," an ode to the places we dream about from Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley's score for Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

Lubambo and Boccato provide the properly breezy Brazilian atmosphere for Antonio Carlos Jobim's classic "Águas de Março," a song from one of the few places remaining on Tucker's bucket list of dream destinations. Ennio Morricone's title song from Cinema Paradiso follows, its sweeping Italian romanticism leading into the wistful French chanson "Sous le ciel de Paris," best known from Edith Piaf's rendition.

"Mediterráneo," by the influential Spanish singer-songwriter Joan Manuel Serrat, marks our departure from European shores, leading to Tucker's mesmerizing version of the traditional Japanese "Takeda Lullaby." The album's theme is expressed via the otherworldly melodies of Björk's "Wanderlust." Tucker leaves off with the optimistic promise of journeys to come with Pat Metheny's "Better Days Ahead," highlighted by lively solos from Potter and Moreno and a thrilling dance pairing Boccato and Tucker.

Tucker's vocal and geographic range has already taken her to unimaginable places, from touring Japan, Europe, Mexico, and the US, to singing French jazz on the soundtrack to the WWII-set video game "The Saboteur." WANDERlust is a rich and gorgeous souvenir of a life's travels and experiences.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Dee Bridgewater, Pamela Williams headline the Palm Springs Women's Jazz Festival


Over the past four years one of the most impressive aspects of the Palm Springs Women’s Jazz Festival has been the gathering of the Jazz All-Star musicians and artists performing throughout the weekend.
Over 20 of today’s jazz greats and rising-stars will gather for the Labor Day Weekend, September 2 – 4, to perform at the Annenberg Theater, Indian Canyons Golf Resort and Hard Rock Hotel.
Recently honored by the City of Los Angeles with a Living Jazz Legend Award,Sweet Baby J’ai brings a wealth of experience and focus to her role as the Festival’s Artistic Director. She is celebrated for her creative and daring programming. SBJ’s penchant for paring the world’s most visible jazz artists with top-notch female musicians from around the country for a multi-day festival makes for many delightful surprises and musical discoveries for audiences and performers alike.

“We have crafted a collection of extraordinary musicians merging jazz, blues and funk who will descend on Palm Springs over the Labor Day Weekend for a compelling musical tapestry,” said Sweet Baby J’ai.
Many of the all-stars have albums of their own as well an impressive list of artists that they have performed with both live and in-studio. Their lists includes John Legend, Eric Benet, Jackson Browne, Don Was, Christopher Cross, Jim Keltner, Kenny Barron, Lizz Wright, Tia Fuller, Terri Lyne Carrington, The Rippingtons, Nick Colionne, Chuck Loeb, Karen Briggs, Four80East, David Sanborn, Bob James, Stanley Clarke, Michael Sembello, Richard Perry, Chuck Berghofer, Tierney Sutton, Marilyn McCoo and Thelma Houston.

Joining headliners Dee Dee Bridgewater and Ann Hampton Callaway, here is a quick view of the artists who are the backbone of the 2016 Palm Springs Women’s Jazz Festival:
Sweet Baby J’ai: Vocals and musician. Few entertainers can command a stage like the indefatigable Sweet Baby J’ai.  A creative force on the music scene for nearly three decades, she tours the world with her genre defying work, which both embraces and expands jazz tradition. Her latest album is Straight to the Place.

Sabine Pothier: Pianist-Composer. Widely respected as an award-winning classical pianist in the United States and Europe, and also respected greatly as a major jazz pianist from her work with Scotty Barnhart Quintet (Barnhart is also Director of Count Basie Orchestra) at the San Jose Jazz Festival, Idyllwild Jazz in the Pines and other venues.

Sherry Luchette: Bass. She has performed with Downbeat Award-winning Jazz Ensemble 1 Youngstown State for five years, the Youngstown Symphony for three years, Ernie Andrews, David Sanborn, Louie Bellson, David Baker, and Terry Gibbs. She has also played/studied with John Clayton, Tamir Hendelman and Joe Harnell.

Paula Atherton: Sax, vocals, recording artist and songwriter. Atherton is noted for a one-week gig at New York’s Blue Note with Hank Jones. Her most recent album is Ear Candy.
Mimi Jones: Double bass, vocals, educator, composer and Jazz Ambassador. This multitalented performer mixes fusion of traditional and contemporary jazz, eclectic soul, funk, and rock. Her recent release CD isFeet In The Mud.

Tina Raymond: Drummer. She has played in jazz festivals around the world, including Sweden’s Women in Jazz Festival and The Mary Lou Williams Festival, and is known for pushing musical boundaries by blending traditional jazz with African polyrhythms and classical percussion techniques.

Pam Trotter: Vocalist. Trotter is known for her performances in musicals such as Dream Girls and The Color Purple. She is also a songwriter/producer for the late Teena Marie.
Sunnie Paxson: Keyboards. A musical prodigy in her hometown of Philadelphia, she was selected as Los Angeles' Best Jazz Performers in Los Angeles Magazine and listed in Jazz Week as one of the Top 100 Artists for radio spins. Albums include Groove Suite and Bohemian Sun.

Karen Hammack: Piano, singer/songwriter, jazz composer. As Musical Director, Hammack has toured with Melissa Manchester and recorded with a slew of jazz and rock heavy hitters. She’s also an educator who has worked with trumpeter Bobby Rodriguez’s Jazz Adventure to introduce jazz to a new generation across Southern California.

Linda Taylor: Guitar. She has toured, recorded, and/or performed with Tracy Chapman, Maia Sharp, Terri Lyne Carrington, Christopher Cross, and Sheila E. Her two solo albums are Pulse and Sum Blues.

Sascha Dupont: Songwriter, piano/vocalist. Dupont has racked up more than 80 television appearances and four albums in her native Denmark. Her most recent release is Sascha D.
Cathy Segal-Garcia: Vocalist. For more than 40 years, Segal-Garcia has used her influence to build up and connect every aspect of the jazz scene in L.A. At the Divas Jazz Brunch, she’ll dip back to the 1950s for the jazz standards and torch songs performed by Julie London.

Lesa Terry: Violin. Terry has recorded with a wide range of artists including Dave Grusin, Lee Ritenour, Yolanda Adams, Aretha Franklin and Clark Terry. Her solo album is called A City Called Heaven.

Jane Getz: Piano. Getz has worked with a Who's Who of jazz during her eight years in New York, most notably with Charles Mingus, Stan Getz (unrelated), Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Charles Lloyd, and Pharoah Sanders (with whom she recorded for ESP).

Rosalia de Cuba: Vocalist. Afro-Cuban jazz and world music are de Cuba’s forte. She’ll bring her power vocals, reminiscent of Shirley Bassey and Celia Cruz to the music of Elena Burke for the brunch. 

Chelsea Stevens: Bass. She recently graduated with a degree in Jazz Bass Performance from California State University, Long Beach, where she was part of both of the university’s Downbeat award-winning ensembles: vocal jazz group Pacific Standard Time, and the instrumental department's Concert Jazz Orchestra. You may recognize her from her work as a bassist on TV shows like Glee.

Gennine Jackson: Vocalist. Jackson plays clubs here in the Coachella Valley. She joins Saxtress Pamela Williams for the Cool Soul Jam at the Indian Canyon Golf Resort for the Saturday afternoon concert.

Maria Martinez: Drums. A Drumming diva, she was featured drummer on Sweet Baby J’ai’s album Introducing J’ai Michel.

Carol Chaikin: She attended the Berklee School Of Music and, starting in 1977, became artist-in-residence at the Aspen Music Festival for six years. She was a member of Maiden Voyage (1980-84) and has two solo albums.

These artists and more are part of the multi-day music festival featuring an all female line up taking place September 2-4, 2016.

The Palm Springs Women’s Jazz Festival is a non-profit 501c3 founded to promote women in jazz through education and events. Since 2013, the festival has hosted over 100 jazz musicians and performers, bringing a worldwide audience of jazz fans to Palm Springs. For Information on the Palm Springs Women’s Jazz Festival, go to www.palmsspringswomensjazzfestival.org or call 760.416.3545.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Brazilian Songstress Kenia Reunites Members of Her First Band After Nearly Two Decades with On We Go - Available August 12


For many jazz fans in the 1980s and '90s, Kenia's singing was the gateway to contemporary Brazilian jazz and pop. She stood out from her compatriots because of her intimate, smooth vocals-subtle yet soulful-and her finesse with both American standards and Brazilian material. On We Go will entice a new generation of listeners, as it showcases Kenia at the top of her form with a seductive, polished vocal phrasing. The intriguing repertoire includes songs co-written by Kenia and the Brazilian songwriting legends Ivan Lins and Antonio Adolfo.

The singer, born Kenia Acioly, grew up in Rio de Janeiro and moved to the U.S. in 1980. She made her recording debut as the featured vocalist on trumpeter Claudio Roditi's Red on Red, produced by the legendary Creed Taylor, the producer of "Desafinado" and "The Girl from Ipanema." Kenia established herself as one of the most popular Brazilian vocalists in the U.S. with her MCA solo debut Initial Thrill (1987) and Distant Horizon (1988), both of which gained substantial radio airplay, and were followed by well-received albums with Denon. On these releases, Kenia sang in English and Portuguese and freely mixed composers like Harold Arlen and Stevie Wonder, Djavan and Toninho Horta.

On We Go boasts standards by big names (Gershwin, Lennon and McCartney), works by lesser known contemporary composers (Romero Lubambo, Luis Simas and others) and songs written for Kenia by Adolfo and Lins.

Paul Socolow plays bass and Mark Soskin handles keyboards on the new album, with Sandro Albert on guitar, Lucas Ashby on percussion and Adriano Santos on drums. Guitarist Romero Lubambo and harmonicist Hendrik Meurkens make notable guest appearances.

The album came about, recalls Kenia, when she "reconnected with Socolow and Soskin, who were the original members of my very first band, Pau-Brazil, and played on her first two albums. When we met again after nearly two decades, it just felt so right that I couldn't resist the urge to do another project with them."

The album opens with Eric Susoeff's upbeat samba "On We Go," which Kenia recorded previously with Susoeff's band Salsamba in vocalese form. For lyrics, "I reached out to the great lyricist Lorraine Feather," says Kenia. A hip, jazzy version of George Gershwin's "Summertime" follows, with adroit vocalese by Kenia.
         
About "Que Amor É Esse (What Love is This?)," Kenia comments, "Antonio Adolfo and I have been friends for many years and I asked if he would write the music for my lyrics," and the result is a lovely, slow love song. The singer's wordless vocals enliven "Melancia (Watermelon)," a breezy, uplifting composition written and arranged by Rique Pantoja, a co-founder of the seminal Brazilian fusion band Cama de Gato.
         
Kenia also contributed the lyrics for two songs by the famed singer-songwriter Ivan Lins. "Closer to Me" ("Mudança de Ventos" originally) is in the bossa nova style, with a beautiful intro by Meurkens. She notes, "I love the melancholic yet sensual sound of his harmonica-perfect for this song." And about Lins's "Illusion," Kenia comments, I asked Ivan (Lins) if he would write a song for me and he shared this jewel."
         
"Pra Quê Que Inventaram a Bahia (Why Did They Invent Bahia?)" is a lively samba by Luiz Simas with a Dorival Caymmi flavor, guaranteed to fill the dance floor. It is followed by Aloisio Aguiar's sweet ballad "Coming Home," co-written with Kenia, and Adolfo's global standard, "Pretty World (Sá Marina)," which has the tasty musical accompaniment characteristic of the whole album. "For Donato," written by Romero Lubambo, is a lively, high-energy tribute to the brilliant composer-pianist João Donato, a huge influence on Brazilian jazz musicians.
"Zureta," also by Simas, starts with a nimble lyrical melody by Kenia that shifts into jazz-edged forró, a style from Brazil's Northeast. The album closes with a soft acoustic version of the Beatles' "Nowhere Man." It is a little surprising yet soothing and pleasing to the ear, like the other songs on On We Go. Once again, the vocalist has bridged jazz, international pop and Brazilian music and done so effortlessly, in one of her best works to date.

Monday, July 18, 2016

John Beasley presents MONK'estra, Volume 1 - Available August 19 on Mack Avenue Records


John Beasley has shared stages with some of the most important names in jazz during his three-decade career. From his days as a member of Freddie Hubbard's quintet and one of Miles Davis' last touring bands to his role as Music Director for Jazz Day galas for the Thelonious Monk Institute, Beasley has had a first-hand involvement with the genre's never-ending evolution.

Thelonious Monk is a Mount Rushmore figure in the creation of modern jazz. As the centennial of his birth rapidly approaches, Beasley--pianist, conductor and arranger--has grappled with the complex composer's legacy with his versatile big band riffing on the wit and unmistakable architecture of the Monk songbook with irrepressible energy and swinging abandon on presents MONK'estra, Volume 1, available August 19 on Mack Avenue Records.

The album and band have its roots in a commission from Los Angeles's Luckman Jazz Orchestra. When the gig was over, Beasley felt inspired to search deeper and continued to write more arrangements long after the performance, eventually assembling some of the finest musicians in Los Angeles to bring the charts to life in a musician's union rehearsal room.

Amassing enough arrangements and developing a signature feel, he took the band public at Los Angeles's jazz incubator, the Blue Whale, to sold-out crowds. With a fifteen-piece ensemble, which includes first-call horns like Bob Sheppard, Bijon Watson, Rashawn Ross, Beasley conducted the band with an improviser's eye--free flowing and open to solos that add to the narrative. Since that casual debut in 2013, the band has become a fixture on the scene, performing at Disney Hall, Jazz Standard, Ford Amphitheatre, SFJAZZ twice and most recently at the Playboy Jazz Festival held at the world famous Hollywood Bowl.


Photo Credit: Raj Naik

"I don't play a lot of piano in the band," Beasley says about his role. "The band is my piano. It gives me the opportunity to change the music on the spot by conducting. I can cut everybody out and have myself play or I could change the order of the solos. Whoever is hot that night, I can keep throwing it their way."

Through a lens influenced by Thad Jones, Gil Evans, Herbie Hancock and Aaron Copland, Beasley found a compositional openness in Monk's music that encouraged him to discover the right combination of freedom and restraint, coaxing the very best from the ensemble.

"Jimmy Heath once told me that all the good stuff is already built into Monk. The tunes are built to swing. The sound he got out of the piano, the way he played the piano, the voicings he used, the wild intervals. His groove was so strong." And Beasley is no stranger to strong grooves. "The sign of a great composer--like Gershwin, Ellington, Wayne Shorter, or Stevie Wonder--is that you can play their tunes at any tempo and change the structure if you like. Bach sounds incredible at any tempo. So does Monk. His tunes are a living and breathing organism."

Opening track "Epistrophy" was Beasley's first attempt at a large-scale Monk arrangement and he tackles the angular tune with an elongated sense of time, controlling each breath with unwavering patience. Vibraphonist Gary Burton shines during a shimmering guest spot. "What a virtuoso," says Beasley. "One take, boom! He just nailed it."

Beasley pulls from two very different worlds for "Skippy" simultaneously evoking the Jaco Pastorius and Jimmie Lunceford big bands. Sheppard is in top form on the twisting chart, unfurling a crisp soprano saxophone over the controlled chaos of riffs and handclaps. Beasley infuses a literal electricity for "Oska T" and a trio version of "'Round Midnight." The band conjures a sinister swagger, generating a buzzing hive for trumpeters Gabriel Johnson and Brian Swartz to cut loose while the trio embraces the pliability of Monk's greatest known composition with a contemporary bend.

During a visit to New Orleans, Beasley was inspired to fuse multiple Monk riffs to create "Monk's Processional," a brief second-line celebration imbued with southern charm and spirit. A crowd favorite, the performance strikes just the right tone of playful reverence.

On the densely shifting moves on "Ask Me Now," harmonica player Grégoire Maret guests with support from Tom Peterson and Tom Luer's spooky bass clarinet duo. The unusual instrumentation helps to push the languid stroll into another world. Two tunes embrace the footwork essential to Monk's greatest ideas. Beasley envisions a soft-shoe routine for a bouncing "Gallop's Gallop." "Little Rootie Tootie" picks up a partner, embracing the cha-cha amid the funky refrains and growling support of the brass. The band closes out with "Coming on the Hudson," making deliberate steps amid the arrangements delicate flourishes and steady push from the endlessly creative drummer Terreon Gully.

As the name of the album implies, this is only the beginning for Beasley's large-scale exploration of the High Priest of Bebop. The band's introduction is an undeniable statement from a great new voice in big band arranging and a testament to the timelessness of Monk's music.

"We all know that Monk's music is strong on his own," says Beasley. "What's even more amazing is how much room there is to keep his music alive. The songs are a living and breathing organism. It can keep changing with the times. Maybe we're even catching up to his time."


Photo Credit: Raj Naik


About John Beasley:

Born in Louisiana, Beasley started writing arrangements in junior high school, which sparked the attention of Jimmy Lyons--the founder of the Monterey Jazz Festival--who recommended him for a scholarship at the Stan Kenton summer jazz camp. The pianist cut his teeth with Miles Davis and Freddie Hubbard in the 1980s and has since performed and recorded with a who's who of artists including James Brown, Marcus Miller, Chaka Khan, Christian McBride, Steely Dan, Dianne Reeves, Sergio Mendes, Carly Simon, John Patitucci, Al Jarreau, Kelly Clarkson, George Duke, John Legend, Chick Corea, Destiny's Child and Queen Latifah, among others.

Living in Hollywood, Beasley juggled a touring musician's schedule while working in studios composing for award-winning television sitcoms and commercials including Cheers, Family Ties, Star Trek and Fame, to name a few. He has worked with multiple Oscar-nominated film composer Thomas Newman for three decades on credits including James Bond Spectre and Skyfall, Get On Up: James Brown, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel I & II, Finding Nemo & Finding Dory, Wall-E, Shawshank Redemption and more.

While touring with Miles Davis, Beasley was inspired to make his first of eleven recordings, Cauldron--which was produced by Walter Becker of Steely Dan-and went on to earn a GRAMMY® Award-nomination for his 2011 release Positootly. He has since served as musical director for the Monk Institute's gala concerts since 2011, guiding legends and the next generation of jazz greats through all-star tributes to Quincy Jones, Bill Clinton, George Duke and Aretha Franklin. He has also served this role for International Jazz Day since 2012, notably at the White House's 2016 blowout bash. Under the global eye, he seamlessly shaped the televised concert featuring Aretha Franklin, Wayne Shorter, Joey Alexander and Sting through a night of swing and celebration. Since 2005, Beasley has worked as Lead Arranger for American Idol until its final season in 2016, and ushered the twelve female finalists of 2005 (including Carrie Underwood) by coaching and rehearsing them as well as selecting and arranging songs.

Friday, July 08, 2016

Saxophonist Kenny Garrett Celebrates Global Perspectives of Individuality on Do Your Dance!



More than any other artist in traditional jazz today, saxophonist/composer/arranger Kenny Garrett and his band are known to entice audiences to want to get up and groove. Be it in Spain where a man from Cameroon leaped up and broke out some African moves then was joined by a young break-dancer, or in Germany where a clearly classically trained ballet dancer was brought to his feet; in Poland where a fan literally jumped from the balcony onto the stage to dance, or at a festival in Barbados where music lovers got on up and grooved in the rain to "Happy People," the spectacle is always the same: the spirit takes over and the movements come naturally. It is this spirit that Garrett has instigated and witnessed from stages around the world that fills Do Your Dance!--the saxophonist's fourth for Mack Avenue Records.

"I look out and see people waiting for the songs that they can party to and express themselves," confirms Garrett, the nine-time winner of DownBeat's Reader's Poll for Alto Saxophonist of the Year. "Do Your Dance! was inspired by audiences moved to rise from their seats and 'lift a foot!' Some are reluctant to participate because they think that others are better than they are. I tell them, 'Do your dance.' That means even if you have to 'stay pocket,' do the Funky Four Corners or the Nae-Nae, don't worry about what the other person is doing. Let it all hang out and 'do your dance!' On the title track we combine the spirit of a `70s-style beach get down with just a touch of hip-hop-ever in search of the link between the two. I had it playing while I was talking to my daughter on FaceTime. When it got to the end with that new vibe, she smiled and I thought, 'Uh huh--gotcha!'"

Do Your Dance! is a travelogue of rhythm from the melodic lilt of "Calypso Chant" and the soothing, Brazil-inspired "Bossa" to the summer barbecue spirit of "Backyard Groove" and "Philly." Garrett elaborates, "'Philly' was inspired by people at an outdoor festival we played down the street from Temple University. That older generation was going in--dancing to hard bop, funkafied fire and calypso...anything we threw at them! That's how people used to dance to jazz."


Photo Credit: Jimmy Katz
It was inspiration in liquefied form that resulted in the novel "Wheatgrass Shot (Straight to the Head)," one of two tracks featuring rapper Mista Enz (Donald Brown, Jr.) of Knoxville, Tennessee. Recalling the tune's circuitous origin, Garrett explains, "A nurse friend told me about the health benefits of wheatgrass. You can cut it with honey or fruit juice but I took it straight to the head, and the bitterness sent my body into contortions (another form of dance). Later, I was at the piano messing with this minor 2nd interval. I recognized it as a musical metaphor for that wheatgrass going upside my head! As the music took shape, I felt it needed a rap." Garrett reached out to several sources, then co-producer Donald Brown gently intervened, offering, "My son raps." Enter Mista Enz.

"The first track Kenny emailed me sounded like they turned on a tape recorder mid-session," Enz confesses. "I thought it was gonna be impossible to write to, but it was an honor for Kenny to consider me, so I had to make it work. I didn't have time to try the wheatgrass, so I typed it in on the Internet. Kenny told me the effect it had on him was like a 'shot to the brain.' I equated that to euphoria...the way a woman makes you feel. I did part of it freestyle and part of it written to stay on subject. Kenny called back and said it was exactly what he was looking for."

Rounding out Do Your Dance! are "Persian Steps" (built from the ground up with just Ronald Bruner, Jr. on drums and Garrett on piano, later adding flute, a chant and shruti box-an Indian accordion he discovered in Germany) and "Chasing the Wind" (Garrett composing a piece at top speed in the tradition of bop standards that jazz musicians challenge themselves with by playing at triple time). Garrett dedicated "Waltz (3 Sisters)" to his fairer siblings. "My sisters have always been my support system in every way. Wherever I show up, they're the first ones there. Sometimes you take it for granted because that's family...but it doesn't have to be that way. So I wrote one for them."

Aside from Bruner--who, since gigging with Garrett, has played with artists from Stevie Wonder to Kamasi Washington--the saxophonist is joined by another drummer, McClenty Hunter, who was first documented with Garrett on his last album, Pushing the World Away. Also returning from the previous album is bassist Corcoran Holt whom Garrett first encountered four years ago at Blues Alley in DC.

Percussionist Rudy Bird goes back with Garrett to a 1983 tour of Sophisticated Ladies, and has since played with Michael Jackson and Lauryn Hill. Then there's notoriously obtuse pianist Vernell Brown, Jr. who has played with the saxophonist since 2002's Happy People and its follow-up Standard of Language. Finally, there is Garrett's longtime co-producer Donald Brown, an old friend from days when, as a pianist, he shared the bandstand in Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, and his right-hand man on sessions off and on since Garrett's highest Billboard Jazz chart-topper to date, African Exchange Student, in 1990.

Detroit-born Kenny Garrett is a five-time GRAMMY® Award-nominee and 2010 GRAMMY® Award-winner (as a member of Chick Corea's and John McLaughlin's co-led Five Peace Band), and the recipient of an Honorary Doctorate from Berklee College of Music in 2011. His distinguished credits extend from starting with the Duke Ellington Orchestra (under son Mercer Ellington) to Freddie Hubbard, Woody Shaw, Donald Byrd and Miles Davis (with whom he ascended to international stardom); to contemporary stars Marcus Miller, Sting, Meshell Ndegeocello, Q-Tip and funkateers Cameo.

"It's been a whirlwind," Garrett concludes. "Records and concerts are about me taking people on the ride I want to take them on. It can be pretty ballads, some intensity, and then we can party! When they leave, I hope they feel like we took them on a journey. And when they come back to see us or put that CD in the player years later, I hope people have a deeper perspective on the music than the first time."

Monday, June 27, 2016

Matt Baker releases Almost Blue CD; CD release party set for June 30 at Birdland


Pianist Matt Baker's new recording, Almost Blue, is his fifth as a leader and second since 2010 when he moved to New York City from Sydney, Australia. Baker abandoned a comfortable career to position himself in the pool of big fish who leave an international array of smaller ponds to test their mettle in the jazz capital. That it was a wise decision is evident: Baker--well-known in Australia and Europe during the '00s for an approach deeply informed by Oscar Peterson, his idol and first influence in matters of intention, execution and time feel--interacts seamlessly with young New York A-listers Luques Curtis on bass and Obed Calvaire on drums, placing his exhaustive knowledge of chords and scales and stylistic dialects at the service of swinging melody without letting you see him sweat. Master guitarist Lage Lund augments the unit on six selections, while formidable tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm projects his singular instrumental voice on three.
 
The intersection of Baker's musical and personal journeys in New York is the subject of the 14-tune program, which Baker and eminent producer Matt Pierson culled from the Great American and late 20th Century Pop Songbooks. "I chose these songs because of the lyrics," Baker says. "Each one represents a certain place in my life during the period that led up to the recording. They convey the album's narrative, and have equal weight as pieces in the story."
 
Speaking of narrative, Baker sings on three selections, presenting his vulnerable emotionally connected voice. "I've been singing for 20 years, and singing will always be there, but playing the piano is strongest in my heart," says Baker, whose latest encomium is Back Stage magazine's 2016 Ira Eaker Special Achievement Award, given to "an outstanding performer on the rise."
 
In 2016, a worldwide audience can witness the fruits of Baker's New York R&D as he supports Almost Blue with a new trio, including Ahmad Jamal alumnus James Cammack on bass, and the crackling young drummer Darrian Douglas. "Since coming here, I feel I've begun to play with the band as opposed to having them accompany me," Baker says. "I feel that Darrian, James and I are creating whatever it is we do-various meters and rhythmic complexities, harmonic development, textural development--in the moment together."


About Matt Baker: 
The son of a jazz trombone player with a good record collection, Baker started jazz lessons at 12, and at 15-years-old he took a once-a-week gig "at a café close to my school that had a piano," which he retained until his twenties. During his final year at Sydney Conservatory, he spent several months in New York, where he encountered and took lessons from such piano heroes as James Williams, Benny Green and Jacky Terrasson. "Friends in Sydney were forcefully telling me I had to get to New York," Baker recalls. "I started to realize what I didn't know and what I had to learn, and I felt pressure--in a good way--to up my game and not get comfortable."
           
Baker recorded Talkin' Soul Food a week after returning to Sydney from another trip to New York, taken with the express intent of hearing every set by Peterson during a week-long engagement at the Blue Note. During that week Peterson befriended the intense, well-mannered youngster, and he remained Baker's friend and mentor for the remainder of his life, a fact that Baker honors with a still ongoing program devoted to Peterson's original music.
 
On the strength of that recording, Baker brought his trio to the 2003 Montreux Jazz Festival to serve as house band for its entire 2½-week duration. Festival founder and artistic director, the late Claude Nobs brought the trio back the next year, and had Baker play solo piano for the 2005 and 2006 editions. Baker represented his Swiss experience--which gave him an opportunity to meet and pick the brains of an international array of jazz celebrities, such as Herbie Hancock and Michel Camilo--with the 2006 trio and chamber orchestra album From An Afternoon With the Mountains.
 
With a year's savings as a cushion, Baker spent his first year in New York networking at such jam session hubs as Smalls, Fat Cat, Cleopatra's Needle, and Smoke, where he "hung out, listened, gave out the business card, and had stacks of people not call me," while also studying with pianist Taylor Eigsti, whom he met on a 2009 New York visit. In 2011, Baker self-recorded Underground, with top-shelf generational contemporaries: trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, tenor saxophonist Dayna Stephens, bassist Joe Sanders and drummer Greg Hutchinson. He spent the next four years building a solid career, side-manning with, among others, 7-string guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, and vocalists Tierney Sutton, Judy Collins and Patrizio Buanne, and refining his own repertoire presentation in diverse rooms like Birdland, the Blue Note, Iridium, Kitano, Gin Fizz, Bemelmans, Le Cirque, the Zinc Bar, the Side Door and Scullers Jazz Clubs.