Tuesday, August 31, 2021

August Recommendations

Zacc Harris is a MInneapolis, MN-based guitarist and composer who is active as a leader, co-leader (Atlantic Quartet), sideman, and educator.  His sextet, the Zacc Harris Group, has just issued its second album, "Small Wonders" for Shifting Paradigm Records. The ZHG consists of the leader (electric guitar, compositions), Brandon Wozniak (tenor sax), Bryan Nichols (piano), Chris Bates (bass), JT Bates (drums), and the newest member John Raymond (trumpet, flugelhorn) who joined some years after the debut album. On initial listenings, one can hear the influences of Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays; when one digs deeper, you can hear the "openness" of the late Kenny Wheeler's sound as well.  Pieces such as "Sundials"(listen below) and "Civil Dawn" bear witness to those influences (splendid trumpet work on the latter plus a stunning unaccompanied piano solo) while "A Beautiful Life" with its tender melody, point to new directions.  Nichols's piano work is integral to keeping the music flowing throughout the album.  Raymond's flugelhorn stands out on "Glass Houses" as does Wozniak's tenor sax stroll through the gardens created by the rhythm section.  Meanwhile, the rhythm section burns red-hot on the hard-bop romp "The Void" plus create a New Orleans-groove on "Apple Jacks".  The latter tune opens up so the tenor and trumpet can have a sweet exchange and the guitarist have a series of playful interactions with the rhythm section.

The nine-song program closes with the lovely ballad "Maya's Song". Dedicated to Harris's daughter, the music feels as if it was composed while the guitarist was watching his daughter sleeping, imagining her dreams, and hoping for a peaceful future. The piano accompaniment is a perfect counterpoint to the leader's lines. Nichols's solo also has a dream-like quality accentuated by the quiet brushwork and simple yet effective bass lines.

"Small Wonders" is big on melody, intelligent arrangements, and powerful as well as thoughtful solos.  Check out the Zacc Harris Group ––much to enjoy!

For more information, go to www.zaccharris.com. To purchase the album, go to https://shiftingparadigmrecords.bandcamp.com/album/small-wonders.  

Listen to "Sundials":


There is not a lot of information on the webpage of guitarist and composer Chris Olson, who along with bassist Chris Bates and drummer Jay Epstein make up the trio know as Framework. Their new album, "Cognitive Dissonances", is the trio's first for Shifting Paradigm and its first recording in over a decade.  Featuring 11 Olson originals, the music covers a wide swath of musical territory. Opening and closing with two takes of "New Anthem", the attentive listener can hear how the trio develops material. Version one refers a bit to Jimi Hendrix in the opening seconds and then falls into the melody Americans sing at the ballparks, stadiums, hockey rinks, and elsewhere.  Bowed bass and splashing percussion support the melody, played mostly using chords by the guitar. The "alternate take" that closes the program is fairly similar, not as noisy but still played somewhat like a dirge.

In between those two tracks is a fascinating collections that spotlight the excellent group communication, Olson's fine melodies, and his spirited guitar playing. Bates and Epstein are right in there with the guitarist, pushing and prodding him needs be or strictly building the foundation to frame his melodies and improvisations.  "Hitchens" rolls forward with guitars coming out of both sides of the speakers while the melody is in the middle of the sound spectrum.  "Dawkins" gives bassist Bates a chance to step out and he leads the group forward on the strength of his thick tone and melodic prowess.  There's a wistful quality to the guitar work on the ballad "Changes We Can Believe In" but a bit of grunginess makes its way into Olson's guitar tone before the bass solo returns to the opening feel.  

Framework can swing ("Bluetrois"), can deliver a delightfully melodic waltz ("Pre-Conceived Notion"), and they can create aural waterfalls ("Tortured Thoughts") –– some of the song titles don't necessarily easily fit the songs but the trio's musicality will win you over.  "Cognitive Dissonance" does not describe how good and ultimately satisfying this music is (well, it does go a long way to describe the mood of "New Anthem"). Titles aside, this is quite an enjoyable album!

For some information, go to www.chrisolsonmusic.com. To purchase the album, go to  https://shiftingparadigmrecords.bandcamp.com/album/cognitive-dissonance

Hear the opening "New Anthem":


Many musicians used the pandemic to create new work, to hone new skills, and to find new ways to express themselves in a most uncomfortable.  It's possible Scott Reeves (valve trombone, alto flugelhorn, electronics) did all those things but he also went through his archives. When he did, Reeves listened with fresh ears to a 2005 live gig he recorded at City of College of New York with Russ Spiegel (guitar), Mike Holober (piano, electric piano), Howard Britz (bass), and Andy Watson (drums).  Now, pleased by the overall quality of the musicianship and sound, the musician/ composer passed
the tapes on to his label, Origin Records, and they released the album as "The Alchemist".  The music does not at all sound dated –– in fact, the music feels fresh and often exciting.  One can hear a link from several pieces to the music Miles Davis created for "Nefertiti" and "Filles de Kilimanjaro". 

The Davis influence is evident on the opener, "New Bamboo".  The ringing tones of the Fender Rhodes mixed with the electronically altered trombone also hearkens back to Herbie Hancock's later Blue Note recordings.  Reeves switches to alto flugelhorn, Holober to acoustic piano, for "Shapeshifter", a medium tempo flowing piece that includes a potent drum solo. "Without a Trace" is a lovely ballad with a soft melody played by guitar and trombone. The leader's solo is wistful, as if you can hear him ruminating about a person who has gone.  Spiegel produces a handsome solo but pay attention to howe Holober, on acoustic piano, responds.  Britz, who is also an accomplished pianist, plays a short yet melodic solo.  "Remembrances" is another fine ballad with fine solos from Reeves (flugelhorn), Spiegel, and Holober.  "The title track grooves atop the percolating electric piano and the raucous drums. Trombone and guitar play the head that opens to Holober's playful solo and a hard-edged trombone spot.  

That playfulness is also evident on the funky take of the standard "All or Nothing at All". The feel modulates from funk to straight-ahead and back to funk.  It's a delight hearing the Quintet playing around.  That's true throughout "The Alchemist" –– Scott Reeves and company sound like they having such a great time and the audience shows its appreciation for every solo and song!  

For more information, go to www.creativejazz.com/.  To hear more music and to purchase the album, go to https://scottreeves.bandcamp.com/album/the-alchemist.  

Here's the title track:

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Large Ensemble: Shapes, Sounds, & Stories

Chuck Owen has had a long career as a jazz educator, composer, and arranger.  In 1981, Owen left California where he had been attending school and free-lancing as a film composer: he and his family moved to Tampa, Florida, when he became the first full-time faculty of the Jazz Studies program at the University of South Florida.  Over the decades, Owen helped to build a program that is one of the best in the United States –– he's also been involved in numerous educational events and workshops around the country and, in 2015, helped to create the International Association for Jazz Education.  On top of that, in 1995, Owen organized the Jazz Surge, a 19-member ensemble, to be his primary creative outlet.

To celebrate the group's 25th Anniversary, Owen created "Within Us" (MAMA Records/Summit Records), a eight-song program that features six originals plus one composition each by Chick Corea and Miles Davis.  The album opens with Corea's "Chelsea Shuffle", a piece that the late pianist created for his 2001 New Trio.  Originally the pianist was scheduled to record with Owen's band but passed before he could join the Jazz Surge in the studio. The solos in the bluesy piece belong to soprano saxophonist Steve Wilson (who was part of Corea's Origin band), vibraphonist Warren Wolf, and bassist Mark Neuenschwander but do pay attention to the sections move in and around the soloists.  Violinist Sara Caswell soars over the acoustic strumming on "Trails of the Ancients" –– when the band drops out and you hear guitarist Corey Christiansen's rhythm guitar, there's a strong hint of The Who's "Pinball Wizard" in that moment.  But, the remainder of the piece includes splendid direction from drummer Danny Gottlieb  and a powerful electric guitar spot for Larue Nickelson

Pick a track, any track, and you will hear excellent writing, splendid musicianship, and memorable solos. The rhythm section creates a funky foundation for the band on Miles Davis's "Milestones": the herky-jerky conversation between Gottlieb and the sections right before his short solo is a treat as is how the ensemble moves out of that into a delightfully impressionistic reading of the melody. Meanwhile, soloists Jack Wilkins (tenor sax) and Clay Jenkins (trumpet) weave their lines around each other.  Be sure to dig the fun and heroic bari sax work of Matt Vance!  That's Vance's bass clarinet beneath the handsome melody of "Apalachicola", a ballad that puts Ms. Caswell's violin, Christiansen's bluesy (and roaring) guitar, and Tom Brantley's moaning, gutbucket trombone in the solo spotlight.  Vibraphonist Wolf and trumpeter Jenkins lead the ensemble in on "The Better Claim", a piece that Owen created for his 2011 "River Runs: A Concerto for Jazz Guitar, Saxophone, & Orchestra".  While Ms. Caswell's violin is prominent in the mix, the reeds and brass dance around the fine solos. Note how Owen blends a single sax with the trumpets, the trombones swirling underneath, all the while Gottlieb is piloting the musicians through the "rapids".  

The final piece in the program, "Within Us (An Invincible Summer)", a lovely ballad inspired by Albert Camus's essay "Return to Tipasa".  The beauty of the melody, the sparkling piano of Per Danielsson, the light tenor phrases of Rex Wertz, and the occasional violin phrases, are clear, harmonious, and, in the final analysis, soothing to the listener's soul.  

25 years is a long time for any group to stay together much less a large ensemble.  But the intelligence and musicality in the material that Chuck Owens composes and/ or arranges for the Jazz Surge keeps the ensemble on the edge of its creative seats.  "Within Us" is a gem, well worth examining numerous times so that you can see its myriad facets.

For more information, go to www.chuckowen.com.   The album is set to be released on September 17, 2021.  

Check out this short video to see the Jazz Surge going to work:



Warren Wolf (Vibes/Marimba)


Tami Danielsson Steve Wilson Jack Wilkins Rex Wertz Matt Vance


Frank Greene Jay Coble Mike Iapichino Clay Jenkins


Keith Oshiro Tom Brantley Jerald Shynett Jim Hall

Per Danielsson (Piano)
LaRue Nickelson (Guitar)

Corey Christiansen (Dobro, Nylon String, Steel String, & 12-String Guitars) 

Mark Neuenschwander (Bass)

Danny Gottlieb (Drums)

Sara Caswell (Violin)
Beth Gottlieb (Djembe on "Sparks Fly") 

Chuck Owen (Accordion, hammered dulcimer, compositions, arrangements, conductor)

Composer, arranger, and Pittsburgh, PA, native David Sanford (pictured left) often blurs the lines between classical and jazz as well as composition and improvisation.  Started his musical life young as an aspiring trombonist, loving r'n'b and "Soul" music, he discovered Charles Mingus and that helped turn his life towards composing.  He did his undergraduate work at the University of Northern Colorado, went on to get a Masters of Music at the New England Conservatory and his M.F.A. and Ph. D at Princeton University.  Dr. Sanford has won a slew of awards and fellowships plus became the conductor of the Pittsburgh Collective, a 20-member orchestra that also straddles genres. He currently is the Elizabeth T. Kennan Professor of Music at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, MA.

Greenleaf Music will release "A Prayer for Lester Bowie" by the David Sanford Big Band featuring Hugh Ragin on September 24, 2021.  The eight-song program, composed and arranged by Dr. Sanford save for the title track which is the work of Dr. Ragin plus a rollicking reading of Dizzy Gillespie's "Dizzy Atmosphere".  The band is composed of members of the Pittsburgh Collective and others (such as saxophonist Anna Webber and trumpeters Brad Goode plus Tony Kadleck).  The music on the album is brash, brassy, bold, at times hard-rocking (guitarist Dave Fabris really wails on several tracks), and full of aural surprises.  My initial reaction was that the music reminded me of the Muhal Richard Abrams Orchestra and that composer-arranger's ability get all sorts of sounds and moods out of the musicians.   

The album opens with "Full Immersion" – the band, led in by conga player Theo Moore, drops into a funky beat piano, chunky guitar, funky bass line, and drummer Mark Raynes playing side of his snare.  You can hear the influence of soul riffs on the sectional writing as the piece moves forward.  It's fun to hear the lower brass (bass trombone and tuba) dueling over the Raynes thundering drum between the strong tenor sax solos from Ms. Webber and Geoff Vidal (the pair then trade phrases as the band thunders on before coming together to raise the roof). 

Dr. Ragin takes center stage for the title track.  Opening the piece with a plaintive solo trumpet spotlight, the Big Band enters playing loud chords with a touch of dissonance. The musicians then enter a "free" period as if they were all trying to get the listener's attention at the same time. After several minutes of various instruments carrying on the conversation, the brass and reed sections play powerful melodic passages –– suddenly, the music falls into a rapid-fire beat with Ragin leading the charge. Saxophonists Ted Levine (alto), Vidal (tenor), and Mark Phaneuf (tenor) join the solo fray until the rhythmic charge slows down. The entire trombone solo around each other until the music slows down to a crawl, the sections again play powerful phrases going from the trumpets to the reeds to the trombones.  The spirit of experimentation and merriment that were two of the hallmarks of the musical experience of Lester Bowie (1941- 1999) shines through Dr. Ragin's composition and arrangement.  

Photo: Joanna Chattman
Highlights abound throughout the program. The lovely ballad "Women in Shadows" suggests the photography of Roy DeCarava (1919-2009) and features a delightful alto sax solo from Levine while "Soldier and the CEO" enters on the rich tones of Kelly Hart-Jenkins's alto saxophone.  After a powerful declarative statement from two trumpets, the drums kick in and guitarist Fabris roars forward to a thunderous climax.  The quiet coda belongs to pianist Geoff Burleson and baritone saxophonist Brad Hubbard. The Band's take on Mr. Gillespie's "Dizzy Atmosphere" is reminiscent of the dance band music of the 1940s. Short and sweet solos statements from trumpeters Wayne J. du Maine and Brad Goode sets the stage for a dancing solo by tenor saxophonist Phaneuf and a happy-go-lucky bowed bass solo from Dave Phillips accompanied by the brass, Freddie Green-like comping (Fabris), and immaculate time-keeping.
The album closes on a muscular note with the high-energy "V-Reel."  Pianist Burleson dances up and down the keyboard before the trumpets take on the melody. Levine rises, squalling, out of the musical commotion propelled forward by the rhythm section and the fiery section playing.  Trombonist Ben Herrington enters next with his high-energy solo.  The last two minutes of the track features a tumultuous conversation between the brass, reeds, and the rhythm section.

Although "A Prayer for Lester Bowie" was recorded over five years ago (June 2016), the music is fresh, relevant, and worth exploring.  David Sanford has had his works played throughout the United States and Europe by both classical and jazz ensembles.  Here's hoping that this album plus his 2019 "Black Noise" recording with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (check it out here) brings him a much wider audience.

For more information, go to www.mtholyoke.edu/people/david-sanford. To purchase the album, go to https://davidsanfordbigband.bandcamp.com/

Check out the fascinating sounds of "Subtraf":


Ted Levine and Kelley Hart-Jenkins - alto saxophones
Anna Webber (tracks 1, 2, 7, 8),
Marc Phaneuf (tracks 3-6) and
Geoff Vidal - tenor saxophones
Brad Hubbard - baritone saxophone

Brad Goode (tracks 1-7), Tony Kadleck (track 8),
Tim Leopold, Wayne J. du Maine,
Thomas Bergeron and Hugh Ragin - trumpets
Mike Christianson, Jim Messbauer,
Ben Herrington (tracks 1, 2, 4, 6-8)
and Mike Seltzer (tracks 3, 5) - tenor trombones
Steven Gehring - bass trombone
Raymond Stewart - tuba

Dave Fabris - electric guitar
Geoff Burleson - piano
Dave Phillips - electric and acoustic bass
Mark Raynes - drums
Theo Moore - percussion

David Sanford (tracks 1-4 and 6-8)
Hugh Ragin (track 5)

Saxophonist, composer, arranger, conductor, and educator Bob Mintzer has had a long and varied career.  He's been a member of the Yellowjackets for 30 years, has been the chief conductor for the WDR Big Band Cologne for six years, leads his own Big Band, and is currently Barbara and Buzz McCoy endowed chair at the Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California.  Mintzer has over 30 albums released as a leader or co-leader plus another 20 as a member of Yellowjackets. He's also recorded with Jaco Pastorious, Bobby McFerrin, New York Voices, Kurt Elling, and others.  His sax work was featured in large ensembles like the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra, the Buddy Rich Band, and bassist Sam Jones Big Band

As the Chief Conductor of the WDR Big Band, Mintzer has organized programs for the band that features guest artists from around the globe. Because of his position, he is allowed to create a program of his own music.  The result is "Soundscapes" (MCG Jazz/WDR), an album that features 10 original pieces arranged for the 17 musicians that Mintzer has come to know well over the past half-decade. He even solos on seven of the tracks, four on tenor sax and three on EWI.  To his credit, the composer has created pieces that build from the rhythm section up, featuring snappy writing for the brass and reeds and plenty of room for the soloists to dig.  The spirit of Joe Zawinul inhabits the opening "A Reprieve", especially in the work of drummer Hans Decker and percussionist Marcio Doctor.  The popping electric bass work of Stefan Rey percolates underneath giving the soloists Mintzer (EWI) and Paul Heller (tenor sax) a thick cushion to dance upon.  

WDR's American connection –– tenor saxophonist Mintzer, trombonist Andy Hunter, and pianist Billy Test –– are the featured soloists on "The Conversation" but dig the excellent rhythm guitar of Paul Shigihara and his interactions with rhythm section. Alto saxophonist Karolina Strassmeyer shines on "Montuno" as she reaches the heights of his solo, the brass and reeds push her forward). The gentle Brazilian feel in the rhythm section permeates "New Look" plus the blend of the flutes with the trombones is ear catching as is the delightful piano solo from Test.
The final two tracks, "One Music" and "VM", take out the program in grand style. The former cut is an older Mintzer tune, one that he recorded with the Yellowjackets for a DMP release under his own name. The straight-ahead steams along on the power of the rhythm section, featuring a powerful tenor solo from the leader and yet another delightful turn from pianist Test.  He jumps atop the rhythm section and pushes them forward with his dazzling lines. Listen closely to hear the playful guitar lines of Shigihara. The album closes with a sweet tribute to composer-arranger Vince Mendoza.  Excellent blend of reeds and brass over the pulsating rhythm section brings the listener to a pleasing alto solo from Ms. Strassmeyer and, later on, introduce the trumpet spot from Ruud Breuls.  

"Soundscapes" is such an enjoyable listening experience.  Sound quality is excellent, each solo stands out, and the arrangements are really smart. Bob Mintzer and the WDR Big Band have created a very entertaining recording well worth exploring.

For more information, go to https://bobmintzermusic.com/.  To purchase the recording, go to 

Here's "Montuno":


Bob Mintzer: composer, arranger, conductor, tenor saxophone, EWI

Johan Hörlen: alto sax, woodwinds
Karolina Strassmeyer: alto sax, woodwinds
Olivier Peters: tenor sax, woodwinds
Paul Heller: tenor sax, woodwinds
Jens Neufang: baritone sax, woodwinds
Wim Both: trumpet
Rob Bruynen: trumpet
Andy Haderer: trumpet
Ruud Breuls: trumpet
Ludwig Nuß: trombone
Raphael Klemm: trombone
Andy Hunter: trombone
Mattis Cederberg: bass trombone
Billy Test: piano
Paul Shigihara: guitar
Stefan Rey: acoustic and electric basses
Hans Dekker: drums

+ Marcio Doctor: percussion

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Father's Date


Julius Gubenko (pictured left) was born in Brooklyn, NY, on October 13, 1924 and grew up to be Terry Gibbs, vibraphonist, composer, and bandleader.  Doing gigs into his early 90s, he had played with Sarah Vaughan, was Steve Allen's musical director on television and in clubs for 17, and had played, as a young drummer, with the great Klezmer clarinetist Naftule Brandwein. The young Gubenko came by his career naturally as his father was a bandleader in the Catskills. Perhaps his biggest thrill was playing with Benny Goodman.  In the mid-1950s. he moved to Los Angeles, CA, where another world of opportunities opened for him (such as studio work) but his pride and joy was his Dream Band (a big band) and the dozens of small groups he worked with over the decades.

Terry begat Gerry.  The younger Gibbs, a drummer and composer, was born in 1964 and has been a professional musician since the early 1980s, working with a plethora of artists from Alice Coltrane, Harold Land, Billy Childs, and Parliament Funkadelic (among many others).  As a leader, Gerry Gibbs has lead the Thrasher Trio, a sextet, a big band, and an orchestra.  As a leader or co-leader he's issued 13 albums but, up until now, he's never dedicated an album to his father.  "Songs From My Father" (Whaling City Sound) is just that –– it's a 19-song, two-CD set, that features drummer Gibbs with four sets of partners (his Thrasher Dream Trios) plus his percussionist wife Kyeshie Gibbs. 18 of the songs are Terry Gibbs originals with the final track, "Tango for Terry", composed and performed by Chick Corea in what probably was his final time in the studio before his untimely passing in February of this year. 

The program opens with "Kick Those Feet" featuring pianist Kenny Barron and bassist Buster Williams.  Those two great musicians also appear on "Take It From Me", "T & S", "Lonely Dreams" and on "Hey Chick" (more about that track below).  The album also features Gibbs with pianist Patrice Rushen and organist Larry Goldings on the funky "Smoke 'Em Up", the Latin-flavored and fiery "Townhouse 3", the bluesy romp "Hippie Twist" and on the lovely ballads "Lonely Days" and "Pretty Blue Eyes".  Pianist Geoff Keezer and bassist Christian McBride join the drummer for the rollicking "Nutty Notes", the bluesy "The Fat Man" (not the song by Fats Domino), the bouncy "For Keeps", and the witty "Gibberish". 

Piano Master Corea not only plays with Gibbs and bassist Ron Carter on his afore-mentioned "Tango for Terry" but also on the charming "Bopstacle Course",  the sensual "Sweet Young Song of Love", and the handsome "Waltz for My Children".  It's really fun to hear the bassist's intelligent choice of phrases and counterpoint complementing the pianist.  Meanwhile, the drummer dances, colors, and swings in support.

The most fascinating track, "Hey Chick", closes CD One, and is a wonder of technology.  Recorded after Mr. Corea's death, Gibbs took his Dad's tune, "Hey Jim", changed the title with his Father's permission, and all the musicians on the album (except Corea) appear. The opening solo is actually Father Gibbs' vibes solo from the original 1961 recording over the quartet of Goldings, Geoff Keezer, Ron Carter, and the drummer son! The transitions are seamless and the music is amazing!

"Songs From My Father", featuring Gerry Gibbs with the Thrasher Dream Trios, is not just a love letter to his Dad but also a recognition of his fine compositions, many of them with well-designed melodies.  Terry Gibbs may have retired his vibraphone but he remains in good health – this fine tribute is well worth investing in!!

Here's a video that gives you a look at the participants and the person they are celebrating: