Archive for the ‘ CD Reviews ’ Category

Jeff Bradshaw and Friends – Home

Mr. Magic Slide Jeff Bradshaw is back with his first Live album at Shanachie Entertainment entitled Home. The album was recorded at Philadelphia’s premiere arts venue, The Kimmel Center, in May 28, 2014. Jeff’s band of 20 members supported guest musicians Robert Glasper, Eric Roberson, Tweet, Marsha Ambrosius, Kim Burrell, Trombone Shorty, Black Thought, Take 6, Bilal, Will Downing, Kenny Lattimore, and Najee. Jeff was boosting his horn-heavy ensemble with a ten-piece string section of members of the Philadelphia Orchestra and other chamber ensembles from the city.

Robert Glasper coproduced the album together with Jeff. Jointly they planned the event and the participating artists, all Jeff’s friends. He comments꞉ “I just want people to know that this is the best of me thus far. I believe in my heart that this is the album of the year because it is a collection of brilliance that magnifies my gift. That’s what it is. It’s a live collection of brilliance that magnifies the gift that God gave me.″

The event starts with the intro Open Your Eyes. It should be better called Open Your Ears Impressing vocals meet Jeff’s phenomenal trombone play. Not perfectly timed but that is the raw version of a live concert. Robert Glasper introduces into harmonic ballad All Time Love with a skillful piano solo featuring vocalists Charlene Keys, whose stage name is Tweet and Eric Roberson aka Erro. When Jeff enters the ring, the tune turns wild.

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Steven Feifke – Peace in Time

No gimmicks. No bells and whistles. But plenty of originality. That’s what you’ll get with Peace in Time (2015), the debut of pianist Steven Feifke. This 23-year-old rising star has already touched the world, as his compositions and arrangements have been performed by several artists.

Performing with Feifke are Benny Benack, trumpet and flugelhorn; Andrew Gould, alto saxophone; Chad Lefkowitz-Brown, tenor saxophone; Alex Wintz, guitar; Raviv Markovitz, bass; and Jimmy Macbride, drums.

“Am I Still There for You?” is prefaced by a solo piano intro. The actual song begins softly, with the tenor and the guitar blending for the lead with only bass and piano underneath. The melody weaves a series of intricate phrases. Then after one pass, the alto and trumpet enter, making for a bright, charming sound. The pace and mode conjure a visual of a couple dancing the waltz but without the one-two-two note pattern typical of waltz music. As the instruments swell and fade in time, with one stepping out for a transition or solo, the dancing couple dips and twirls, changing their steps every so often to reflect the evolving passion. What they do when the horns grow in intensity and overlap one another may be best left to the imagination. Lefkowitz-Brown stands out during the intense parts. During the dancing couple’s afterglow, the music softens again with Feifke taking point for the conclusion.

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Blake Aaron – Soul Stories

Guitarist Blake Aaron is an universalist, both in Radio and TV shows at home as well as on the side of big stars like Carlos Santana, The Gap Band or Bobby Womack. Also in the smooth jazz genre, he is known all over town. His solo career as guitarist started with Every Touch (2001), followed by Bringin’ It Back (2003), Desire (2007), Romantic Christmas (2011) and this year Soul Stories.

Blake is supported by vocalist Derek Bordeaux, keyboardists Tom Zink, Rob Mullins and Lew Laing; bassists Hussain Jiffry and Melvin Davis; strings arranger and keyboardist Mike Whittaker; strings arranger and label mate Craig Sharmat; percussionist Ronnie Gutierrez, and drummers Ricky Lawson and Winston Butts.

The album starts with the uplifting guitar tune Groove-O-Matic, which one can listen on his website. Stomping beats, bustling guitar licks and precise horn injects mark this dance piece. Like on his previous album Blake gives a tribute to late guitar hero Wes Montgomery with Wes’ Side Story. Slinky guitar chords meets Latin Bossa Nova.

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Adam Birnbaum – Three of a Mind

Ambient, dynamic, charming, engaging. Those words can describe Three of a Mind (Daedelus Records, 2015) by pianist Adam Birnbaum. It’s a trio session for one of the rising stars on the New York jazz scene.

With Birnbaum are Doug Weiss on bass and Al Foster on drums.

“Binary,” one of six Birnbaum originals, is a bright, upbeat song. The leader plays freely throughout. Underneath, Foster enjoys mixing it up with rolls here, shuffles there, and Weiss is firmly engaged. About midway through, things get intense when the piano cranks up the heat, and the other instruments follow suit.

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DW3 – Vintage Truth

Core members of jazz powerhouse DW3 are Eric and Billy Mondragon and Damon Reel. They are regularly performing in the Los Angeles area, especially in Seal Beach’s Spaghettini. But also already graced several festivals and cruises.

Dw3 Live @ Spaghettinis was their first album in 2006, followed by Life, Love & Music (2008), On the Floor (2013) and Vintage Truth (2015). They describe themselves as a R&B Jazz and Latin Soul band. They are nevertheless welcomed with open arms by the smooth jazz community.

Technically perfect they play skillfully their musical strength, incredible vocal harmonies. With a variety of known guest stars is the new album current coronation of their career. It is noteworthy that their own songs from the level catch up easily with the covers. A further great advantage of this album is the playing of late drummer Ricky Lawson, the best alternative to a drum machine.

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Charles McPherson – The Journey

Straight, no chaser. Charles McPherson goes old school with The Journey (Capri Records, 2015). Recognized as one of the last authentic practitioners of bebop sax, McPherson would make some of his pioneering brethren proud.

McPherson plays the alto sax. With him are Keith Oxman, tenor sax; Chip Stephens, piano; Ken Walker, bass; and Todd Reid, drums.

The sassy opener, “The Decathexis from Youth (for Cole),” features the duet of McPherson and Oxman in harmonious lead. The song begins in moderate, swing. Then it shifts into high gear as the leader takes off on a spirited jaunt. Composer Stephens stretches out in blues style.

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John Mills – Invisible Designs

Classic literature finds its way into modern music. That’s part of the idea behind John MillsInvisible Designs (Fable Records, 2015).

The players are Carmen Bradford, vocals; Mills, soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones, flute and bass clarinet; Jeff Hellmer, keys on all but three songs; Jim Beard, keys on “Invisible Designs,” “My Disagreeable Attitude” and “Darwin”; Eric Johnson, guitar on “Invisible Designs”; Mitch Watkins, guitar on “Banana King,” “Tidewater” and “Everything I Learned”; Jake Langley, guitar on “Lady Vain,” “My Disagreeable Attitude,” “Four Directions” and “Strictly Business”; Carter Arrington, guitar on “Napoleon” and “Let Your Brother Go”; Spencer Starnes, acoustic bass; and David Sierra, drums.

This is that rare commentary about a jazz recording that says little about the music and a lot about the words. Mills changed his approach to the project. Instead of composing music and creating lyrics to match, he wrote the words first. More than that, the songs originated with phrases borrowed from classic, public-domain novels. The lines evolve into ideas that may or may not have any connection to the stories from which they were adapted.

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