Archive for the ‘ CD Reviews ’ Category

Manual Valera Sr. – Recuerdos

Memories are what Manual Valera Sr.’s Recuerdos (Mavo Records, 2014) is all about. The program is rich with history, romance and rhythms of generations of Cubans.

The Grammy-winning Valera plays alto saxophone. His bandmates are son, Manuel Valera on piano; Hans Glawischnig on bass; Ludwig Afonso on drums and Mauricio Herrera on percussion.

“Si Me Comprendieras” is a laid-back, evening on a tropical beach piece. Valera Sr. and son each stretch out freely, getting into the moment with their respective instruments. One can visualize a moonlight gathering with some dancing on a makeshift floor while others watch the dancers and listen to the band while sipping on fruity cocktails.

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Nir Naaman – Independence

It’s tempting, particularly with the advent of smooth jazz radio, for a young saxophonist to follow the formula of success and create something more suited as pop instrumental than any type of jazz. Nir Naaman breaks that particular mold with Independence (Naaman Music, 2014), which could be his way of saying he won’t conform to contemporary expectations or appease commercial radio powers. Instead, he chooses a style reminiscent of post-World War II jazz, making it fun and free rather than catchy and trite.

Naaman plays tenor, alto and soprano saxes. For most tracks, he uses a quartet format with Dezron Douglass on bass throughout. Piano duties are split between George Cables and Roy Assaf. Drums are split by Gregory Hutchinson and Ulysses Owens Jr. Trumpeter Marcus Printup sits in on two tracks.

Naaman and Printup blend on the lead for “Ohali Blues.” Trumpet and sax playing together often makes for the most enjoyable sound in jazz. The instruments split, with the tenor taking point. It’s a lively, finger-snapping tune that serves as a great introduction to Naaman of listeners who aren’t familiar with him. Printup delivers a jaunty trumpet solo. During the closing sequence, Hutchinson gives the kit a brief but intense workout.

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Miguel Zenón – Identities Are Changeable

Nationality, melting pot culture and art come together in Miguel Zenon’s Identities Are Changeable (Miel Music, 2014). It’s billed as an extended musical work for large ensemble about national identity as experienced by the Puerto Rican community in the New York City area. It’s also a spoken word testimony to that experience.

The Miguel Zenon Quartet consists of Zenon, alto saxophone; Luis Perdomo, piano; Hans Glawischnig, bass; and Henry Cole, drums. The “Identities” Big Band members are Will Vinson and Michael Thomas, alto saxophones; Samir Zarif and John Ellis, tenor saxophones; Chris Cheek, baritone saxophone; Mat Jodrel, Michael Rodriguez, Alex Norris and Jonathan Powell, trumpets; and Ryan Keberle, Alan Ferber and Tim Albright, trombones.

One of the voices heard in the opening track, “De Donde Vienes? (Overture),” is that of Sonia Manzano, whom many will recognize as Maria, a character on the children’s television program Sesame Street. She and others introduce themselves, say a little something about their experience, all over the back drop of a big jazz band playing something that’s part Latin, part symphonic.

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Jonathan Kreisberg – Wave Upon Wave

A single wave on the shore is connected to the deepest parts of the ocean. People are connected to their ancestors who fought to survive, and many of whom traveled to other lands for a better life. Guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg combines these thoughts for Wave Upon Wave (New For Now Music, 2014).

His sidemen are Rick Rosato, bass; Colin Stranahan, drums; and Will Vinson, saxophone. Pianist Kevin Hays sits in on a few tracks.

The title song opens the set. Kreisberg plays layered tracks, one setting two pairs of step-down chords in a 3/4 rhythm, the other the lead. Guitar and sax blend on the melody of this calm, soothing piece. After the initial offering, the two instruments briefly share the step-down rhythm before Kreisberg takes off on an adventurous jaunt. The subliminal message is that of artists – singers, songwriters, musicians – moving to a new country by sea. They follow in the footsteps of those who preceded them, the waves representing each new generation of hope. Hays joins the quartet for this and three other tracks. His solo and some intense background work by Rosato and Stranahan complete the package.

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Streetwize – Does The Divas!

The Streetwize series includes Streetwize (2002), Streetwize II (2003), Streetwize/Slowjamz (2004), Streetwize Does Dre (2005), Streetwize Sexy Love (2007), Streetwize Does Mary J. Blige (2008), Streetwize – Put U To Bed (2009), Streetwize – Feelin’ Sexy(2012), and Streetwize – Body Party (2013). Streetwize – Does The Divas! is the continuation in 2015.

Saxophonist Kim Waters supported by the Streetwize all-stars are the performers on this album, a tribute on famous R&B divas. American recording artist Beyoncé wrote and performed Blow for her fifth studio album Beyoncé. Waters transforms the song in the known fashion with the sax in the lead. Stay is a song recorded by Barbadian singer Rihanna for her seventh studio album, Unapologetic (2012) featuring guest vocals by Mikky Ekko. Waters manages to capture the emotional mood of the song with his saxophone.

With Dream Lover from Maria Carey (1993) he has chosen an older song that still showed this singer in fresh youth. Also on this song the soprano is his first choice. I Blame You is Ledisi’s joyful reflection on that new-found love, the first track of her album The Truth (2014). Dana Pope, Kim’s wife, muse and significant soul mate carries with her voice in a large part to the vocal identity of the songs.

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Bruce Blackman – Moonlight Feels Right 2014

It’s pop and rock. It’s jazz via bossa nova, it’s blues. It’s even soul and funk. But mostly, it’s just plain cool. Bruce Blackman, founding member of the pop/rock group Starbuck, reinvents himself and some of his hits with Moonlight Feels Right 2014 (Bruce Blackman, 2014).

With Mike McCarty’s cover illustration depicting Blackman in a white suit, white gloves and his trademark driving cap, the album presents a mix of 11 new songs and stylish remakes of a few Starbuck songs. A native of Greenville, Mississippi, Blackman handles lead vocals, bass and keyboards. Additional vocalists are Mike Brookshire, Mike Jones, David Powell, Tim Tice, daughter Sarah Blackman, Sandra Chalmers, Meeko, Lina Kiwar-Michaelides, Donna Rhodes and Cheryl Wilson. Sharing bass duties with Blackman are Larry Cianelli and Alison Prestwood. On drums are Cianelli, Ed Massey and Scott Meeder. Guitarists are Brookshire, Mac McInally, Tommy Strain, Robert Taylor and Glen Wood. Horns are by Ben McCoy, Mart Avant and Chris Gordon. Additional keyboards are by Steve Ferguson and Steve Nathan. On saxophones are Steve Black and Jay Scott. Other musicians are Wayne Mosley, steel guitar; Robert Taylor and Glen Pace, violin; Mary Sims Alms, viola; and Elizabeth Wasson, cello.

“The Big Hurt” is one of the bossa nova arrangements. Accented by strings and a Stan Getz-like tenor sax, this pop hit Toni Fisher has been covered by several jazz artists, among others. Blackman takes it a step further, adding a touch of samba.

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Marion Meadows – Soul Traveler

Marion Meadows is surrounded by an aura of mystery. His style is unmistakable and distinguishes him from other saxophonists of his profession. After Whisper (2013) is Soul Traveler (2015) his second album for Shanachie Entertainment.

The album is co-produced by Marion’s long time collaborator Carlo Panisi, who also produced Marion’s album, Whisper. The album is featuring guest performances by Najee, Joey Sommerville, Vincent Ingala, Elan Trotman, Ragan Whiteside, Chip Shearin, Will Gaines, Mel Brown, Lamar Gaines, and more.

Starter of the album is the exotic Celebration Road featuring Najee on magical flute. The song is picturesquely, atmospheric and invites you to dream. On Magic Men Meadows shares the sax play with Elan Trotman. While Meadows takes the smooth part, Elan is responsible for the energetic overdub and a solo excursion.

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