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Music Reviews

Mike Cottone

Mike Cottone

Thank You

Trumpeter/composer Mike Cottone is back on the scene with a brand new album titled Thank You. The release features twelve songs, and each track has something unique to offer. The album explores a wide range of music style, ranging from jazz to funk and fusion. Cottone is a skilled trumpet player, who brings a lot of passion and expressiveness to his sound. The opening track, “Funky Sam” is actually a perfect taste of his vision. The track features funk-inspired bass lines and sophisticated drum patterns, adding to the charm and character of this release.

“I’m Not the Only One” is definitely another highlight on this record. The intro features a classic electric piano sound, a bit distorted and compressed, reminiscent of some of the best performers of the ’60s. The percussive backdrop is minimalist, yet it definitely hits the mark, accompanying his lead melodies to perfection. This song has a bit of a nostalgic vibe, but it’s also positive and inspiring.

“The Way It Is” is another stand-out moment in my opinion. The song kicks off with a sparse drum introduction, and it later develops into a very hypnotic arrangement with somewhat of an experimental feel. Influences as diverse as math rock and fusion creep in, echoing the work of composers such as Sam Prekop, only to mention one. There is also room for a rendition of a classic, as Cottone and his band gave their own spin to the famed “Killing Me Softly” tune, this time giving the track a special ’70s feel, with a bit of a progressive jazz edge.

Ultimately, what makes Thank You special is the fact that this is a direct yet open-ended album, which seamlessly embraces a huge variety of creative influences to perfection. There is always room for more ideas and unique creative vibes, with Cottone providing some outstanding melodies and harmonies whether he goes for a more classic feel or for something more outlandish and one-of-a-kind.

www.mikecottone.com

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Music Reviews

Rhonda Head

Rhonda Head

Played

One of the first things that you might notice about this single is the fact that it has a very minimalist arrangement, based on few, very powerful elements. The song begins with a beautiful rhythm pattern on the acoustic guitar, going for a staccato feel, that later matches perfectly with the subtle drum tracks. Rhonda Head’s vocals are intimate and direct. If you listen to this song with a good pair of headphones, it almost feels like the singer is gently whispering into your ear. There is an intimate quality to her vocal sound, and she feels present, yet extremely soothing and down-to-earth. Her lyrics are personal and dynamic, and the song is about deceit in relationships, the aftermath of being in a relationship with someone who is not entirely truthful with you.

Although the experience can be painful, this song has a positive message. Head states that “being played isn’t fun for anyone,” but she also reminds her audience that life goes on, and there are going to be many other opportunities along the way to find through love, and people who are worth the wait and the while. This is a very honest track and it has a diverse approach to production as well. The sound of this effort is remarkably personal and intimate, and one of its biggest strong points is definitely the inner simplicity of the arrangement. In other words, this tune proves that you do not need extensive studio trickery in order to really make the most out of your sound, and it stands out as a great example of “less is more.”

Head combines her stunning vocal performance with a one-of-a-kind sound, which appears soulful and mellow, with a distinctive touch and with so much to offer in terms of musical storytelling as well. Head’s excellent vocals are special. They are extremely beautiful and nuanced, going for a sultry, yet dynamic and catchy approach. Her music is jazz at its core, but her vocals showcase a lot of versatility, with hints of blues and R&B at play as well.

rhondahead.com

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Music Reviews

Maurizio Grondona Group

Maurizio Grondona Group

Looking at the Sea

Italy-based master guitarist Maurizio Grondona and his band recently released a new EP that will provide compelling entertainment in these quarantined days. The record is named Looking at the Sea, and it is another exciting chapter in Grondona’s story and excellent portfolio. The combo’s music is characterized by a distinctive approach that blurs the lines between jazz and soul, and their sound is highly refined and impeccable in every little detail. Composer Grondona is a true king of his craft and he never stops looking outwards in order to fully search out new directions and ideas to expand his music.

From traditional jazz to funk, soul, and even rap, anything goes. This EP embodies the group’s fusion style and it is consistently impressive in terms of excellent production and soundscaping. Throughout the span of six tracks, Grondona manages to pay tribute to some of his influences, but in a subtle and personal way, absolutely non-derivative. The first song on the EP, “D.Brown” sets the mood right with some incredible melodies and haunting textures. The title track is utterly beautiful: “Looking at the Sea” is one of the best moments on this record and it offers a glimpse at his versatility as a composer and performer alike. The third song on this release is titled “Flying Penguin.” The creativity of this song matches its whimsical title and the track is one of the EP’s most memorable pieces! Later, the music goes on with “Optimistic,” a cut that lives up to its name with some good vibes (something we desperately need in these difficult times!). “Say Goodbye” is an amazing conclusion to a very organic effort, where the music flows naturally, from the artist to the audience. This is a great taste of his creative progression through the years and an indication of his incredible talent as a composer and artist.

mauriziogrondona.wordpress.com

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Music Reviews

Christopher Linman

Christopher Linman

This Is Me

Singer Christopher Linman recently brought a new album to life, This Is Me, and it’s a wonderful piece from beginning to end.

As the title of this lovingly crafted studio LP might suggest, this work is actually a perfect introduction to the sound and feel of Linman’s music. It dives deeper into his love for jazz, and into his ability to offer some exciting and insightful vocal performances. The beauty of this album, in terms of style and attitude, is that the songs are incredibly easy to relate to. They offer a substantial degree of ambiance, tipping the hat off to the best artists in the genre, but also exploring the classic sounds of jazz under the artist’s own scope and mindset. Linman has a highly distinctive voice, which is indeed one the album’s most engaging “selling points.” He can sound up-close and personal, but also fiercely imposing, soaring over the music with his higher notes, while never sounding too harsh or overpowering. As they say, balance is key, and this is definitely a perfect way to describe this record.

The songs are also well-produced, giving the listeners a more spontaneous feel, which highlights the natural dynamics of Linman’s gorgeously soulful voice. The sound of the instrumentals is tasteful and classy, definitely leaving enough room for the vocals to breathe and unfold gently. This Is Me is a powerful calling card for Linman, who wants to take the opportunity and give his absolute best to every single track featured on this album. From start to finish, there is a consistent mood which enhances the flow of the music, track after track.

If you like jazz with a particular regard for the classics of the genre, you will enjoy Linman’s work and his own take on this timeless music, which has inspired and keeps inspiring many generations of musicians and music lovers looking for tunes that give a fuller range of expression and creativity without the limitations of other genres.

christopherlinman.com

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Music Reviews

Juana Luna

Juana Luna

Ocean Avenue

Juana Luna recently released a brand new album, Ocean Avenue. This release features some exciting textures and unique production aesthetics, giving way to an exciting combination of Latin grooves and bolero elegance. One of the first things you might notice about this record is certainly the personality, charisma, and beauty in Luna’s vocals. She has a sultry and charming tone, which suits the Latin aesthetics of these composition to perfection. Her voice is extremely versatile and she showcases a remarkable ability to adapt her register and dynamics to different situations and atmospheres.

This LP features nine songs, for a little over 30 minutes worth of music. As hinted by the fantastic artwork image, this collection of tracks is almost like a musical voyage, where different ideas and influences collide beautifully in order to create something that’s truly memorable. There is also room for many stunningly talented collaborators, adding a special touch to the various songs on the record. The first track, “Otra Vez,” sounds like a perfect introduction to what could be consider the aesthetic concept of this release. The audience is immediately presented with a sound that feels natural and dynamic, creating a one-of-a-kind contrast between the soothing qualities of Luna’s vocals, and the instrumental mastery of the musicians who joined these fruitful sessions. This is undoubtedly one of the most memorable songs on the album.

The rhythm tracks are colorful and dynamic, making for a truly strong carpet of sounds and textures for the melodies and the singing to unfold. In much the same way, “Y Para Colmo” feels like a true feast of colors and creativity, setting the bar even higher. “Un Amor Cansado” stands out as one of the album’s most memorable vocal performances by Luna, and she deserves all the praise she is getting for her spontaneous and authentic work. The closing number “Veraneio,” is a highly satisfying conclusion for this record, and it definitely stand outs as fitting curtain closer for this masterfully executed LP. I would definitely recommend Ocean Avenue to any fan of Latin music, but also to anyone who enjoys jazz, fusion, and other styles deeply relying on groove and melody as a way to create expressive and outstanding tunes.

www.juanaluna.com

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Music Reviews

Callie Cardamon

Callie Cardamon

Jump for Joy

Primavera Records

The new album from Los Angeles-based jazz vocalist Callie Cardamon has a smooth and distinctive sound. Jump for Joy really hits the mark, with an excellent approach to production. The record kicks off with the bright and melodic title cut, which stands out as one of the most iconic and memorable tracks on this release. A good start, but followed by an even better number, “Summertime,” an absolute classic, which seems like a natural progression, adding a different pace to this set list.

In addition to that, the LP unfolds with such standards like “On the Street Where You Live” and “Peel Me a Grape,” two of the most beautiful tracks on the album. What I particularly love about them is definitely the fact that they feel so spontaneous and shine a light on Cardamon’s vibrant personality as an artist and singer. The record is full of gems and amazing songs stretching out towards different directions. Each track is a fantastic opportunity for Cardamon to express herself and showcase her vocal versatility. From the aforementioned opener to the stunning conclusive number, “Why Try to Change Me Now,” anything goes. Ultimately, I would recommend listening to this beautiful LP if you are a fan of genres as diverse as jazz and easy listening.

Cardamon managed to wrap up a fantastic record characterized by her classy performances and velvety sound that feels absolutely timeless. If you like solid jazz chops with a classic feel and sultry vocal delivery, then you are going to enjoy the songs that are featured on Jump for Joy. This is an album that takes chances, but it is also not afraid to settle into something more familiar when the situation calls for it indeed. In terms of production, the quality of these recordings is absolutely astonishing, allowing Cardamon to blend in perfectly with the instruments. The tunes are balanced and lively, turning into an expertly crafted effort where every song is balanced to perfection.

calliecardamon.com

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Interviews

George Mitchell

George Mitchell

There are a number of artists who attempt at resurrecting the Golden Age of ’70s funk and understandably so. That music is both rooted in its period but timeless as well. However, it takes a tremendous amount of talent, imagination, and a killer instinct for a hot groove to pull off. Producer/writer George Mitchell has the right ingredients when serving Fishbelly Black to the populace. Fishbelly Black’s latest album, Turn It Up, weaves together soul, R&B, and a sleek undertow of jazz – often lost in today’s makeovers – to travel back to funk’s early ’70s heyday but also inject it with contemporary hip-hop inspirations.

Q: What are the personal challenges you have gone through as a musician, and how did you overcome them?

A: I think the greatest challenge has been to accept the talents I do have. I have known some of the most amazing musicians that you will never know. Yet, I have been able to tour, get record deals, put out albums, produce a bunch of albums, etc. So there must be more to this business than just being the best guitar player out there?

Q: How did Fishbelly Black originate and how has it evolved?

A: Fishbelly Black was a studio project of mine – a made-up group. To be a record company you need product so while my artists were working on material, I was also releasing product under different names. When the first single “Spontaneous Combustion” started to take off in the U.K., I was getting offers for the band to perform – except there was no band – just me in the studio. I was even getting offers to DJ at clubs in London – and I am not a DJ. After I finished up the first CD, I decided to accept the tour offer and I put together a group of players and we toured the U.K. and then Europe. After one night at the Jazz Cafe turned into a week at Ronnie Scott’s, we caught the attention of BMG, who signed the group. But as occurs too often, there was a shakeup at the label and the CD was shelved for about eight months and I sued to get the rights back. Since then, I have released Fishbelly Black material under my label, Backbeat Records.

Q: In terms of musical style, where do you see fitting? It can be more than one.

A: I originally described the sound as “Maceo Parker and Jimmy Smith meet hip-hop breaks and beats.” At the time, it was categorized as “acid jazz” . Then that became “street jazz” and then “soul jazz.” It was tough in the U.S. because “smooth jazz” was the only format pushing anything that wasn’t straight ahead jazz, but I never really connected with a Fishbelly Black record following a Kenny G. record on the radio so even that was a tough slot to fit into. Luckily, the internet has allowed for much more varied playlists but I still find it hard to put the Fishbelly Black sound in a specific category.

Q: What was the first slice of music that ignited your imagination?

A: I could put on a Beatles record today and still know every lyric and guitar part. I was always drawn to a good melody and loved harmonies. For some reason I was never really into whatever was contemporary at the time. Whether the Beatles or James Brown, I always seemed to look back for my inspiration.

Q: Tell me your artistic influences and how they affected you. What did you learn from them?

A: I was always drawn to music that had a rebellious side. Whether it was punk music or hip-hop, I was into artists that could capture their defiance on vinyl. I was also drawn to artists that had their own sound, especially guitar players. It takes two notes for me to identify that Jeff Beck or David Gilmore is playing. It is that kind of identity that I wanted to bring to a Fishbelly Black record.

Q: Can you describe how you have evolved creatively throughout the years?

A: I try not to be dismissive of anything I hear. I just say to myself, “it’s not my time to hear it.” I hated disco, but now I can listen to a KC and the Sunshine Band record and totally appreciate the funky groove and arrangements. How did I miss that the first time around? Having a studio in a laptop has ignited the biggest creative advance for me. I used to run to a portable cassette deck when I wanted to capture an idea. Now I feel like I have the equivalent of Abbey Road Studios at my disposal. As a producer, I am more in tune to the sounds, the arrangement, the feel of a recording. I grew up drawn to incredible songs, so the recording quality was never the priority. Now there are more crappy songs that sound amazing.

Q: Do you feel being a musician is a job or a hobby? Or both. Please explain.

A: I would say neither. It’s something your just born to do. It’s a passion. Whether I was getting paid or not, music is something I would always have done. The challenge is to be able to get paid with few compromises. I know some incredible musicians working in wedding bands. I think I would prefer to sell my soul doing a regular 9-5. With that said, I have always treated it like a job. I’m not one to sit on the beach waiting for inspiration. I sit at the piano at 8 a.m. and say I can take a break when I write something.

backbeatrecords.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Mauricio De Souza’s Bossa Brasil

Mauricio De Souza’s Bossa Brasil

Five Roads

Mauricio De Souza’s Bossa Brasil is an exciting Latin jazz outfit with a unique feel. What makes the combo’s music stand out is their ability to set the bar higher with a distinctive array of influences, while at the same time allowing their flow to feel smooth and easy to relate to.

Recently, De Souza set out to release a fantastic new studio effort. With elements of funk, jazz, world, and fusion, the band managed to create a true behemoth of different sounds and ideas. The drumming in particular has a lot of character. The rhythmic patterns are extremely nuanced, displaying plenty of finesse and a very skillful approach to composition. The drums here aren’t merely giving the songs a beat, but rather enhancing the instrumentals and propelling the melodies to different directions. Each piece of this sonic puzzle seems to intersect to perfection, making for a beautiful and cohesive studio work. If you are a fan of recorded jazz fusion that has a timeless warmth and feel to it, this one is going to be what you need in your collection.

www.mauriciodesouzajazz.com

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Music Reviews

Silje Torsøe

Silje Torsøe

Closer

The silky smoothness of Jill Scott has echoes in “Closer,” the lush new single from Norwegian singer/composer Silje Torsøe.

Torsøe has a magnificent voice; it is absolutely pretty from first listen and its attractiveness deepens with succeeding spins. She weaves a spell that swirls with the radiant melodies of the song. Many young female artists adopt a soulful range but Torsøe succeeds where a number of them don’t generate enough heat because of the passion in her vocals. It isn’t just about technique; it’s feel. And Torsøe caresses the ears and heart with the sweetness of her tone. She is hypnotic.

Bassist and producer Anders Mossberg delivers the right amount of funk to solidify the song’s engaging beat. He doesn’t overdo it, letting his instrument provide extra muscle that doesn’t drown the light touch of Torsøe’s fragile singing. Frøydis Grorud’s steamy sax adds heat to an already romantic atmosphere. Torsøe balances her jazz and pop influences with tastefulness and grace; she shines throughout the track, hinting at a bright future ahead.

www.siljetorsoe.no

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Music Reviews

The Blue-Hots

The Blue-Hots

Collection Four: Moonshots (2016 -2018)

Hailing from Pittsburgh, the Blue-Hots is a group who exudes modern jazz through a beautiful blend of swing, blues, and boogie-woogie, which are reminiscent of the pre-1960s era. Their new album is adorned with sophisticated lyrics and a high degree of musicality.

“Two Cents” is a good album starter, as the track has catchy lyrics, a lively melody, and the energy to put you in the mood for some quality jazz. “The Boy Loves You” is the sixth song in the record which continues to invigorate your senses through the song’s harmonious blend of powerful voices. This LP continues to be an ear candy to its listeners up until the last track, “What Will It Take.” This song is something that will play over and over again.

Overall, the Blue-Hots are able to produce a collection which definitely celebrates love and life. The group was able to do an excellent job in combining vintage jazz with this generation’s musical techniques. This goes to show that with the right hands, any type of music can be blended and fused together to create a unique sound that is new to the ear but can be familiar and relatable at the same time. I personally recommend this for new and classic jazz listeners. One can never go wrong with something that is versatile and artistic.

www.theblue-hots.com