Music Reviews

Julien Hucq

Julien Hucq

Light Blue

Early Bird Records

The brilliant saxophonist Julien Hucq recently came out with a brand new studio album, Light Blue. This record highlights Hucq’s passion for jazz music, as well as his ability for combining technical excellence with spontaneous and creative performances. The 2019 studio effort features six cuts, each setting the bar higher in terms of genre definitions and contact details.

The artist’s music is incredibly diverse, and what’s special is that he showcases the best combination of technical skills and emotional performances. The album’s opening track, “Mudd’s Mode,” is actually a perfect example of what I am talking about. The composition has a direct flow, allowing these musicians to express themselves fully and without boundaries. The second track on this release, “Light,” is all about keeping the mood soft and smooth. The sound of the brushed drum kit is absolutely astonishing, keeping a dynamic sound with plenty of nuances. The bass is just as rich, giving the lead instruments a perfect rhythmic backdrop. “This One Is for Us” is a fun and upbeat cut that showcases the band’s verve. It’s a fast-paced number with a melodic vibe and cool combination of classic influences and more personal ideas. “Here’s That Rainy Day” features a distinctive introduction, and it delves into a melancholic arrangement with a slower tempo, perfectly leading into the title track, which is arguably one of the highlights on this particular release, showcasing the band’s ability to create some incredibly effective harmony parts. Finally, “X” marks the perfect curtain closer, going for an ending with a bang.

If you like seminal jazz albums such as A Love Supreme (John Coltrane) or Kind of Blue (Miles Davis), this one is definitely going to be something worth looking into. This music traces the steps of the best jazz, giving it an insightful personal spin that highlights the sensibility of these performers.


Violinist Gregory Harrington

Violinist Gregory Harrington

Q: What attracted you to playing the violin?

A: I loved how expressive and nuanced the sound was and there was a warmth to the sound that I still remember. When I hear the violin now, there there can be real storytelling through music so that is what I feel attracted me subconsciously to it as a youngster. If you look at the most successful musicians all over the world, no matter what instrument, voice, or genre – the common thread in those that artistically stand above the others is that they can shape music with such an incredibly beautiful organic sense of musical storytelling. Thats the magic! So between that and the love imparted to me for music from mum and dad – that is how it all evolved.

Q: Did you study music in school?

A: I did, every weekend and midweek! I studied with my teacher Kevin Kiely from the age of 4 until I was 18 in the Royal Irish Academy of Music. I remember when I was 12 and I told him I want to play the Beethoven Violin Concerto (which is the pinnacle of every classical violinists achievement) and he asked me if I would like to play this in my living room for the rest of my life or in a concert hall? I replied that if I could play it in the concert hall then I would surely be able to play it in my living room and that’s when I really realized that’s what I wanted to do.

Q: How did you select the variety of covers on your new album Without You?

A: Without You is a beautiful album of 11 standards and love songs re-imagined for violin and it’s dedicated to my dad who is the inspiration behind a lot of my musical choices. It’s that Miles Davis sound of jazz quartet with violin as a lead instrument along with Simon Mulligan (piano), Leon Boykins (bass), Matt Scarano (drums). I also have Eleanor Norton (cello) and Ric Molina (bass) for various pieces. You have everything from classic pop to jazz standards – from Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” to U2’s “With or Without You” and incredible standards from “Summertime” , “The Nearness of You” to “When I Fall in Love” and “Caruso” and the ever familiar and haunting South American “Oblivion” by Astor Piazzolla. I started out with a list about 30 songs and recorded about 18 of which 11 of those made the final cut. It is such a great album with so much variety and I was inspired by the sounds of Miles Davis and other greats like Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, and Stan Getz. All sounds that Dad loved when he was growing up. There is something in there for everyone!

Q: What are the earliest memories of music you can recall?

A: It goes back to when I was really very young and I was at the RDS Horseshow in Dublin, Ireland with my mum. It was an international jumping equestrian event and performing one afternoon there happened to be a string quartet. I remember hearing the sound of the violin and I was so very drawn to it. There was just something with that sound that has remained with me ever since actually. So when I heard it, I just tugged on her arm, pointed to the violin and told her I wanted to play “that”! I was 4 years old at the time. The very next day, she went in and bought me a tiny violin and I started lessons a month later.

Q: Do you recall a strong musical community in and around where you grow up, which is where, actually?

A: I grew up in Dublin, Ireland and wouldn’t say that there was a huge presence in my community per se, but I did feel it at home and as I spent my Wednesdays and Saturdays at the Royal Irish Academy of Music in Dublin, so that was a wonderful influence on me to be surrounded by music.

Q: Are there any artists who influenced you to change your approach to music and how?

A: I think the first one to change my approach along my current lines of where I am now was Chris Botti – he is an incredible trumpeter but his ability to put on a show in fantastic – so much energy! It is musicianship at its highest and pure entertainment. I think his performances allowed me to rethink how to approach concertizing and touring. From a purely violin point of view, I had the wonderful fortune of studying with one of the great violin virtuosos of our time in Erick Friedman, and he was taught by arguably the greatest violinist that has ever lived – Jascha Heifetz. So no matter what genre I play, the core ideas of sound production and violin playing stays with me so that I can express and say whatever I feel with the violin.

Q: Which artist moves you the most?

A: This a really hard one because there are so many incredible musicians out there. And they all have an ability to move me through incredible storytelling. Maybe the best way to answer that is by saying that any artist that creates a little bit of magic onstage is capable of moving anyone!

Photo: Gus Hobbs

Music Reviews

The Sleep Eazys featuring Joe Bonamassa

The Sleep Eazys featuring Joe Bonamassa

Easy to Buy, Hard To Sell

J&R Adventures

One of the things I admire the most about Joe Bonamassa is his continuous ability to reinvent himself. With his latest project, The Sleep Eazys, Bonamassa pays homage to his good friend and one of his biggest influences, the late Danny Gatton. My time hanging out and jamming with Danny as a child shaped my playing and musical pathway more than just about anyone. He taught me that the world of music was stereo not mono like I had previously imagined. There was other music besides blues. Wow! What a revelation! I was 11 years old and I knew I needed to get to work. He was my conduit to Jazz, Rockabilly, real country music (remember when it was about something more than riding with girls in pickup trucks and binge drinking?), Django Reinhardt, and most of all a deeper understanding of what the guitar itself was capable of.

The self-produced, nine-song instrumental cover album had been lurking in the recesses of Bonamassa’s mind for some time, but it was only recently that he felt he was ready to accept the challenge. He also honors many of his favorite musicians as well and some of his choices may come as a surprise. These eclectic selections receive fresh Bonamaster makeovers and hopefully introduce a new generation to some timeless classics. Bonamassa is backed by members of his touring band including Michael Rhodes (bass), Anton Fig (drums), Reese Wynans (keys), Lee Thornburg (trumpet), Paulie Cerra (saxophone), and Jade MacRae/Juanita Tippins (backing vocals) plus multi-instrumentalist, John Jorgenson (guitar/saxophone) and Jimmy Hall (Wet Willie, Jeff Beck) on harmonica.

Opening the record with a jazz-infused, big band take on Gatton’s “Fun House,” the combination of Wynans’ wailing keys, Jorgenson’s ultra smooth sax solo and Bonamassa’s tasty licks are a winning combination. Gatton’s funkier original boasted a blues edge and a distinctive “In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed” (Dickey Betts/Allman Brothers Band) guitar riff, but Bonamassa doesn’t include that here.

Influenced by the Hank Garland version (as opposed to the better known Miles Davis gem) of “Move” (Denzil Best/Paul Walsh), the song features keys, guitar and drum solos as well as prominent vibraphone.

Link Wray’s surfer rock romper, “Ace of Spades” gets a slicker, more polished update than the stripped-down original with some silky slide from Bonamassa. Wynans proves yet again why he is a keys master. As a side note, Fig was Wray’s drummer in the ’80s.

“Ha So” from country guitarist Jimmy Bryant, a Django Reinhardt disciple, also gets a modern surfer spin as Jorgenson and Bonamassa each take a guitar solo, respectively.

One of the real highlights is “Hawaiian Eye” (Mack David/Jerry Livingston), a cheesy early ’60s TV theme song that Bonamassa spices up into a fast-paced, guitar-driven stunner with great closing horns.

This never happened to the other fellow – “Bond (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service),” John Barry’s sweeping instrumental that opens the 1969 James Bond film gets a modern makeover and as it progresses, it feels like it easily could fit into a Trans-Siberian Orchestra catalog. Jorgenson’s screaming guitar solo is brilliant.

Who doesn’t love a revved-up, rocked out instrumental interpretation of Tony Joe White’s “Polk Salad Annie,” especially when it includes blues harp from Jimmy Hall? Bonamassa reshapes the slower swamp rock original into a fast, fierce romper, peppered with horns, keys and backing notes from MacRae and Tippins.

Bonamassa has a true knack for sequencing. He rounds out the record with a one-two slow burner combo, “Blue Nocturne” (King Curtis) and “It Was A Very Good Year” (Ervin Drake). Both are simply stunning. While this album has an instrumental version of “It Was A Very Good Year” and the original was recorded by The Kingston Trio, it was Frank Sinatra who absolutely owned this song and clearly inspired Bonamassa. The Sinatra version also won two Grammys.

There’s nothing about this record that I don’t love. It’s more than just a bunch of covers. It’s a loving, respectful tribute to influential musicians who helped pave the way and shape the musical genius of Joe Bonamassa. It’s a joy from start to finish and it’s a record to play over and over again.

Music Reviews

The Reverend Shawn Amos and The Brotherhood

The Reverend Shawn Amos and The Brotherhood

Blue Sky

Put Together Music

Miles Davis once said “It’s not about standing still and becoming safe. If anybody wants to keep creating they have to be about change”. Shawn Amos seems to hold that sentiment in high regard because each consecutive album is a new direction, while still being the reason you listen to his music. It’s not a sound you can put into any one style or genre and that, is what makes Blue Sky and the work with The Brotherhood so exciting.

I spoke with Shawn in late 2019 to talk about the album and who he brought with him for this one. Shawn says the album was a very collaborative effort and he told the guys “if were doing an album were going on the road together…there’s a subtext to it. You can pay a player to read a chart and learn a tune and it will be amazing but, if someone has skin in the game and there’s a personal relationship and not just a paycheck, it’s a different thing.” That collaborative effort, and oneness, comes through in not only how tight the album sounds, but also in the wide range of musical styles presented.

The album opens with the airy, laid back, “Stranger Than Today” that’s filled with interesting imagery and infectious vocal lines. “Troubled Man” adds Ruthie Foster to the vocals and has a tasty mix of simple, yet edgy guitar leading it through the paces. Shawn and the Brotherhood created an album full of interesting songs that ebb and flow and “Troubled Man”, probably my favorite of the album, captured the essence of all those moving pieces in one song.

“Counting Down the Days” is another catchy tune that showcases some of the Texas boogie that subtly permeates the entire album, but, as I said before, you cannot back this album into a proverbial genre corner. Each track slides around a corner onto the next unique piece of music like “Albion Blues” with sultry, slow blues groove while “Keep the Faith, Have some Fun” leans on some New Orleans flavored roots. It’s a great way of ending the album and lets you walk away on a high note and feeling like you did “have some fun”.

The main brotherhood, outside of Shawn on vocals and harmonica, is drummer Bradley Blade, Christopher Thomas on bass, and Chris “Doctor” Roberts playing guitar. The Sisterhood is Piper Amos, Ruthie Foster, Sharlotte Gibson, and Kenya Hathaway. This album has a ton of friends of the brotherhood as well including Jamelle Adisa, Marc Bolin, Mike Cottone, Matthew DeMerritt, Tim Ganard, Matt Hubbard, Hammond John Montgomery, Ben Peeler, James Saez, Johann Stein, and Dan Weinstein. The album was produced and mixed by James Saez at Blue Rock Studios in Texas with additional recording and mixing at The Audio Labs in Las Angeles.

The 10 tracks on Blue Sky come off with an amazing energy while maintaining the singer songwriter roots that you expect from Shawn Amos. It’s a beautiful piece of work that will excite fans who have been with him for a while and also grab new fans through these songs. Blue Sky is available at all online retailers as well as, which has both vinyl and CD options available.

Music Reviews

Sonny Landreth

Sonny Landreth

Black Top Run

Provogue/Mascot Label Group

Slide guitar master and Louisiana Cajun bluesman Sonny Landreth’s latest release, Black Top Run, is a prime example of musicianship at its finest. Landreth’s understated, fluent fretwork combined with his subtle ability to captivate a listener has ranked him among some of his peers as one of the greatest living guitar players. He has performed at five of Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festivals, and Clapton himself stated that Landreth is “probably the most underestimated musician on the planet and is probably one of the most advanced.” Dubbed “the King of Slydeco” and inspired by such varied artists as Robert Johnson, Elmore James, Mississippi John Hurt, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Scotty Moore, Wes Montgomery, Chet Atkins, Mike Bloomfield, B.B. King, Jimi Hendrix, and most profoundly, Clifton Chenier, Landreth proceeded to take these influences and generate his own unique style of tasteful swamp blues. Co-produced by Landreth, Tony Daigle and R.S. Field, the ten-song record (including four instrumentals) features eight tracks penned by Landreth and two by Steve Conn, who also plays keys on the album. Additional musicians include David Ranson on bass, Brian Brignac on drums/percussion and Mike Burch handling drums on one track.

The title track kicks off the record and Landreth’s simmering guitar immediately places you out on the open road along for the ride.

I’m headed down the road between all I left/and whatever comes next I’m headed down the road/On a blacktop run into the sun

Following the opener with the groovy, drum-driven instrumental, “Lover Dance With Me,” you can really hear the Mark Knopfler influence in Landreth’s graceful guitar work, the two having collaborated in the past.

With gritty slide, prominent accordion and country leanings, “Mule” is a fun, upbeat track about two stubborn people in a relationship, while the ultra bluesy “Groovy Goddess” is a song I could hear Joe Bonamassa tackle with Reese Wynans on keys. Conn’s keyboard work is the ultimate complement to Landreth’s heavy blues riffs and the combination is just spectacular. This is a real highlight and classic blues fans will dig it for sure.

Switching gears in just the right spot with the darker breakup song, “Somebody Gotta Make A Move” (one of the two tracks written by Conn), Landreth adds another dimension to his sound. He dives right back in, however, with the hard-driving rocker, “Beyond Borders,” another instrumental with a progressive late ’60s/early ’70s vibe.

“Don’t Ask Me” (the other Conn composition) offers a winning combo of swampy Bayou and delta blues with heavy accordion and pristine slide. Landreth takes you right to the edge of the river he is singing about in this catchy song.

“The Wilds of Wonder” is another blues rocker with an environmental commentary, while the instrumental “Many Worlds” has an ethereal, Eric Johnson quality to it – Johnson being another guitarist with whom Landreth has worked.

Wrapping up with “Something Grand,” a totally understated song of contrition with beautiful guitar and poignant lyrics, Landreth chooses the perfect closer. He is simply asking for forgiveness. Let a tender mercy become something grand. It is a powerful song with an even more powerful message. The subtle fade-out at the end is vintage Landreth – nothing over the top, just the end.

Sonny Landreth is the guitarist that most every player on the planet can only aspire to become. This record is some of his best work to date as he proves that he can reinvent himself, yet again, and a record just doesn’t get much better than this. At a time when we all can use some inspirational music, I highly recommend this record. It will take you to your place of peace. I guarantee it.


Juewett Bostick

Juewett Bostick

Q: You recently won a Los Angeles Black Music & Film award. Can you tell us more about what it is and how you feel about such an achievement?

A: The award I won was Best Jazz Musician by Los Angeles Black Music & Film. This is an organization that recognizes and awards independent musicians, actors, singers and other talent in the Los Angeles entertainment community. I had nominations in three categories, Best Jazz Artist, Best New Song, and Best Producer. I was honored for the recognition and wanted all the musicians, singers, engineers and designers that worked on the project to share the accolades. We all worked hard getting the project to market in line with the vision.

Q: How did you become interested in playing the guitar?

A: Growing up in the early ’60s you had Motown taking command of the radio and TV airwaves then the British invasion providing more saturation and exposure to music and especially guitar. Along with that I had close friends that were active professionally in music. For me the tipping point came when a local radio station; KDIA, did their weekly Friday night live broadcast and introduced their audience to Hendrix’s Band of Gypsies. I was hooked.

Q: What is it about the guitar that electrifies you the most?

A: It’s a sonic paintbrush for creation. It’s a key to unlock Pandora’s box. It’s a passage to another world, It’s intimate and personal and it can go anywhere with you. And you can do it with style!

Q: How would you describe your early days with the guitar – were you slow to learn or did you evolve quickly?

A: It was a scramble to get as much musical knowhow and experience in my head and under my fingers as fast as possible. I felt I was a late starter and wanted to catch up to my friends that had been playing for 10 years when I just started. My goal was to treat learning the instrument like a job so I would practice 8 hours a day. I maintained that routine for a number of years and continue a strict practice routine to this day.

Q: What kind of education did you have in learning how to play the guitar?

A: My mother paid for private lessons and immediate friends provided a musical ecosystem for my early direction. I relocated to Los Angeles in the early ’70s to study with a jazz guitarist, Larry White, who also moved to Los Angeles from the Bay Area. I immersed myself into everything musical to shape my professional career. That included the music program at Los Angeles City College, private lessons and a free weekend jazz band organized by a local music store, Grants Music Center. Grants Music Center had the biggest influence on my professional careen in Los Angeles.

Q: What were the most difficult challenges you faced as a musician and how did you overcome them?

A: How to create a stable lifestyle from a constantly changing and unstable business. There is no blueprint, no instruction guide that tells you what to do! You have to figure this out yourself! What worked for others may not be your solution. Not to be judgmental by comparing myself to others. It can be hours, days, months or years of trial and error before you shift gears and reach the next plateau. Ones career is a continual work in progress. I think of challenges I need to encourage my continued growth. How I can work smarter. These ideas and more are continually sloshing around in my head. I keep an eye on up and coming trends and emerging ideas and find ways to integrate them.

Q: What would you say have been the biggest highlights of your career?

A: I think the highlight is that I’m still working and have a great ecosystem of musicians, artists, and other creative resources to draw upon to continue creating great work. I still have passion for what I do and I’m honored I’m able to provide a creative ecosystem for passionate musicians, singers, designers, artists and others to contribute their talent.

Q: What advice would you give to somebody just starting out as a musician?

A: As the business is today you have to do this for the love of the art. The financial rewards may be illusive. Money should not be the sole driving force motivating your creative career.

Q: Your new album, Shades of Blu, is extraordinary. What are the origins of the record?

A: I thought long and hard planning and conceptualizing the project. My objective was to have the music be organic, performed live with all the human benefits. My first criteria was the music had to resonate with a wide segment of the market. I felt drawing upon tunes with a bluesy foundation from the early Blue Note era provided great material and has not being commercially exploited. I choose tunes with strong melodies that I could reconstruct for a 21st century consumer and not destroy the original composition. If I were to draw a comparison to other musicians, I would say “Shades of Blu” is a hybrid blend of Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue and Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland. I worked very hard for each song to have it’s own personality. Then I placed them in specific order to connect to each other and provide an enjoyable listening experience. This is why I’m an advocate for the physical CD. It provides the experience I want the listener to have.

Q: What was it like to re-imagine the work of a legend such as Thelonious Monk? Did it intimidate you in any way?

A: Not intimidated at all. I was confident in the vision for “Bye-Ya” when I wrote the arrangement. I happened upon Monk’s 2005 release of a lost recording with John Coltrane from Carnegie Hall. “Bye-Ya” struck me as a great Afro-Cuban ‘re-workable’ candidate. I re-imagined the song with lyrics that were complementary to other songs on the project. The “Bye-Ya Tribal Dance” lyric is about recognition and paying respect to the jazz greats whose music serves as the foundation for this project. Since my objective was to treat “Bye-Ya” to an Afro-Cuban make over I wanted a section that would allow the percussionists to be showcased. Hence we have the extended section of “Bye-Ya” that is the original composition ‘Tribal Dance. Bye-Ya and Tribal Dance,” as a complete piece, would legally be a single song, “Bye-Ya” and the property of the Thelonious Monk estate. So on the CD I decided to separate “Bye-Ya” from “Tribal Dance.” Our re-imagining of “Bye-Ya” features Art Webb on flute. During Art’s warm up he was playing the melody to ‘Freedom Jazz Dance’, a challenging piece of music with a melody in intervals of a perfect 4th. This leads the listeners’ ear down a rabbit hole and hides the tonal center. So, we had Art lay down 4 avant-garde tracks that became what I call the ‘harmonic storm’. We dismantled the song’s tonal center so after each occurrence of the harmonic storm the listener is greeted by harmonic purity. We reinforced our harmonic storm with Cal Bennett on tenor sax, soprano sax, and Fred Jackson Jr. on bass clarinet. The segue into “Tribal Dance” features our stacked vocal harmony performed by Kari Taylor. Kari is featured throughout the project on all of our big vocal harmony arrangements. Lastly, percussionist Eric McKaine made everything authentic with his assortment of exotic ethnic percussion. After all of this work we saw an opportunity to exploit “Tribal Dance” in a significant way and give it it’s own life. We extracted it from “Bye-Ya” and set it on its own unique development path. The result is “Tribal Dance (Intro),” which opens the CD. All of the musicians, whose work we included on Shades of Blu, have been treated with great integrity and creative honesty. We wanted to honor their legacy. We believe Monk, Lee Morgan, Hank Mobley and Jimi Hendrix would approve of the vision we have articulated for their music. We want a new generation of music aficionados to enjoy their music in a modern setting without betraying the music’s origins. Shades of Blu is funky, funny, sexy and most of all soulful.

Music Reviews

Big Band of Brothers

Big Band of Brothers

A Jazz Celebration of the Allman Brothers Band

New West Records

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Allman Brothers Band’s self-titled freshman release in 1969, New West Records released this funky, jazz-infused reinvention of classic Allman Brothers Band material back in November, and it’s a masterpiece. While this record may surprise some people, it doesn’t surprise diehard fans. In fact, it’s astounding that it hasn’t happened sooner. Original Allman Brothers Band drummer, Jai “Jaimoe” Johanny Johanson introduced the band to jazz, and Duane Allman himself was heavily influenced by jazz musicians such as Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. He was delving deeper into jazz shortly before his untimely death in 1971. It is likely that if he had lived, the band’s music may have incorporated a heavier jazz turn. Big Band of Brothers has done a masterful job of realizing that jazz vision with each horn-laced track. Brilliantly produced by Mark Lanter, the 10-track record features a myriad of exceptional musicians and special guests.

Introduced with delicate drum and piano jazz flourishes, Blind Willie McTell’s “Statesboro Blues” takes on a fresh sound as it then slithers into Matt Casey’s stellar slide guitar for the iconic opening followed by Wycliffe Gordon’s chunky horn arrangements. The solos are just outstanding including Andy Nevala’s keys work on this cut as well as throughout the entire album. Marc Broussard’s vocals are the icing on the cake as he tackles the quintessential Gregg Allman growl admirably.

Gordon’s soprano trombone and Kelley O’Neal’s alto saxophone are featured on an instrumental “Don’t Want You Know More” that morphs into a spine-tingling “It’s Not My Cross To Bear” with stunning keys from Nevala, crisp horns and Ruthie Foster’s soulful tones takin’ us to church (also later on “Don’t Keep Me Wonderin'”).

“Hot ‘Lanta” has always been one of my favorite ABB songs and I simply love this arrangement from Tom Wolfe. The combination of his blistering electric guitar, the horns and the percussion does the Brothers proud. This is a real highlight.

No ABB tribute record would be complete without “Whipping Post,” and Broussard once again nails the song. This version is monumental from start to finish with a fat horn sound.

Former Allman Brothers Band guitarist, Jack Pearson (1997-1999) lends his pristine slide work to an instrumental version of “Stand Back.” For my money, there is no one on the planet who comes anywhere as close to Duane Allman’s style as Pearson. I only wish he had appeared on more tracks.

Chad Fisher’s trombone deftly replaces Gregg Allman’s voice on “Dreams” in this instrumental version. While I enjoyed the horns, I found the repetitive piano note two-thirds in to be somewhat jarring. I really love “Dreams” but this one didn’t quite work for me. It felt as if the lack of vocal removed the intensity of the song.

Dickey Betts’ two instrumentals, “In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed” and “Les Brers In A Minor,” lend themselves perfectly to jazz reinterpretations and both tracks truly shine.

There is no greater musical honor than reshaping a band’s music into another genre, and doing it so successfully. It just goes to prove how innovative the early Allman Brothers Band material really was and still is, as 50 years later it takes on this fresh, enticing sound. This aural sensation is a must-have for every jazz or Allman Brothers Band enthusiast. After just one listen, it will hook you and reel you in. I think Duane would approve, too.

Music Reviews

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis

The Music of Wayne Shorter

Blue Engine

Wayne Shorter is one of the living giants of jazz. In his career he’s been a critical member of legendary groups including Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and Miles Davis’ ensembles. With Miles and later as co-founder of Weather Report, Shorter helped birth the fusion jazz scene. He’s an innovative player on tenor and soprano saxophone and many of his compositions have become jazz standards. In 2008, The New York Times called Shorter “probably jazz’s greatest living small-group composer and a contender for greatest living improviser.” He was awarded a lifetime achievement Grammy in 2014. There are some culture critics who call jazz African America’s Classical music.

The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra is a personification of that view of jazz. The large ensemble’s home base is one of the world’s preeminent cultural institutions. The group is lead by trumpeter, composer and music philosopher, Wynton Marsalis. The Music of Wayne Shorter is the best kind of tribute. The members of the Orchestra have worked up new arrangement of Wayne’s material that doesn’t concentrate on the obvious hits. The best thing is, the tribute is taking place while the artist is still alive. Not only is he still alive, Shorter is up there on the stage, playing with the younger cats, breathing life into other people’s reimagining of his songs.

The Music of Wayne Shorter brings compositions originally composed for small ensembles to a big band setting. The arrangements are lushly orchestrated with intricate interplay between the sections. The opening flourishes of “Yes or No” set the tone for the album. The trumpets announce the coming of the Master; the rest of the band answers and the man himself fills the spaces. It’s a big sound that commands attention. The songs then moves into a bright swing tempo number with the kind of tones you can only achieve with a big band. Shorter’s soprano sax shines on three compositions, including the timely title, “Endangered Species.” On the remaining tracks, Wayne plays tenor. The ten selections on this two disc collection are culled from three 2015 concerts, when Shorter was 81. You can also hear selections from these shows on NPR’s Jazz Night in America and see the show’s companion video online. Shorter sounds great on these songs. He looks like he was having a lot of fun judging by the smiles seen in the video. This is the best way to pay tribute to a venerated musician, while they’re still alive and with them actively participating.

Music Reviews

Wadada Leo Smith

Wadada Leo Smith

Rosa Parks: Pure Love. An Oratorio of Seven Songs

TUM Records

There is a lot we’re not getting from a recording of Wadada Leo Smith’s oratorio about Rosa Parks. The work, as staged, includes three singers at center stage, a string quartet stage left, a trumpet quartet stage right with a drummer, Singer Min Xiao-Fen also plays the pipa and there are dancers, stage lighting to convey mood and a video backdrop of scenes for the civil rights movement. That’s a lot of sensory input that we’re not getting from an audio recording. As I listen to this recording, I yearn for a video presentation to fill out the experience.

The Rosa Parks Oratorio fits with Wadada Leo Smith’s late career prolific output. The jazz trumpeter and composer has been pursuing long form works that explore political, ecological and spiritual themes. I have enjoyed Smith’s Great Lakes Suites and America’s National Parks which are structured like European art music and executed with jazz ensembles. Rosa Parks is the natural successor to the four hour plus meditation, Ten Freedom Summers.

Wadada Leo Smith describes the work on his website as a “composition that conveys a philosophical and spiritual narrative about my vision of Rosa Parks. The oratorio is concerned with ideas of freedom, liberty and justice. This meditation is centered around the Civil Rights movement.”

Rosa Parks is a challenging, complex piece of music that resists categorization. The oratorio comes out of the same tradition as opera. The musical interludes are play off impressionistic jazz and atonal, Avant-garde composers like Grogy Ligeti. The vocal parts are voiced in an operatic manner (which I must admit is a musical format I’ve never been able to embrace). NO libretto was provided, so I wasn’t really able to follow the words but just accepted them as part of the soundscape. “No Fear” is the most accessible of the vocal sections where the text is by Smith and Rosa Parks.

Rosa Park: Pure Love is not a work for casual listening. It reveals layers of meaning with repeated listening. The passages that seem like atonal fragments resolve into an understandable part of the soundscape. Like many important works though, I think it makes the most sense in a live setting. I also wonder why a piece of music so drenched in the American experience is only being release with a Finish record company.

Music Reviews

Crowd Company

Crowd Company

Stone and Sky

Vintage League Music

Listening to Crowd Company’s new album, I keep thinking of 1991 movie, The Commitments. That movie was about a bunch of kids in Dublin who put together a soul band with a veteran trumpet player to grind it out in Irish clubs. The movie was fun. It also points to the deep love of soul music that has been part of the UK’s musical underground for decades. I can picture the eight members of Crowd Company coming together because they feel they have to live this music.

The key to Crowd Company’s sound are three excellent singers, Rob Fleming, Esther Dee and Jo Marshall along with the amazing keyboard work of Claudio Corona and a killer horn section. The vocalists take turns on lead, so each song has a different character. When not singing lead, they provide stirring support vocals. I wish I knew who sang lead on each song. “Let Me Be” is fueled by a sensual croon that reminds me a little of Minnie Ripperton. Ah well, they all do a great job.

The strengths of the band are showcased on “Soar”, a soul jam that allows the players to really stretch out. Corona’s organ work is great, but when he’s playing the clavinet, it strikes a Stevie Wonder/Bernie Worrell vibes that you just don’t hear these days. As the song moves deeper into the jam, the horn players get to show off their electric Miles Davis chops. I can imagine this song bringing down the house in concert.

The other thing that comes to mind when I play Stone and Sky is; I bet this band burns it up on stage. Now I’ve got to scan the festival schedules to see when Crowd Company are going to bring the noise to US stages.