“New Direction,” out recently on Mack Avenue Records, is a testament that jazz drummer Herlin Riley is a quintessential craftsman, a truth Riley proved during tenures with Jazz at Lincoln Center, and with pianist Ahmad Jamal. “New Direction” is Riley’s debut for Mack Avenue. The ten songs on the album Riley wrote. Trumpeter Bruce Harris, bassist Russell Hall, pianist Emmet Cohen, percussionist Pedrito Martinez, and saxophonist Godwin Louis are the young, highbrow swingers Riley hired to elevate his work. Guitarist Mark Whitfield guest starred on the title cut, and Whitfield was brilliant. If Riley committed one sin creating this terrific outing, it was not hustling up the resources to have Whitfield perform on each cut. “The Big Banana,” “Shake Off The Dust,” “Hiccup Smooth,” and “Tootie Ma” are sure to be crowd favorites.
Nicolas Bearde is a jazz vocalist. He lives in the Bay Area. Back in the day, he was a standout member of Bobby McFerrin’s Voicestra ensemble. Bearde's voice seems custom built for love songs. Relaxed phrasing is his chief allure. Some of the songs on his new album “Invitation,” produced by Nat Adderley Jr. and with special guest saxophonist Vincent Herring, are not love songs per se, but by the time Bearde has finished working them, you’ll be convinced they are pure love songs. One of the best cuts on the album is Bearde's rendering of “Lush Life”. His version is so good it would’ve made Billy Strayhorn emotional. There are familiar standards on “Invitation” like “Nature Boy,” “I Want to Talk About You” and “Save Your Love for Me”. Bearde’s sweet-ass voice melts over them.