Monday, May 30, 2011


Trumpeter Tom Harrell wrote nine new songs for his latest album Time of the Sun, which High Note Records is releasing Tuesday. Harrell has worked with the same band--drummer Johnathan Blake, piano player Danny Grissett, saxophone player Wayne Escoffery and bass player Ugonna Okegwo---for five years. Harrell’s band has a strong rapport. 

Harrell is a self-less leader. Harrell writes songs that accentuates his band strength. Foremost, Harrell's band  is boogie conscious (danceable jazz music). Some of Harrell’s songs on Time of the Sun--Ridin’, River Samba and Cactus--are boogie friendly.

Seem as if Harrell’s band went into the studio to make an album that feels like a block party. Ridin’ shows the band in full party mode. Playing the Fender Rhodes, Grissett gives Ridin’ a retro-funk feel, and Blake opens a can of whip-ass on his drum solo.

Harrell jumps too, but Harrell sounds best on the bump-n-grind ballads he wrote, employing his trademark soft and poetic tone that makes it seem as if the trumpet can dissolve in his hands at any moment. Escoffery can play poetically, too, making Harrell and Escoffery the model frontline on ballads. 

Don’t think for a minute Harrell’s band can only play ballads and boogie tempo songs. The band can also play conservatively, which happens on Harrell’s straight-ahead jazz song Open Door.

Saturday, May 28, 2011


Recently, I Dig Jazz came across three jazz albums A Matter of Black and White Jaki Byard Live at the Keystone Korner Vol. 2, Twogether and Moment to Moment that have been on the market for a while. If you don’t already have the albums, they’re still available and worth adding to your jazz collection.

In March, High Note Records released A Matter of Black and White Jaki Byard Live at the Keystone Korner, Vol. 2. However, IDJ has to tip its hat to High Note for putting out a solo album by an incomparable jazz piano player. Byard became prominent working with Eric Dolphy, Charles Mingus, and Booker Ervin. On a good night, Byard could play the history of African-American music in a single solo. On A Matter of Black and White, Byard put his twist on standards that we all love. The album’s highlight was the Ellington and Strayhorn medley Byard closed the album with.

Pianist John Hicks and saxophonist Frank Morgan made Twogether,  a duet recorded live in 2005 at the Jazz Bakery not long before Hicks and Morgan died. As a bonus, the album's producers included Hicks playing three songs alone recorded a year after Twogether. Obviously Twogether was designed around Hicks' chops. It's unknown if Hicks and Morgan planned for Twogether to be their farewell album after Hall of Fame careers. With Twogether, fans experienced Hicks and Morgan raw and uncut, playing familiar ditties. The attention grabbers were Hicks’ take on Parisian Thoroughfare, Is That So and Passion Flower. Morgan penetrates the fiber of Night in Tunisia and ‘Round Midnight. Hicks and Morgan were a charming duo, and Twogehter was a fitting farewell.

Houston Person has the attributes you want from a tenor saxophone player. Person has soul. Person has a mellow tone that’s big and wide as a beach towel. Plus, Person “swing-ability” ranks up there with other great tenor sax players such as Dexter Gordon and Gene Ammons. All those attributes are apparent on the mellow and groovy Moment to Moment. For the album, Person called on  his longstanding band-mates piano player John DI Martino, bass player Ray Drummond, drummer Willie Jones III and guitar player Randy Johnson. Person added another sharpshooter to his band trumpeter Terrell Stafford. When Person searched for a trumpeter to give Moment to Moment edginess that some of his other albums lacked, Person couldn't have signed up a more well rounded trumpeter. Person and Stafford clicked immediately, trading measures on I Cover the Waterfront. Stafford's presence was vital throughout. Don’t Take Your Love Away from Me, Just the Way You Are and Love Won’t Let Me Wait are the songs you’ll keep replaying.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


The popular thing among some jazz piano players nowadays is making a solo album. Geri Allen made one last year. A reissued solo album by the late Jaki Byard and one by Sir Roland Hanna are available. More solo albums are surely coming. Too often, the solo albums sound as though the piano players used the same game plan, rely heavily on introspection. Granted some of the solo albums are likable enough, but most come off like self-indulgent practice sessions.

Sorry to say, Cuban born jazz piano player, Gonzalo Rubalcaba's new solo album Faith, sounds self-indulgent or as if Rubalcaba is killing time practicing his favorite tunes. That’s disappointing, given Rubalcaba reputation as a piano wizard. Faith comes out the first day of June on Rubalcaba's new label 5Passion.

Of the fifteen songs on Faith, Rubalcaba’s wrote ten. Derivado 2 and Oro are likable tunes, offering only a glimpse of Rubalcaba's skills. On many of his other albums, Rubalcaba was exciting and imaginative, but on Faith his playing is flat. Did he intend for Faith to be uncharacteristic? Only he can answer that.

But, absent from Faith is the sharpness and the excitement Rubalcaba has displayed before as a sideman and as a leader. If that assertion warrants proof, listen to Rubalcaba’s handiwork on the album The Monterey Quartet: Live at the 2007 Monterey Jazz Festival.

Rubalcaba livens up some on Derivado 2, Oro, and Improvisation 1. The latter original is a nod to John Coltrane. The chord changes are like those on Coltrane’s Giant Steps, widely spaced. Unfortunately, you have to weed through some banal tunes before experiencing Improvisation 1. Faith doesn't come close to capturing the inner workings of Rubalcaba’s playing.

Monday, May 23, 2011


Sean Jones’s followers pretty much know what to expect from a Sean Jones album, a straight-up swing affair mixed with some warm and fuzzy ballads. Jones has become an established force and the top jazz trumpeter of his generation. That’s huge, considering Jones’s peers are trumpeters Marcus Printup, Jeremy Pelt, Terrell Stafford, Dwight Adams, Russell Gunn and Nicholas Payton.

When Mack Avenue Records opened in 2004,  Jones was one of the company's first employees. Jones made a string of solid albums, and later on earned the coveted first chair in the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. (Jones recently quit to focus on other musical interests.)

I heard Jones for the first time at the 2004 Detroit International Jazz Festival. Jones was a member of Marcus Belgrave’s Trumpet Summit. Belgrave assembled jazz trumpeters from across the country, and Jones outplayed them all.

Like his hero trumpeter Clifford Brown, Jones likes to dwell in the upper register of the horn. And Jones blows forcefully enough to topple a garbage truck. My only pet peeve with Jones is some of his albums sound the same. So far, Jones’s third album, Roots showed his complete game. Jones is an if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it bandleader, so he uses the same rhythm section from some of his previous albums.

Tomorrow, Mack Avenue Records offers to the public Jones’s new album No Need for Words. Jones is faithful to his hard swinging formula with some ballads strategically placed, giving the listeners a breather from the high premium swing that is No Need for Words main thrust. The Ballads Momma, Touch and Go and Forgiveness (Release)—are Jones’s most endearing yet.

Forgiveness (Release) comes across as if Jones has finally reconciled some deep seated issues that have bothered him for sometime. When Jones hits high notes, it sounds as if he’s screaming “hallelujah.

Love’s Fury is the stand out, and is Jones’s stab at free jazz. His band goes at it like wild animals on the attack. Love Fury is the farthest Jones has moved outside his hard-bop comfort zone. Love’s Fury foreshadows a new direction Jones is test-driving.

Saturday, May 21, 2011


Renee Rosnes and Bill Charlap
At Detroit's Orchestra Hall Friday evening, husband and wife duo Bill Charlap and Renee Rosnes closed the 2010-2011 Paradise Jazz Series in lackluster fashion. At 8:00am on the button, the piano players walked on the stage hand in hand sporting pallbearer black suits. They bowed to the audience. Then Charlap and Rosnes started the concert with Never Will I Marry  followed by Antonio Carlos Jobim's Double Rainbow and Joe Henderson's Inner Urge, songs from Charlap and Rosnes' 2010 album Double Portrait..

The entire evening, Charlap and Rosnes sounded like one piano player instead of two with different styles. The duo piano thing is tough to pull off. Many respected jazz piano players have tried. Eric Reed played with Cyrus Chestnut. Mulgrew Miller played with Kenny Barron. And Hank Jones played with Oliver Jones. Those duets were uninteresting.

Charlap and Rosnes are excellent jazz piano players. No jazz fan or jazz writer worth his or her salt would disagree. Charlap is reserved, but he can swing if a situation demand him to. Rosnes is a natural swinger at heart. Rosnes can swing faster and harder than any of her peers. But together Charlap and Rosnes are shockingly dull.

In 2007, Charlap and Rosnes wed at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola, forming a top-flight jazz duo. Charlap and Rosnes brought stellar credentials to their marriage. Charlap has two praiseworthy jazz trio dates to brag about S. Wonderful and The Bill Charlap Trio Live at the Village Vanguard

Rosnes played with the late saxophone player Joe Henderson. Rosnes also played with the San Francisco Jazz Collective.Three years after Charlap and Rosnes wed, Blue Note Records put out the couple’s first duo piano date Double Portrait. Jazz album reviewers spoke highly of it.

The set Friday wasn’t completely dull. Charlap and Rosnes gave the audience a jolt on Charlie Parker’s Confirmation. And the blues number Charlap and Rosnes played near the end of the set was pleasing. Charlap wow the audience, playing the number with one hand. On the whole, the hour-long set was lackluster. Charlap and Rosnes failed to do what both are capable of, swinging. But was swinging  their intent?

Thursday, May 19, 2011


Like his peers Tim Warfield, Joshua Redmond, Craig Handy, and James Carter, Eric Alexander is a middle age saxophonist now. Being that hasn’t changed Alexander’s playing one bit. Alexander remains an eager improviser, which Alexander proved on a string of fantastic jazz albums Prime Time, The Battle and Revival of the Fittest.

Revival of the Fittest was Alexander’s last album and was a fan favorite, leaving. fans wondering what Alexander had planned for a follow up. Last month, High Note Records ended the suspense making public Alexander’s new album Don’t Follow the Crowd, covers of some noted pop songs and songs written for films.

Pianist Harold Mabern had a big influence on Don't Follow the Crowd. Mabern convinced Alexander to record Cavatina from the Deer Hunter, Charade and Shaft’s Big Score!. Then Mabern supported Alexander throughout the album like a fitness trainer. Alexander's other staff members bassist Nat Reeves, and drummer Joe Farnsworth were helpful as well, giving Cavatina from the Deer Hunter, Charade, and Shaft's Big Score!—songs written for film—more curb appeal.

In his career, Mabern has backed some influential jazz saxophonists such as Frank Strozier and George Coleman, Alexander’s role model. Mabern never crossed or upstaged Alexander. On Nomor Senterbress and Footsteps, Mabern surveyed the land before Alexander took off on an improvisational expedition.

Remix Blues and She’s Out of My Life stood out the most on Don’t Follow the Crowd. Pop icon Michael Jackson made famous She’s Out of My Life. Alexander kept the song’s gloomy disposition. Farnsworth and Reeves were most aggressive on Don’t Misunderstand, and  Remix Blues.

With Don’t Follow the Crowd, Alexander proves—not that he had to prove anything—middle age hasn’t diminished his skills one bit.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


At this stage of his career, James Carter can put out any kind of album he wants to. At one of Carter’s concerts, I overheard someone saying, “James could blow into a garden hose and that would sound good”. I don’t doubt that. Carter is undoubtedly one of the principal jazz saxophonists of his generation—on second thought of any generation. Carter has recorded some remarkable concept albums “Jurassic Classics,” “Conversin’ with the Elders,” “Chasin’ the Gypsy” and “Gardenia for Lady Day” are some examples. But none more remarkable as his new album “Caribbean Rhapsody: Concerto for Saxophones.

Today, Emacry Records offers to the public “Caribbean Rhapsody: Concerto for Saxophones and Orchestra”. Roberto Sierra, who has worked with Carter off and on for nearly a decade, composed the music. Sierra cut open Carter’s style, like a coroner a corpse for an autopsy. Sierra dissected every part of Carter’s style. Sierra's crafted compositions befitting Carter's many hallmarks.

One of Carter's hallmarks is coming up with imaginative cadenzas. Sierra kept the back door of some of his compositions wide open for Carter to play cadenzas. 

“Caribbean Rhapsody" is not Carter’s first stab at classical music. In 2002, Carter performed with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Neeme Jarvi. Sierra composed the music. The concert was successful. The following year Carter played with the DSO again. Classical music doesn’t allow any room for improvising. Sierra knows Carter playing relies heavily on improvisation. 

And asking Carter to play music without improvising would be like asking a slugger to hit a home run without a bat. Sierra composed music for “Caribbean Rhapsody,” that doesn’t restrict Carter’s inner swinger. Sierra’s compositions challenge Carter to dig deeper into his bag of improvisational tricks, and Carter exceeds the challenge.

“Caribbean Rhapsody” opens with “Ritmico”. Carter does the bolero with his tenor. On “Tender,” Carter plays the tenor and soprano tenderly like a mother tending to a scrape on a child’s knee. “Playful” meanders along until Carter kicks the tempo in the ass. Then Carter and the Sinfonia Varsovia Orchestra swing home the rest of the way.

“Caribbean Rhapsody” has many unforgettable moments. Two moments are Carter soloing on “Tenor Interlude” and Soprano Interlude” Carter weeds through the changes like a landscaper. (Someday Carter will replace saxophonist Sonny Rollins as the reigning king of improvisation.) Another unforgettable moment is Carter’s exchange with The Alkun Dixon String Quintet on the concerto “Caribbean Rhapsody,” In the second, movement Carter and guest soloist violinist Regina Carter swing high like trapeze artists.

Carter has 14 albums under his belt now. “Caribbean Rhapsody” is Carter’s first masterpiece. “Caribbean Rhapsody is the second album legendary jazz record producer Michael Cuscuna has produced for Carter. At 42, every aspect of Carter’s playing has matured, and Cuscuna is the right partner for Carter at this stage of his career.

Monday, May 16, 2011


Over the weekend, I Dig Jazz received a stack of upcoming jazz releases. Some were worthwhile, and other were not. As a courtesy to I Dig Jazz reader's here is a sneak peek at three jazz albums from that stack you should purchase when they are released to the public. 

Jazz singer Sachal Vasandani has the goods. Vasandani is handsome, cool, dapper. And Vasandani is also one of the best male jazz singers around. How good is Vasandani? As good of a singer you could produce by mixing Frank Sinatra’s DNA with Mel Torme’s. On June 21, Mack Avenue Records release, Vasandani’s third album HI-Fly. HI-Fly will catapults Vasandani into the international spotlight. Vasandani also gives listeners a sampling of his songwriting skills. Of the 12 songs on HI-Fly, Vasandani only wrote three, but  they are the most memorable on the album. Vasandani hired his idol, jazz vocalese great John Hendricks, to play a few tracks.

At 92, big band leader, Gerald Wilson is still composing sweet big band music. Wilson is one of Mack Avenue Record’s best selling artist, and Wilson’s debut for MAR, New York New Sound, was nominated for a Grammy in 2003. On June 21, Wilson’s fourth date for MAR, Legacy, will be available. Legacy is a ballad heavy album with a lovely suite Wilson composed as a salute to Chicago, one of Wilson’s favorite cities. Wilson’s orchestra is star-studded. Pianist Rene’ Rosnes, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Lewis Nash make big contributions. Wilson's orchestra would be incomplete without his Mack Avenue brothers saxophonist Ron Blake and trumpeter Sean Jones.

Off the top of your head name some legendary Detroit jazz piano players. I will wager a month’s salary that piano player Sir Roland Hanna's name did not come up, which is a damn shame. Hanna was one of the jazz world’s unsung greats and a consummate craftsman.  For a while, Hanna worked in the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra, and Hanna gigged frequently with tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins. For those who enjoyed Hanna playing, but may have forgotten about him, IPO Recordings, Inc. makes available, August 1st, an excellent album of Hanna playing solo piano amply title Colors from a Giant’s Kit. Hanna serves up ballads, ragtime, and blues with amazing aplomb. Many solo piano albums sound like practice sessions, but not Hanna's album. Hanna sounds as if he's playing for an appreciative audience.Colors from a Giant’s Kit will put Hanna back on your jazz radar..


Roseanna Vitro debut album for Motema Records is a befitting homage to songwriter Randy Newman. Vitro calls the album The Music of Randy Newman. Vitro has a storyteller's style of singing. Many of Newman’s songs have a literary quality, especially the 10 that Vitro sings. Newman is a celebrated songwriter.

Newman is an Oscar and a Grammy winner, and he’s composed music for Hollywood blockbusters such as “Meet the Parents” and the three “Toy Story” movies.

Vitro strolls hand in hand with Newman’s popular love jams Sail Away, Everytime It Rains, Feels Like Home, and Losing You. Some jazz singers of Vitro’s elk screw up their albums by using an orchestra. An orchestra can overpower a singer, but Vitro avoids being overpowered by only adding to her rhythm section violinist Sara Caswell.

Caswell—on loan from Grammy winner Esperanza Spaulding’s band—impacts each song she plays on the Music of Randy Newman. Caswell plays celestially as if angels are dancing inside her violin. Caswell goes with Vitro’s voice like a silk pocket square with a pricy suit jacket.

Caswell also had the same impact on Spalding's album Chamber Music Society. Caswell is partly responsible for the allure of The Music of Randy Newman Songbook. Had Vitro decided against using Caswell this album would be less alluring.

Friday, May 13, 2011


"I don’t know that Monk would appreciate my offerings of his tunes, but I seriously doubt that Monk would want me to care,” stated piano player Eric Reed in the liner notes for “Dancing Monk,” his latest album for Savant. I will go out on a limb here. if Thelonious Monk were alive, Monk would appreciate Reed's interpretation of his music on Dancing Monk".

“Dancing Monk” isn't a tribute album. Chances are it will be mistaken as such, and will compared to other Monk devotees who tackled Monk's music. "Dancing Monk" is Reeds interpretation of 10 of Monk's timeless oldies. Are there other jazz musicians out there who took more risks with Monk’s songs than Reed did? 

Sure, there are some. The late soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy was a Monk devotee. My favorite is “Steve Lacy Plays Thelonious Monk Reflections”. Lacy made it in 1958 for New Jazz Records. Not long ago, guitar player Bobby Broom made “Bobby Broom Plays for Monk”. 

 With “Dancing Monk,” Reed didn’t set out to compete. Nor did Reed try to ape Monk's style, or overhaul MonK's music. Reed is smart enough to know perfection cannot be improved on. “Ask Me Now,” “Reflection,” “Ugly Beauty” and “Ruby, My Dear.” are some of Monk's songs Reed plays,

Reed is most comfortable with Monk’s slow jams. On “Rudy, My Dear,” Reed, drummer Ben Wolfe, and bass player McClenty Hunter plays with the attention and care of a mother bathing a toddler. When Monk composed the up-tempo songs such as “Eronel” and “Blue Monk”, he left the door wide open for endless improvising, Which Reed exploits. Yet Reed never goes overboard.

Reed is a no frills kind of jazz piano player. Which doesn't suggest Reed is boring. Reed grew up playing piano in his dad’s storefront church in Philadelphia. Which explains Reed’s hallelujah swing approach on Monk's up-tempo songs. On paper, Reed is the right piano player to interpret Monk’s music.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Gerald Clayton will be a great jazz pianist someday. Right now, Clayton sounds a lot like his idol  pianist  Brad Mehldau. Which is fine because many great jazz musicians went through an imitative phase before discovering their own thing. Clayton isn't an exception. DD Jackson imitated his idol Don Pullen. Jason Moran imitated Jaki Byard. At some point, Clayton’s dad, jazz bassist John Clayton, imitated the great Ray Brown.

Gerald Clayton is an awesome pianist. Jazz writers have had their eyes on Clayton for sometime now. And for good reason. Clayton's first album “Two-Shade” was nominated for a Grammy. And he’s worked for some important jazz musicians Lewis Nash, Diana Krall, and Roy Hargrove. Clayton star rose playing in Roy Hargrove’s band from 2006-2008 before Clayton formed his own trio..

I caught Clayton live three times. The first time, at the 2008 Detroit International Jazz Festival with Hargrove’s band. Then, a year later, I caught Clayton's solo set at the Detroit Groove Society’s home concert series. The next time, I heard Clayton bassist Joe Sanders and drummer Justin Brown at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café. The club was noisy, which it usually is, but Clayton stayed composed. 

Clayton was terrific in each situation. Clayton was tasteful. Not the sort of jazz piano player who strikes the piano keys as if trying to release bottled up hostility. I did notice, however, an inhibition. Clayton has an “inner swinger” begging to be set free. Occasionally, Clayton has let his "inner swinger" loose. Clayton did so on the Clayton Brother’s albums “Brother to Brother” and “Same Song and Dance”. Clayton’s new album “Bond the Paris Sessions,” which Decca/Emarcy made available today, frees up his "inner swinger" more than he ever has on a recording.

“Bond the Paris Sessions” is an earnest jazz trio album with 15 songs. Most of them Clayton wrote. That’s a lot of material. But Clayton’s trio Joe Sanders and Justin Brown know how to captivate listeners. Obviously, they entered the studio with a bulletproof game plan.“Bond the Paris Sessions” starts with a restyling of “If I Were a Bell”. Clayton’s arrangement opens up space for plenty risk taking, which the trio is prepared for. Clayton came up with lovely melodies for “Major Hope,” ”Sun Glimpse” and “Round Come Round.

A few things on “Bond the Paris Sessions” irks me. The sound effects Clayton uses on “Bond: The Release” gives the song a spooky feeling. I don’t get the purpose of the human voice sound effects near the end of “Bootleg Bruise”. The sound effects are unnecessary. 

“Bond the Paris Sessions” isn’t Clayton’s breakthrough album. The one that will finally solidify Clayton as a household name like his idol Brad Mehldau. “Bond the Paris Sessions” is an indication Clayton is on course for greatness.

Monday, May 9, 2011


Jazz vocalist Naima Shamborguer

Sunday was jazz singer Naima Shamborguer’s big day. At the St. Matthews & St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church, Shamborguer unveiled her new album “’Round Midnight”. Barbara Cox—the late jazz pianist Kenn Cox’s widow—sponsored the concert. Concertgoers paid a $20.00 cover, and Shamborguer gave each a copy of “’Round Midnight,” and a dazzling two hour performance. Shamborguer also gave the church a cut of the proceeds.

The "Round Midnight" concert was the first time Shamborguer performed publicly with acclaimed jazz pianist   Larry Willis, known for his work with Jackie Mclean, Carmen McRae and Blood, Sweat, & Tears. Off and on, for years, Shamborguer and Willis tried to hook up. They got close once.

Shamborguer's husband best friend, Bob Colley, a jazz booking agent, believed pairing up Willis with Shamborguer would work because their backgrounds and styles are similar. Colley booked them at a popular club in New Jersey, but the owner cancelled the show. Shamborguer and Willis never gave up hope. And in 2010, they finally made it happen, collaborating on “’Round Midnight”. 

Shamborguer used the same band that played on "'Round Midngiht". The band buttered up the audience, opening with “Brother Ed” from Willis’ album “Sanctuary”. After the opener, tenor sax great Vincent Bowen escorted Shamborguer to the pulpit. Shamborguer handed her mom a flower. Then Shamborguer dove head first into “Speak Low”, the lead song on “’Round Midnight”. Toward the end of “Speak Low,” the microphone went haywire. But, Shamborguer kept her cool, finishing “Speak Low” with a nifty obbligato. Shamborguer followed up with her original, “I Will Never Walk Away”.

Shamborguer’s band was incredible. Bassist Marion Hayden was superb as always. Drummer George Davidson had a few choice solos. And Vincent Bowen got a piece of the action during the second set. Violinist Tia Imani Hanna and cellist Eugene Zenzo made cameos.

The second set Shamborguer spent some quality time with Willis. They played together on “Here’s to Life”. Willis had the piano crying. Willis’ phrasing is like Shamborguer’s pure voice. That makes them the perfect  pair. “I Remember April” is often played up-tempo. Shamborguer and Willis played the song at a lover’s tempo.

Many jazz singers turn their live shows into a comedy routine. They poke fun at their band-mates. They preface songs with off-the-wall stories. But, not Shamborguer. Shamborguer will occasionally say something that’s amusing. She made the audience laugh, asking if it was okay to sing a blues song in a church.  Shamborguer is straight-laced. Concertgoers  can always bank on a well thought out show. Recently Shamborguer, told a jazz report, she always wants to leave her audience with a piece of herself. At the “’Round Midnight” concert, Shamborguer accomplished that.

Saturday, May 7, 2011


Mother’s Day, jazz vocalist Naima Shamborguer makes available her new album "‘Round Midnight’". To celebrate, Shamborguer is throwing a big album release concert at 4:00pm at St. Matthew & St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church in Detroit. Shamborguer teams up with the acclaimed jazz pianist Larry Willis known for his work with Jackie McLean, Hugh Masekela, Carmen McRae and Blood, Sweat & Tears. Willis is the album’s musical director. On “’Round Midnight” Shamborguer performs some standards and some originals. Of her four albums, Shamborguer says “’Round Midnight” is her best.

Shamborguer was raised in Detroit and she graduated from Cass Technical High School. She refuses to say when, but jokingly acknowledges she’s been around a long time. Shamborguer is from a family of singers and musicians that’s heavily into classical and gospel music.

During Shamborguer girlhood, she performed in a group with her aunts Gloria, Georgia, and Evelyn. Her sisters became accomplished classical singers. And Shamborguer went the jazz route, making a name working with Donald Townes, Teddy Harris, Jr. and Marcus Belgrave. and a long list of internationally acclaimed jazz musicians.

Willis says teaming up with Shamborguer was destined to happen. They met through a mutual friend, Bob Colley, a jazz booking agent. Colley felt they would be the perfect match. For years, Colley tried to get Shamborguer and Willis to perform together. They were set to play a popular club in New Jersey, but at the last minute the show was cancelled. In 2010, they finally hooked up to record “‘Round Midnight”. Recently, I Dig Jazz had a telephone conversation with Shamborguer and Willis to discuss the making of “‘Round Midnight”.

I Dig Jazz: When did “‘Round Midnight” start to come together?

Shamborguer: The actual putting together started last year around the spring. A friend of our, Bob Colley, who passed away in November had been trying to get Larry and I together for 6 years to do a CD. We’re going to work at a club in New Jersey, but the owner of the club decided to stop featuring jazz.

IDJ: Why did Bob believe you and Larry would be good musical companions?

Shamborguer: Bob said Larry and I had a lot in common. My phrasing and Larry's voicing on the piano were alike. So, Bob felt that Larry and I would just gel. Bob and my husband were best friends. Bob used to say Naima has to play with Larry because Larry will play all the right things to suit her voice.”

IDJ: Unfortunately, Bob died before you and Larry finally hooked up.

Shamborguer: My husband and I went to visit Bob when he was very ill. After that, we decided to visit Larry. After that visit, my husband decided that we’re going to do this recording, so we asked Larry to be our musical director. We went to Larry’s home to put the project together. Then Larry came to our house. Larry was our guest for a week, and we had a ball getting the music together. Every morning Larry would play a spiritual on the piano. He’s a very spiritual person.

IDJ: Did you and Larry click as Bob expected?

Shamborguer: It was natural. When I went to Baltimore to see Larry, he sat at the piano and started playing, and I started singing. Our relationship was natural.

IDJ: How much input did Larry have selecting songs for "‘Round Midnight’"? By the way, you did a splendid version of “Here's to Life”.

Shamborguer: I gave Larry a list of songs I wanted to record. And I gave him “Here’s to Life”. He asked me to sing it. I did, and Larry broke down because Larry was close to Shirley Horn, who immortalized that song. Larry said, at Shirley’s funeral that he didn’t even stay in the church. So, We decided to the record the song.

IDJ: Larry, over the years, you've have work with some brilliant vocalists Carmen McRae, Miriam MaKeba, and Vanessa Rubin. How does Naima measure up?

Jazz pianist Larry Willis
Willis: Naima is among the top jazz vocalists as far as I am concerned, but Naima hasn’t received the recognition she's due.

IDJ: You encouraged Naima to include some of her original tunes. Why was that important?

Willis: Because it is a statement of her voice and her story. Some of the best advice I every got came from Miles Davis. He said you have to have your own sound. When you play like others you also play their mistakes. Naima is an extremely talented songwriter, and she needs to expose that.

IDJ: Naima, you sing a song by Horace Silver, Charlie Parker, and of course, Thelonious Monk, but the best songs on the album are your originals “I Will Never Walk Away,” “Everyday’s Yesterday,” and “Ms. Sarah”. Despite Larry’s encouragement, were you initially reluctant to include those songs?

Shamborguer: Larry asked me why I wasn’t including those originals on the recording. He said my originals were pretty good. So, coming from a world-renowned jazz pianist like Larry that meant something to me. You know, with originals you never know how they’re going to turn out.

IDJ: You have a unique style of singing as if you’re half-jazz singer and half-opera singer. Plus, you don’t rely on scatting.

Shamborguer: Some singers scat too much where it’s appears to be a gimmick. I would rather sing the whole song. If you are going to scat, you have to know the whole song. Some singers just start scatting. They don’t know the tune. I think a lot of singers scat because they think they’re supposed to. I’m not a scatter. Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan were scatters.

IDJ: ‘Round Midnight is your fourth album. How would you rank it?

Shamborguer: It’s my best album. I’m older and I’m into life more, and the way I feel about music. I have more of a grip on my music.

Thursday, May 5, 2011


Jazz vocalist Kate Patterson
Jazz singer Kate Patterson closed out the 22nd Jazz Forum Concert series at the Grosse Pointe Unitarian Church Wednesday evening. For 20 years, Patterson has performed at the Jazz Forum, and her concert is the most anticipated. This time, Patterson dedicated the concert to her buddy the late jazz bassist Don Mayberry. The bassist passed away in April of a massive heart attack. Patterson and Mayberry worked together off and on for 28 years. Some of Mayberry's relatives were on hand.

The concert began at 8:00pm sharp. Patterson made a grand entrance, gliding down the aisle blowing a harmonica in a white dress that looked hand-stitched by Valentino. When Patterson reached the bandstand, she guided her band—Steve Woods, Dan Pliskow, Johnny Trudell, Jim Wyse, Robert Tye, Chuck Shermetaro and Dave Taylor—throw “If I Had You”. The band was decked out in black tuxedos. The band's playing was also sharp. All evening, Patterson voice was robust, which was surprising because she's been ill lately. That didn't slow her down. Patterson had a field date with the standards she sung.

The two-hour concert had three unforgettable moments. The first was saxophonist Steve Woods' duet with clarinetist Jim Wyse on “Petite Fleure”. The second was Patterson's duet with guitarist Robert Tye on the lullaby “Little Man You Had a Busy Day”. She sung it slowly and softly like trying to lull a child to sleep. The third memorable moment occurred while Patterson performed Don Mayberry’s favorite Roger and Hammerstein song “You’ll Never Walk Alone”. Patterson broke down. When she pulled herself together, Patterson said: “If it’s raining after the concert it’s Don crying tears of joy in heaven”. 

Patterson has stagecraft. Patterson prefaced songs with humorous stories, made off-handed jokes, and  egged on her sidemen like a soccer mom. For 16 years, Patterson has battled leukemia. Lately, she’s been in and out of the hospital, undergoing experimental treatment. Wednesday evening, Patterson was robust, was  dancing and was singing up a storm.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


Rene’ Marie got her start on Max Jazz Records. She was among a fine group of singers the label featured in its vocal series. Along with LaVerne Butler, Mary Stalling, Carla Cook, and Phillip Manuel, Marie made Max Jazz a formidable record company. When Marie was starting out, I scored an interview with her for the Metrotimes, a weekly newspaper in Detroit. I also caught her shows at the Serengeti Ballroom, a jazz spot on Woodward Ave. run by concert promoter Bill Foster. Marie's live shows are dynamic like her recordings.  And she's also a wonderful songwriter. I kept an eye on Marie's career.

Marie made four outstanding dates for Max Jazz “How Can I Keep From Singing,” Vertigo,” Live at the Jazz Standard,” and “Serene Renegade”. Between recording projects, Marie toured nationally and internationally, and she was lauded in important jazz magazines such as Jazz Times and Down Beat. Marie worked hard, and now she's a full-blown star. Early last month, Marie birthed her first offspring for Motema Records “Voice of My Beautiful Country,” This album is her most intriguing yet.

Marie divided the album into two parts “Imagination Medley,” and “Voice of My Beautiful Country Suite”. This album is best consumed whole. Marie covers a lot of territory. And her arrangements of “Just My Imagination,” “Drift Away,” and “John Henry” are striking. Marie reworded the Temptation's jewel "My Imagination" so it appears as though a girl is talking about her beau. Hands down, it's the best track on Marie's album.

She culls the best from her rhythm section piano player Kevin Bales, bass player Rodney Jordan and drummer Quentin Baxter. Throughout “Voice of My Beautiful Country”, the rhythm section is tighter than banjo strings. Marie didn’t sing on “Drum Battle” and “Piano Blues”. She gave the floor to Baxter and Bales. Marie turns “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” into a blues number. Then she combines “Life Ev’ry Voice and Sing” and the "Star-Spangled Banner” into a jazz ballad. Marie is complete jazz singer incapable of mediocrity. Her projects are always intriguing.

Monday, May 2, 2011


I receive advance copies of new jazz albums daily. I want to share with the readers of I Dig Jazz some   attractive jazz albums that will be available soon.

Pianist Gerald Clayton is the offspring of the great Clayton clan. His dad is bassist John Clayton. Alto “sax-smith,” Jeff Clayton, is the pianist’s uncle. “Bond the Paris Sessions” is Gerald Clayton’s second album as the boss, and first for Decca/ Emarcy Records. As a sideman, Clayton earned a bulletproof reputation. “Bond the Paris Sessions” is a straight up jazz trio date, and it goes public May 10, 2011.

Trumpeter Sean Jones is Mack Avenue Records’ franchise player. This is Jones’ fifth outing and one of his best to date. Jones steps outside of his hard-bop comfort zone on several songs. Which gives his fans a sample of the new direction he’s contemplating. “No Need for Words” street date is May 24, 2011.

One of the top jazz singers on the planet Roseanna Vitro is signed to Motema Records. The company has a lineup of stellar jazz musician Geri Allen, Marc Carey, and Rene Marie are ones with household reputations. For her Motema debut, “The Music of Randy Newman,” Vitro chose to honor the songwriter Randy Newman. Newman’s songs have a literary quality and the ones Vitro selected suit are voice perfectly. Motema releases “The Music of Randy Newman May 17, 2011.

Many solo piano recordings are an exercise in self-indulgence. I’ve come across some that could cure insomnia. Neither applies to “Faith,” the new solo offering from Gonzalo Rubalcaba. Technically Rubalcaba is a genius and he’s a discreet improviser. 5Passion Records is Rubalcaba's new home. “Faith” will be available June 1, 2011.

In less than a decade, Mack Avenue Records has become a big time record company. Ron Blake, Tia Fuller, Kenny Garrett, Christian McBride, The Yellow Jackets, Gerald Wilson, and Terry Gibbs work for the company. A few months ago, vibraphone apostle Gary Burton joined the company. Burton inaugural album for the company is “Common Ground”. Burton is still sharp, and he’s found a soul partner in guitarist Julian Lage. “Common Ground” hits the streets on June 7, 2011

Sunday, May 1, 2011


Pianist Omar Sosa
For the past half hour, I’ve searched my dictionary for the perfect adjective to describe Omar Sosa Afreecanos Quartet’s show last night at the Jazz Café. I’ve had no luck so far. Those overused adjectives--wonderful, terrific, outstanding, amazing, magnificent and remarkable— are inadequate. Sosa’s quartet had a lot of things happening on the stage at the same time. The sets were mind-boggling.

The Jazz Café is the right place to hear live jazz. People pay good money to hear top national acts. At other jazz clubs in Detroit, people go to drink, to eat and to socialize. They could care less about the music. That’s not the case at the Jazz Café. The audience respect the musicians and the bands. And last night the crowd gave Sosa’s band a lot of love.

The first set began when Sosa walked on the bandstand decked out in a bright red African getup. Sosa played a brief solo. The guitarist Childo Tomas, saxophonist Peter Apfelbaum and drummer Marque Gilmore joined him.The quartet mixed Afro-Cuban,  jazz, world music, Latin jazz, classical and funk music. If that wasn’t enough, they used various sound effects, too. I even noticed some elements of smooth jazz during Apfelbaum’s first solo. One unforgettable moment occurred when Tomas spoke Spanish and Yoruba while Sosa improvised.

Sosa hogged most of first set. He bounced from the piano to the Fender Rohdes with energy and excitement of hip-hop deejay. At one point, he put the microphone close to his face. Then he slapped his jaws as if they were percussions. Sosa would’ve sound good beating his chest. On some of his solos, Sosa also mimicked the way the late Don Pullen’s right hand used to move along the piano keys like a rolling pin.

The second set had a more avant-garde jazz and funk feel. More people showed up. I guess they saw the Music Hall rocking and wanted to know why. The set belonged to Apfelbaum. He played the tenor, the soprano, the flute and several odd-looking instruments. Apfelbaum improvising was precise as a diamond cutter. Midway, through the set Apfelbaum played the tenor and the soprano simultaneously. After that stunt, Sosa hugged him. The boss validating you on the spot is a sign you kicked ass.

The audience gave Omar Sosa’s Afreecanos Quartet a well-deserved ovation. And the guys seated near the stage begged for a third set. Sosa was under contract for only two, but he agreed to an encore. Had he not a riot would’ve ensued. A lady seated near the rear of the club yelled: “Play something soft”! I wondered if Sosa could. He played a ballad featured on his first album softly as an ant gliding across a piece of cotton. Omar Sosa’s Afreecanos Quartet’s show was a memorable conclusion to the Jazz Café’s 2010-2011 jazz series.