Saturday, February 27, 2016


When saxophonist George ”Sax” Benson and pianist Glenn Tucker met to record their new album at Solid Sound Studio in Ann Arbor, MI., Tucker pitched recording standard compositions and one of his originals. Benson conversely showed up with a bunch of his originals some written way back in the 50’s and 60’s. After rehearsing a few of Benson’s originals, they shelved the standards Tucker had chosen and went to work on Benson’s music. “Dreamers,” a splendid duo date with 11 of Benson’s never before recorded compositions, is the result of that old lion meets young lion recording session. “Dreamers” has bop, ballads, and blues. Benson is 87, and on gems such as “Fuschia Moods,” “Love Is A Sometime Thing,” and “Blues in D,” he proves his chops are still in mint condition.  The blues cuts on "Dreamers" are its cornerstones. In Detroit’s jazz world, Benson is a revered and legendary figure. His work history dates back to the fabled Flame Show Bar. And during one leg of his six-decade-plus career, he was a go-to session musician for Motown Records. Stylistically, Benson is a bop driven swinger, a meticulous improviser, and he's intimately hip to every nook and facet of the blues.Those aspects of his musicianship are all over “Dreamers” like fingerprints at a crime scene. What the album shows more than anything is Benson is a gifted composer. Over the decades, praise has been heaped on his blowing. At this golden leg of Benson’s career, he’s found a kindred spirit in Tucker, 25, who on this date shows another part of his game that of a selfless accompanist. Tucker is a sought after commodity who plays as if he draws inspiration from his jazz ancestors. On “Dreamers,” Tucker and Benson are equal partners. However, Tucker gives Benson the lion share of the spotlight.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016


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