Title: Vessels of Wood and Earth Artist: Dan Wilson Label: Brother Mister Productions/Mack Avenue Formats: CD, Digital Release date: April 23, 2021
Grammy-nominated guitarist and composer Dan Wilson’s debut album, Vessels of Wood and Earth, exhibits a rich range of tones and textures. Joined by pianist Christian Sands, bassist Marco Panascia, drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts and guest vocalist Joy Brown, this incredibly talented band showcases a mastery of musical expression, revealing robust musical perspectives from each and every artist. Produced by bassist, composer, arranger, and Philadelphian jazz icon, Christian McBride, the project is a mix of both original compositions and arrangements of classic songs from the likes of Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles, assembled to illustrate Wilson’s foundation that is “rooted as much in tradition as it is in moving the music irresistibly forward into the modern world.” The album is the first release on Brother Mister Productions, McBride’s own record label under the Mack Avenue Music Group.
Title: Seven Artist: Cameron Graves Label: Artistry Music/Mack Avenue Formats: CD, LP, Digital Release date: February 19, 2021
Cameron Graves initially achieved acclaim as a member of the West Coast Get Down, a collective of L.A. jazz
musicians that includes Kamasi Washington and Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner. More
recently he has performed and recorded with fusion pioneer Stanley Clarke, who
has served as a mentor to the younger musician. Releasing his widely acclaimed debut
album Planetary Princein 2017,Graves now returns with his own brand of
progressive jazz on Seven. Referring to his new style as thrash-jazz,
Graves draws upon his jazz and classical studies as well as his love of Living
Colour, Meshuggah, and other heavy metal bands to create a stunningly inventive
jazz-rock fusion that will blast you into another galaxy.
One of the most essential parts of the holiday season is the music we listen to with our family and friends. This year, we especially need to come together to celebrate (virtually or in person), so we’re offering our list of the most comforting and inspiring holiday albums that have been released over the past few months. Included are brief reviews of our top six holiday albums of 2020, including releases from Leslie Odom Jr., Warren Wolf, the original cast of Hadestown, Amber Weekes, Lynda Randle, and Pentatonix. Also included is a list of honorable mentions, since there were too many amazing albums released this holiday season to cover in depth. Although this Christmas and holiday season may be a bit different from what most of us are used to, we hope these new music selections will help make this Christmas feel just as special as the last.
After 50 strong years of music making, Tower of Power is back with their 30th album, Step Up. Known for their wall of sound horn-driven funk, the multi-instrumentalist ensemble has been performing and creating music since the late 1960s under the direction of bandleader and tenor saxophonist Emilio Castillo. A Detroit native, Castillo moved to Oakland, CA where he met baritone sax player Stephen “Doc” Kupka, and they formed a band that would soon become known as Tower of Power. After famous concert promoter Bill Graham heard the group perform at the Fillmore in 1970, he signed them to his label and their debut album, East Bay Grease, was releasedthat same year.
Christian McBride’s The Movement Revisited: A Musical Portrait of Four Icons is a tribute to four renowned African Americans: Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr. According to McBride, this album is meant as “a clear-eyed yet optimistic look at where our society has come from and where it is hopefully headed.” The four narrators who portray these icons include poet and author Sonia Sanchez as Rosa Parks, actor Wendell Pierce as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., actor Vondie Curtis-Hall as Malcolm X, and actor Dion Graham as Muhammad Ali. They are supported by a phenomenal cast of vocalists and instrumentalists such as Alicia Olatuja (vocals), Steve Wilson (saxophone), Freddie Hendricks (trumpet), Terreon Gully (drums), among many others. These artists coalesce into a spectacular fusion of jazz, gospel, funk, and Afro-Cuban rhythms.
Title: Poetry in Motion
Artist: The Soul Rebels
Label: Rebelution Music Group/Artistry Music/ Mack Avenue
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: October 25, 2019
New Orleans based ensemble The Soul Rebels was formed in the early ‘90s by drum majors from HBCUs such as Southern, Grambling, and Texas Southern University. Percussionists Derrick Moss and Lumar LeBlanc, who first met as members of Harold Dejan’s Young Olympia Brass Band, decided they wanted to play the rap music they were hearing on the radio while also respecting the long tradition of the New Orleans brass bands and marching bands they had played in growing up. Now an eight member brass/jazz/hip hop powerhouse, The Soul Rebels include LeBlanc (snare drum) and Moss (bass drum), in addition to Marcus Hubbard (trumpet), Erion Williams (saxophone), Paul Robertson (trombone), Julian Gosin (trumpet and MC), Manuel Perkins Jr. (sousaphone) and Corey Peyton (trombone and MC). For their latest album, Poetry in Motion, The Soul Rebels started with the premise “no genre is off limits for us,” and concluded with twelve tracks that sound contemporary and hip. Their New Orleans rhythms and Black college band attitude combined with rap lyrics and rhymes will make you move your feet and get out of your seat.Continue reading →
Grammy-nominated Cuban pianist Roberto Fonseca, known for experimenting with African and diasporic genres, offers his eleventh solo album, Yesun. On his previous releases, Yo (2013) and At Home: Live in Marciac (2014), we heard Fonseca’s use of diverse musical styles to express his artistic voice. Yesun retains this sense of taking “more risks, breaking new ground,” as he situates his music—and the music of Cuba—in an ongoing inter-diasporic musical dialogue. The 13-track album features Fonseca’s long-standing trio, the prominent Cuban female a cappella group Gema 4, acclaimed trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf, rising Cuban rapper Danay Suárez, and Grammy-winning saxophonist Joe Lovano.Continue reading →
Just one year after his Grammy Award winning album Bringin’ It, Christian McBride returns with his newest project, Christian McBride’s New Jawn. The album features his chordless quartet—formed during McBride’s annual two-week residency at the Village Vanguard in December 2015—which includes trumpeter Josh Evans, saxophonist Marcus Strickland, drummer Nasheet Waits, and McBride on bass.Continue reading →
Where does one begin when reviewing a talent as astonishing as Cecil McLorin Salvant? Through years of hard work and training, McLorin Salvant has found a way to combine her operatic background with stylistic aspects of legendary singers—from the percussiveness of Ella Fitzgerald, to the creativity of Sarah Vaughn, to the entrancing story telling ability of Billie Holiday and Carmen McCrae. McLorin has crafted a sound all her own, unveiling new aspects of her artistry with every release.Continue reading →
Although it has been just over 40 years since his death, legendary jazz pianist Erroll Garner’s music vibrantly lives on thanks to the record labels who have championed his work. First, Sony Legacy released The Complete Concert By The Sea in 2015 as well asReady Take Onethe following year, both of which received major award consideration. Now the people behind Mack Avenue Records have continued efforts to keep Garner’s memory alive with their new release,
Nightconcert. The title is drawn from Garner’s midnight concert in November 1964 at The Royal Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, captured live with an audience of 2000 highly enthusiastic and enraptured people of all ages. This concert recording displays Garner at the height of his career, with eight unique arrangements of classic standards as well as a newly discovered original!
Erroll Garner, was born June 25th, 1923 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He may be best remembered for his composition, “Misty,” which has become a treasured classic for jazz lovers and standard repertoire for every jazz musician to this very day. Beginning his study of the piano at age three, Garner took lessons from a family friend but he was primarily self-taught and remained an “ear-player” his entire life, never learning to read music. By age 11 his career was well on its way as he played piano on Allegheny riverboats and at 14 he began playing with well-known saxophonist Leroy Brown. Garner went on to enjoy a successful career working with other greats like bassist Slam Stewart and bebop saxophonist Charlie Parker on the “Cool Blues” sessions. He also made regular appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
Nightconcert is an instant classic piano trio album as Garner displays his incomparable style and virtuosity. Opening with the Rogers and Hart classic “Where or When,” Garner chooses to begin this and many other songs with elaborate piano introductions, often with the intent of throwing off the audience so they don’t know what song is coming. He seems to have a tendency to play a hemiola in these intros by maintaining a triple meter in the left hand while playing in a duple meter in the right. He makes this especially prevalent later in the album with the song “Night and Day” as he carries this idea from the introduction throughout the rest of the tune. This is indicative of Garner’s overall style—his right hand typically lays back behind the beat as his left hand drives steadily along—often used as a powerful function to begin and end his slick phrases. As the concert continues, Garner jumps between his up-tempo tunes and lush ballads such as “My Funny Valentine” and “Over The Rainbow,” where he enraptures listeners with his thick and unique chord voicing.
Garner’s playing is unlike any others and simply hearing his live performance on Nightconcert is a truly unique experience—from his iconic groans that can be heard on every record, to his astounding skill and mastery over the piano. Great thanks must be extended to those at Mack Avenue Records for releasing yet another historical recording that keeps Garner’s body of work alive for a new generation.
The Miami born singer Cecile McLorin Salvant has been on a consistent rise in the jazz world, making her Mack Avenue Records debut in 2013 with WomanChild, and garnering a Grammy award nomination. She received her first Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal in 2016 with her sophomore album, For One To Love. Now, with the hauntingly beautiful release, Dreams and Daggers, McLorin Salvant amazes.
The album includes a mix of original material and new arrangements of classic jazz and blues standards. From beginning to end it’s impossible not to lose yourself in the music as McLorin Salvant showcases unbelievable vocal control and all-around ability.
Explaining the title of the project, McLorin Salvant says, “The songs on this album are of dreams and daggers. The daggers have been used at times to attack, at times to defend. . . The dreams are the ones I caught looking out a window, or from the light sleep before the deep.” She splits this album into two discs; the first seems to expand on this idea of the “daggers,” while the second includes her “dreams.”
Disc one begins very subtly with the eerie melodies in the song “And Yet,” where McLorin Salvant’s voice is first heard alone with the Catalyst String Quartet. The beauty of the writing by Salvant and bassist Paul Sikivie is astounding. By interweaving the quartet with the rest of the ensemble they create gorgeous textures and melodic ideas throughout this and many other tunes on the album. What is most impressive is hearing McLorin Salvant as she enters with precise and crisp tones. Throughout the album, the influence, respect, and knowledge of those who have preceded her, such as Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, and Carmen McCrae, are easily heard.
In disc two we get to experience the more playful side of Cecil, and since this album was recorded with a live studio audience, it has a very personal feel, making you want to cheer along with them. This is especially evident in her rendition of the blues classic, “You’ve Got to Give Me Some,” where we hear the audience reacting to the suggestive lyrics as well as the spectacular piano solo from featured guest Sullivan Fortner.
Dreams and Daggers, a haunting and gorgeous display of joy and pain, pays homage to the older traditions of jazz and blues while adding new and creative ideas to advance the genre.
Bassist Christian McBride—known for his association with performers such as Chick Corea, Freddie Hubbard, Joshua Redman, and Brad Mehldau—presents Bringin’ It, the second album of the Christian McBride Big Band. On this project not only do we hear influences by Freddie Hubbard (“Thermo”), Maria Schneider (“I Thought About You”), and McCoy Tyner (“Sahara”), but McBride’s compositional style displays his expertise with jazz, funk, Latin jazz, and gospel music as he effortlessly blends these genres.
Included on this album are two arrangements by other musicians—Norman Simmons’ “Upside Down” and trombonist Steve Davis’s “Optimism” —which complement McBride’s compositions and arrangements. Apart from the outstanding writing, the musicality and professionalism of McBride and the members of his ensemble are also on display.
Each track presents the listener with different periods of jazz and references the composers and musicians of those eras. What’s even more astounding is the way each soloist constructs their solos within the styles of the composition. For example, pianist Xavier Davis imitates McCoy Tyner’s pentatonic and quartal vocabulary on “Sahara,” while guitarist Rodney Jones’s usage of octaves on “Full House” is reminiscent of Wes Montgomery’s style of playing. Vocalist Melissa Walker adds a pleasant and exciting element with her warm tone and melodic embellishments that are light, expressive, and blend perfectly with the ensemble.
“Getting’ To It,” featuring a funky bass line over a bed of calypso rhythm, is certainly a song worth mentioning. Drummer Quincy Phillips adds another layer to this already amazing piece. Alternating between funk and calypso rhythmic patterns, he incorporates hits from the arrangement into his drum groove, complementing the rhythmic patterns in the horn section.
Another highlight is “Used ‘Ta Could,” which takes us to church with tambourine and handclaps in the opening bars. This composition embodies performative elements of both the blues and traditional gospel music that inspire the listener to join in with clapping and foot-stomping. The blues riff played in the piano and bass, before every repetition of the melody, prepares the listener for the call-and-response conversation between the trumpets, trombones, and saxes. Later on, we hear this exchange of commentary between horns and piano, further highlighting the importance of gospel music and blues in the big band tradition.
While Christian McBride has fewer solos on this album, his role is certainly not diminished. McBride’s musicality is displayed in the foundational support he provides for his ensemble. His execution is always on point, and his tone gives the ensemble that “phat” fuller sound that is expected of any jazz bassist. McBride’s playing blends so well that his bass does not distract from the overall sound of the ensemble. That is a true sign of professionalism and maturity.
Bringin’ It keeps the big band tradition alive, providing a historical overview of the tradition from McBride’s perspective, while presenting new avenues for further exploration in the 21st century. The album is definitely a must buy—you will not be disappointed.