Monday, March 01, 2021

Mulgrew Miller & Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen The Duo - Duke Ellington 100


The Duo - Duke Ellington 100
 Mulgrew Miller & Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen
 This release on the Danish Storyville label is the first release of a 1999 session that Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen and Mulgrew Miller together to pay tribute to Duke Ellington on the 100th anniversary of his birth. The two were initially brought together by Bang & Olufsen to celebrate Ellington and his partnership with bassist Jimmy Blanton. NHØP was approached to take part and tapped Mulgrew Miller to tackle a series of Ellington's classic themes and a couple of their own. It was the beginning of the musical and personal partnership between the two.
The songs are all from Ellington except for one original from each. The two display marvelous musical chemistry, whether lightly swinging "C Jam Blues", develop the lyricism of "Sophisticated Lady," and playfully perform "Pitter Patter Panther." There is the lovely "Mood Indigo" and the driving piano rendition of "Caravan." Mulgrew's interpretations take us from stride to the post-bop, post-Bud Powell piano tradition that he was such an important representative of. Thanks to Storyville for rescuing this lost gem from two decades ago. It is available at

I purchased a download from the Bandcamp site listed above. Here the two perform "Caravan."

Friday, February 26, 2021

The Nimmons Tribute Volume 1 - To the Nth

The Nimmons Tribute
Volume 1 - To the Nth

Phil Nimmons, often referred to as the "Dean of Canadian jazz," is saluted in this project led by his grandson, pianist Sean Nimmons. Phil Nimmons is known for his work as a clarinetist, bandleader, composer, arranger, and educator. He led such popular bands Nimmons' N' Nine and later Nimmons' N' Nine Plus Six. His grandson, Sean, crafted new arrangements of seven of his grandfather's compositions and written one new tune. Except for one selection, Sean Nimmons leads an octet consisting of Kevin Turcotte (trumpet, flugelhorn), Tara Davidson (alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, clarinet), Mike Murley (tenor saxophone), William Carn (trombone), Perry White (baritone saxophone, bass clarinet), Sean Nimmons (piano, Fender Rhodes), Jon Maharaj (bass), and Ethan Ardelli (drums). On one selection, "Liëse," Drew Jurecka (violin, viola) and Lydia Munchinsky (cello) are added.

While familiar with Phil Nimmons' name, I was not familiar with his music. I have sampled some of his recordings online after listening to this release ( A couple of his Sackville recordings are available from Delmark Records). Like his NimmonsN'Nine, this tribute band is a big little band. His grandson has constructed a band that captures the feel of such classic ensembles as Gerry Mulligan's concert band and the sixties Basie Band. One hears echoes of Sammy Nestico, Neil Hefti, Frank Foster, and others in the handsome arrangements starting with the opening "Nufsicisum." One is struck by the crisp, clean ensemble statement of the theme with outstanding solos from Turcotte and Murley. Bassist Maharaj has a brief solo acting as a bridge between trumpet and tenor sax.

"Night Crawler" is a Basie-like blues-based swinger with Sean Nimmons deft piano taking the lead. Perry White's baritone sax solo, with the other horns riffing in support, is one of the recording's highlights. Bassist Maharaj and drummer Ardelli also get the spotlight here. "Harbours" is a lovely composition with Davidson's clarinet weaving in and out of the muted brass. Sean Nimmons adds atmospheric Fender Rhodes as the ensemble adds heat as the performance evolves. "Holly" is a spellbinding ballad that is a showcase for Carn's wooly lyricism. Then there is the aptly titled "Swing Softly," with the tone of a classic Benny Golson tune.

Strings are added to the number, "Liëse," a performance that suggests a Billy Strayhorn influence. It is an outstanding close to this tribute to Nimmons. In addition to honoring Phil Nimmons' legacy, "Volume 1 - To the Nth" is superb straight-ahead jazz.

I received a download to review from a publicist. Here is Sean Nimmons talking about the tribute.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Noah Bless New York Strong - Latin Jazz!

Noah Bless
New York Strong - Latin Jazz!
Zoho Music

On the back cover of "New York Strong," Arturo O'Farrill is quoted, "Noah Bless is New York Strong. I've seen him on the finest bandstands representing this great city, in a manner that honors that NYC tradition of purposefulness. He is equally at home in swing, rumba, or samba, but always strong." Trombonist, composer and leader Bless is a 30-year veteran of New York City's rich Latin Jazz scene. Bless, in the words of Bill Milkowski, "has immersed himself in Afro-Cuban music, soaking up mambo and rhumba while getting the clave ingrained into his DNA." He toured with legends such as Mario Bauza, Celia Cruz, Eddie Palmieri, Ray Santos, the Spanish Harlem Orchestra, and Arturo O'Farrill's Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra. On this recording, Bless leads a band of Mike Eckroth on piano, Boriz Koslov on bass, Pablo Bencid on drums, and Luisito Quintero on percussion. Alejandro Aviles adds flute to two selections.

Bless is a trombonist who can exhibit a lyrical side as own his "Chasing Normal" or add heat to the surging Afro-Cuban groove of Rudy Calzado's "Ganga." This latter number places the spotlight on Bencid and Quintero. Bencid is on electric piano on the delightful Baden Powell samba, "Canto De Ossanha," with the spotlight on Bless' cashmere wool tone trombone. There is also considerable charm to Bless' interpretation of Jobim's "Ligia," which again shows his melodic side. Bless, in fact, says, "That melodic things always been my strong suit."

Bill Mobley's "49th Street" is transformed from a hard bop composition into a relaxed Afro-Cuban performance with Aviles' flute complementing Bless fluid solo flight over the effervescent groove. Aviles is also present on Bless' original "The Key," a rhythmically charged composition with alternating leisurely and feverish tempos that provides solo space to everyone. An unexpected delight is Bless' arrangement and the group's rendition of James Taylor's well-known folk composition, "Fire and Rain." It is another selection that results in Noah Bless' long-overdue debut as a leader being such a marvelous listening experience.

I received a review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the January-February 2021 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 394). I have made a couple minor edits. Here is "Sunny Ray" from the album.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

The McKee Brothers A Time Like This

The McKee Brothers
A Time Like This

"A Time Like This" is The McKee Brothers' third album. Only one of the brothers, Denis, is heard on "A Time Like This." This release has McKee on vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards, and percussion. He is joined by musicians from Los Angeles and Detroit. These include Bobby West on keyboards; Bobby Watson on bass; Steve Stevens or Vincent Fossett Jr. on drums; Chris Stevens on congas, vibes, and percussion; Lee Thornburg on brass; and Doug Webb on reeds. Others heard include Larry McCray, Joey Delgado, and Stan Budzynski on guitar, and Tim Douthit on harmonica. At the same time, Maxayn Lewis adds backing vocals. Bobby West contributed the bulk of the songs here (several in collaboration with Denis McKee), and Denis and Ralph McKee contribute one each song.

Denis McKee is a most appealing vocalist with a slight touch of sandpaper in his voice, while the backing is terrific. Blues may be the foundation of most performances here, but there are definite jazz, funk, soul, and rock touches. Think about elements of Chicago, Blood Sweat & Tears, Tower of Power combining for The McKee Brothers musical stew. Things start with the soul-tinged "How Can I Miss You Baby?" with its clever use of familiar stock phrases such as "You never miss your water till your cup runs dry." With a relaxed groove, Duothit's mournful harmonica, it kicks off a varied set of performances. Then there are roaring horns and Larry McCray's searing guitar to support McKee's vocal on "Whistleblower Blues."

The title track is a well-crafted soul ballad, while "The Legend of Luther Stringfellow," about a guitar picker who started going crazy. Musically, this song evokes "Ode to Billy Joe." Doug Webb's clarinet and Thornburg's trumpet lend a New Orleans jazz tinge to "Don't Cha Let It Go To Your Head," and it is followed by the swamp-pop flavored "Bluer Than You," with West's piano evoking of some of Fats Domino and Huey Smith recordings from the sixties. McKee's solo on this latter track displays his facility and taste. After the pop-flavored 'Think It Over," the blues return with the unusual "Putt Putt Hustler" about miniature golf. Perhaps not a deep blues lyric but fun nonetheless. Joey Delgado is heard with strong guitar fills and solo, and Duothit's harmonica is also strongly featured. Larry McCray's fiery guitar returns on the rollicking "Dawg" that also features Stan Budzynski's Southern-rock styled slide guitar.

In summary, "A Time Like This" is an eclectic grouping of songs with an engaging pop-blues cast to it. It is marvelously played with brassy horns over a tight rhythm section. Denis McKee is a pleasant and appealing performer who ably fronts a delightful recording. As an aside to this review, while preparing his review, I also listened to the McKee Brothers first album, "Enjoy It While You Can," which featured the strong blues-eyed soul singing of Bob Seger keyboardist Bob Schultz and highly recommend that album as well.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the January-February 2021 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 394). I have made a couple minor edits.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Damià Timoner Jerry's Smilin' - A Guitar Tribute to The Grateful Dead

Damià Timoner
Jerry's Smilin' - A Guitar Tribute to The Grateful Dead
Zoho Music

On his Facebook page, Damià Timoner writes, "I was born in Manacor, Mallorca, which is an island in the middle of the Mediterranean sea, and instead of showing preference for fishing-rods, lines and nets, I chose the strings of the Spanish guitar." He studied classical guitar but decided there were enough classical guitarists, so he decided to play his own compositions. While he has played in group contexts, he prefers playing solo and being the focus of attention. His personal listening is oriented to rock artists such as the Grateful Dead, Allman Brothers, Deep Purple, Byrds, Genesis, The Police, Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton, and AC/DC. Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead's music is particularly a favorite of his. This recording has him devoting his nylon string guitar to songs associated with the legendary Garcia and the Dead.

Timoner's performances pretty much stick to the melodic themes and melodic embellishments of these themes beginning with Gracia-Hunter's "Brown-Eyed Woman" and concluding with "Touch of Grey." One can imagine Gracia singing "I will get by, I will survive" during a charming "Touch of Grey." "Ramble On Rose" is a lovely track. Then there is a sterling rendition of the Weir-Barlow penned "Cassidy," played with an eloquent precision. Then there is the bluesy flavor of Garcia-Hunter's "Loser" and the ragged-jug band flavor of Ron' Pigpen' McKernan's "Operator." The songs here span the Dead's entire timeline with a performance of "Dark Star" to "Built to Last" from the Dead's last studio album.

Kabir Sehgal provides information on specific performances that inspired specific tracks and whether he altered the pitch of specific strings or played a song in its original key. This technical information will, perhaps, be of most interest to guitarists. Regardless, "Jerry's Smilin'" is a first-rate, easy-to-listen recording that displays how Dead's songs continue to inspire and entertain us long after Garcia's passing.

I received a review copy from a publicist. Here Damià performs "Ramble On Rose."

Monday, February 22, 2021

Jacám Manricks Samadhi

Jacám Manricks
 Manricks Music Records
Jacám Manricks was born in 1976 in Brisbane, Australia, the child of two classical musicians in the Queensland Symphony Orchestra—and the grandson of a celebrated Portuguese jazz saxophonist and clarinetist, and a Sri Lankan concert pianist. He received a degree in music performance (classical and jazz saxophone) from the Queensland Conservatorium. In 2001 he moved to New York and continued a performing career as well as further education. He relocated to Sacramento, California, in 2014, teaching and performing in a super sax style combo as well as his own big band. He also built a home studio where the present album was recorded and mixed.

"Samadhi," the title of Manricks' new album, is a Sanskrit term that refers to a state of heightened, holistic focus that allows for communion with the divine. Manricks uses that title in the sense of "Getting to that state of intense concentration where everything else disappears around you, and only the music exists." Manricks plays Manricks plays alto, tenor, and soprano saxophones. He also plays and clarinet and bass clarinet, flute and alto flute, and MIDI strings (for which he wrote the orchestrations). This release showcases not only his improvisatory abilities but his compositions. He authored all eight selections, although one is a collaboration with pianist Joe Gilman. The other members of the quartet are bassist Matt Penman and drummer Clarence Penn.
 The compositions and the musicians make for marvelous listening . Manricks has written  memorable musical themes with shifting tempos and colors. It starts with the opening, dramatic "Formula One" and the playful "Common Tone" with an insistent groove that Penn drives along as well as provides counter-rhythms. Pianist Gilman shines on this selection, whether his mesmerizing riff or solo, while Manricks shows here, and throughout, complete technical command and authority in his improvisations. Manricks can play with utter abandon or with contemplative restraint as he displays with his soprano sax on "New Years Day." This selection also has a terrific bass solo by Penman. The title track is a striking composition and an outstanding performance with a spiritual mood with his sax soaring over the rhythm section.
Other performances are equally fascinating such as Manricks' use of a bass clarinet to double up the bass line on "Schmaltz" in addition to his robust tenor sax. "Samadhi" closes with "Ethereal," a spellbinding, free-flowing collaboration by Manricks on soprano sax and Gilman. It caps this consistently outstanding recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the January-February 2021 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 394). I have made a couple minor edits and corrections. Here is the title track.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Max Haymer Whirlwind - Live at Sam First

Max Haymer
Whirlwind - Live at Sam First
Emerald City Records

Pianist and composer Max hammer leads his trio on a spectacular piano trio release. Bassist David Robaire and drummer Dan Schnelle joined him for this live recording at the Los Angeles club, Sam First in June of 2019. "Whirlwind" is Haymer's first album in twelve years, in part because he has been busy touring with Arthur Sandoval and is also the West Coast accompanist for Jane Monheit. Originally classically trained, he later studied jazz performance. He was a Division 1 soccer player in college, and he finds his athleticism an asset in performance,

Given Haymer's time with Sandoval, one should not be surprised by the Latin feel of the interpretation of "So In Love" that opens this album. It starts dreamily before the trio launches into a mambo groove. With first-rate support, Haymer showcases not merely his technique but his inventiveness as he moves from delicate segments into spellbinding mixes of chords and arpeggios. Haymer composed the title track, a relaxed jazz waltz that serves as a showcase for Robaire. The influence of Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter is heard on "Proof of Evil," a dazzling performance influenced by Hancock's "Actual Proof" and Shorter's "Speak No Evil." Haymer dazzles with the fluidity and crispness of his playing. Perhaps the highpoint of this recording is the Kurt Weill standard "Speak Low," which starts in a subdued fashion but slowly builds in intensity. In contrast, Haymer's "Gold Plated Dome" brings a different tone with plenty of fiery playing. "Welcoming," inspired by the birth of his first daughter, is a lovely ballad performance.

A rendition of Porter's "Love For Sale" closes this album. Taken at a frenetic tempo, it is a dazzling, virtuoso performance with a Schnelle also taking a strong drum solo. It is a coda on a superb jazz piano recording.

I received a CD to review from a publicist. Here is "Proof of Evil."