LA Recording Artists Bombard The Jazz Scene Plus More

(Jun 11, 2015, 5:50 AM PDT)

System VII – Our Thing

S.P. Records 1024

Benn Clatworthy by Dailey Pike
Benn Clatworthy by Dailey Pike

Benn Clatworthy, tenor saxophone, Clarinet and flute/leader; Ron Stout, trumpet; Joey Sellers, trombone; Bryan Velasco, piano; Brian J. Wright, bass; Santiago Santiuste, congas; Jorge Carbonell, drums

A flurry of solo percussion greets the listener and sets the tempo for a tune called “Dr. Livingstone.” Here is an ensemble of Los Angeles and Orange County musicians who can hard bop and hang with the best of them. Many are clinicians and educators. Consequently, this album assimilates musical styles, like a smorgasbord buffet. You can taste a little avant-garde, a platter of Latin-fused rhythms and baskets of home-cooked originals as sweet as fresh baked bread. Sellers and Clatworthy are the star composer/arrangers on this recording and their original compositions shine. There’s a tribute to the late, great Cedar Walton by his friend Clatworthy entitled “Cedar’s Mode” and “Requiems” by Sellers is a luscious bolero with a warm, addictive melody and well placed horn harmonics that add the salt and pepper to this production. Here is a tasty musical feast for you to enjoy.


Peak Experience Jazz – Live At Lucy’s Place
Joyspring Music – JMP301


Mike and Lucy Peak, Executive Producers; Mike Peak, bass; Ron Kobayashi, piano; Ann Patterson, flute & sax; Rickey Woodard, tenor sax; Kendall Kay, drums; Andrea Miller, vocalist

This is one house-party I wish I had attended. The music is magnificent and played by some of the best players in Southern California. Right from the first Sonny Rollins composition, “Tenor Madness,” the excitement is watertight. Cut one features the super talents of Ann Patterson and Rickey Woodard, both amazing reed musicians and each with strong stage personae. I always enjoy watching these players perform, as well as hearing them blow their saxophones with precision and personality-plus. Ann Patterson also plays a mean flute. Andrea Miller is a Southern California vocalist who is busy around town and has a voice as beautiful and warm as any given Los Angeles summer day. She is exceptionally expressive on “Angel Eyes,” “Imagination” and “Cry Me A River.” Pianist Ron Kobayashi is a sensitive accompanist throughout. Mike Peak, the orchestrator of these popular jazz salons at his home, is not only a philanthropist, but a very serious bass player. You can hear him boldly holding the rhythm tightly in place on “Sweet Georgia Brown” and he Swings in his own inimitable way during his solo journeys. Peak is also a composer and has included a tribute song to his wife, “Lucy.” There’s a second composition, “Fancy Pants” and another titled, “CC.” His original song, “Fancy Pants,” reminds me of a New Orleans processional band. Kendall Kay gets a chance to show his powerful drum chops on this bluesy, slow, swing jam and unapologetically puts the funk in “CC”. All in all, here is a well recorded house-party that slaps you smack-dab in the middle of big fun.


Michael Dees – The Dream I Dreamed

Michael Dees, vocals: Terry Trotter, piano; Chuck Berghofer, bass; Steve Schaeffer, drums; Steve Huffsteter, trumpet & flugelhorn; Chuck Manning, tenor sax; Sal Marquez, trumpet; Bob Sheppard, tenor sax & clarinet; Doug Webb, tenor sax; Don Williams, percussion.

I put this CD on my player for the third time. Michael Dees is smooth, sexy and addictive. Not only is he an outstanding vocalist, comparably a cross between Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra, but he is a magnificent composer. Dees knows how to craft a song, both melodically and lyrically. When he sings his original compositions, he puts unequivocal emotion and excitement into the music, using both appropriate intonation and emotional gusto. Back in the 1960’s Michael Dees was voted “Best New Male Singer” at the International Popular Song Festival in Rio de Janeiro, followed by a recording deal with Capitol Records. They released two albums featuring Dees, and he began to get a reputation as a singer who could best represent a songwriter’s work. Alan & Marilyn Bergman agreed, enjoying his memorable interpretation of their songs. When television, commercials and movie soundtrack people got wind of him, Dees began making a lucrative living, even singing as the voice of Frank Sinatra in the HBO “Rat Pack” movie. He was sought out as a soundtrack vocalist and sang, wrote and/or produced numerous jingles for radio and TV.

Now, in the prime of his creativity, Dees offers us a richly produced and composed compact disc of beautiful, original songs, with nearly an hour of expressively delivered stories of love and loss. Dees vocal acrobatics and expressively sung compositions bring great joy and entertainment. Here are a lovely bouquet of songs offered generously, that should be recorded over and over again by the best in the business.


Jacques Lesure – Camaraderie
WJ3 Record Label

Jacques Lesure, guitar; Warren Wolf, vibes; Eric Reed, piano; Nat Reeves, bass; Willie Jones III, drums.

Los Angeles-based guitarist Jacques Lesure has his fingers on the pulse of “Swing.” He coaches jazz from his guitar strings in a most succinct and pleasurable way. I enjoyed his earlier CD that featured organ and guitar, but on this endeavor, he’s changed up, adding vibes and the memorable talents of Eric Reed on piano. The vibes adds a sultry, sexy sound and at other times bring back memories of Detroit’s jazz master on vibraphone; Milt Jackson. But of course, few can swing the way Milt Jackson did. Still, Warren Wolf is formidable, often doubling the guitar lines, thus guiding the listener’s ear to song melodies meant to be remembered. On tunes like “Grantgomery” (the title, perhaps a play on Grant Green and Wes Montgomery names), Lesure shows off masterful composition skills. Detroiter Willie Jones III is a dynamic drummer and demonstrates his amazing skills on “Joker Man”, a tune penned by the late Daniel Jackson (a long-time San Diego jazz musician and composer). This is hard bop at its best and the quintet smokes through the track like a speeding freight train propelled by Jones. In the middle of multi-tasking and listening to the music, his drum solo made me stop what I was doing and pay attention. Lesure plays “If I Had Only Known” with tenderness and the backdrop of piano and vibes surprisingly reminds me of a string section with all their warm harmonics. “Sunny,” by Bobby Hebb, is always a winning tune on any bandstand. It’s just got that punch, drive and happy disposition that makes your head bob and your feet tap. Lesure never over-plays, but instead finds a groove and settles into it like a nesting bird. Tony Dumas plays an intricate part in solidly locking the ‘Swing’ into this song and also gets 32-bars to show off on his own soulful bass solo. He’s a guest on this cut and on the final tune. Eric Reed sets up the Blues on SKJ, a Milt Jackson tune, and Lesure plays a funky guitar blues solo before the band let’s Wolf shine in the spotlight with mallets and innovation. A composition by our own Los Angeles bass icon, James Leary, closes out this CD entitled, “Remember to Smile.” I was doing just that when I finished listening to this album.


Brad Myers – Prime Numbers
Colloquy Records

Brad Myers, electric guitar; Chris Barrick, vibraphone; Ben Walkenhauer, tenor saxophone; Peter Gemus, acoustic bass; Tom Buckley, drums and cymbals; Michael Mavridoglow, trumpet, flugelhorn; Dominci Marino, trombone.

Brad Myers cut this jazz guitar album in Cincinnati, Ohio and he has composed six out of the nine songs and arranged most of them himself. Chris Barrick (vibraphonist) arranged “The Big Push by Wayne Shorter and the familiar standard, “Invitation.”

Bentley’s Blues is the first smokin’ cut where Ben Walkenhauer is strongly favored on tenor saxophone. It has a ‘Pink Panther’ feel to the melody and tempo and it’s bluesy. Barrick is prominently featured on vibes, while Myers holds the swing in place on electric guitar with Tom Buckley on drums. You can never lose when you choose a Thelonius Monk song, and that’s the case when the group tackles “Evidence.” One other favorite on this compact disc is the Myers original, “Spherical.”

The title of Myers’ record company, ‘Colloquy’, means discussion, conference; a dialogue or meeting. Myers has put together a band that works together like a well greased machine. They exemplify his record company name.


Dave Stryker – Messin’ With Mister T
Strikezone Records

Dave Stryker, guitar; Jared Gold, Hammond B3 organ; McClenty Hunter, drums; Mayra Casales, percussion; Special guest saxophonists include: Jimmy Heath, Houston Person, Eric Alexander, Chris Potter, Tivon Pennicott, Don Braden, Javon Jackson, Steve Slagle, Bob Mintzer and Mike Lee.

I’m a sucker for organ and guitar jazz. As soon as the first cut rolled off this CD and into the room I was dancing in my chair and boppin’ my head in time to the succinct blues groove. Dave Stryker is celebrating a man he toured with for over a decade, the late, great Stanley Turrentine or ‘Mister T.’ To do this, Stryker has surrounded himself with a multitude of jazz giants, including ten of the greatest tenor saxophone players on the jazz scene today. These gentlemen elevate his production and add punch to an already knock-out of an album. Houston Person is featured on the first cut “LA Place Street” and everybody knows how hard he Swings, like the Joe Louis of jazz! Jarod Gold on Hammond B3 organ is powerful and magnetic, both in solo mode and just grooving behind the other players. Stryker, as always, is the upper-cut of the group, laying solid punchy lines down on his guitar, dancing on the strings with deft fingers, and giving us ferocious solos. McClenty Hunter holds the rhythm solidly in place throughout and the session is tastily peppered with percussion by Mayra Casales. This is an album of music covering the various genres of jazz from Bossa Nova to Straight-head; from rot-gut blues to lush, sensitive ballads, with all songs made popular by Stanley Turrentine. The legendary reed players, who are special guests on this project, make up the who’s who of saxophonists. They offer their musical genius to expertly celebrate a jazz legend, greatly missed. One who took the idea of ‘cross-over’ to a new level by arranging popular songs and R&B hits into a jazzy vernacular. Bravo to the expert players and to Dave Stryker for a masterfully produced album and a memorable project in tribute to ‘Mister T.’ Currently, this CD is climbing up the jazz charts nationally. I’m not surprised.

Michelle Lordi – Drive
Creeper Music

Orrin Evans, piano; Tom Lawton, piano; Larry McKenna, tenor sax; Dan Monaghan, drums; Madison Rast, bass.

This CD opens with the haunting melody of “You’re My Thrill” sung over a very sexy bolero beat. Dan Monaghan on drums lays down the mood with mallets and Lordi’s competent band joins in. The vocalist’s tones are drawn out and slowly delivered, keeping in countenance with the arrangement. It’s a pleasant way to begin this project and to grab the attention of the listener’s ear. Madison Rast, on bass, opens the second tune “Imagination.” With only voice and bass to sing the first couple of verses, I find myself flashing back to the past and recalling voices like Eidye Gorme and Chris Conner. This artist offers a similar style and execution. Lordi interprets the lyrics with finess and emotion Dan Monaghan is outstanding on his double bass and his solo sparkles with smooth innovation. The arrangements on this entire project of music are outstanding, so kudos to the arranger. No name is listed. Here is an album of ballads, finely produced and easy to enjoy.


Rachel Caswell – All I Know – Duets With Dave Stryker & Jeremy Allen
Turtle Ridge Records

Rachel Caswell, vocals; Dave Stryker,guitar; Jeremy Allen,bass.

As the saying goes, sometimes less is more. In this case, that old saying is perfectly clear and palpable. Rachel Caswell has a voice as sweet and pure as an angel. She is unadulterated pleasure to my ears and pitch perfect. No nasal sound or long runs to muddy the melody. She sells the song without much embellishing and by going straight to a tone like an arrow meeting its mark. No sliding. She doesn’t hide behind a lush orchestrated project. This is just a duet recording, featuring the three of them upfront, unapologetic and complimentary to each other in a most natural and jazzy way. She dances back and forth between voice and bass or vocals and guitar. When Caswell wants to squeeze more out of the music, she becomes the horn, scatting her way around the chord changes like a flute or sometimes like a saxophone; shades of Ella Fitzgerald and/or Cleo Laine. Her song repertoire is familiar and entertaining. The interesting arrangement on “If I Should Lose You” (using only bass and vocals) is uptempo, gregarious and gives her time to trade fours with the bassist. Favorite cuts are also “Agua De Beber”, “De-Dah”, “Sometimes I’m Happy” and “I’ve Never Been In Love Before”. She picks standards that are recognizable to the ear and pleasantly comfortable; offered to us like old friends sharing a bottle of wine at sunset.


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