New Music For The New Year – Four CD Reviews

(Dec 30, 2014, 8:54 AM PDT)

North by Northeast – Featuring Steven Pouchie & His Latin Ensemble

Latin Jazz Alive Records – 2014

Steven Pouchie

Steven Pouchie, vibraphone & marimba; Diego Lopez, drums; Julio Botti, tenor saxophone; Solo Rodriguez, bass; Adan Perez and Sam Barries, keyboards; Jorge Maldonado, vocals; Joe DeJesus, Cuban flute; Roman Diaz, Bata; Guido Gonzalez, trumpet; Charle Alletto, guitars; Andy Hunter, trombone.

North by Northeast is a party to my ears; Latin jazz at it’s best! Every tune is full of energetic happiness, textured by Afro-Carribean rhythms and percussive Bronx brilliance. This recording will make the shyest wallflower blossom and want to dance.

The title song is absolutely engaging and introduces North by Northeast with a bang; both the tune and the group. From that moment on, the listener is on a roller coaster of beautifully performed and arranged music sparked by Latin culture, showcasing rich rhythms. On the sweet, soulful Bollero ballad, “Tus Ojos”, the group intoxicates with angelic, choir-like vocal harmonies to support lead singer Jorge Maldanado and jazzy vibraphonist/co-producer, Steve Pouchie. Every cut on this CD celebrates Latino roots infused with jazz sensibility.

On cut #7, the familiar Rodgers & Hammerstein’s standard, “My Favorite Things” is presented in a totally unique way with 12/8 Afro/Cuban rhythms and a percussive chant that spears the unusual and punctuates a delightful arrangement by Pouchie. I enjoyed the enchanting bass arrangement by Wilson “Chembo” Corniel; who, by the way, also co-produced this CD.

These are New York musicians, bonded together like super glue on cement steps, tight and solid. They perform as a formidable unit of unbreakable excellence.

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Linda Presgrave – Along the Path
Metropolitan Records

Linda Presgrave, pianist/arranger/composer; Harvie S, acoustic & electric bass; Allison Miller, drums & gongs; Stan Chovnick, soprano sax; Todd Herbert, tenor sax; Vincent Herring, alto sax; MJ Territo, voice.

Linda Presgrave is the composer and arranger of all the tunes on this recording with the exception of one. The title song sets the stage for a long list of musical characters to take bow after bow. Harvie S on acoustic bass is superb and drummer Allison Miller’s solo is powerful and creative. Presgrave’s musicians shine with excellence and make her compositions come alive. This artist’s strong point is in composition.

The tune, “Where East Meets West,” mingles fourth intervals and minor keys on the introduction. This creates a musical imagery of Asian influences that smoothly morph into melodic western major scales. Presgrave, with her own simplistic style, introduces each composition with pianistic assertiveness. Her compositions and arrangements are more noteworthy than her jazz piano skills, but I can easily see how her talent carries this artist to many countries and how that travel has colored her album.

The first suite of songs concentrates on her Asian tours and the second on her European travel. Unfortunately the tone and meter of the first suite remains the same throughout. If only she had sped up the rhythm on one or two of her compositions, this could have helped her project become more engaging. “Colors of Collioure” ventures into Waltz time very sweetly to introduce us to The French Suite. However, the rhythm meter is still in close proximity to all the other tunes. Song number six, “Bird of Ceret,” is lovely and arranged as a Bossa Nova. Here too, the rhythm remains the same moderate tempo as much of this album reflects. The Tenth song (a repeat of “Bird of Ceret” is sung by the lyricist, MJ Territo.) Not all songwriters should sing.

“Universal Freedom” written by her husband, Stan Chovnik, features him on soprano saxophone and brings some Coltrane-like energy to this project. Todd Herbert sounds amazing on tenor sax. All in all, Presgrave’s travel “Along the Path” is easy listening, with minimal fan fare. No mountains or valleys are prominent, but her composition skills shine.

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Jack Mouse & Scott Robinson – Snake Heads & Ladybugs
Tall Grass Records

Jack Mouse, producer/drums; Scott Robinson, tenor and C-melody saxophones/cornet and e-flat clarinet.

Here is an artistic duet of richly provocative sounds and rhythms, like a spoken poem, using instruments to tell emotional stories. There is an obvious unity between these two musicians who produce an intriguing love dance by executing only percussive and reed creativity. I was fascinated by the sheer beauty of their musical experimentation and improvisational wit. Adjectives that come to mind to describe this sound-art are: ambiguous and eidetic; ancestral, kinetic and at times, feral, but always numinous.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Jazz Xpressions – Manny Kellough
Independent label

Ashley Wey, piano; Dave Bennett, baritone & tenor saxophones; Chris Louard, bass; Manny Kellough, drums; Nick Weir, guitar; Azure McCall, vocals.

This CD was recorded live. Every now and then you hear an exuberant burst of comment from the audience, testifying to the player’s prowess with a loud “Yeah”.

This is a group of musicians who make their living playing as a unit on cruise ships. Kellough is a gold record drummer who was part of the electrifying Billy Preston group back-in-the-day and he is the seasoned veteran, with deep roots in jazz. I enjoyed him and his ensemble in person a few years back and he is the personality on the bandstand who puts the pizzazz in the jazz. The young lady on piano, Ashley Wey, displays a distinct love of the blues in her playing and the bassist, Chris Louard, is solid. On “Love For Sale” it’s nice to hear a baritone saxophone swing hard. However, I found Dave Bennett’s reed skills more palatable on flute.

Unfortunately the mix on this recording is poorly done, as is the recording itself and detracts from their musicianship. Azure McCall on vocals is smooth and powerful singing “Nature Boy” and other standards. She adds sugar to the musical stew and sweetens the pot. There’s no doubt that the drummer and celebrated artist, Manny Kellough, puts the ‘S’ in swing and is the motivating force on his ‘live’ bandstand. However, he should have gone into the studio to professionally record, master and mix this project for the sake of art, excellence and his own treasured legacy.  Still, always working, he’ll be able to sell it from the stage.

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