New Music That Celebrates LA’s Amazing Talent Pool

Jessy J
Jessy J

Criss Cross - Live At The Red Sea

Criss Cross – Live At The Red Sea

K2B2 Records

Bill Cunliffe, piano; Marty Krystall, tenor saxophone; Buell Neidlinger, bass; Billy Osborne, drums; Hugh Schick, trumpet.

These tracks were lying dormant on some shelf, growing dust balls, when K2B2 Records took an interest in issuing something recorded two and a half decades ago. Recorded in February of 1990, this project features a young Bill Cunliffe on piano during a live performance at the Red Sea Ethiopian Restaurant in Santa Monica, California. Back then, Cunliffe had just won the coveted Thelonious Monk Piano Competition and this working band was publicized as “Thelonious.” Historically, the group founders, (Marty Krystall and Buell Neidlinger), were exploring Monk’s compositions. Happily, Cunliffe fit right in.

Krystall and Neidlinger’s main focus was preserving the artistic legacy of Thelonious Monk and paying tribute to the famed jazz pianist and composer. Joining them, hired for his impeccable time and creative talent, was drummer Billy Osborne, once part of the historic Jimmy Giuffre band with guitarist Jim Hall. Later, Osborne would turn down both Miles Davis and John Coltrane to drum and gig with The Montgomery Brothers. In 1990 he was part of this eclectic ‘Thelonius’ ensemble. I remember Osborne as the co-founder of LTD on A&M Records, along with his brother Jeffrey. At that time (1973) I was a publicist for A&M Records in Hollywood. I watched LTD grind out hit after Top 40 hit for that label, having no idea that Osborne’s roots were so deeply embedded in jazz.

Hugh Schick has worked with Buell Neidlinger and Marty Krystall on several projects. In 1990 he recorded with Krystall on the “Seeing Unknown Colors” album as both a composer and trumpeter. In 2001 he was featured on the release, “Thelonious Atmosphere” with Neidlinger and also on his “Big Drum” quartet album. Schick joined Krystall and Neidlinger when they attempted to bring the genius composition skills of Herbie Nichols to the forefront in an album called, “Marty Krystall Plays Herbie Nichols,” released on their record label (K2B2). All that is to say, you can hear the comfort level these familiar, old friends have with each other. There’s no studio over-dubs here; no cut and paste; no digital tampering.

This is an album created live and spontaneously on Pacific Coast Highway, by some of the best musicians in the business. You can’t date stamp this kind of jazz. It’s timeless! They tackle some of Monk’s best tunes, starting with his namesake piece (“Thelonious”), and then playing “Evidence” for seven and half entertaining minutes. You can hear members of the audience articulating support by hollering, “Yes – yes- yes!” You’ll enjoy each innovative solo, but they’ve kept the integrity of Monk’s compositions and arrangements respectfully intact including: “Let’s Call This,” “Skippy,” “Epistrophy,” and a beautifully interpreted “Ask Me Now.” Schick pulls the raw emotion out of his horn on this one! Krystall is especially compelling on “Friday the 13th”, although he leaves the stage (and according to the liner notes), walks the room, exciting the audience with his avant garde solo and inspired improvisation. Cunliffe extracts a multitude of melodic offerings woven nicely into the chord changes of “Friday the 13th”. Osborne continuously fuels the band’s fiery presentation on his interactive, but always steady drums. I long for more of Neidlinger in the mix. He brings forth the substance and root of the music, holding everyone in place like super glue, along with steady time and lush tonality on his bass. You can clearly hear him merge with Osborne, tight as a lock-and-key on “Let’s Call This.” I know how difficult it is to record ‘live’, but I just wish they could have pulled Neidlinger up a little louder in the mastering. Other than that one small criticism, here is a carefully wrapped package of Monk music that should be in every jazz collection.

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Lafayette Harris, Jr. -Bend To The Light

Lafayette Harris, Jr. Trio – Bend To The Light

Airmen Records

Lafayette Harris, Jr., piano; Lonnie Plaxico, bass; Willie Jones III, drums; Jazzmeia Horn, vocals.

Most of the music performed by this pianist is original and inspired. He documents on the CD the reason for each tune composed, which I found helpful in getting to know the musician and what motivates him. This CD is comfortably somewhere between smooth jazz and straight-ahead. The title tune has a definite ‘smooth jazz’ feel. The Luther Vandross composition titled “Take You Out” (co-written by Campbell, Lilly & Smith) is catchy and swings hard with L.A.’s own, Willie Jones III on drums and Lonnie Plaxico solid on bass. “Bend to the Light”, (the title tune) is cut twice, once as an instrumental and the other featuring Jazzmeia Horn who simply scats along with the piano melody and reinforces the composition at the end of this recording. Harris has a light touch on piano and keeps it simple, never losing the integrity of his melodies. He tends toward double hand arpeggio & scales that race up and down the keyboard. There’s a bit of ‘Stride’ piano, but for the most part the music is relaxed and makes for a comfortable listening experience with a bluesy undertone.

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Mark Christian Miller - Crazy Moon

Mark Christian Miller – Crazy Moon

Sliding Glass Door Productions

Mark Christian Miller, vocals; Josh Nelson, piano; Dave Robaire, bass; Sammy Miller, drums; Larry Koonse, guitar; Ron Stout, Trumpet; Billy Hulting, percussion; Bob Sheppard, bass clarinet.

It’s always great to hear a vocalist who chooses songs rarely recorded or refreshes old standards with creative arrangements. This CD does just that. Miller reaches back for a song I remember my grandmother singing as she baked buttermilk biscuits; “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams”. He introduces me to the verse that I had never heard before until this recording. Nice! Miller has a smooth, unobtrusive sound that makes me pay attention to the lyrics of each composition. He’s well supported by some of the best Los Angeles musicians. Josh Nelson is stellar on piano and Ron Stout gives a splendid trumpet solo on “Tomorrow Is My Turn.” It’s arranged in a Latin mode and that gives Billy Hulting a chance to steal the spotlight on percussion. “Cheek to Cheek” opens with just Sammy Miller’s tasty drums and Mark Miller’s vocals sliding across the up-tempo brush work, as smooth as Fred Astaire on a freshly polished dance floor. Nelson’s solo snatches the attention and throughout this Cd, I find myself drawn to his piano execution and improvisation. Not only is he a competent accompanist, Nelson swings hard and adds zest to this production. Kudos to vocalist Judy Wexler, who co-produced this project with Miller. I am impressed with the arrangements (by Nelson, Miller and Jaimeson Trotter) as well as the production. Not to mention, the mix is perfectly supportive of the vocalist, without inhibiting the musical accompaniment. Well done!

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Jessy J - My One And Only One

Jessy J – My One And Only One

Shanachie Records

Jessy J, tenor & alto saxophones/flute/vocals; Special guest, Gregg Karukas, keys/strings; Roberto Vally, bass; Special guest, Paul Brown, guitar; Sergio Gonzalez, drums; Richie Gajate Garcia, percussion; Lee Thornberg, brass; Jay Gore, rhythm guitar; Michael Nomad Ripoll, guitars/vocals/keys/Programming; Dave Hooper, drums; Oskar Cartaya, bass; Ruslan Sirota, piano; Ronnie Gutierrez, percussion; Norman Jackson, keys/strings; Frank Abraham, bass; Michael Angel, guitar; Lajhi Hampden, drums; Alex Al, bass; Taku Hirano, percussion; Zoux, keys; Janis Liebhart, background vocals.

The sweet, smooth, easy sounds of Jessy J glides out of my play deck and are comforting. There is something both sexy and soulful wrapped up in this female saxophonist’s presentation on her reed instruments. Jessy J, (born Jessica Arellanois) has co-written almost all of the songs on this, her fifth album, collaborating with Paul Brown and Lew Lang on the first two songs inclusive of the title tune. Both offer memorable melodies and are pleasant to the ear. She has been produced by and working with Paul Brown on several solo recordings since 2006. Her interpretation of the Toni Braxton hit record, “You’re Makin’ Me High” has real Blues appeal and is well produced, with stellar guitar work by Paul Brown and strong rhythm guitar by Michael Ripoll. It should get a lot of Smooth Jazz radio airplay. “The Tango Bay” has a tenacious Latin feel and makes me dance in my seat. “Paraiso Magico” follows suit, but with a slower tempo and adds Jessy J vocals, where she’s singing and chanting the tune title to promote the hook. The artist switches her instrument to flute on this cut and reaches into her Hispanic cultural roots on both compositions. I love the percussion work on these two tunes, featuring Ronnie Guittierez and Richie Gajate Garcia. On the cut titled, “Cuba”, penned by Jessy J. & Thiago Pinheiro, Iajhi Hampden shines on drums and keeps the groove pumped up and creative. His energy is infectious and seems to propel the band to play harder and stronger.

Raised in Hemet, California, Jessy J has earned her place in the spotlight. After obtaining a degree in “Jazz Studies” at the University of Southern California, she toured with such illuminated names as Michael Bolton, The Temptations, Seal, Jeff Lorber, Gerald Albright and has worked in the studio with Michael Bublé. Now, headlining her own strong unit, she’s songwriting, performing and expanding on her unique, artistic accomplishments. On this CD, Jessy J is continuing her climb to glowing solo success.

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Simon Frick - Solo

Simon Frick – Simon Frick Solo

Boomslang Records

Simon Frick, violins/songwriter/producer/arranger

Simon Frick has studied classical violin in Bludenz, Austria, as well as jazz and improvised music at the Anton Bruckner Privatuniversitat (University) in Linz. But you will also hear his love of rock and experimental music in these twelve songs, eight of which are his original compositions. Everything you hear on this album has been played on the violin, however he’s implementing various performance techniques and effect pedals. Violin is quite unique as a solo concept. If you are seeking the unusual in creative expression, check out Simon Frick. His solo violin artistry paints a musical canvas full of bright colors for your ears to enjoy, while he tickles your imagination.

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Hannah Burge - Green River Sessions

Hannah Burgé – Green River Sessions

Hannah Burgé, vocals; Robi Botos, acoustic piano, Fender Rhodes, Hammond B3, Nord; Paco Luviano, electric and acoustic basses and vocals; Mark Kelso, drums and percussion; Hendrik Meurkens, harmonica; Tony Zorzi, guitar; Kelly Jefferson, saxophone; Luisito Obregoso, vocals; Jalidan Ruiz, congas.

Hannah Burgé’s voice swells, amidst repetitious chants blended with the call and response of background voices. It’s very African; very Portuguese. This Canadian artist has written the first cut, “Art of Living” and it’s full of Yorubic traditional music influences. As the music progresses, I realize Burgé is a talent that is world-music-friendly, blending American jazz with Spanish, Portuguese, Indian and African cultures, singing in languages that dance off the singers lips like hot kisses. There’s a nice arrangement on “Be My Love” with a beautiful harmonica solo by special guest, Hendrik Meurkens. “Black Velvet” has an interesting lyric and showcases an outstanding electric guitar solo by Tony Zorzi. Burgé is a solid composer as well as a strong vocalist with a Masters Degree in Ethnomusicology. She has surrounded herself with outstanding musicians on this, her debut album. I found her back-up group compelling and entertaining stars individually. They sparkle brilliantly.

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Josh Maxey - Celebration Of Soul

Josh Maxey – Celebration of Soul

Miles High Records

Josh Maxey, guitar; Brian Charette, organ; Chaise Baird, saxophone; Jeremy Noller, drums; (special guest, Rodney Jones, guitar).

Recently, I was looking at the line-up for the Las Vegas Jazz Festival and it made me angry because they advertise it as a jazz event, but it’s mostly Rhythm and Blues. My roots are deeply embedded in Motown and R&B Music and I love R&B music, but it upsets the history of our culture when we disavow jazz as a legacy and dilute its importance as a world-respected art form. You can’t wave a magic wand and turn jazz into R&B or vice versa. Sure, we can have funk jazz and so-called smooth jazz, but jazz is NOT R&B. It’s not a rehearsed and repeatable music. It’s mastery and its musical importance is rooted in improvisation. Prefacing my review with that, I was worried about this CD, before I even listened, because of its title, “Celebration of Soul.” As the face of jazz expands, involving a metamorphosis of sorts, I was relieved to hear a recording that celebrates the soul of fusion, funk and straight ahead with organ, guitar and drums standing strong in center stage. This is the tenth release of music composed by the guitarist, Josh Maxey, and it’s a refreshing exploration of emotional moods, instrument mastery and well written music. I thoroughly enjoyed every cut on this musical milestone and yes, it’s all jazz! Perhaps Maxey said it best.

“The music on this recording expresses the many peaks and valleys of being human. It is a celebration of the jazz tradition, the sound of a band approaching new compositions with the intent of expressing not just the notes found on the page but the meaning that brings life to music. The spiritual tradition is a golden thread in improvised music.”

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