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Musings on Jazz, Blues and the Sabbath

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Margie Baker Sings with So Many Stars Margie Baker
Sings With So Many Stars
Consolidated Artists Productions
2014

Margie Baker didn't begin her career as a jazz and blues vocalist in the San Francisco area until she was nearly 40, but she made up for this delayed entry with endurance: She was often featured at the Monterey Jazz Festival and as in Festival road shows led by Richie Cole
Richie Cole
Richie Cole
b.1948
sax, alto
and the legendary James Moody
James Moody
James Moody
1925 - 2010
reeds
(for whom Baker penned "Mood for Mr. Moody"). Baker also became one of Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie
1917 - 1993
trumpet
's favorite vocalists and sat in with his band whenever she could—"He was my mentor until the day he died," she once recalled.

This two-CD retrospective celebrates not only Baker (now on the other side of 80) but also her devotion to the San Francisco Bay area that she served as a public school district educator and administrator for 48 years. She's joined in this celebration by So Many Stars from "Margie's musical galaxy," as she calls them, such as guitarist Rodney Jones
Rodney Jones
Rodney Jones
b.1956
guitar
, bassist/trombonist Chuck Bennett and percussionist John Santos
John Santos
John Santos
b.1955
percussion
, one of Baker's sixth grade students! "This is a tribute to them," Baker explains. "These are not egocentric, big-time musicians, but they're wonderful musicians. We work so much and so well together." (You can still occasionally hear Baker sing during Sunday brunch at the Hyatt Regency Hotel near San Francisco International Airport.)

With So Many Stars, Baker embodies a uniquely personal, warm and living history of popular, jazz and blues. Walking bass and rocking piano bounce her voice like a rubber ball through "Every Day I Have the Blues," and she swaggers through "Gee Baby (Ain't I Good to You?)" atop electric piano, like Etta James
Etta James
Etta James
1938 - 2012
vocalist
on an exceptionally sassy day. Disc one closes with Baker, bassist Bennett and pianist Keith Williams amplifying the Latin funk and jazz in Horace Silver
Horace Silver
Horace Silver
1928 - 2014
piano
's classic "Señor Blues."

But Baker's voice dances in shadows, too. The darkness of Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
1917 - 1982
piano
's meditation "'Round Midnight" illuminates all the weariness in a voice that's perfect for pulling out ache and wonder. Her rendition of "Go Away Little Boy" is the polar opposite of Donny Osmond's 1971 chart-topper in every imaginable way—resigned and worn, as Baker simply flattens out and elongates higher notes that her voice might not be able to otherwise reach.

Baker dedicates this version of "Mood for Mister Moody" to Moody's wife and daughter. When she sings, "I wanna move/ I wanna groove/ Come on and blow," the band—especially saxophonist Jules Broussard—sure takes up her invitation.

Baker's voice doesn't always find the right note right away. But it always finds, as "In a Mellow Tone," the softest pocket of a song's rhythm. If you're focused on pristine, pitch-perfect readings, Margie Baker Sings With So Many Stars is not for you. But if you want to listen to music that spills over with jazz and blues emotion, and genuinely feel the empathy between a singer and her supporting ensemble, it's a great set.

Puerta del Sur Bio Ritmo
Puerta del Sur
VampiSoul Records
2014

Bio Ritmo has kept the salsa flame burning for more than twenty years. "We all share a passion for salsa, a music that encompasses so many different styles and influences," explains producer, composer, pianist and bandleader Marlysse Simmons. "It's rooted in the experimentation of blending rhythms and sounds and this is exactly what we love to do."

"Our mission from day one was to write original music in the classic salsa style," concurs lead composer and vocalist Rei Alvarez, "and experimentation is as much a part of the tradition as the wide-ranging Afro-Cuban genres that it's based on."

Much of Puerta del Sur sounds and feels like you've plugged into a salsa-charged power outlet. "Picaresca" is utterly flawless in design and execution, and bursts open with brilliant musicality from all the piano, trumpet, timbales and trombone blossoming like a salsa hothouse flower. "Motocilengua" sounds a little more languid but no less hot, a dance groove crackling with Latin piano, percussion and vocals.

The big-band ballad "Perdido" elegantly dances, stately yet lively behind its twin, harmonized lead vocals, a traditional salsa sound that serves as the fulcrum for Puerta Del Sur. Bob Miller's trumpet solo scorches the sky while piano, bass, drums and percussion interlock and prance in the finest Latin traditions—classic, contemporary or slightly unconventional.

One barely knows where to begin with "Codeína,"seven minutes that the band describes as "a Latin-bolero meets 1960s Egyptian-classical." Even a quote that colorful doesn't do justice to the ancient yet digital feel of this atmospheric closer, especially while bassist Edward Prendergast slips an icy-cool bolero into its rhythms and the band adorns the arrangement in Arabic percussion and strings. "Codeína" provides one more brilliant example of Bio Ritmo's gift for contemporizing the salsa tradition with bits of other musical traditions and more progressive songwriting and production.

Bio Ritmo produced their 2006 release Salsa System with Jon Fausty, engineer from the legendary Latin label Fania Records, an experience that Alvarez describes as "like going to salsa boot camp." "Puerta del Sur really shows the evolution of Bio Ritmo," says Fausty. "It's the best yet."

Dinner Doombalaya
Doombalaya
Doombalaya
b.2004
composer/conductor

Dinner
Self Produced
2014

Doombalaya—"Jambalaya" with "Doom" in place of "Jam"—grew out of 2009/2010 jam sessions among Tulane University (Louisiana) jazz student. Since then, they've become deeply integrated with New Orleans' musicians and musical scene, playing in clubs uptown and downtown. "Doombalaya is a New Orleans Jazz/Afrobeat/Rock band that tries to push the limits of what we can do. We all have a deep love for music that's out and music that's in," explains composer and keyboardist Ethan Mitchel Stern
Ethan Mitchel Stern
b.1991
piano
. "We're a band full of Frank Zappa
Frank Zappa
Frank Zappa
1940 - 1993
guitar, electric
/Pharoah Sanders
Pharoah Sanders
Pharoah Sanders
b.1940
saxophone
/Art Tatum
Art Tatum
Art Tatum
1909 - 1956
piano
/Peter King
Peter King
Peter King
b.1940
/Paul Simon
Paul Simon
Paul Simon
b.1941
composer/conductor
fans that are developing our own sound."

Their first full-length release, the self-produced Dinner captures every aspect of Doombalaya's adventurous (sometimes even playful) spirit with colorful originals and cover versions from Guiseppe Verdi to Black Sabbath to the music of SuperMario® all rendered in firebrand and freewheeling jam.

You can tell that Doombalaya can jump and party from the opening "Gio Rio," its bass and drums burping out a staccato rhythm that the horns pick up and roast like the bebop classic "Salt Peanuts" strapped onto a rocket then blasted off to Mars. "Intra-Knot" weaves a more relaxed tempo with electric guitar and keyboards alternately constructing and deconstructing its circular, progressive rock hook. "Moonlight Epic" stretches into more traditional verse/chorus song structure with the band building ripples of progressive electric jazz-rock and Motown soul into waves of rhythm surrounding New Orleans vocalist Abby Diamond.

Dinner also serves more exotic fare. Crescent City horns romp through this colorful "Super Mario® Medley," music from and inspired by the videogame series that sometimes chuckles, sometimes laughs out aloud, with the iconoclastic yet humorous spirit of The Mothers of Invention. But even this won't prepare you for the bacon that Doombalaya makes out of "War Pigs," a foundational slab of molten heavy metal from Black Sabbath's landmark 1970 release Paranoid (Warner Bros.) expertly rearranged for their rollicking New Orleans style. Unison (and not so unison) horns burn hot and sinister through the opening free-for-all, and drummer Jason Winikoff thoroughly nails down Bill Ward's original thunder—including and especially Ward's beat-crunching entrance. Nine minutes gives every Doombalaya soloist a chance to shine in this genuine reinvention, always more easily said than done, of this iconic song.

Their rearrangement rocks Guiseppe Verdi's "Va, Pensiero" across a melancholy two-step, one more shining example of Doombalaya's innovative approach and versatility and the sweet final course of this tasty Dinner.

Doomjazz Giganticus Free Nelson Mandoomjazz
The Shape of Doomjazz to Come / Saxophone Giganticus
Rare Noise
2014

Free Nelson Mandoomjazz is one hellacious trio led by Rebecca Sneddon on alto saxophone with bassist Colin Stewart and a bone-crunching drummer credited only as Archibald, and herewith explodes onto the global music scene with a single-disc that pairs their EPsThe Shape of Doomjazz to Come and Saxophone Giganticus.

From their base in Edinburgh (Scotland), Free Nelson Mandoomjazz proves equally versed in the heaviest of heavy metal (including and especially Black Sabbath) and the most free of free jazz (including and especially saxophonists Albert Ayler
Albert Ayler
Albert Ayler
1936 - 1970
sax, tenor
and Ornette Coleman
Ornette Coleman
Ornette Coleman
b.1930
sax, alto
). Each EP obviously nods with a wink toward pillars of the modern jazz cannon—Coleman's The Shape of Jazz to Come (1959, Atlantic) and Sonny Rollins
Sonny Rollins
Sonny Rollins
b.1930
saxophone
' Saxophone Colossus (1956, Prestige)—while the band's name is at least partial tribute to South African freedom fighter Nelson Mandela. But other points of reference for Doomjazz/Giganticus aren't as easy to find.

Sneddon's alto seems to constantly switch between playing with and playing against the bass and drums. In several tunes, like "Into the Sky," the rhythm drops completely away to leave saxophone whispering and whistling alone in a dark sonic graveyard; in others, like "The Masque of the Red Death," alto swaps roles with bass to flow through more melodic playing churned by sharp bass improvisation. Bassist Stewart strums more reflectively to begin the not quite as vicious as it sounds "No One Fucking Posts to the UAE" before rocking its rhythm back and forth so solidly that it frees Sneddon to play wherever and however she pleases.

Doomjazz/Giganticus concludes with music written by or in honor of Domenico Scarlatti, Sonny Rollins
Sonny Rollins
Sonny Rollins
b.1930
saxophone
and Black Sabbath. Stewart plays walking lines so fast they turn "K54" (inspired by Scarlatti's "Sonata K54") into a tumbling run timed by Archibald's whipcrack snare and closed in a lovely coda. "Saxophone Giganticus" repeats its blues stomp over and over until its sound seems to grow monstrously big and deep, like Pink Floyd
Pink Floyd
Pink Floyd
b.1964
band/orchestra
nursing an electric blues grudge. They close with Sneddon abstractly sketching the leadoff and ultimate track from Black Sabbath's eponymous 1970 debut (Warner Bros.).

What, no "21st Century Schizoid Man"?

Jazz is sometimes criticized by fans of other musical styles for being too intellectual and not as visceral as blues or rock can be. Free Nelson Mandoomjazz shatters that criticism to pieces with rhythms that rip from deep and powerful places, and land so hard in your ears that you feel their punch in your guts.

Live at the Gallery Elias Haslanger
Elias Haslanger
Elias Haslanger
b.1969
sax, tenor

Live at the Gallery
Cherrywood
2014

Live at the Gallery boasts rollicking, soulful performances of a first-class set list recorded live and hot onstage at a packed jazz club in Austin (Texas) led by Texas native, Austin resident and tenor saxophonist Elias Haslanger and featuring soloists Dr. James Polk
Dr. James Polk
Dr. James Polk
b.1940
piano
(another native Texan and former organist, pianist, writer, arranger and conductor for Ray Charles
Ray Charles
Ray Charles
1930 - 2004
piano
) on Hammond B-3 organ and Jake Langley on guitar.

Haslanger, who studied at the Manhattan School of Music, the University of Texas and Southwest Texas State University (when he received the DownBeat Student Music Award for College Outstanding Tenor Saxophone Performance), straddles the US east coast / Midwest tenor sounds. "New York was obviously a great learning experience but I'm more comfortable, personally and musically, back in Austin," he allows. "I think that's given me more confidence to develop my own sound and use it to explore new types of music." In 2013, Haslanger was short-listed by the Texas Commission on the Arts for the role of State Musician of Texas, an honor previously bestowed on such artists as Lyle Lovett
Lyle Lovett
Lyle Lovett
b.1957
guitar
and Willie Nelson.

"One for Daddy O," from Julian "Cannonball" Adderley
Julian
Julian "Cannonball" Adderley
1928 - 1975
saxophone
's landmark Somethin' Else (1958, Blue Note) opens Live at the Gallerywith great feeling and sound—a little funk, a little blues, a little bounce and a ton of soul. Next, Polk's B-3 creeps into "Watermelon Man" (Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
b.1940
piano
) to quickly introduce solos by Haslanger, whose tenor burns like a Texas brushfire, and Langley, who seems to channel Grant Green
Grant Green
Grant Green
1935 - 1979
guitar
or Ivan Boogaloo Jones or a comparable soul-jazz guitar ace. Haslanger's hot runs through "Watermelon Man," "I Thought About You" and "Adam's Apple" (by Wayne Shorter
Wayne Shorter
Wayne Shorter
b.1933
saxophone
) sound like lost classics from Prestige Records' tenor/B-3 soul jazz catalog, including and especially Sonny Stitt
Sonny Stitt
Sonny Stitt
1924 - 1982
saxophone
's extensive recordings with Don Patterson
Don Patterson
Don Patterson
1936 - 1988
organ, Hammond B3
.

Or, if you prefer, Haslanger's take on Horace Silver
Horace Silver
Horace Silver
1928 - 2014
piano
's timeless "Song for My Father" sounds so much like Stanley Turrentine
Stanley Turrentine
Stanley Turrentine
1934 - 2000
sax, tenor
playing this tune in the funky Blue Note Records company of guitarist Grant Green
Grant Green
Grant Green
1935 - 1979
guitar
and Dr. Lonnie Smith
Dr. Lonnie Smith
Dr. Lonnie Smith
b.1942
organ, Hammond B3
on B-3. Haslanger sounds soulful, blue and hot, stretching out his lines across several bars and then blistering the melody with hot staccato. In "Goin' Down," a favorite of Texas blues guitar ace Stevie Ray Vaughan
Stevie Ray Vaughan
Stevie Ray Vaughan
1954 - 1990
guitar
, the saxophonist does more than sing—he testifies—the blues!

If you've ever wondered what Eddie Harris
Eddie Harris
Eddie Harris
1934 - 1994
saxophone
, Billy Butler
Billy Butler
b.1925
and Jimmy Smith
Jimmy Smith
Jimmy Smith
1925 - 2005
organ, Hammond B3
might sound like jamming together in heaven, now you know. Live at the Gallery is simply a great live set.

Road Scholars Live Stan Kenton Alumni Band
Road Scholars Live
Summit
2014

For more than twenty years, the Stan Kenton
Stan Kenton
Stan Kenton
1911 - 1979
piano
Alumni Band has kept the pulse of big-band jazz strongly beating through regular touring under the direction of trumpet master Mike Vax
Mike Vax
Mike Vax

trumpet
, who served as the Orchestra's first trumpet, soloist and road manager (and also spent one year leading The Dukes of Dixieland, a genuine New Orleans musical treasure) before assuming leadership of the Stan Kenton Alumni Band.

Road Scholars Live captures this Band in their element: Blowing hot and cool through an encyclopedic survey of modern styles for an appreciative concert audience during their 2013 performance tour. It pulls out of the gate on the strong rhythmic tracks laid by pianist Charlie Ferguson and bassist Jennifer Leitham in "Neverbird," written by Kenton trumpeter/arranger Ray Brown
Ray Brown
Ray Brown
1926 - 2002
bass, acoustic
in honor of the Orchestra's 1970s tour bus (This bus is further commemorated in the original cover art drawn by cartoonist Tom Batiuk of Funky Winkerbean fame).

"Stompin' at the Savoy" shines with all the brilliance of a highly polished ballroom dance floor, with ensemble and solo highlights that seem to reflect both the Glenn Miller
Glenn Miller
Glenn Miller
1904 - 1944
trombone
and Benny Goodman
Benny Goodman
Benny Goodman
1909 - 1986
clarinet
Orchestras. "Stompin'" leads into the Latin-tinged Chico & the Man, originally written by Jose Feliciano as the TV show theme but here a springboard for Vax's enchanting trumpet solo. "Sneaky" twists into another different mood, with bassist Leitham and drummer Gary Hobbs rocking the tempo hard and fast and saxophone soloists blowing high heat to match.

Even after two vocal stops—"Stockholm Sweetnin'" (written by Quincy Jones
Quincy Jones
Quincy Jones
b.1933
producer
) and "Cinnamon and Cloves"—this tour continues to find new and different venues to explore. "Nessun Dorma" masterfully rearranges Giacomo Puccini's aria for Vax's solo trumpet before the Band rips like a howling wind through Lennie Niehaus
Lennie Niehaus
Lennie Niehaus
b.1929
composer/conductor
' arrangement (custom written for Kenton's Orchestra) of "Lullaby of Broadway."

"Reed Rapture" crowns Road Scholars with Kenton's brilliant original written and arranged for saxophones only, but sounding like a complete orchestra thanks to Kenton's compositional, and his Alumni Band's instrumental, genius.

Tracks and Personnel:

Sings With So Many Stars

Tracks: Disc One: Deed I Do; 'Round Midnight; Mais Que Nada; So Many Stars; Gee Baby; In a Mellow Tone; Go Away Little Boy; Every Day I Have the Blues; You've Changed; Señor Blues. Disc Two: Lazy Afternoon; Mood for Mr. Moody; Invitation; Lucky So and So; Can't Take My Eyes Off of You; Chains of Love; I Want a Little Boy; Nightingale; There Will Never Be Another You; Come Sunday.

Personnel: Margie Baker: vocals; Danny Armstrong: trombone; Chuck Bennett: bass; Jules Broussard: saxophone; Bob Brumbeloe: guitar; Rhoyalbaib Foston: drums; Duncan James: guitar; Rodney Jones: guitar; Melecio Magdaluyo: saxophone, flute; Shota Osabe: piano, synthesizer; Jerry Pannone: drums; John Santos: percussion; Harley White, Sr.: bass; Keith Williams: piano.

Puerta del Sur

Tracks: Se Les Olvidó; La Vía; Picaresca; Perdido; Motocilengua; Pájaro Pío Pío; Le Dicen Dolor; Codeína.

Personnel: Rei Alvarez: vocals, guiro, maracas, drum set; Marlysse Rose Simmons: piano, Farfisa VIP 600, Nord Electro 3, Juno 106, sound effects; Giustino Riccio: timbales, coro, drum set; Hector "Coco" Barez: congas, doumbek; Edward Prendergast: electric bass; Tobias Whitaker: trombone; Bob Miller: trumpet, coro, synthesizer; Mark Ingraham: cornet; John Lilley: tenor saxophone; Laura Ann Singh: coros; Bryan Vargas: cuatro; Chris Bates: trombone; JC Kuhl: baritone saxophone; Gabo Tomasini: bongos; Mike E. Montañez: bongos; Ellen Cockerham: violin; Treesa Gold: violin; Kim Ryan: viola; Matt Gold: bass.

Dinner

Tracks: Gio Rio; Intra-Knot; Moonlight Epic (featuring Abby Diamond); Llenos de Balas; War Pigs; Just Right; Vitiligo; Bad Dancing Never Killed the Ground; Super Mario Medley; Va, Pensiero.

Personnel: Matt Rosen: guitars, vocals; Ethan M. Stern: keyboards, guitars, percussion, vocals; Cleveland Donald: trumpet, vocals; Ari Kohn: tenor sax, vocals; David Bode: alto sax; Matthew Van Houten: baritone sax; Nick Benoit: bass; Jason Winikoff: drums, percussion, Mario; Cyrus Nabipoor: trumpet; Abby Diamond: vocals.

The Shape of Doomjazz to Come / Saxophone Giganticus

Tracks: Where My Soul Can Be Free; Into the Sky; The Masque of the Red Death; No One Fucking Posts to the UAE; K54; Saxophone Giganticus; Black Sabbath.

Personnel: Rebecca Sneddon: alto sax; Colin Stewart: bass; Archibald: drums.

Live at the Gallery

Tracks: One for Daddy O; Watermelon Man; I Thought About You; Goin' Down; Song for My Father; Misty; Adam's Apple; In a Sentimental Mood.

Personnel: Elias Hanslanger: tenor sax; Dr. James Polk: B-3 organ; Jake Langley: guitar; Scott Laningham: drums; Daniel Durham: bass.

Road Scholars Live

Tracks: Neverbird; I Have Dreamed; Stompin' At the Savoy; Chico & the Man; Sneaky; Yesterdays; Beautiful Friendship; Stockholm Sweetnin'; Cinnamon & Clove; Nessun Dorma; Lullaby of Broadway; Reed Rapture; Alex Revisited; America the Beautiful.

Personnel: Ginger Berglund: vocals; Rick Bullock: trombone; Rick Condit: saxophone; Dale Devoe: trombone; Charlie Ferguson: piano; Pete Gallio: saxophone; Phil Hilger: saxophone; Gary Hobbs: drums; Dee Huffsteter: Latin percussion; Steve Huffsteter: trumpet; Joel Kaye: saxophone; Jennifer Leitham: bass; Dennis Noday: trumpet; Don Rader: trumpet; Kim Richmond: saxophone; Carl Saunders: trumpet; Kenny Shroyer: trombone; Mike Vax: trumpet; Scott Whitfield: trombone, vocals; Roy Wiegand: trombone.


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