Category Archives: Jazz

Project Them – Project Th3m


When experienced and accomplished musicians come together, good things usually happen. That is the case with Project Them, featuring Bob Franceschini and Mark Sherman. The album, Project TH3M (Miles High Records, 2013) is a set of mostly original songs.

Franceschini plays tenor saxophone and flute; Sherman plays vibraphone. The two leaders were students together at the High School of Music and Art in New York City.

With them are Mitchel Forman, piano and organ; Martin Gjakonovski, bass; Adam Nussbaum, drums; and Paolo Di Sabatino, piano. Each has established himself as a leader or a session player with other artists. Collectively, their associations include Mike Stern, the Yellowjackets, Dave Liebman, Stan Getz, Gil Evans, Gary Burton, Kenny Wheeler, Mel Torme, Gerry Mulligan, Wayne Shorter and the Mahavinshu Orchestra.

“Submissive Dominants,” penned by Sherman, is a straightforward jazz piece. Tenor and vibes unite for the melody before Franceschini takes point. There is plenty of activity behind the lead. The tenor gets a good workout with intense support from the others. Then things go quiet for Sherman’s highlight. After a high-speed roll, Sherman and the rhythm section gradually build up before reverting to the main theme.

Franceschini wrote “Minor Turns,” a freely expressive selection. The tenor and vibes do their things, but the thrill of this song lies in the accompaniment. Bass, organ and drums shine even when the spotlight isn’t on them.

Project Them began touring in early 2013, playing in Europe and grooming some of the tunes on Project TH3M.

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Scott Wilson & Stark Raving – Kackle Jackle


Kackle Jackle” is the new recording from trumpeter Scott Wilson’s band Stark Raving. Scott Wilson has established himself as one of the rising stars of jazz – both as a performer and as a pedagogue. Since earning two masters degrees from the University of North Texas and paying his dues on concert stages from Orlando to Osaka, Scott is in constant demand as a player, composer and educator. In addition to his dynamic live and recorded performances on trumpet, he is regarded as one of the world’s foremost proponents of the electronic valve instrument (EVI).

Wilson has diverse international performance credits having shared the stage with jazz luminaries including Benny Green, Wayne Bergeron, Gordon Goodwin, Conrad Herwig, Wycliffe Gordon, Stevie Wonder, Jeff Coffin, Shelly Berg, Denis DeBlasio, Peter Erskine, Eric Marienthal, Bobby Shew, Slide Hampton, Terrell Stafford, Ron Blake, John Pizzarelli, Ed Shaughnessy, Alex Acuna, and others. He is joined in Stark Raving by a group of players that are not only Grammy-nominees and Downbeat Award-winners, but are renowned educators who have inspired thousands of young musicians.

Kackle Jackle” features six Scott Wilson originals and three carefully chosen covers (from John Coltrane, Hank Mobley, and Joe Henderson) and has broad appeal across multiple formats. A transcription book has been released as well that features transcriptions of the trumpet, EVI, and trombone solos. Give this album a listen at CDBaby.

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Ghost Train Orchestra – Book of Rhapsodies

Ghost-Train-Orchestra –Book-of-Rhapsodies

Part sass, part throwback. That’s the recipe for Book of Rhapsodies (Accurate, 2013), the second outing by the Ghost Train Orchestra.

The ensemble consists of Brian Carpenter, trumpet, slide trumpet and voice; Andy Laster, alto saxophone, flute; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet; Petr Cancura, tenor saxophone, clarinet; Curtis Hasselbring, trombone; Ron Caswell, tuba; Mazz Swift, violin; Tanya Kalmanovitch, viola; Avi Bortnick, guitar; Michael Bates, double bass; and Rob Garcia, drums. Additional players are Brandon Seabrook, banjo on “The Happy Farmer,” Matt Samolis, flute on “The Children Met the Train” and “Revolt of the Yes Men,” and the Book of Rhapsodies Choir: Yolanda Scott, soprano; Katie Seiler, mezzo-soprano; Mazz Swift, alto; Tomas Cruz, tenor; Brian Carpenter, baritone; and Joe Chappel, bass.

Book of Rhapsodies is a different kind of cover album. Instead of the usual offerings by jazz greats or the American Songbook, Ghost Train revisits some off-the-beaten-path compositions. These songs are adapted from recordings by the Alec Wilder Octet, the John Kirby Sextet, the Raymond Scott Quintet, and Reginald Forsythe and His New Music.

Wilder’s “Dance Man Buys a Farm” is a cool, happy-go-lucky piece. The choir complements the instruments with wordless chants – sort of a group scat. The strings fit prominently. The various voices blend, mix and match and overlap for a full, pleasing sound.

One of Scott’s most widely recognized compositions is “Powerhouse,” a piece often used in animated features to accompany assembly line activity. For this project, Ghost Train Orchestra chose a lesser-known title, “At an Arabian House Party.” The reed instruments carry the melody over a slick, bass groove with the brass underneath. The mood shifts from that of a swing dance to a caravan trudging across an Arabian desert.

The set closes with Scott’s “Celebration on the Planet Mars,” the longest, most free-spirited track in the set. Bortnick cuts loose about two-thirds into the piece with strong support from the horns, Bates and Garcia. The song also goes through some melodic transitions, shifting form blistering, high-energy movement to tranquility, a moment to pause and reflect.

The Ghost Train Orchestra was formed in 2006 after Carpenter was named musical director for an event marking the 60th anniversary of the Regent Theater in Arlington, Massachusetts.

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Fareed Haque – Out of Nowhere


Deemed a modern guitar virtuoso, Fareed Haque goes on an adventure with Out of Nowhere (Charleston Square Recordings, 2013).

Voted “Best World Guitarist” by Guitar Player magazine, he has toured with Zawinul Syndicate, Sting and Paquito D’Rivera.

Haque goes with a trio format on half the songs and quintet for the other half. The trio includes Billy Hart on drums and George Mraz on bass. Bassist Doug Weiss contributes to “TexMex Jungle.” The quintet consists of Rob Clearfield, piano; Corey Healey, drums; John Tate, bass; and Salar Nader, tabla and percussion.

“TexMex Jungle” has an upbeat, finger-snapping pace. The guitar appears to be layered as there is a rhythm track underneath the lead. Hart infuses some metronome quality rim shots. Weiss goes to town during his solo, snapping the strings with vigor. Haque demonstrates speed and accuracy as he puts the guitar through a series of high-speed rolls.

The quintet takes on the Coltrane classic, “Giant Steps.” Haque’s haunting play, combined with an assortment of electronic sounds, make this one of the most unique interpretations. He adds a bit of wah-wah to the rhythm when Clearfield takes point. One of the atmospheric effects is what sounds like someone attempting to tune a two-way radio.

Haque was 50 at the time of this recording, Raised in Chicago by a Pakistani father and Chilean mother, he says he grew up playing jazz, blues and R&B on the Chicago scene. Those styles come through in different forms on Out of Nowhere.

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Tom Kennedy – Just Play

Tom-Kennedy –Just-Play

Take vintage compositions, mix with a few stars of today, and you’ll get a delicacy for the ears. Bassist Tom Kennedy accomplishes this with Just Play (Capri Records, 2013).

Kennedy delivers fresh interpretations of songs composed by Sonny Rollins, Victor Young, Lee Morgan (the review copy incorrectly credits Freddie Hubbard with “Ceora”), Duke Ellington, Cedar Walton, Dave Brubeck and Cole Porter.

For this outing, Kennedy calls upon the talents of Dave Weckl, drums; Renee Rosnes, piano; George Garzone, tenor sax; Mike Stern, guitar; Tim Hagans, trumpet; Lee Ritenour, guitar; John Allred, trombone; and Steve Wirts, tenor sax. Kennedy plays acoustic bass.

The Rollins classic “Airegin” opens the set. Though a mid-sized ensemble, Kennedy and friends play it with all the verve of a big band. Garzone makes the tenor wail during his solo, and Rosnes licks her chops. The leader isn’t content to stand back and watch. Kennedy gets quite busy underneath the leads, as does Weckl. Of course, the bass gets its moment to shine as well.

Stern composed the one original song, “One Liners.” His distinctive guitar voice blends well with one of the tenors. The song is more fusion than classic, but still fits well with the overall concept. The other horns sit this one out as the smaller lineup cranks up the heat.
Walton’s “Bolivia” brings back that little big-band feel. One of the tenors carries the load much of the way, and Weckl renders a solo similar to Joe Morello’s job on the definitive “Take Five.”

Kennedy has recorded or performed with a range of artists, including Michael Brecker with Steps Ahead, Al DiMeola, Mike Stern, David Sanborn, Joe Sample and Lee Ritenour. Recorded in one day at Nola Studios in New York City, Just Play is like a structured jam session. Many of the songs were recorded in one take. Kennedy dedicates the recording to his brother, Ray, who has multiple sclerosis.

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Raised in an eclectic musical household, Natalie Cressman has only continued to diversify and expand her musical universe. Still in her early 20s, the trombonist, composer, and vocalist has assimilated the full range of her sonic influences into a startlingly mature, strikingly original voice that melds the sophistication of modern jazz with captivating storytelling and intoxicating melodies reminiscent of indie rock’s most distinctive songwriters. 
Cressman has spent much of the last three years touring the jam band circuit with Phish’s Trey Anastasio, while also performing with jazz luminaries Nicholas Payton, Wycliffe Gordon, and Peter Apfelbaum. Those varied experiences are reflected on her gorgeous second release, Turn the Sea. Anastasio calls the album “a beacon of light in an increasingly cold and mechanized era of music. Natalie is standing on the precipice of an incredible life in music, and if this album is any indication of where she’s headed, then I’ll be listening every step of the way.”
Inspired in part by those bandleaders’ boundary-blurring approaches, Turn the Sea reveals a sound that’s utterly uncategorizable but instantly accessible, one that belies but is also a product of Cressman’s youth. “I want to make music that my own generation can respond to,” Cressman says. “I would really love for anyone to listen to my music and find something to relate to. I don’t want to shut people out by being overly sophisticated and esoteric, even though everything I write is jazz-based and more dynamic and spontaneous than a lot of the music that is wildly popular.”
The disc features a stellar eight-piece band, largely culled from Cressman’s Bay Area peers: trumpeter Ivan Rosenberg, flutist and clarinetist Steven Lugerner, saxophonist James Casey, keyboardist Samora Pinderhughes, guitarist Gabe Schneider, bassist Jonathan Stein, and drummer Michael Mitchell join the bandleader, who sings and plays trombone. The two talents, she says, are intimately related. “I think the fact that I sing influences and affects the way I play the trombone and vice versa. The voice in my head that I write with and play with and sing with is the same, but the medium is different.”
Cressman switched coasts in 2009 to study at the Manhattan School of Music, and the following year was enlisted by jam band pioneer Trey Anastasio for his touring band. “I first met Natalie when she was 18, and I was instantly floored by how melodically and naturally she played and sang,” Anastasio says. “Natalie is the rarest of musicians. Born into a musical family and raised in a home filled with the sounds of Brazilian music, jazz and Afro-Cuban rhythms, she is seeping with innate musicality. Musicality is in her DNA.”
Following her jazz-oriented debut, Unfolding, with the more song-based Turn the Sea was at least partially a result of her tenure with Anastasio, Cressman says. “Trey always wants to include the audience, but he doesn’t dumb down his music to do it. I find myself between two worlds with the music that I’m writing; it’s not bread and butter jazz but it’s not wholly anything else either.”
The album also features songs by two of Cressman’s inspirations, reconfigured for her ensemble and voice. Norwegian singer-songwriter Hanne Hukkelberg provides “Do Not As I Do,” while “Blindsided” is a song by indie favorite Bon Iver. The latter maintains the ethereal mood conjured by the original. “He gets a lot of mileage out of not too much,” Cressman says of Bon Iver singer-songwriter Justin Vernon. “I’m trying to discover how little I can write and still have it mean as much as possible.”
Upcoming Natalie Cressman Performances:
March 20 / Church of Boston / Boston, MA
March 21 / Nectar’s / Burlington, VT
March 22 / Smoke Signals / Lake Placid, NY
March 26 / River Street Jazz Café / Plains, PA
March 27 / The Press Room / Portsmouth, NH
March 28 / The Main Pub / Manchester, CT
March 30 / Joe’s Pub  / New York, NY
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