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All About Jazz says all that “GLITTER”s is gold on Amanda Monaco’s new one

The multi-talented Mae West once said that “personality is the glitter that sends your little gleam across the footlights and the orchestra pit into that big black space where the audience is.” West, of course, thrived in a different era, worked in different formats, and was more than likely addressing another artistic discipline entirely with that specific statement. But those remarks still apply here. In fact, everything in there—minus the orchestra pit and footlights—is really dead-on.

Guitarist Amando Monaco’s Glitter is the kind of recording that hits the sweet spot for lovers of straight ahead jazz who appreciate a good amount of artistic character and playfulness in their music. These songs swing, simmer, and smile, projecting warmth and joy while showcasing Monaco’s no-nonsense playing. If anybody out there still believes musicians can’t be serious and have fun at the same time, Glitter may very well cure them of that belief.

Monaco’s bandmates for this project—baritone saxophonist Lauren Sevian, organist Gary Versace, and drummer Matt Wilson—are a truly simpatico set, equally comfortable paving a zany and crooked path or walking a straight line. There’s nothing this crew isn’t good at. Looking for a ballad to bring a tear to the eye? Check out this quartet’s take on “Theme For Ernie,” with Sevian delivering some of the most heart-warming bari work you’re likely to hear today. Want something a little more left-of-center instead? Give “Mimosa Blues” and/or “Gremlin From The Kremlin” a try. Versace’s puckish wit is painted all over both numbers. Craving something exciting or a pure groove tune instead? This foursome has you covered with the up swing of “Dry Clean Only” and the boogaloo-buoyed “The Mean Reds.” Monaco offers something for almost everybody with this playlist.

There’s a lot to appreciate in these nine tracks—Wilson’s sterling support and repartee, Versace’s wide-ranging vocabulary, and Sevian’s flexibility and near-telepathic connection to the leader all certainly register—but Monaco’s guitar work is at the very top of the list. Her clean-toned approach, directness, and concision—qualities that may seem antithetical to the concept of establishing one’s own voice—actually help her to stand out, both in this mix and in the grand scheme of the jazz guitar world. It’s downright refreshing to hear somebody really focusing on putting over melody and delivering a satisfying solo chorus or two of fully comprehensible ideas. All that glitters may not be gold, but this album and its creator certainly are.

Dan Bilawsky – All About Jazz

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Ken Fowser’s “Now Hear This” 11 originals built for hard, no-frills blowing

Tenorist Ken Fowser isn’t one to waste time or mince words on distractions peripheral to musical expression, particularly when there’s a seasoned band under his name available to engage in the same. Now Hear This! reflects that directness of character and intent in both title and content with a program of eleven originals built for hard, no-frills blowing. His colleagues on the date are comparably-minded, greeting the concise postbop vehicles provided with collective élan and an emphasis on candor and precision.

“Blast Off” a credible opener in conveying the larger intent behind the album with a tight, propulsive head and biting solos from the leader, trumpeter Josh Bruneau and pianist Rick Germanson in short order. “Hear and Now” dials down the tempo slightly, but the rhythm section led by Germanson still swings strongly on the flowing, vampish beat anchored by the supple walking line from bassist Paul Gill. Bruneau switches to the rounder tones of flugelhorn for his statement before deferring to a piano sortie stamped with sharper angles.

“Blues for Mabes” gives a shout out to septuagenarian pianist Harold Mabern, Jr. and the sort of boogaloo-infused burners that were the elder’s buttered bread in the employ of bandleaders like Art Blakey and Lee Morgan. An aggressive rolling backbeat works as flexible springboard for loose-limbed tenor locution answered by Bruneau’s crisp trills and runs. Germanson’s the real star of the piece though with a block chord showcase that’s deep in the pocket without feeling constrictive. That balance of clean, logical linearity and emotive thrust carries through across the entirety of the session.

None of Fowser’s tunes stray too far from the winning formula of past masters of the idiom, but that fealty is part of the music’s underlying charm. “One and Done” and “Fair to Middlin’” echo their numerous antecedents in the venerated Blue Note and Prestige catalogs with familiar hardbop-minted structures while retaining enough original Fowser-inculcated DNA to resist the charge of opportune imitation. Backed up by top gear blowing and a palpable sense of shared purpose and propriety the results can’t help but come across as winsome and worthwhile.

Derek Taylor – Dusted Magazine

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Sperrazza has absorbed the lessons of music’s past on “Juxtaposition”

The most intriguing thing about Juxtaposition, Vinnie Sperrazza‘s recently released recording, is its loose grip on the jazz tradition. The disc’s twelve tracks don’t come with a set of standard, recognizable references. Not unlike many of today’s leading young artists, Sperrazza has absorbed the lessons of the music’s past, and is currently interested in doing things on his own terms instead of dwelling in the accomplishments of his elders. The other essential aspect of the record is it’s overall disposition—the antithesis of the dense, loud, unyielding ethos that’s increasingly common across the spectrum of jazz and improvised music. Sperrazza, the composer of nine of the tracks, pens refined, distinctive themes that sometimes hint of something left unsaid. A band consisting Sperrazza’s drums, tenor saxophonist Chris Speed, pianist Bruce Barth, and bassist Peter Brendler produce an enclosed sound that often feels like a collection of interiors. (While listening to most of the tracks I frequently wondered if the music could survive the noisy distractions common to many live performance spaces.)

Speed’s small-to-medium weight tone manages to sound both frail and decisive. It’s an ideal voice for Sperrazza’s designs. With few exceptions, Speed forsakes a lot of activity in favor of a bare minimum of notes, often containing little or no friction. Sometimes portions of his improvisations feel like the equivalent of a string of one-syllable words separated by brief pauses. In a stunning rendition of Leonard Bernstein‘s “Somewhere,” he’s hanging by a thread, projecting the uncertainty, nobility, and hope that the song deserves, while Barth’s sparse, incisive support makes him seem a little less alone. During the medium tempo swing of Sperrazza’s “Hellenized,” a waltz that is a bit livelier than some of the cuts, Speed remains relatively unperturbed while the band moves around him. His role in the title track conveys a vague, dream-like state that eludes any semblance of certainty.

Barth always gives the impression of possessing an abundance of resources at his fingertips, but has no intention of unleashing them willy-nilly. Not unlike the music as a whole he doesn’t sound indebted to any particular school of modern jazz. It’s fun to listen to him throw a monkey wrench into carefully laid plans. On Sperrazza’s “Chimes,” for example, he’s moving along in a meticulous, rather well mannered fashion, when a few muddied notes portend an adventurous detour. Barth’s turn during the leader’s “Solitary Consumer” balances authority and restraint as he simultaneously plays over and feeds off of Brendler and Sperrazza.

“Say The Secret Word” begins with laughter, the sounds of casually executed fragments—including a rare honk from Speed’s tenor—with things gradually evolving into a slow blues. An effortless transition into a middling tempo leads to Speed and Barth conversing with one another, amiably coexisting in the same space. Although the track only lasts a couple of minutes, it’s a lighthearted, agreeable way to end a first-rate recording.

David A. Orthman – All About Jazz

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Free wheeling jazz with a swagger – “Now Hear This” by Ken Fowser

Last year, when we reviewed Ken Fowser’s initial CD as band leader, (his previous issues for PosiTone shared the limelight with co-leader Behn Gillece) Standing Tall, ( our conclusion was that Fowser was spot on in bringing hard bop fans a solid set of free wheeling jazz with a swagger. He once again shares the front line with trumpeter, Josh Bruneau, and their blend continues to impress.

Once more, Fowser has written all the compositions, and there is a maturity and a polished sheen from the get-go. “Blast Off” does just that, and Fowser makes his solo choruses pop in an effortless manner that keeps your attention and swings mightily. When Bruneau joins in, it recalls the Blue Note issues when tenor and trumpet highlighted hard bop’s appeal throughout the late ‘50s into the late ‘60s. Its appeal remains intoxicating.

That attraction demanded a strong piano presence, and Rick Germanson is back again to fill that bill ably. His sparkling lines provide the sound stage for the front line horns to emote and improvise. On “ Blues for Mabes,” a tribute to Harold Mabern, Rick channels

Horace Silver, with a Caribbean lilt, as Ken and Josh testify.

“The View from Below” is an increase in intensity and the quintet is up to the task. Drummer Jason Tiemann propels this tune.  The title track is a feature for Fowser and his rapid fire delivery provides a stepping stone for Bruneau to further escalate in his solo. “Ready the Mops” (I wonder where the inspiration for the title lies) closes this fine release and all the members stretch out. Paul Gill’s bowed bass solo stands out.

Fans of classic hard bop should definitely Now Hear This

Jeff Krow – Audiophile Audition

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All About Jazz says “Now Hear This!” by Ken Fowser

Taking a cue from some of the other smaller jazz-based labels, Posi-Tone has done a remarkable job over the past few years of building a roster of budding talents worthy of wider recognition. Part of the allure of such an endeavor is the ability to see the evolution of an artist’s muse unfolding like a rose. Those in the know have heard from tenor saxophonist Ken Fowser through his partnership with vibraphonist Behn Gillece via the four albums the two co-led starting with 2009’s Full View. Fowser’s own maiden voyage was last year’s Standing Tall, which is to be followed up with Now Hear This.

Built on a program of eleven original pieces by Fowser himself, this superb date recalls some of the finest iconic Blue Notes, and that is said with the utmost respect to the saxophonist and his peers. Although it comes about halfway through the program, a blistering “The View from Below” puts the ensemble through their paces. Trumpeter Joshua Bruneau shows us his bristling timbre, making him a perfect foil for Fowser’s more burnished sound. Having studied with Ralph Lalama, Grant Stewart, and Eric Alexander you can hear the amalgam that is part of the charm of Fowser’s approach.

The range of material here is diverse and disparate, from the boogaloo of “Blues for Mabes” that perfectly recalls its namesake to the muscular bossa of “One and Done,” which features one of Fowser’s best moments. The waltz tempo of “Still Standing” finds pianist Rick Germanson channeling McCoy Tyner during his time in the spotlight, while Fowser rifles off a few of Eric Alexander’s pet phrases, which in turn actually came down via the great George Coleman.

Dropping the tempo, “Fair to Middlin'” sits squarely in the pocket thanks to the drumming of Jason Tiemann. His drums and cymbals are rendered crisply and with just the right amount of ring and reverb. Fowser takes his time while telling his story, playing against the grain of Germanson’s thick chords. Bruneau gets to the core of the moment while bassist Paul Gill takes a rare solo that serves as the icing on top of the cake.

The medium to fast-paced tempos on “Ready the Mops,” “Blast Off,” and “Now Hear This!” really do give Fowser and Bruneau a chance to shine. They have worked out appropriate voicings and routines that provide for interest and variety. While this reviewer has previously stated a caveat in regards to Posi-Tone’s penchant for short numbers undeniably aimed for radio airplay, nothing here seems forced or lacking in development. Although the year is still young, this is one of the best sets to come down the pike so far.

C. Andrew Hovan – All About Jazz

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Dease makes this a personal and intimate statement from top to bottom

Michael Dease’s humanity comes pouring out of his trombone on All These Hands (Posi-Tone Records). His 12 original, straight-ahead compositions trace the story of the spread of jazz across the United States, paralleling the African-American migration from the South up through the Midwest and the Eastern Seaboard and reflecting the musical character of different cities and regions. Upbeat, open, and curious, Dease sings on his horn with a near-human vocal quality that makes this a personal and intimate statement from top to bottom. He is accompanied by a stellar cast, including Rene Rosnes (piano), Gerald Cannon (bass), Lewis Nash (drums), Steve Wilson (flute, alto and soprano saxes), and Etienne Charles (flugelhorn, trumpet). Special guests help out on several tracks, most notably guitarist Randy Napoleon on “Delta City Crossroads,” a soulful blues duet with Dease, and bassist Rodney Whitaker, who closes the album with a solo piece, “Up South Reverie,” a powerfully emotional performance that encapsulates the anger, displacement, perseverance, and hope in the African-American history. Among the numerous highlights are the dancing, big-band feel of “Territory Blues;” the sweet swing of “Benny’s Bounce,” which references Benny Golson’s “Along Came Betty” in homage to Philadelphia and which benefits from the light but propulsive touch of Nash on the drum kit; the party-hearty “Memphis BBQ and Fish Fry,” with its foot-tapping funk; and the sunny “Chocolate City,” which celebrates the role of the train.

Musically Speaking Blog

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Dusted Magazine has high praise for “Central Line” by Art Hirahara

A pithy observation from American naturalist Ralph Waldo Emerson graces the cardboard gatefold of Central Line, pianist Art Hirahara’s third project for the Positone label: “The ancestor of every action is a thought.” The importance of ancestry in a more historical sense folds indelibly into not only Hirahara’s audibly observable actions, but also his carefully considered approach to his instrument whether rooted in his Japanese American heritage or the diaphanous jazz lineage of which he is a modest, but consequential part.

A former student of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and California Institute of the Arts, Hirahara traded left coast for right and settled into the New York City jazz scene some thirteen years ago. Several of the myriad creative connections made over that time span are evident in his chosen cast of colleagues for the date. Bassist Linda Oh and drummer Rudy Royston complete the vibrant core trio with sought-after saxophonist Donny McCaslin guesting on four tracks. Hirahara handles composerly commitments on a dozen of the fourteen pieces for a set that clocks to just shy of an hour.

A brisk opening title piece for trio contrasts with a lush solo reading of the traditional Japanese folk tune “Kuroda Bushi”. Hirahara’s touch and placement on the latter is particularly ruminative and insular, making the warm and inviting chords that comprise “Astray” all the moreso by comparison. McCaslin’s verdant presence matches the delicately languorous contributions of the rhythm section in terms of palpable allure and once again the leader’s unwillingness to rush the proceedings pays off. “Little Giant” reveals another side of the tenor/piano accord with the pair taking the opening minutes to playfully joust before their peers join in the fun.

Measured pacing also flavors the incremental architecture of “Drawing with Light” as Hirahara’s gilded progression gains heft from Oh’s cloaking bass line and carefully placed accents from Royston’s corner. A solo interlude of gently cascading chords resets the compass to a rising ballad tempo tinged with emotional shadow. If there’s a single criticism to apportion it’s a slight one and apparent in the passages where Hirahara’s effusiveness threatens to spill over into sentimental excess as on the concluding interpretation of “Yuyake Koyake”. Fortunately, those moments are few and a fine equilibrium between restraint and emotion remains the norm. The ancestors of the innumerable actions ensconced on this disc are honored in full.

Derek Taylor – Dusted Magazine

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With an impressive group of musicians Michael Dease has acquired “All These Hands”

Trombonist, composer, arranger, producer and educator Michael Dease is one busy musician.  “All These Hands” is his 10th CD as a leader and fourth for Posi-Tone.  It’s a musical tour of the United States and how jazz moved from town to city to region.  Dease has organized an impressive group of musicians with pianist Renee Rosnes appearing on seven of the 12 tracks, drummer Lewis Nash (6 tracks), bassist Gerald Cannon (5 tracks), Steve Wilson (flute, alto sax, soprano sax) and bassist Rodney Whitaker (4 tracks each), Etienne Charles (flugelhorn, trumpet) and guitarist Randy Napoleon (3 tracks each) and single appearances by tenor saxophonists Jason Hainsworth and Diego Rivera (on “Downtown Chi-Town“) and bassist Rufus Reid and tenor saxophonist Dan Pratt joining Dease, Ms. Rosnes, and Mr. Nash on “Brooklyn.”

Because I’m a writer and not a producer, the choice of “Creole Country” as the opening track is puzzling.  Not that the song is bad – far from it.  The piece is a swinging tribute to New Orleans but, compared to the following track, “Delta City Crossroads“, a blues-drenched duet with guitarist Napoleon, the opener feels like more like a culmination of a history than a look at the source. Complaints out of the way, tracks such as “Good & Terrible” (which has the feel of mid-60s Jazz Crusaders) and “Downtown Chi-Town” (with the smart blend of trombone, flute, and the two saxophones) are splendid reminders of how jazz music takes in so many elements (blues, Latin rhythms, narrative, improvisation) and sounds fresh.  The interactions of Dease and Charles on “Chocolate City“, their harmonies and counterpoint, mixing with the intuitive rhythm section, pull the listener in.

The intimacy of “Gullah Ring Shout” and the easy loping “Territory Blues” (both tracks featuring only trombone, guitar, and bass), plus the sassy humor of “Black Bottom Banter” (a duet with Whitaker) illustrate the versatility of the leader.  Dease can do “gutbucket”, smearing notes as if walking down Basin Street, as well as display the fluidity of J.J. Johnson in a club on 52nd Street. The trombonist knows the history of his instrument, its role in 20th Century Creative music (and more, such as when he displays his “multiphonics” technique a la the late Albert Mangelsdorff on “Gullah…“) but he foregoes technical brilliance in favor of telling these stories.  He certainly loves to “swing” and to dance; can’t miss the joy on “Bennie’s Bounce” or the spirited, decidedly funky, three-way conversation of “Memphis BBQ & Fish Fry” with Ms. Rosnes (electric piano) and Mr. Wilson (soprano sax). Let’s also give him credit for big ears. The final track on the album, “Up South Reverie“, is a stunning unaccompanied bass spotlight for Whitaker, his friend and colleague from Michigan State University.

All These Hands” not only pays tribute to the music born from the hardships, frustrations, faith, and dreams of African Americans but also to the dedication of musicians to keep the music alive.  “Alive” here means not just in the classroom but also in the clubs, concert halls, living rooms, theaters, basements, etc, in the United States and around the world.  Michael Dease is active both playing and passing on the tradition – we listeners and his students are the grateful beneficiaries of his dedication, talent, and knowledge.

Richard B. Kamins – Step Tempest

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Sweet melody to blues to impressionism. “Central Line” from Art Hirahara

Pianist and composer Art Hirahara, born and raised in the Bay Area of San Francisco, has worked with vocalists Freddie Cole and Stacey Kent as well as baritone saxophonist Fred Ho and trumpeter Dave Douglas.  “Central Line” is his fourth album as a leader and his third for Posi-Tone Records. The new album changes the focus a bit from his previous two (2011’s “Noble Path” and 2015’s “Libations and Meditations“) in that, sprinkled into the 14 tracks, there are four solo piano performances and four that add tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin to the trio of Linda Oh (bass) and Rudy Royston (drums).

The variety of settings is a big plus in that the program moves from the introspective solo pieces to heartfelt ballads to more uptempo tracks.  McCaslin’s appearances each stand out.  He and Royston stoke the fires on “Kin KaGold Coin“, the hardest-hitting piece, while his full-toned and emotional solo on “Astray” moves from sweet melody to blues to impressionism.  “Entanglement” also moves between lyricism and hard blowing for both the tenor and piano solos, bolstered by the splendid bass work and Royston’s fiery percussion.  McCaslin and Hirahara team up for a playful duet for the first third of “Little Giant” that continues in its buoyant mood as the rhythm section and ratchets up the energy.

The pianist shares the opening melody of the title track with Ms. Oh; their interactions through the high-speed song, punctuated by Royston dances around the drums, is pure delight.  Yes, their playing is technically impressive but the melodic aspects of the piece remain front-and-center. “Drawing With Light” is a perfect title, a ballad with a strong emotional feel that picks up in speed and intensity, the piece culminating in a two-handed piano solo abetted by the flying bass lines and powerful drumming. There’s a similar feel to “Sensitive Animal” but, while the energy certainly picks up in the middle, the piece stays on a lyrical track. Lyricism also stands out on the lovely trio version of Chico Buarque’s “As Minhas Meninas.” Ms. Oh’s fine solo is a melodic treat as is her work on the free-form “Redwood Thaw“, a short piece (1:56) on which the listener feels as if one is intruding on a private moment.

The solo pieces each have a story.  “Kuroda Bushi” is a traditional song from Japan with a stately melody line while “Introspect” is a lovely tone poem, also with a well-drawn melody.  “Tracing The Line” builds slowly, the melody unfolding and opening up  not unlike a Keith Jarrett solo improvisation.  The closing track is the beautiful and soulful “Yuyake Koyake” – composed by Kanichi Shimofusa (1898-1962), its lovely folk melody describes a late afternoon sky and is a perfect close to an impressive program.

Central Line” deserves your attention. The music that Art Hirahara created for this program gives the listener an insight not only into his fine musicianship but also into his creative mind.  Each song is a story built from his experiences as a pianist, composer, world traveler, accompanist, and human being. Enjoy this journey.


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Through struggle came this joyful, triumphant music – “All These Hands” – by Michael Dease

For Michael Dease’s 10th album and fourth for Posi-Tone Records, the trombonist, composer and bandleader chooses to take us on a trip. An historical trip with twelve stops, that is, and the mode of transportation is his music.

All These Hands, out January 6, 2017, examines the birth and development of jazz as it moved from its New Orleans cradle, up to the Midwest and over to the east coast, eventually establishing its headquarter at NYC. As Dease has noted, the migration of jazz around the USA mirrored the migration of African Americans in the early and middle 20th century, and so an examination of the music form can’t be separated from the larger cultural and social phenomenon. Dease’s music traces the transformation of the culture through the transformation of the music itself, providing his most varied set of tunes he’s yet presented.

Something Else – S. Victor Aaron