Welcome back to our ‘zine.

Zzaj PODCAST! (listen to Zzaj music while you read our reviews)


Richard Sussman Quintet

Richard Sussman Quintet – LIVE AT SWEET RHYTHM: The best thing about reviewing music for a long time like I have is that you get the best of musical worlds both old and new… in this case, this summer 2010 release captured a 2003 reunion performance for Richard and the rest of his quintet (Tom Harrell on trumpet, Jerry Bergonzi on tenor sax, Mike Richmond’s bass and Jeff Williams on drums) at Sweet Rhythm (NYC)… every one of these players is a pro and totally involved in what they came to do – make magic music! The tunes featured were from “Free Fall” (released over 30 years ago), & they’re just as vibrant in 2010 as they were back then. As you listen to the title track, you’ll realize that “Free Fall” is a true jazz epic classic… all 15:36 of it! I’ve no doubt either that you’ll fall in love with the lively energy on “Tiahuanaco“… this is jazz the way it was MEANT to be – straightforward and without taking any prisoners – superb, & my favorite tune on the album. 7 excursions into oblivion that will keep you engaged all the way through it’s hour-long magic. I give this one a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.98. Get more information at Rotcod Zzaj

Gato Libre, Natsuki Tamura and Satoko Fujii – SHIRO: This marvelously wild CD takes us into a whole new “vision” for the music these two (Natsuki on trumpet, with Satoko doing organ this time) can create. A decidedly “gypsy” flavor permeates the music. They’re joined by guitar from Kazuhiko Tsumura and bass by Norikatsu Koreyasu in a totally improvised (or at least it sounds so) and wacked-up caravan campfire sort of affair. Ha! Ha! For those of you who are used to Satoko’s finely crafted piano improvisations, this will be a whole new adventure for you, no doubt. What this music does for you (more than anything else) is releases you from any preconceived notions society might have forced on you before you “arrived”. I looked for samples, but could only find them on the “SQUIDCO label site” (a great label page, especially for those who love improvised and experimental music). (Ed: After I published this review, I did a little more searching and discovered this fine YOUTUBE vid of the group, too). I give this adventurous CD my HIGHLY RECOMMENDED rating, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.95. Get more information at the label site above. Rotcod Zzaj

Sugarfree Jazz – SUGARFREE JAZZ: When your diet is strictly jazz, you won’t need artificial stimulants, & these cats from Portland, Oregon (just down the road-a-piece from my home-base in Olympia) will feed your urge on this cool little DDR (digital download review). Whether it’s the laid-back elegance of “Avant Lullaby“, or the deep-toned reeds on “Yearning For Truth“, your thirst for music that brings jazz back into the realm of the living! Bass opening on “For Starters” serves as the perfect set of tasty Hors D’Oeuvres for one sweet night on the town. Most of the tracks I received for review came from a live set at “Barile” (wherever that is), and the crowd noise is recorded right in with the intro chords & notes. All-in-all, one lusciously filling set that will sate your appetites in more ways than one! I give these folks my MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED rating, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.98. Get more information at (+, be sure to tell Mike the Zzaj sent you) Rotcod Zzaj

Joe Gilman – AMERICANVAS: Joe is no stranger in our pages… my most recent review of his exciting piano work was in issue # 84, but this new CD threw me for a loop, to be sure! The theme (duh!) was interpretation of 10 American painters, and they’ve managed to incorporate all the life and vigor of life those artists had in their paintings. The opening track, for instance, “Gossip“, is a whirlwind ride through the emotional roller-coaster that such yakking generates – pure power, I’ll tell you! Professor Gilman has taken his talent to brand-new heights with his incorporation of (several) young players in this set… just killer jazz! The moods (like paintings) vary a great deal, too… check out the sweet and beautiful “Cebola Church“… absolutely inspiring for the entire 6:48 length. One of the best jazz tunes I’ve heard this year, though, is “Color Arcs In Four Directions“… you can hear the dedication to the spirit of music in every single note of this marvelous track! This CD (Joe’s ninth) is, for my ears anyway, an “instant classic”… not one of the 10 tracks on this powerful CD is a throwaway – every one is a KEEPER! I give it a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, along with “PICK” of this issue for “best all around jazz CD for 2010″. “EQ” (energy quotient) rating is a top-of-the-line 5.00. Get more information at Rotcod Zzaj

Riad Abdel-Gawad – EGYPT, MOTHER OF THE WORLD: I’ll be the first to admit that I kn0w painfully little about Egyptian music…. I did listen to a lot of mid-Eastern music during a trip to Sa’ana Yemen back in the early 1980′s, and found that the music they played fit in perfectly with the strong coffee brew they made in their shops there. Riad’s violin (he calls it a kamanga), bamboo flute (nay), plucked dulcimer (ganun) and several other instruments all lend to an atmosphere such as you might hear in a suq (marketplace) in that city in Yemen I visited. Any way you listen, this is an exciting and adventurous peek into a sort of “blend” of eastern and western musics that will have you enchanted for hours. Just listen through one of my favorites, “Waterwheel to hear what I’m talking about… 6:01 minutes of totally engaging fantasy (think camels & markets… ha! ha!). The pieces I enjoyed the most, however, were those with the astounding percussion, such as “Minarets and Domes“. Very enjoyable, this one gets a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for those who enjoy the music of other cultures. It gets an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.94. Get more information at Rotcod Zzaj

Mund – Z-UNDER NOCTURNE: This is another “DDR” (digital download review) from a band I happened across on REVERBNATION (there is a LOT of great music there, and if you’re a music lover, you owe it your ears to visit soon). Of the two CD’s I was provided for review, I found “Z-Under” more to my liking, probably because it has a more experimental/electronic environment going for it… listen to “ReLeaze” to get an instant feel for what attracted my ears to these folks (basically the only “folk” listed on the page is one Guillaume Maronne, but there are clearly vocals on there, too, so I’m wondering who she is). I also found the spooky voices on “End I Will Be“, as well as the story being told, to be nearly addictive (repeated spins, for sure). It turned out to be “Mind Splinter” that got my vote for favorite track, though… the strings are beautifully woven into a very powerful tune. I give this one a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.96. Get more information at Rotcod Zzaj

Michael Pagan/Colorado Saxophone Quartet – 12 PRELUDES & FUGUES: The works on this CD are astoundingly different than the last one we reviewed from Michael (issue # 101), probably because this one focuses on some beautiful saxophone work. It’s still mightily pleasant music to absorb (this isn’t the kind of music that you play as background – headphones aren’t required, but they’re certainly recommended); listen to “Fugue 2” to hear what I mean. 12 fugues with 12 prelude tracks makes for a grand listening experience of 24 tracks total. More than just “interesting”, this would serve as a great introduction for students wanting to learn what classical is all about. I give it my HIGHLY RECOMMENDED rating, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.94. Get more information at Rotcod Zzaj

Jordan Reyne – PASSENGER: Unfortunately (for me, as well as for those who read my reviews), Jordan’s submissions (downloads from her site, actually) got waylaid by some problems with my external hard drive, as well as “day-job” commitments that I couldn’t shirk. This is the first of four CD’s I’ll be reviewing for her works. Her bio notes say that she defines what “contrary to popular belief” means, and I must say that is a very accurate description! There’s just no way you can pigeonhole any of the music she performs… just listen to “Green” to get your taste of what “different” is… you’ll think you’re back in the hills of Eire, no doubt, with fairies and leprechauns dashing to/fro over your dreamscapes – but you’ll love her husky vocals as your guide through this strange turf. There’s some serious drone work on “The Nothing” that makes you feel as though you’re on a slow train to turf never before trod. Nothing to do with “jazz” here, ’tis rather an EXPERIENCE with elements of rock, folk and Gaelic. The upshot of this 57:09 musical marvel is that you come away feeling that you’ve known Jordan for 1000′s of years – & perhaps you have! I give this 2004 CD my MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.96. Get more information at Rotcod Zzaj

Jean-Marc Foltz, Matt Turner, Bill Carrothers – TO THE MOON: Matt, the cellist on this distinctly adventurous improvised set, is one of the “names” I have collaborated with in the past… Bill has been reviewed in these pages quite a few times, so the only player I wasn’t familiar with was Jean-Marc… a very pleasant and professional set, I’ll tell you. It is deep, mysterious, and in some sections, even “dark”. I couldn’t find any direct-embedded links, but several samples are available at the SQUIDCO label site. Ten marvelous sonic adventures for those with adventure in their ears… all other need not apply. My favorite was “Moondrunk” (go to the sample link above). In the overall, this is one of the best improv sessions I’ve listened to yet in 2010, and it gets my MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED rating, as well as an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.98. Get more information at Rotcod Zzaj

Ben Averch – FORTUNE COOKIE: Ben is one amazing player; I imagine one reason I believe that so strongly is because he’s a “one-man-band”. We’ve reviewed him before and also did an INTERVIEW with him in issue # 91! What he plays can’t be considered (in any way, shape or form) “jazz”… definitely more in the rock vein, but it’s his ENERGY LEVEL for the playing that keeps me coming back to his material. Just listen to “It’s Getting Away From Me” to get a taste of his lyrical/playing vigor. The fact that he’s lived in Washington sate probably had much to do with my attraction to his sound in the first place, as experience leads me to believe that there are lots more creatively adventurous players in that neck of the woods than anywhere else on the planet. Ben is a totally dynamic player who gets a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMEND for any listener who wants to hear the spirit of freedom! I give him an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.96 for this one. Get more information at Rotcod Zzaj

First Meeting, Natsuki Tamura and Satoko Fujii – CUT THE ROPE: I never miss an opportunity to review music from Satoko Fujii… she’s been in my pages ever since I started this magazine, thanks to one of the promoters who firmly believes in the creativity that Satoko brings to the jazz/improv table. The music on this particular recording was released in January of 2010 (so I’m only a “little” late with my review). This outing also features guitar from Kelly Churko and drums by Tatsuhisa Yamamoto, and it’s an improv dream-supreme… just listen (on their SQUIDCO Label page) to a taste of the title track, “Cut The Rope”, to get a feel for the rambunctious creativity going on… it’s actually a bit “spooky”, whole sections of it sounding like a Halloween dance on planet “Edge”, as in outer edge. “Standard” jazz listeners won’t much enjoy this, but anyone with ears that crave adventure won’t be able to do without it. Satoko’s keyboards are at their best when she’s leading a group through a wild ride, and this one is more than a minor cruise. I give this my MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for all listeners who demand high-talent improvising for their listening experiences. It also gets a 4.99 “EQ” (energy quotient) rating – get more information at Rotcod Zzaj



Frank Wess NONET – ONCE IS NOT ENOUGH: Every once-in-a-while, a CD “drops through the cracks” here at Zzaj Productions, but due to my databases, I usually manage to dig it back up; with big apologies to Frank & his crew, I write the review in severe delinquent mode. Frank first came to the attention of my ears for his fine flute playing, which is still prominent on this great CD, but he also plays some mean tenor sax, too. He has a cast of thousands, too large to itemize here (check HERE), high talent all the way through. One of my favorite tracks was “Sara’s Song” which features some strong & bouncy bass from Peter Washington… all 8:07 (or so) of this one just rocks! Frank’s flute is just stunning on “Sweet and Lovely“, but it’s the 9:11 “Backfire” that got my vote for favorite track. What you know beyond the shadow of a doubt when listening to Wess is that you are hearing a musical giant… I mean, this cat has played with over half the jazz monsters – there’s nothing “second-rate” on any of the performances he does & the music is full of life and high energy! If your ears just must have delectable jazz on this T-day (or any other day), I give this a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, as well as an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.98. Get more information at Rotcod Zzaj

Tomas Janzon – EXPERIENCES: Your experience in music will definitely count as you listen to Tomas’ wonderful guitar work… the cast of characters accompanying him on this energetic excursion is quite simply astounding (too long to list here, but it features piano/organ from Art Hillery, bass from Jeff Littleton and drums by Albert “Tootie” Heath). What I can tell all the jazzers out there, though, is you will NOT be disappointed if it’s good ol’ high-spirit jazz you’ve been craving for… this will sate your appetite like 2 drumsticks on T-Day (which is tomorrow as I write this review). Just listen to “Theme From Mr. Broadway” to hear how tight their talent is – I’m just LOVIN’ Art’s organ work on this one.. nothing overstated, but it’s right “out there” in front of your ears. I also dug “Billie’s Bounce” in a large way… all the players show their love for playing and entertaining on this 5:12 gem! The tune that got my vote for absolute FAVORITE was “Messin’ Around“, I suspect because Tomas’ guitar work is so prominent and tasty. 11 delectable tunes that will stay at the top of your lists for years to come! Any way you hear it, if you’re a hardcore “true jazz” lover, you’ll find this most enjoyable and in near-classic status… I give it my MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, as well as an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.98. Get more information at Rotcod Zzaj

Henry Darragh – Tell Her For Me: This 11-song CD from Henry is way-cool, to be sure… Henry’s trombone and piano work are complimented by a vocal style that seems far too advanced for a young cat like this… as though he had been “inhabited” by the spirit of the old jazz crooners like Al Jarreau, Andy Williams or Dean Martin. The August 2nd release has a “gentle” feel not often present on jazz albums these days… that takes talent; to be able to “find one’s own style”, then play AND sing it, without coming across as forced or phony is a clear accomplishment. He’s chosen some great folks to accompany him (Seth Paynter on tenor sax; Carol Morgan’s trumpet; Erin Wright on guitar and bass; Glen Ackerman on bass & Chuck Payne’s drums. One of the coolest tracks (for this reviewer, anyway) was “Once In A While“, in great part because of Henry’s vocal. I also enjoyed the “jump” in “Early“, where you really get to hear how joyful he makes the trombone sound. The main impression I get as I listen through this masterful set of tunes is that Henry & krew have a clear understanding of that old axiom – “if it ain’t FUN – it ain’t MUSIC” – totally “on”, yet they project a totally relaxed attitude that will infect your listens. I rate this one as HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, and full-well expect we will be hearing much more from this talented young player. “EQ” (energy quotient) rating is 4.97. Get more information at Rotcod Zzaj

Incandescent Sky – FOUR FARADAYS IN A CAGE: Any music in from John Orsi gets the immediate attention of my aural appendages… that’s because the CD’s he plays on always have SOMETHING DIFFERENT, & “Four” is about as different as it gets. This was more an improvised set than anything I’ve heard from Incandescent Sky before… scope out the extended (9:08) “Antarctica” to let your ears (and your mind) marvel at just what total talent sounds like! The throbbing power of John’s drums on the epic “Orange Ice” will absolutely blow your mind, and take you back to an era when sonic adventure RULED! It was the title track, though, “Four Faradays In A Cage” that earned my vote as favorite track… I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened through this one, probably in the neighborhood of 100′s. Drums supreme, and guitars that are full of energy! Anyone who digs adventurous listening will agree when I declare this MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, as well as give it an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 5.00 (a perfect score, by the way). Get more information at Rotcod Zzaj

Pat Carr – SOME KIND OF BLUES: One of the things I’m always lookin’ for is a great blues set… the kinda’ music that takes ya’ all the way DOW-un before it makes you realize just how good you really have it. Pat’s got that down to a science… as you listen to “Evil, Evil“, you’ll hear why I’m all hepped up about “Some Kind Of Blues”! It’s not only that Pat has some killer blues to play, he also has just the kind of krus-tee vocal style that makes it totally authentic! If you want something a bit more laid-back, scope out the genuine home-style pickin’ on “Nola Blues” & kick back with a brew – harp’s killer on here, too! My absolute favorite track, though, was “Bad Habit” – just can’t help thinkin’ “Elvin Bishop” & “Paul Butterfield” when I listen (repeatedly) to this one. If blues is your thang, this comes MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED by this ol’ blues bird. I give it an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.97, too! Get more information at Rotcod Zzaj

Dan Berg & The Gestalt – MANIFESTO: When these cats write their musical tome, they don’t “diddle around”… some of the best and most straight ahead jazz I’ve listened to this year! Titles cracked me up, too… “Why Is A Crooked Letter” (2nd track) was a cool thing to call a tune, and the music fits the mindset in this case… Dan plays piano, Rhodes, Moog Synth, Melodica & triangle, and is joined by Kristin Young on vocals, Adrian Mira on clarinet, Jessica Lurie on alto sax, Matt Wigton doing bass & all rounded out by drums from Pat Agresta. This debut recording will take these folks far in the jazz world, if my ears are any kind of judge. There’s nothing “standard” about their playing, yet it’s still very accessible for all but the most “rigid” listeners…. check out one of my favorite tunes, “Relish Your Fears” – Berg’s Rhodes on this is totally attractive to these old ears & Jessica’s sax is absolutely phenomenal! My favorite cut, though, was “Vibrant Phases“… the vocal and Rhodes work superbly together. I give this one a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.97. Get more information at Rotcod Zzaj

Steven C, feat. London Symphony Orchestra StringsHeart Strings: When I find myself yearning for music that will take away my breath, it’s often original piano that will do the trick, and Steven C. does just that on this beautiful CD! When you add a symphony orchestra in behind the piano, you’re talking sheer power! As I listen to the strings on “Embraced“ , I find myself thinking of heavenly chorales and angels… Steven’s piano is “pronounced”, yet not at all intrusive, and the strings just lull the listener into a mood that can only be called receptive. 15 (rather) short aural adventures that use the sonic palette to illustrate the wonderful visions that life can bring… the string integration on this piece is simple, yet astounding! I also enjoyed the calm aura of “First Light“… Steven makes it sound like the strings are woven right IN to the composition… tight, tight! I give this one a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, particularly for listeners who demand substance in their listening experience. This gets an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.96. Get more information at Rotcod Zzaj


Greg Stomberg/Dan SusnaraTHE 2ND ANNUAL TRIPS FESTIVAL: As always happens when I’m scopin’ out a new music project from Dan, I was ON a trip by the second song in to the first CD (this is an extensive 2-CD set, with about 2 hours of FINE music). Some of you may know that I collaborated with Susnara (and maybe with Greg as well) back “in the day” (mid 1990′s, I think it must have been). Both gents are known for their creativity and ceaseless energy for making music that’s in the psych-zone. What’s most notable about this experience is that it’s so MUCH like one of those “bent trips” we all took back in the 1970′s… you can hear parts of this on one of Ken Clinger’s BOVINE podcasts. One “snag” with music that Dan’s played on (previously, anyway) has been that it’s not been made available on the web… Greg’s FB page may help with that, though, because this duo plays some most memorable music… lots of running dialogue from Greg, with superb little “hits” of musical psychedelia tossed in by Dan… though it may not be strictly from the “TRIPS” CD, you can listen to an ’05 jam between these two wizards… you won’t believe your ears. I’m highly impressed, and can tell you that if you love rock with Lucy/diamonds mixed in, you’ll agree when I declare this MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED… it gets an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.99 (yes, it’s that good). For more information, go to Greg’s FB page! Rotcod Zzaj

Richard Blake – MIDTOWN AT MIDNIGHT: The truly spooky thing about Richard’s guitar and bass work (together with Dennis Kohrherr on drums) is just how much it reminds me of midnight towns I’ve been in all over the globe… laid-back, but with a tantalizing taste of the mystery that late-night/early-morning brings to the mix for those of us who creep/crawl through the dark in search of the joy of living. This excellent CD puts you in that mood… be certain to check out the opener, “Lollipops and Roses“, to hear what I’m talking about. It’s quite simply amazing what a talented duo like this can make happen in the musical zone… pieces like the classic “Get Your Kicks On Route 66” will have you on that road to oblivion in only a few bars. For a genuinely fun musical experience that you’ll listen to over and over, you’ll want to add this one to your collection… my personal favorite was Richard’s rendition of “Desafinado“, but you’ve got 11 tracks to choose from, so your choice may be different. I give this one a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.94. Get more information at Rotcod Zzaj

Astral Archetype – ASSIMILATING THE SIMULACRUM: I reviewed Astral Archetype’s splendid rock/fusion works back in issue # 83 – I was highly impressed then and am even more so at this juncture in time… you can watch a vid/slide show at YOUTUBE to get a feel for what they’re doing this go-round, or listen to the tunes on MYSPACE as well. “Minefield” was particularly to my liking, with all the chaotic movement the title implies. Any way you listen to this, you’ll want the volume up to RAWK-O-ZOID level, else you’ll run the risk of your ears “missing out” on parts of the talent displayed here… in fact, I strongly recommend headphones. The jazzers in our audience, & there are many, may not dig this as much as I did, but I believe you’ve got to vary your listening every once in a while, and this one will DO THAT – in spades. I give this my HIGHLY RECOMMENDED rating, particularly for those listeners who want heavy rock as a part of their trip. “EQ” (energy quotient) rating is 4.96. Get more information at (& tell them I sent you). Rotcod Zzaj

Dolores Scozzesi – A SPECIAL TASTE: I hear a lot of lady jazz singers here, so it’s easy to “get in a rut” with their CD’s… for that very reason, I tend to “stagger” my reviews of those with straight-ahead instrumentals. The thing that’s so nice about Dolores’s September 2010 release is that her vocals are backed up by a very strong band that knows just how to interact with her… no player steals her thunder, and a near-perfect balance is therefore achieved. Though there appear to be no originally written tunes (by Dolores, I mean), she knows exactly how to “own” all ten of the tunes on the album and arranged most of them… a great example of the balance and power to make the music her very own expression is “One More Cup Of Coffee“, definitely one of my favorite tracks on the CD. She has a very husky voice that is uniquely her own… every time you listen to her rendition of “When Did You Leave Heaven“, you’ll recognize her strong vocal… in fact, I think that’s the strongest thing she has going for her… listeners will get to KNOW this singer, and won’t forget her… just the stuff that “classic” singers are made of! I give Dolores and her cohorts a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.96. Get more information at Rotcod Zzaj

Bill Leslie – SIMPLE BEAUTY: There are some players who have an inherent ability to reach right out and grasp your heart, but with simplicity as opposed to glam or violence… Bill is certainly one such player, and I’m totally impressed with his work… no doubt you will be equally taken by his total talent. When you hear his Celtic whistle on “Smitten“, for instance, you’ll find yourself looking for the Irish in ye’ (even if you’re African.. ha! ha!). Tasty musical morsels here, and with more variety in style than on CD’s like it… the keyboard on “Chreagain” will haunt you and bring memories of times both sad and grand… I found it particularly enjoyable. If you can’t visualize the joy of children as you listen to “Holy Smile“, you’re no longer human, I’ll tell you. Bill has put together 14 musical experiences that will stay with you over years, instead of just one or two time plays on a playlist. I give this shining CD a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, and will suggest that even the most hardcore jazz fan will find something to cherish here. “EQ” (energy quotient) rating is 4.97. Get more information at Rotcod Zzaj

Gary Joseph Hassay, Blaise Siwula, Toshi Makihara – LIVE AT THE CONNEXIONS GALLERY, VOL 1: I’ve had many chances to review Gary’s works before, most recently in issue # 57… this is his latest submission, & as you can see from the title, it’s live, which makes his alto sax come alive, to be sure! Blaise’s reeds are cooking with gas, too… when you put that all together with the fantastic and highly creative drums that Toshi always puts down, you have one unbeatable improvised “connection”. Don’t read my enthusiasm incorrectly, though… I’m an old improvised vet. and know there are many listeners out there who only want to hear “straight jazz”… these guys (all three of them) are definitely communicating with each other and with the audience, but this is NOT what you’ll hear on your “smoove jazz” channel… there are some sections where I’m definitely reminded of work I’ve heard Jack Wright (& others do) – total freedom, no limits, yet with superb sound recording quality, so you catch every little nuance – but only if you actually let yourself be ENGAGED in the sonic pandemonium they create for you! To get a hint, go to the label page and listen to part of the opener, “Meaning of Intention” (this is not a direct link, it takes you to the album page, which has flash samples on it). What’s most impressive about this outing is that the players are ON IT… no dead space, total energy and total commitment from start to finish. I give them a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.99. Get more information at (& be sure to tell them you read about them here). Rotcod Zzaj

John McNeil/Bill McHenry – CHILL MORN HE CLIMB JENNY: The 10-something minute excursion these gents take you on for “Moonlight in Vermont” won’t sound like any vision you may have had of an Island Pond moonlight night, I can tell you. On the other hand, if you love trumpet (John), tenor sax (Bill) joined by bass (Joe Martin) and drums (Jochen Rueckert) that “talk” you through the majick of those late evening discourses way up north – this is your TICKET, folks! Totally creative and with players who are definitely wrapped up in the muse, this is one of the most energizing jazz sets I’ve listened to (yet) this year! No shortage of high energy here, either… “Batter Up” takes off from the opening note, and doesn’t stop until the home base bag has been STOMPED upon… I just loved this track! The one I wound up enjoying the most of the 9 tracks, though, was “Bea’s Flat“… if I did “tune picks” (which I don’t), it would be this tune… killer energy and crystal-clear recording. Again, one of the best jazz CD’s I’ve listened to in 2010, this gets my MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, as well as “PICK” of this issue for “best live jazz quartet”.. “EQ” (energy quotient) rating is a stunning 4.99. Get more information at Rotcod Zzaj

1 De Mayo – THE BLACK BUTTERFLIES: These players are brand new to me (6 band members, including Mercedes Figueras on soprano, alto & tenor sax; Tony Larokko same, except Tony’s also doing percussion; Fred Berryhill on percussion and djembe; Bopa “King” Carre on percussion & congas; Nick Gianni on upright bass; Dan Tepfer’s keyboards and Kenny Wollesen doing drums), but their heavy jazz energy isn’t at all unfamiliar. I absolutely loved Dan’s keyboard intro on the title track, “1 De Mayo“, and when the reeds, drums, percussion, etc., kick in at just over 30 seconds, you’ll know you’re listening to folks who love playing! For a TRULY “different” blues tune, you’ll enjoy “Pipi’s Blues“; 9:31 minutes of wailing will make ya’ FEEL Pipi’s pain, I’ll tell you. The percussion intro on the 6:11 “Spiritual Travels” is killer, and this tune is a keeper, especially for those who love to shake those hips a bit. My favorite tune on the CD, though, was “Music Heals All Wounds“… that’s especially true since I believe that to be true, but even the most jaded free-jazz freak will enjoy this one. I give these folks a well-deserved HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, and an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.96. Get more information at Rotcod Zzaj

Matt Garrison – FAMILIAR PLACES: There are a whole host of players we’re familiar with on Matt’s stunningly creative CD (Sharel Cassity and Michael Dease, just to name a couple), and that in itself lends itself to a “comfort level” that many new musical efforts just don’t have. Garrison’s tenor and baritone saxophone s tand right out in front, but the 9 all-original tunes feature a sense of “variety” that often isn’t part of a leader’s first outing. Just listen to the contrasts between the richly-toned “Convergence” and the moody deepness on “A Thoughtful Attempt“; they are both full of energy, but each with a totally different vibe. This is wonderful, as it gives your ears something to ponder… not one of these compositions is a “throwaway”, they’re all keepers! My personal favorite, though, was the closer, “A Clear Path“… the funk vibe on this one will have you thinkin’ HEAVY jazz in only one note! I give this superb young player a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.97. Make sure you tell you’re friends that Zzaj predicts you will be hearing much, MUCH more from Matt, too! Get the information at Rotcod Zzaj

Robert Branch – COURAGE TO BE: No doubt in this reviewer’s mind that Robert’s guitar work on this latest release clearly makes him one of my most recent heroes! He’s not afraid to tackle interesting and diverse structures, as you’ll hear when you listen through “North of Center“, one of my favorites on the CD. For something a little more laid-back, you’ll certainly find “Letting Go” as pleasurable as I did. Since I enjoy tunes that are complex and involved, though, I found the 11:42 “Backyard Hallucination” to be the most enjoyable piece on the CD… after the expected “floating intro” (about 52 seconds in), Robert JUMPS into the dream with some strident rhythm that will give you a flashback without the benefit of dropping out… serene is the word I’d use to describe this beauty. All 10 tunes are that way, in bold new ways; I give Robert a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED on this one, and an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.98. Get more information at Rotcod Zzaj

Jon Irabagon – FOXY: If straightforward trio jazz (Jon is joined by bassist Peter Brendler and drummer Barry Altschul) is what turns yer’ krank, this fine energetic effort will do everything you wanted! He’s actually been reviewed many times in IMPROVIJAZZATION NATION before, as a part of Moppa Elliott’s “Mostly Other People Do The Killing”… since this ’round features him in the lead, you’d expect to hear heavy emphasis on his sax work, and you won’t be disappointed. This isn’t the kind of jazz that will have you curlin’ up in baby’s lap, though… this stuff will BLOW you AWAY… just listen to his scorching leads on “Proxy” to see what I mean… the version on the DDR (digital download review) source I was given to review clocked in at 15:48… just rolls ON & ON! It was track # 8, “Unorthodoxy” that clearly got my vote as favorite, though… you’ll find high talent that won’t soon be forgotten on this great CD – it gets my MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, as well as an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.98. Get more information at HOT CUP RECORDS. Rotcod Zzaj


Issue # 108, Zzaj INTERVIEW with Chris Graham

From the time I reviewed Chris’s mighty mellow vibe works in issue # 106, I knew I wanted to interview him! So I’m mighty happy to present you, dear reader, with a nicely insightful set of Q&A for him! Enjoy!


Zzaj: I notice from reading your brief bio that you’re from the Midwest… I’ve not seen a lot of jazz players from there, so tell my readers how you came to be interested in jazz… you know, all the way from when you first started playing, through the years, up to now… in other words, give us an intimate bio of Chris Graham, please

CG:John Christopher Graham, “Chris” was born in 1982, a year remembered for the releases of such great jazz albums as: David Murray’s Murray’s Steps, Steve Lacy’s Flame and Ronald Shannon Jackson’s Mandance. Chris was born with music in his soul singing his first words at eight months “I love you” from Annie the musical.

As a young boy, Chris would sit at the piano for hours improvising concertos; some becoming memorized to play for guests and school events. He and fellow junior high friends patched together an A Capella group and would sing whenever and wherever asked. He started a rock band in junior high playing guitar and being the lead vocalist.

During high school, Chris branched out to learn to dance as a member of Show Choir and an all male singing group called the Green Machine. When the “Machine” performed “Men in Tights” they never failed to bring the house down. Until his junior year, Chris read music minimally and a music theory class opened up his world like the parting of the Red Sea. All of a sudden Chris’ musical soul met his musical intellect and the combination was explosive.

When his music theory teacher, Rich Hadfield played Gary Burton’s “Crystal Silence,” Chris’s path was set. He began arriving at school early and staying late to learn and practice the vibraphone. His teacher arranged for him to take lessons from the Director of Percussion at the University of Missouri. Within six months of consuming music theory and meeting the vibraphone, Chris took a first at the state music competition playing a four mallet marimba solo he composed. Before graduating in 2001, Chris composed the complete score of a jazz concerto and conducted the jazz band during its’ premier performance.

Chris planned to attend universities but, after graduation changed his mind. He wanted to follow his new dream of becoming a professional vibraphonist. In 2001, he put together the jazz band “Incumbens III,” which toured nationally from 2001-2004.

After Incumbens III disbanded, Chris began working with Sony recording artist Kevin Hennessy and traveled to San Diego to record at Signature Sounds. While in San Diego, Chris performed at San Diego’s premier jazz clubs Dizzy’s and the San Diego Zoo. This experience helped him understand what the life of a professional recording artist is like and he’s been fervently working to realize his dream ever since.

Chris has worked as a sideman with recording artists such as: Keri Johnsrud on her 2009 album All Blue, with Johathon Bass in 2008 on his album Shapes and Colors, with Section Four in 2007 on a self-titled album called Section Four and with Allan Beeson on First Time Out, in 2005. Chris’s own album, After Birth of Cool will be released in the summer of 2010. Chris is a well respected musician in the Chicago region, he has worked at Chicago recording studios such as: Rax Trax, The Vault, Red Brick, and plays jazz venues such as: the Jazz Showcase, the Green Mill, Andy’s and the Double Door.

Chris is the only vibraphonist who has mastered what he calls the “Graham” five-mallet grip. Chris is able to hold all five mallets, which allows Chris’s music to have constant chordal function, while painting the melody lines with the added benefit to bend any note at anytime. When circumstances call for it, Chris can maintain the five-mallet grip while picking up a cello bow to create an ethereal sound.

When playing live, the Chris Graham Trio focuses on their own compositions as well as compositions from artists such as Pat Metheny and Brad Mehldau, along with many other modern day composers.

Zzaj: I’m always enchanted by vibes in jazz… who (or what)were your primary influences in choosing to play this instrument?

CG: My high school band director played crystal silence (gary burton/chick corea). changed my life. never seen the instrument, and pretty sure i really hadn’t heard it before that moment. after we finished listening i asked to see what it was i just heard. he showed me the vibraphone. i then borrowed a friends mallets and started going to school early and leaving late, constantly practicing. trying to sound like gary burton. after that i started to absorb anything and everything vibes. would go to see gary burton play when ever possible, had the chance to meet him a couple of times, brought my vinyl i wanted him to sign, but didn’t have it in me to go up to him either time. what do you say to someone that had changed your life completely. i was also pretty young at the time. things might be different now.

Zzaj: Were you playing at a really young age, or did your “heavy” interest in playing come later? What did you play first (both instrument and genre)

CG: i started on piano because my mother made me. that was around age 8. then moved on to guitar and bass when i was in Jr. High, started some rock bands, singing and playing guitar, came out with a few disc. just kids having a lot of fun and learning about how to create music. then in high school i found the vibes and nothing was ever the same.

Zzaj: I noticed that you do a lot of road gigging… do you prefer live sets, or is playing in the studio more conducive to creating high-energy music?

CG:those two things are so drastically different. i enjoy both very much. live shows are great for the obvious reasons, people are there, hopefully clapping, ability to stretch is more comfortable to reach. and its live, anything can and will happen. the studio is great for me because it forces me to hear everything that i am playing. you don’t want any wrong notes sticking out for all to hear every time they listen. that doesn’t mean that i am not relaxed in the studio, not at all, just the band needs to be well rehearsed and lay down some killer tracks.

when i am hired to be on some ones album i take time with their music and get it inside me head. then i go in to the studio and don’t waste anyone’s time and money, hopefully i gave them exactly what they wanted. and when that happens i enjoy it immensely.

Zzaj: Since you are also a music teacher, can you tell us what your technique, or methods, are for getting and holding a student’s interest? Or, do you only take on students who already display high talent?

CG: when i was teaching i took on students of every age and level, none of them were on the vibes tho. i was teaching piano bass and guitar. i did enjoy it very much but don’t think i would ever get into it again. it was hard and draining. some of my students i had for over four years. i think they kept coming back because they had someone to talk to. i think i was a fun teacher. but in all honesty none of them really practiced enough or really wanted to do it for a living. it was always a outlet for them and i respected that and pushed them no harder than they pushed themselves.

Zzaj: My own musical background has always involved collaboration with other players, albeit via the U.S. Postal service… do you do any by-mail collaboration, or are you more inclined to only play “in-person” with others?

CG: i have done very few recordings like that. the ones that i did felt fine. took a little more time to play along before the record button was pushed so…it was enjoyable. i don’t think the playing was effected or feeling of the piece changed by not having all players together in the same room or state.>

Zzaj: Since you’ve put together 4 CD’s to date, give my readers your insights on what it takes to create a successful music recording, please. Do you get into the tech end of that, or do you let others take care of that for you?

CG: on the tech aspect i really know nothing. i have an engineer that i respect and trust completely, Ben Jenkerson a.k.a Unkle Billy. we have worked together for years. so my advice find an engineer you trust with your life. on the musical side of things, try and stay relaxed. don’t rush the process. make sure the band is tighter than tight. don’t waste your time and money shedding in the studio. and i guess have to much fun, this is something you love. so enjoy it.

Zzaj: From my reading about you, it seems that you are more inclined towards experimenting with music than a strictly “educated” approach… am I reading that wrong? In other words, do you like experimentation and improvising more than “formal” music?

CG: well i don’t know if your reading that wrong. i love to experiment with my instrument. but i think any good improvising comes from an educated approach. i wouldn’t call myself a fan of av ant-Gard jazz. just noise to me. i am a fan of very structured tunes, so i know where i can take it “out” effectively.

Zzaj: Readers here like to know what an artist has coming down the road.. tell us about your next project(s), please, Chris.

CG: working on a quartet that is going to be very aggressive fusion ala return to forever. also putting together a tango group, i have always wanted to play some Astor Piazzola. but if your readers are in the chicago area check the local magazines and see where i am playing that week.

Zzaj: What three things would you tell an aspiring musician about a “career” in music? Is it something that’s worth all the study and practice time, or would most folks be better learning how to bale hay?

CG: on the darkside of this answer, finding the vibraphone ruined my life. its a horrible instrument to move around to sessions, no one really looks to hire a vibe player all that often, and its not easy to replace parts or cheap. but all of those reasons tell me that i am doing the right thing with my life. because i cant stop thinking about this horribly cumbersome instrument that i absolutely love to play.

Issue # 108, Zzaj Rant

Well, here I am with my first issue on the WORDPRESS site nearly completed… # 108 has been a big success, at least in my eyes (& surely my ears, as they’re what gets most affected by all the wonderful music folks send my way for review).

I got lots and lots of comments, some critical, others very supportive – but all of them were in a positive and encouraging vein – & I certainly do appreciate that. Now that I have the COMMENTS available for everyone, I sincerely hope you will continue to use that capability to TALK with me & tell me what you see that needs to be changed.

WORDPRESS took only a little getting used to (as opposed to my old authoring in/with FRONT PAGE, but what’s over is over, I reckon)… once you see how efficient and clean WP is, it’s easy to pull away… I got plenty of feedback on the fact that artists/promoters love the “instant review” capability this method of publishing has – & I do, too… I also heard a lot about my new “Zzaj REVIEW QUEUE” page, where everyone can see when a CD was received for review, as well as what issue it’s been published in. Too cool, I’ll tell you!

In the middle of all this fun, the animals to the North decided to rocket a South Korean island… if this weren’t all just political posturing, I’d probably be a bit more excited about it… politicians don’t do anything from true conviction (unless, of course, they’ve RECEIVED a conviction for their illegal acts), they do it all as a “posture” kind of thing… you know, what “looks right” as opposed to what “is right”. NO politician on this earth should be allowed to serve in any public office – they should be put in music appreciation classes with Muzak pumped into their ears relentlessly until they give up the ghost and become “real people” again.

…but, as usual when I think about liars, I’m getting away from what I’m really all about… MUSIC… that’s what (if anything) will save the world. So, if you’re a player, play your BUNZOFF, & if you’re a listen, absorb all of the musical beauty you can; hopefully to the point where the brainwashing the corporations have tried to enforce on the general population won’t even be considered any more (by you, at least)… in other words – TURN THAT TV OFF and get into some music of your choosing!

Gourd-a-might-ee, it’s easy to chatter on in these blog pages… hope you all will spread the word to your friends about Zzaj Productions new WORDPRESS site – & to all – Merry C-mas from Korea!!!