Improvijazzation Nation, Issue # 116




Our latest reviews for your reading and listening pleasure!!!

Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica – THIRD RIVER RANGOON: Folks, you owe it to your aural appendages to listen to this CD (at least the first five times) with your headphones on.  These players, led by Brian “Mr. Ho” O’Neill, are totally adept at the art of nuance – & you will want to catch every little percussive secret (Noriko Terada), every flute fantasy (Geni Skendo), every bouncing bass note (Jason Davis) and every oud odyssey (Tev Stevig).  Though I had already listened to this whole CD on my ‘droid at least 5 times, I finally realized that I didn’t have to go any farther than the 2nd track, “Thor’s Arrival“, to find my favorite!  Mr. Ho’s bodhran playing on the superb “Phoenix, Goodbye” made it a close second.  This CD gets my MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, as well as an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.98.  Get more information at Rotcod Zzaj


Richard Nelson Large Ensemble – PURSUIT: This isn’t “just another big band” thing… Richard and his 13-piece large ensemble don’t just think big… they PLAY BIG!  You can get a hint from the title of “Azure” that there will be blues involved… & it’s on a grand scale that they play this 6:47 wonder!  Richard & crew weave in all the elements of big-band jazz, but infuse it with their own large jazzviews to make for one of the richest big band experiences you’ll have this year.  The beautiful mood shifts on “Abol Stream” made it my favorite… it kind of “brings life to life”, if you will!  This is unquestionably the most exciting big-band CD I’ve reviewed this year, and gets a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, as well as an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.98.  Get more information at Rotcod Zzaj





Frank Carlberg – UNCIVILIZED RUMINATIONS: There are definitely times when I get spinning along on reviews so much that I can’t remember how many times I’ve reviewed a particular artist… Frank’s work (as a part of a CD by Andrew Rathbun) was first reviewed in our pages in issue # 57 (& that’s a WHILE back!).  More recently (issue # 114), I reviewed his piano work on a CD by Nicholas Urie.  As I sit here listening (with headphones, of course) to the swirling magic he creates on the opener, “Lunatics“, I’m evermore convinced that this is one GENIUS jazzist!  Part of my reason for liking his work so much is that he mixes poetry/spoken word in on many of his compositions… just scope out my favorite track, the marvelous closer, “Pygmy Hut“… clearly one of the most humorous jazz experiences you’ll have this year!  This one gets a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.98.  Get more information at Rotcod Zzaj



Reynold D. Philipsek – TALES FROM THE NORTH WOODS: There are no more fun tales to be told than those from a guitarist with total talent, & Reynold is clearly in that category!  I thoroughly enjoyed his “Goatee and Shades“, mayhaps ‘coz it took me back to mem’ries of my own Beatnik daze!  Ten (mostly) short songs that keep your brain spinning, like the deep-toned “Scherzo“!  It’s sort of like Django gypsy meets ’60′s beat-gen hippified funster music (what’n'l’ever that means… lol).  Highly energetic guitar music that will keep you flying for days.  I give Reynold a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.95.  Get more information at Rotcod Zzaj






Gonzalo Rubalcaba – FAITH: Yet another pace change for my all-day reviewing session… Gonzalo’s CD requires dedicated listening… in other words, you don’t just pull these 15 tunes up in your playlist & put them in “background” mode.  As you listen to the talented introspection of “Maferefun Iya Lodde Me“, for instance, you’ll clearly know what sonic beauty sounds like… I (simply) love this tune!  The upbeat & lively pace on the 5:32 “Oro” definitely made it a golden listen for me!  It was Gonzalo’s totally solid interpretation of the Davis/Evans tune “Blue In Green” that captured my vote for favorite piece, though… simply beautiful!  I give Mr. Rubalcaba my MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, particularly for those who love well-thought-out piano works.  The “EQ” (energy quotient) rating is 4.97.  Get more information at Rotcod Zzaj





Brian Carpenter’s Ghost Train Orchestra – HOTHOUSE STOMP: If you’re looking for some music that will lighten your day & give you a solid glimpse into the music of the 1920′s in Chicago & Harlem, this CD will do the trick, folks!  Tasty little morsels like “Mojo Strut” will have you up on your feet & cuttin’ rugz all day (& night) long.  You’ll think yer’ in a time machine & will go dig out grandpa’s saddle shoes & spats to make sure you’re in the right mood for “Voodoo“… this is the first time I’ve ever heard such “sinister” tuba sounds!  Brian & crew have poured every ounce of their creative spirits to give you strong impressions of that era… I give this one a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.96.  Get more information at Brian’s page.      Rotcod Zzaj





Shimon Ben-Shir – ENCOUNTERS: It was way back in issue # 77 that I first reviewed Shimon’s high-energy jazz; fast-forward a few years (from 2007) and he sends me this new one… I was impressed then because of the vigor and taste for life that Shimon’s group displayed… just scope out “I Like It” to hear why I like this great group so much!  Shimon’s solid approach to the music he and his group play make for the kind of solid & enduring jazz that first gave the genre it’s reputation.  I just loved the creepin’ back-alleycat feel of “Missing Link“, & have no doubt you will too (this is my favorite track on the CD, by the way).  For an all-round enjoyable excursion through 9 great jazz tunes, this gets a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED from me, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.96.  Get more information at Rotcod Zzaj





Michael Dulin – TIMELESS II: Changing pace is as essential to music reviewer as food or water… Michael’s classical composition/playing skills are on full display for all to hear, particularly on the beautiful “Nocturne in E-Flat“.  His touch and style on all eleven tracks will easily weave you into his spell of calm loveliness.  I also greatly enjoyed “Sicilian Song” – you will be thinking of all the best movie themes you’ve ever listened to as you hear this.  Michael is among the best pianists I’ve heard in 2011 (& believe you me, I’ve heard more than a few this year).  I give him a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.97.  Get more information at Rotcod Zzaj




Beata Pater – BLUE: If you are thirsting for some moving jazz vocals, Beata will quench your thirst, to be sure.  A grand excursion through 13 vocal adventures that will both enchant and enlighten your jazz outlook.  I particularly enjoyed Beata’s interpretation of “Afro Blue“… many times when vocalists take a jazz classic like that, they try to force it into some vocal mold that was never intended, but Ms. Pater fits the tune to her vocal talent like a silk glove & still projects her lively and energetic spirit through all 4:41!  If you’re lookin’ for something a little more “groove-oriented”, you’ll definitely dig “Groove Ensemble“; it would have been nice if it were just a tad longer, though.  My favorite, oddly enough, was Beata’s super-scat on “Fly Strip“… a tune that just keeps on “pushin’”!!!!  I give this one a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.96.  Get more information at Beata’s BLUE page.     Rotcod Zzaj



Mike Rood – THE DESERT AND THE CITY: Maybe you don’t want to talk about terribly tasty guitar (Mike), sax (Mike Bjella), bass (Alex Spradling) & drums (Goh Isawa) – but I do!  The 12:58 “Atonement” is (quite simply) the best guitar-based “mood” tune I’ve heard in 2011… all four of the players are right inside each others’ heads, and you’re rewarded with music that will invade your spirit and not let go.  Check out my favorite of the 8 tunes, “Dark Star“… perfect form, perfect execution and talent that will remain in your ears (& your heart) for a very long time to come.  In fact, this CD gets my “PICK” of this issue for “most beautiful jazz”.  A definite MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.97.  Get more information at Rotcod Zzaj




Swingadelic – THE OTHER DUKE; TRIBUTE TO DUKE PEARSON: There’s no doubt in my mind that you will find this 12 July 2011 release from the Zoho label to your liking if swing is your thing!  Their tribute to the great (other) Duke includes fantastic tunes like the moody “Cristo Redentor“, as well as the totally swinging (5:17) “Jeannine“.  11 players will stun your ears on each of the ten tracks they slam down on!  Pearson was clearly a giant on the jazz scene (1932-1980), and “Swingadelic” captures every little nuance of his soaring spirit and talent.  Because of my boogie orientation, I found the bouncy “Big Bertha” to be my favorite track, but enjoyed every bar of every tune.  Especially for fans of swing music, I give this one a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.97.  Get more information at Rotcod Zzaj



Andrea Wood – DHYANNA: Apparently, Andrea managed to escape all the nasty political overtones & “bad air” emanating from all the politicos in here home-base of Washington, D.C.  She vocalizes in essentially any style, as you’ll hear on the spirited little tune “Chega De Saudade“, yet seems equally comfortable on traditionals like “My Favorite Things“… full of life and high spirit, this is some great jazz singing!  Out of the 11 tracks Andrea offers up, I was most impressed by the short (3:48) “Hold On To The Center“… vibrant is the keyword on this one; might be nice to have just a tad longer version on future offerings, but this remains my favorite on the CD.  I give Andrea & krew a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.96.  Get more information at Andrea’s page!     Rotcod Zzaj



Yo Miles – Wadada Leo Smith and Henry Kaiser – LIGHTNING: I’m telling you right now, folks, if you grew up in the psychedelic jazz ’60′s (& ’70′s) like I did (well, I’m not sure I actually “grew up”, but I surely “evolved”, lol) you’ll be totally enchanted by what Wadada, Henry & their cast of thousands are doing on this 1:03 CD adventure.  The opener, “Thunder & Lightning“, is an epic 21:25, & makes the CD worth purchasing!  If you’re nostalgic for players like Miles, Weather Report & other bands in that vein, you’ll HAVE to have this one for your collection!  My absolute favorite for “angles”, especially Henry’s superb guitar work, is “Tsapiky Frelimo“… some of that is because it’s played live, other attractions are the SUPERB percussion – an absolute KILLER jazz jam!  I give these folks a well-deserved MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.99!  Get more information at The Province blog.   Rotcod Zzaj


Sir Roland Hanna – COLORS FROM A GIANT’S KIT: If rip-roaring jazz piano in the grand old style is your cup of tea, you’ll order a double mug of what Sir Roland is serving up on this excellent 14-song CD.  Though Roland is gone now (he passed in 2003), there’s no doubt as you listen to him play the rollicking “Blues” that he’s up in that great big bar in the sky poundin’ out tunes for all the residents on the higher plane!  For something a bit more sultry, you’ll love his rendition of “Naima“… after listening to quartets, trios and all other kinds of formations doing jazz, it’s easy to forget that much of the “hugeness” of music in the genre came from solo pianists like Sir Roland – so settle back & enjoy this MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED album.  It gets an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.96.  Get more information at Allegro MusicRotcod Zzaj



Deborah Pearl – SOUVENIR OF YOU: Deborah pays homage to Benny Carter classics with her powerful vocals on this enchanting debut CD.  As you scope out tunes like the opener, “Happy Feet (at the Savoy)“, you’ll find your toes jammin’, no doubt (perhaps because she has Benny himself leading his band in a live performance).  This is one swingin’ singer, no doubt… none of the 13 tunes has Deborah “trying too hard”, & you know beyond the shadow of a doubt that she’s a natural.  Her lyrics to Benny’s “Wonderland (Isle Of Love)” just bounce with the energy of life & the living thereof!  My absolute favorite on the CD was “Doozy Blues“… her vocal range on this one is totally evident)!  I give this great CD a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.96.  Get more information at Rotcod Zzaj



Planet Z – PLANET Z FEATURING SUSAN AQUILA: As any of the promoters who pass us CD’s for review will tell you – nearly ALL albums go in the queue & get reviewed in the order they were received… the only time a CD is pushed to the front of the queue is when the energy levels are so significantly notable that it would be unfair (to the whole world) not to let folks know about it.  This CD, featuring electric rock violinist Susan Aquila, definitely falls in that category.  This music pushes the envelope so hard it will blow your eardrums (not to mention your mind) immediately.  Her debut CD is colossal… just scope out the 3rd track, “The Fire of The Planes“, to hear what’s got me so fired up – & do it with ‘phones on at FULL BLAST… this music just RAWKS!  My favorite of the 7 tracks offered up is the superb “Dance of Ecstasy“… Susan’s violin just SOARS, & all the other players (Robert Tomaro on guitar, Irio O’Farrill on bass, Ray Marchica & Paul Pizzuti on drums & Joseph Church & Ted Baker on keyboards) are out in full force.  I certainly give this a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED; “EQ” (energy quotient) rating is a top-of-the-line 5.00… and they get the “PICK” of this issue for “best jazz/rock/fusion CD” of 2011!  (Keep your ears on this band, folks… you heard it here first – they WILL take over the world)!!!   Get more information at Rotcod Zzaj

Danielle Reich – THIS YEAR’S KISSES: The two words that immediately come to mind as I listen to the opening song, “On The Street Where You Live” are “zesty” & “lilting” (both revealing too much about my age, I s’pose… lol).  The supporting players (Seth Paynter on tenor sax; Carol Morgan on trumpet; Andrew Lienhard on piano, David Craig on bass and Daleton Lee on drums) are stellar, and as indicated above, Danielle’s vocal work is above the cut in all ways.  I truly enjoyed the laid-back cool of “Alone Together“… a great example of a songstress who doesn’t have to “force herself” on your ears – she’s all natural!  The dozen tracks on her debut will give you hours and hours of great listening.  My personal favorite was the Latin-based “Sabor A Mi“… Danielle is right out “in front” on this one – pure aural pleasure, to be sure.  I give
Danielle and her players a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.96.  Get more information at Rotcod Zzaj


Walt Weiskopf – WALT WEISKOPF QUARTET LIVE: Most sax players I’ve met/heard were of one kind or another… either laid-back & in a slow groove, or in a space where TOTAL ENERGY rules… Walt’s in the second category.  Just listen to the fantastic opener, “Man Of Many Colors“… when Walt’s fantastic sax ability is put together with splendid piano by Renee Rosnes, bass from Paul Gill & drums from the late Tony Reedus, this 6:46 gem will take you over the top (the live recording sounds woven is make it all the more energy packed, too!!!)  “Blues In The Day” truly cooked – 7:51 minutes of pure spontaneous pleasure.  The audience must have been in heaven as they listened to my favorite track, the straight-ahead jazz closer, “Breakdown“… I know I was.  I not only give this a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for listeners enchanted by sax-based jazz, they also get an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.98 – and the “PICK” of this issue for “best sax-based jazz quartet”!  Get more information at Rotcod Zzaj


Ekendra Das – ETHNOMUSICOLOGY: This fine percussionist/drummer offers it ALL up for your aural appendages on this great CD!  With his “World Radio 108″ band, he puts his broad background (he’s played with a LOT of names – which you can read more about when you purchase the CD) in styles of music that include most of the world to work for your listening pleasure.  That’s especially true on tracks like the groovy “Love Divine“… tasty morsels of sound that remind you of the ’70′s soul bands, yet manage the transition across the decades to the 21st Century!  The floating “Never To Return” has shades of Weather Report, but Ekendra & crew clearly OWN this one!  It was the down&funky groove of “World Radio”, the closer, that won my vote for favorite track, though… this is one WAY COOL tune!  I give Ekendra & his folks a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.97.  Get more information on his FACEBOOK page!      Rotcod Zzaj


Audrey Silver – DREAM AWHILE: The true beauty in jazz vocal work is that it can indeed bring dreams to life… as I sit here listening to Audrey’s opener, “The Song Is Ended“, it’s totally clear why she chose this title for her CD… in fact, the keyword in listening to her velvet voice is “dreamy”.  “Falling In Love With Love” is a favorite for me & I’ve no doubt it will be for you, too!  Audrey offers up 11 dreamy tracks that you’ll find yourself listening to over & over again.  What comes through her vocal work more clearly than anything else is that she enjoys singing… no “lazy lounge lizard” performances here… my absolute favorite on the CD was the silky & laid-back “Day Dream” – the piano is superb, and all the other players get their chance to shine as well.  I give her a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, especially for jazzers who demand a little vocal in their listening experience… “EQ” (energy quotient) rating is 4.96.  Get more information at Rotcod Zzaj

Heiner Stadler – TRIBUTE TO BIRD AND MONK: I don’t think I’ve heard stellar jazz like this on a recording since my earliest days with the music (probably ’round the ’70′s)… which tracks, because that’s when the original (Tomato Records) release of Heiner’s arrangement/production of 6 (long) tribute tunes to Bird & Monk happened.  Name players like Thad Jones, Stanley Cowell & Reggie Workman all contribute to make this one of the most memorable be-bop experiences you’ll ever have.  Unfortunately, I was unable to find linkable samples of tracks like my favorite, the 21:05 “Straight, No Chaser”, which may be because it was originally released on vinyl & only recently re-mastered to CD.  Any way you look at it, dedicated jazz fans will want to add this to their collection, but you’ll have to take my word for it that it’s MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED & merits an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.96.  There is one sample track on Heiner’s Labor Records site.    Rotcod Zzaj

Nasar Abadey & Supernova – DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH: My first viewing of this CD cover told me I was going to like what Nasar/krew were doing, if for no other reason that I thought I was lookin’ at a “jazz Jimi” (as in Hendrix).  Any way you hear it, Nasar’s total skill on his drums will lead you, as it did his crew (Joe Ford on alto/soprano sax, Gary Thomas on tenor sax, Allyn Johnson on piano & James King on bass) to jazz heaven!  I just loved the intimacy of Nasar’s drum intro on “Notnu“… an absolutely perfect setup for the dynamic 9:37 excursion each of the players participates in for your complete enjoyment… this one is, in fact, my favorite of the 7 intriguing tracks on the CD.  The other stunner was the 13:21 “Multi-D” (what the liner notes term as “multi-dimensional & multi-directional”); high talent on aural display here – be SURE to listen to this one with headphones on!  I give this great jazz CD my MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, as well as an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.99.  It also gets the “PICK” of this issue for “most exciting jazz”!  Get more information at Rotcod Zzaj

The David Leonhardt Jazz Group – THE DAVID LEONHARDT JAZZ GROUP PLAYS COLE PORTER: I’ve reviewed a LOT of music by David in different groupings, but in checking my records, the last time I reviewed him was on his trio efforts in issue # 98.  This music will clearly appeal to jazz listeners who want the “comfort zone” of music that’s familiar for it’s clear roots in more traditional jazz.  A wonderful example of new twists on old themes is David’s interpretation of “Just One Of Those Things“… it may be from a different era, but this kind of playing is timeless, and David & crew ensure the energy levels stay at peak on all dozen tracks!  My absolute favorite (probably ‘coz of it’s boogie bounce) was “Night and Day“… I just love David’s left hand work on this one, not to mention Nancy Reed’s splendid vocal treatment of this classic.  For jazz fans of all stripes, this gets a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED from me, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.97.  Get more information at Rotcod Zzaj


The Elements of Jazz – THE ELEMENTS OF JAZZ: As I sit here toe-poppin’ & finger-snappin’, I have to tell you that I hear a lot (stylistically, anyway) of the old “K.C. & the Gang” influence here – that’s not at all a bad thing, especially when combined with a superb talent factor from all the players.  Listen to the down grooves on “Lost Days“, for instance… you’ll jus’ HAVE to get out on the floor!  For somethin’ just a bit more mellow, with a nice Latin bounce, check out “Midnight Conversation“… nice, nice.  It was the heavy guitar action & rhythm of “In Flight” that got my personal vote for favorite, though!  Definitely a solid performance that gets my HIGHLY RECOMMENDED rating, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.96.  Get more information at Rotcod Zzaj



Annette Cantor – SONGS TO THE EARTH: A total change of pace from the jazz that’s been reviewed thus far in issue # 116, Annette’s meditative and insightful vocal work (Gregorian chants intertwined with cello and Native American wooden flute and percussion) will hold your ears in spellbound pleasure and give you a sense of what musical healing is all about.    In fact, the flute/percussion intro on “Water Blessing” is among the most soothing tunes I’ve listened to over the last 5 years or so.  Annette’s vocal style lends a “different” air to the journey… almost like you’re listening to a “Hogan opera”.  My personal favorite of the 7 tracks was “Healing Prayer“… supreme vocal talent by Ms. Cantor makes this one of the best inter-cultural musical experiences I’ve ever heard.  I give her efforts my MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED rating (especially for listeners who want a taste of healing in their musical adventures), with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.98.  Get more information at Rotcod Zzaj


Bob Gluck – RETURNING: It was easy to become an “instant fan” of Bob’s thoroughly spontaneous piano style when I reviewed his “Something Quiet” CD in issue # 111, but for any dedicated jazz fan, it will be even easier on his new release.  He’s joined this time by bassist Michael Bisio (who I’ve had the pleasure of watching in live-show mode before)  and drummer/percussionist Dean Sharp, and on tracks like the opener, “Lifeline“, you’ll immediately realize why I enjoy them so much!  Michael’s bass intro on “Vertigal“, and the intricate weave they wrap your ears (& your head) in on this 7:31 winner will make it (as it did for me) a favorite!  Looking for something a little more “piano-oriented”?  Try on the mighty mellow of “By A Field” – I guarantee you’ll love it.  This CD is an excellent example of how intricate (yet powerful) trio jazz can be, & it gets my MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, as well as an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.98.  Get more information at Rotcod Zzaj


Ark Ovrutski Quintet – SOUNDS OF BRASIL: As you might imagine, since Ark plays Bass (& El Bass), the killer sounds on the 9 tracks here are heavily bass-driven & full of the kind of energy that first got me interested in jazz way back in th’ day!  The other members of Ark’s quintet are Helio Alves on piano, Jorge Continentino doing fluet and baritone/tenor sax, Craig Handy on Flute, alto/tenor sax and Duduka Da Fonseca on drums & percussion.  One of the coolest Latino-based pieces I’ve heard in years is the second track in, “SOB“… every one of the instruments gets a chance to shine, & the flute is too cool!  If you’re looking for something with a more “gentle” & laid-back sound, you’ll like “Baby’s Vibe” – man, those reeds are mellow & just wrap right around Ark’s bass lines – a really “together” tune.  My favorite, though, was the 7:37 “Mr. Hindemith“, one of the most energetic and jazzified compositions I’ve heard in 2011.  I give these folks a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.97.  Get more information at Rotcod Zzaj


John Gatti – DESTINATIONS: If it’s “groove” you’re searchin’ for, John’s new CD will take you there… as you’ll see from the song titles, like the excellent opener, “Cotton Candy (Yankee Stadium, Bronx, NY)“, the music is inspired by the many places he & his wife have been over the decades.  The themes (obviously) change with the destinations he’s playing about… one of my favorites was the (very) upbeat Latino-based “Old San Juan (Puerto Rico)”!  John has recorded on various projects, but this stands out as one of the most well-rounded I’ve heard this year, particularly on tracks like my favorite, “Jet Glider (Great Falls, Paterson, NJ)“… if you can’t imagine yourself soaring on this one, you’re beyond hope.  A close second was the totally down & funky “Struttin’ Around Pines Lake (Wayne, NJ)“.  I give this one my MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.98.  Get more information at Rotcod Zzaj


Dave Le Febvre – FROM SOUL TO SOUL: There’s definitely a point in a reviewer’s time writing when they KNOW an artist (whether they’ve ever heard them before or not).  Dave’s superb tenor sax work clearly falls in that category for this reviewer… just scope out the penetrating (yet somehow relaxing) reeds Dave plays on the third track in, “A Nordic Tale“… when balanced against the great guitar from Jean Michel Hure, piano by Murray Low, bass by Dan Fieszli and dynamic drums from Curt Moore, you know this 6:19 track is one of your favorites.  The smoothly invigorating “Hope” will make you realize that dreams CAN come true… this one, in fact, is my favorite piece on the CD.  Dave is a composer/player you won’t soon drop from your playlists, & this CD gets my MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.98 – as well as the “PICK” of this issue for “most solid jazz quintet”.  Get more information at Rotcod Zzaj


Bobbie Oliver – REVIVE BLUES: When I cruise the net for blues, I’m lookin’ for that “real blues”, not any hyper-electrified “clone stuff”… th’ kinda’ gut-funkin’ stuff that grabs hold o’ yer’ ears & won’t let GO, man!  Scope out Bobbie’s hard-hittin’ harp on “Bang, Bang, Bang” & you’ll realize you’re in the presence of a cat who has LIVED what this music is really all about.  No “pussyfootin’”, only the kind of music that comes straight from Bobbie’s soul.  If you even “pretend” to know th’ blues, you’ll HAVE to get “Blues Train” – dang, man, that harp is just SMOKIN’!  A long time ago (in a faraway galaxy), I lived this music (just a bit), too… wonderin’ where th’ next roach was gonna’ come from (or somethin’ more serious, maybe), but Bobbie takes those feelings & turns them into music you’ll remember for a long, LONG time to come.  This CD is, in fact, the most authentic blues playing I’ve heard in 2011… I give it my MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.97.  Get more information at Bobbie’s REVERBNATION PAGE.   Rotcod Zzaj




Issue 116, Interview with Eddie Mendenhall

I reviewed a grand CD by Eddie in issue # 114, and decided while listening to it that I wanted to interview him (I s’pose that might have had something to do with the CD title, but it was also because he had a favorite player of mine on it, Mark Sherman).  His willingness to take this interview on, even though his schedule was packed tight, was way cool – thanks, Eddie!









Zzaj:   It seems from your bio like you have had experience in both the classical and jazz arenas… which do you prefer, jazz or classical performances?

Eddie Mendenhall:  I mostly play classical pieces at home. I find that doing so helps maintain my chops as well as learn new piano techniques. Bach preludes and fugues, Beethoven piano sonatas, and Chopin Mazurkas keep me busy enough. I’m looking forward to getting into more Debussy and Ravel because they have so much to offer harmonically.  I’m currently working on a graduate degree in conducting which has me doing plenty of score study. Many scores outside of public domain are available for free online and can be a great resource for those willing. Studying the scores of Mahler symphonies have interested me lately. So much early 20th century music had a profound impact on many “impressionistic” jazz composers from Duke to Gill Evans as well as many current jazz composers. Studying the harmonies and orchestrations helps develop the “imagination” chop that jazz players often miss. Their use of space, range, and unexpected whims in development, are things worth investigating to even the smaller jazz group.

Zzaj:   Since I live in the Orient (Korea, specifically), I’d like to know your impressions of this area of the world, specifically your time in Tokyo… it seems like you spent a lot of time there. Tell us all about it, please.

Eddie Mendenhall:  I lived in Yokohama for 7 years and loved every minute. Mostly I worked in Tokyo, a short train ride; well, depending on which part of Tokyo! There are many fine players, Japanese or foreigners, living there. For a while, it seemed I worked a lot of singles, you know to pay the yen, but a group of us “expats”, played a couple “live house” gigs per month of mostly original music. We found the audiences very receptive to the compositions coming from the band members. I did enjoy the singles though – from the ANA hotel to the Ambassador at Disneyland. I refuse to play as “background music.” The improvisations and excursions I’ve created at these gigs have been crucial to my development as a player and you never know who’s listening! Many musicians play conservative in these situations, don’t get me wrong, you gotta “play the room”, but be aware of stagnation.

Zzaj:   I’ve been reviewing Mark Sherman’s work for many, MANY years now… please tell us your impressions of playing with him. Also, how/where did you meet Mark?

Eddie Mendenhall:  Mark is an explorer. He has great technique and imagination to fuel it. I first met Mark when he passed through Monterey in 2009. We played one gig at the Hyatt hotel and the next time he came through, he called me to play. I loved his writing and shared some tunes of my own with him. Then he encouraged me to record. The way he said it was; “you gotta document this stuff.” A few months later I called and said “can you come out for a few gigs and a recording session?” I emailed some charts to him and then followed a few “rehearsals” via telephone. I can remember being on the cellphone a few times and leaving the surrounding noise to the most quiet place I could find. The session ended up being for quartet. We never rehearsed as a group before the session. Some emails were sent of the music, but it was basically a mad chemist’s experiment.

Zzaj: I’ve found that living in Asian culture has influenced my own playing in many waysthough I don’t hear a lot of that in your playing, I do believe that I’m hearing snatches of such… am I right/wrong? How (if at all) do you think your years in this neck of the world influenced your outlook(s)

Eddie Mendenhall:  The main impact was not so much the Japanese culture, but the space away from the American culture. I was there to stamp out my individualism, to offer something new, but old. The time spent in Japan provided a space or “time lapse” that allowed me to create in a different way than if I were in America. The arrival of an unexpected turn of events forces me to improvise. It’s tough to live as a foreign musician in a different country without “visiting” status, although at times, when traveling and performing within that country, you might be recognized as so; I didn’t care so much about this as I had plenty of solo work, and hence disregarded the whole self-promotion thing. The “name value” game was not pursued for various reasons. And here I am back in the US trying to make a name!

Zzaj: Tell us a bit about “how you got here”? In other words, please give us a “bit o’ bio” – improvise it, please (no copy/paste), just dash it off in the moment, as you would a new composition.

Eddie Mendenhall:  My parents were worried about my grades in 8th grade so they sent me off to a catholic school that didn’t have a music program. There are many catholic schools now that have music, even jazz, but not this one at that time. I did well in flag football, but yearned for a chance to play piano. Half way through the school year I demanded to go back to my previous school and after the first day found a sign on a door – “stage band pianist wanted.” This sign was perhaps destiny – I responded to the ad right away. This sign got me into jazz. Once a month, a group of clinicians from the Monterey Jazz Festival, came by to work with us. There I got to work with Bill Berry, Vince Lateano, Bruce Forman, and my first jazz piano influence, Smith Dobson. I remember hearing a concert they gave for us and leaving it with scat melodies going through me. I walked around for a while jazzing to myself. The virus had incubated. From then on it was all about jazz. I’m not sure where I’d be without having had this chance. I’m sure there are many young musicians out there that would react in similar fashion provided they had the same chance. I was hungry and ready to take it in.

Zzaj:  I’m sincerely interested in a bio note that said you will be releasing some organ work in the near future…. please tell us about that project, and expand (as best you can) on the differences between playing piano and organ.

Eddie Mendenhall:  I’ve recorded some duo tracks with Steve Robertson, a drummer from Santa Cruz. We set up at his house and just let the tape role.  We started inviting a 3rd person so it could be a “Steve & Eddie with guests” record. We’re still not sure what tracks will be put to press, but hope to get something out soon. I started messing around with a Hammond B3 a few years ago and just had a great time. I’m mostly a left-hand bass player, with a few accents in the pedals. So sometimes there is more space especially when soloing with the right hand. I enjoy working with guitarists especially when playing B3.

Zzaj:  I’ve read that you are a jazz instructor – what do you think is your strongest quality when talking to, teaching or discussing music to others? Is it enhanced by your own jazz skills, or is your teaching more involved with theory and mechanics?

Eddie Mendenhall:  This has been a trial and error process. I’ve gravitated to teaching via playing as much as possible. As unruly as my voice might sound, I will sing phrases, wether it be classical or jazz rehearsal, to the musicians. Training our voice to react to improvised or written ideas is crucial. To the adage: “if you can sing it, you can play it” and if your supposed to read it, then sing it first. I try to hip the classical players to the chord sound at hand. If they know the options, even thought not written, there understanding will flourish and musicality will thrive.

Zzaj:  I’ve long believed that creative music can “change the world”; do you agree with that, or is that just a “writer’s pipedream”?

Eddie Mendenhall:  The compositions that strike me the most are the ones written for no particular target audience. Artists who don’t worry about results and outcomes, may not be rich, but their music resonates deep and will not fade away. Music that lasts will influence people, even if in a small way. Music has it’s most profound impact on people when heard in a live performance. When graduating from Berklee, my hero, Herb Pomeroy, gave an address to something to effect that we should focus on live performance. In the age of technology (this was 1995 by the way) we should stress live performance more than recorded music. In order to change the world, we need to promote live performance.  His wish, upon retiring, was not received by all in attendance, but I heard and agreed – in other words we gotta keep it as “live” as possible. I’m hip to the electronic thing, when used as an extra accent and not the prominent one.

Zzaj:  Please tell us about any/all projects you’re working on… our readers aren’t National Tattler fans, but they still “want to know”, lol…

Eddie Mendenhall:  The organ CD is still in the works. Also working on a solo piano CD of standards and a project with the Tassajara Trio, a group with Santa Cruz players Dan Robbins and Steve Robertson.

Zzaj:  For those in our readership who are aspiring musicians themselves (and many of them are), what would you advise? Is a “career” in music worth pursuing, or is a “day job” an absolute must?

Eddie Mendenhall:  Without getting into financial aspects, I’d say play with the best players you can. Listen to recordings of yourself and recognize what it is about you that makes you unique (even the mistakes!). At the same, listen to and study enough of the greats to where you don’t start sounding like one in particular.


Issue 116 ZzajRant

I’m always interested in “new” music… in other words, original music that’s fresh from the mind of the creator thereof.  Players who send me regurgitated samples that don’t demonstrate any creative playing ability often don’t get reviewed here…. OTOH, I’ve heard plenty of folks play presets & then layer over unique sounds from their guitars, drums or even keyboards on improvisations that totally captured my attention.  It’s all in how a player approaches the playing, I reckon… if you’re sitting there concerned only about what someone else will think about your playing – it won’t cut it here – & it will be (almost immediately) detectable as such!  Think about that… & I’m talking every genre… I don’t actually care too much about genre labels… you could be the best imitator of Elvis or sound just like Ornette (copy-cat playing, I mean), but if there’s not any YOU in it… it’s not much worth reviewing (to me, anyway).

On the “regular” news front, I’m just about to sign a paper that will commit me to two more years here on the peninsula… as long as that gets approved, we WILL see y’all back in th’ good ole’ U.S…. my intent is to leave here then (mid-2014) and fly back to my home base (Olympia, Washington) & put my tent stakes DOWN… NO more globe-trotting (unless someone offers me speaking engagements as an “elder statesman” for improv & creative music – lol)… but, of course, as long as I can still get these digits to function (my fingers, I mean), I’ll be reviewing and producing my own brand of creativity.  SO – in the meantime, PLAY yer’ bunzoff & keep sending those very creative efforts my way… either via snail to Dick Metcalf, AFSBn-2ID, Unit 15541, APO AP 96224, or contact me via email (to about having me create an FTP drop for you to push your CD(s) to.

Till next time,


Keep ON keepin’ on!