Issue # 83 REVIEWS

New! New! New!  Zzaj PODCAST!

We now have 3 TOTALLY FREE CD's (with free cover art) available for download at our NETLABEL site!  The only thing we ask is that you scroll to the bottom of the page(s) & give us a REVIEW!  Please ADVERTISE this to ALL your friends... tell them we are GIVING AWAY music!

I've played in over 65 "bands" .  We will highlight a few of these bands in this (and future) issues. 

Featured Zzaj band for issue #82 - Detroit Improv Duo (these don't auto-start - CLICK the PLAY button to listen while you read our reviews - or don't, totally up to you!). 

This grouping featured Pontiac, Michigan guitarist extraordinaire Jim Konen, with me on Kurzweill PC 88.  On "The Fasttrack", Jim played horn on his guitar synth - VERY interesting sounds.  The first two tracks also featured drummer Jim Russell, from Olympia, Washington.  ENJOY!

Robin Spielberg - A NEW KIND OF LOVE:  I am in love with Robin's wonderfully comforting piano artistry, & have been for many years now... we have reviewed many of her CD's, and listened to her spirit mature most pleasantly!  If you're a hardcore "jazz" freak, you may find your mind wandering, but if you have any patience at all, you'll not be able to stray from her compositions.  It only takes a few bars to capture your imagination and bring your dreams to life.  Some of her previous efforts covered other artists, but this album features all originals, which is why (I believe) it captured my ears so easily.  I was most impressed by the track titled "Seeing You Seeing Me", which feels like a story about friends I've known across the decades.  Those listeners who love soft/gentle and clearly expressed talent will agree when I declare this CD MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.  Get more information at, or listen to a few sample tracks by clicking HERE!  Rotcod Zzaj

David Leonhardt Trio - EXPLORATIONS:  Simply superb piano from David, bassist Matthew Parrish and crisp/clear drums by Alvester Garnett on this gem of a CD.  There are several originals, all packed with talent that shines from all 3 players, but in this case, the most notable tracks are David's arrangements of tunes like George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", & Clapton's "Sunshine Of Your Love"!  He breathes new life into those tracks & elevates them back into their proper place... far above Muzak, & in the Universal realm... I can tell you without qualification that you've NEVER heard interpretations as spirited as these!  The recording is excellent; you're able to hear every little nuance, especially on tunes like the opener, "Whispers of Contentment - Shouts of Joy", definitely my favorite on the album; though in semi-ballad mode, power emanates between Leonhardt's phrasings here!  A great jazz album with a new approach to standards that merits our MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!  Get more information (& watch live performances) at   p.s.  Street date is 5 August, 2008, so get your order in early!  Rotcod Zzaj

Leanne Weatherly - GO AND FIND:  What's most impressive about Leanne's vocal style is that she's able to jump from style to style without sounding like a "pretender".  The opener, "Caravan", for instance, is decidedly Latin... then she moves right into "Simple Things", something almost like a pop/jazz ballad.  The huge supporting cast of players (far too large to itemize here) may have something to do with how well she pulls the style shifts off, but it's clear that her burning talent & passion for the songs is the main attraction.  Her interpretation of "God Bless The Child" is among the best I've heard in many years (& believe me, I've heard more than a few); even within the track, the style moves into a rhythm shift that is very attractive, & she handles it like a true professional.  I've no doubt we'll be hearing much more from Ms. Weatherly... she gets a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED from us!  Get more information at   Rotcod Zzaj

Natsuki Tamura and Gato Libre - KURO:  Any creation by Natsuki is immediately of interest to our ears... we have been reviewing albums by him (and his wife, Satoko Fujii) for many years now.  The creativity is the key to the entire experience when listening to Tamura's musical groupings; it's never "stale" or "the same".  On this outing, he manages to mix his excellent trumpet talents with guitar Kazuhiko Tsumura, bassist Norikatsu Koreyasu, and Satoko substibuting accordion for her piano artistry.  The compositions are all original, and capture the flavor & sound of Europe without being (in the least) overbearing or pretentious about it.  You won't find European/jazz like this anywhere else on the face of the planet... it's purely from Natsuki's imagination, and you can feel that all the way through the album.  Very, very tasty and filled with pleasant little improvisational nuances... some of the "tamest" playing I've ever heard from him, but so full of body/spirit that it captures me from the opener (Sunny Spot) to the title track (Kuro) at the end of the album.  This gets a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for those listeners with adventure as the charter for their course.  Get more information at   Rotcod Zzaj

Satoko Fujii Trio - TRACE A RIVER:  Most of us "regular folks" don't get the chance to "cut an album" for our birthday... that's exactly what Ms. Fujii did (in fact she did two of them... this happened to be the first to come out of our review envelopes).  Satoko is (as you've heard from me before) among the most stunning piano improvisers in the world, & has been producing highly creative & energetic jazz for many of her years.  We consider ourselves most fortunate to have the opportunity to listen to and review these often challenging excursions... that is especially true for "Trace A River"; it's like she pulled out ALL the STOPS on this one.  She is joined by players familiar to those who read our magazine... bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Jim Black... it's as though they were joined at the hip... yes, the playing is that tight!  My favorite on this great CD is the opener (& title track), which clocks in at 12:41... the mood and rhythm shifts require absolute intensity for the players, as well as for the listener.  If you pay close attention, you will find yourself on a warp-speed ride that traverses the center of the universe and back, all through the portal of a wormhole of swirling sonic majesty.  This one gets our MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, as well as "PICK" of this issue for "best jazz improv CD"!  Get more information at   Rotcod Zzaj

CNY Jazz Orchestra (Bret Zvacek, music director) - THEN, NOW & AGAIN:  High energy fills this masterful CD, so much so that it will scorch your ears if you don't turn the volume down (just a bit) on your headphones... 'coz that IS the way you should listen to this music!  Actually, all we received was the CD, but the full package includes a DVD as well... not that that puts us out, because the musical package is so full of explosives that it's almost too hot to handle!  Our favorite cut on the CD was "HipNotHop", an original by CNY player which demonstrates the orchestra's superb talents in a most upbeat fashion.  To get a feel for just how "large" this monster group is, view their performance of "Get Smart"... if you like "big band", this will be your cup of tea, no doubt.  Another tune I really enjoyed their performance of was Miles "Eighty One"... the tune contains some of the most full-bodied jazz I've listened to this year... pure joy to listen to.  This album is a "keeper", even if you're not strictly a big band fan... their execution and energy for the playing is infectious... this gets our MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED rating, as well as "PICK" of this issue for "best large jazz band" performance!  Get more information at  Rotcod Zzaj

RedeyeC - BEST OF RedeyeC:  We've been listening to RedeyeC, aka Bob Forbes, on various OMD's (Online Music Distribution services) for the last couple of years (I first started writing short reviews of his pieces on the now-defunct MIXPOSURE, & now via the ANUBES list, SoundClick & others).  When I first listened to several tracks from this recently produced CD, I invited him to send us the full CD/cover art, etc.  The listening is very rewarding, especially if you enjoy guitar that takes you to the very edges of the universe in what Bob calls "Classical Progressive", as reflected in our INTERVIEW with him (in this issue).  No matter what you decide to term it as, there are heavy elements of progressive in there, with soaring (almost galactic) runs that will make you ride RedeyeC's "wave".  Something not always associated with guitarists comes across in his playing that makes it stand out from the crowd, too... a sense of sheer joy and liberation.  There is also some superb keyboard/flute work on a track called "Lost Horizon"... this is my favorite piece on the CD, in great part because all of the instruments (keyboards, bass, lead guitar, etc.) are so tightly integrated & take the listener on such a "high ride".  If you've been looking for music that will get you "out of the rut", this is your ticket.  I rate this as MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for any and all listeners who need inspiration towards the higher things in life.  Get more information at   Rotcod Zzaj

Harlan Mark Vale - BRIGHT ANGEL:  If you've been reading this 'zine since it started back around 1990, many of you know that I've been playing music with this gent off/on since the late 1970's... Mark & I met up in Olympia, Washington & have been making strange (& sometimes beautiful) sounds ever since.  I've reviewed many of his synthesizer/drum works along the way, & can tell you that this piano excursion is (clearly) a "return to his roots"... it is, quite simply, the best playing I've ever heard him do.  Highly inspired acoustic keyboard compositions and improvisations that easily shunt all the other "new age" (& often uninspired) works from other players to the side.  Vale has always been a creative, in so many ways they can't really be itemized here... the titles on this album are evidence... "Delivered Fresh From Eternity" & "Touched By Infinite Possibility", just to name a couple... but what becomes even more clear as I listen through the radiant light-strewn and full-bodied chords of "The White Phase" (my favorite on the album) is that Mr. Vale has transcended earlier musical pathways and (now) joined the players who are truly universal in their ability to act as a channel for the spirit inside them!  In/through this piece I'm transported backwards to a journey I once took through the end-channel (yes, I do mean an OBE) & am able to feel the same warmth I felt at the end of that tunnel... without doubt, Mark is in touch with the spirits that escort you to the higher plane & source of all light.  His earlier influences (improvisation, jazz & progressive) are reflected brilliantly here, too, which makes the album so much more enjoyable than many solo piano excursions.  I rate this a definite MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, and also declare it to be the "PICK" of this issue for "best inspirational piano" CD!  Get more information at  Rotcod Zzaj

Michael's Quartet - WOODY-N-ME:  Though this is our first listen to Michael Antonelli's quartet, we can hear very quickly why the promoter sent this fine jazz CD our way... it's a smoker!  Michael's highly energetic sax work is joined by Peter Nobile's bass, drums by Tim Herrmann & Kevin Golden's guitar mastery to give the listener 11 very solid tracks that make for totally enjoyable listening.  All original compositions that will have you boppin' from the opener, "Golden Opportunity", all the way to the last cut... & I can guarantee that if you're a fan of bop & post-bop, you'll play this one over & over again.  Big blues fan that I am, I found "VC Blues" to be my favorite cut... it combines the best of all (jazz) worlds... bop, jazz & (most definitely), heavy sax blues that just won't stop circulating through my head.  There are plenty of other tunes that will make you want to carry this one around in your car or MP3 player, though... the TITLE track, certainly, as well as a beautiful Latin-based piece called "Bossa Que Passa"... well-crafted rhythm that is very accessible!  I've no doubt that we (& ultimately you, as well) will be hearing much more from Michael... this gets a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED from us!  Get more information at  Rotcod Zzaj

Astral Archetype - DECONSTRUCTING A COINCIDENCE:  Steve Murtaugh, who used to send us a lot of review material (under Orange Entropy Records, co-founded with Steve Zimmerman), sent this little gem of a CD in for our thoughts on it.  Strong rock-orientation, with cosmic overtones, to be sure; there is definite high talent & energy on display for your aural appendages!  Steve's guitar & vocals are joined by bass/vox from Kevin Boyle and drums from Tom Burget, and it's immediately evident that the 3 or so years they spent building the band left them with an almost telepathic grasp of direction... I especially felt that on "Minefield", a full-blown adventure in/of itself.  Recording is also excellent, though next time 'round (yah, even on a demo), I'd like to see the trax embedded with "Disk At Once"... that's only a minor crit, though, as their energy for driving you (& your mind) off into far corners of the galaxy is notable.  I give this a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for any/all who want to experience basic rockin' in "excursionary" mode.  Get more information from their MYSPACE site by clicking on the band title above, or emailing   Rotcod Zzaj

Mark Sherman Quartet - LIVE AT THE BIRD'S EYE:  We have a long history with the beautiful vibe creations by Mark, & this (double) CD makes our earliest predictions of his "quick rise to stardom" totally accurate.  When you put his totally energetic playing together with Allen Farnham's stunning piano, Dean Johnson's superb bass & Tim Horner's scorching drums, you'll find (very quickly) that this album attains immediate status as classic.  There isn't a vibraphonist (alive today) that can come close to his abilities, & this live album makes the quartet just shine in your mind.  The opener on the first CD, "Tip Top Blues", just kicks; like a good novel, it sets up the album so you won't be able to "put it down" until you've heard it "cover to cover"... "Tip Top Rhythm", on the 2nd CD, is similar in it's energy quotient.  It turns out that the opener for the second CD, "Explorations", is my favorite on the album, though... still high energy & talent displayed by each of the players, but (for some reason) this track takes me back to my earliest excursions through the jazz joints of Europe.  Sherman has done it once again... produced & performed an absolute winner for jazz listeners of all persuasions... I give it a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, as well as the "PICK" of this issue for "best vibe-based jazz".  Get more information at    Rotcod Zzaj

Joe Parillo Trio with Jay Hoggard - SEGMENTS:  It's been quite a while since we reviewed Joe's splendid piano works (issues #29 & #34).  As always, Parillo's high talent and creativity make for pleasant musical surprises.  Though I really like the opener, "Clouds", I found that track #7, "Sandbox", was my favorite on the album... that could be because the composition comes across as playfully as one might expect for the title, but it's also because there's a real sense of exploration.... when you toss in Jay Hoggard's excellent vibe work, you have a piece that will stick in your mind for years to come.  Bryan Rizzuto on bass and drums from Eric Platz also contribute significantly to a thoroughly enjoyable album.  This isn't "live, hot" jazz for those who have to live "on the edge" - there are some very introspective tunes here, but that doesn't detract (in the least) from the fact that Parillo's music is always high-end and full of sweet jazz mystery.  I'm highly impressed, & listeners who love something "new" in the jazz experience will agree... "Segments" gets our MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, as well as "PICK" of this issue for "most creative piano jazz trio".  Get more information at    Rotcod Zzaj

Timothy Cooper - LIGHT ON THE WATER:  I have many friends who are keyboardists... I play the keyboards myself, albeit in a much different vein (some reviewers have called my works "odd-istry")... I can say, very honestly, that I've seldom heard solo piano with the ability to "touch" the listener as comes through in Timothy's compositions.  The liner notes and the cut-sheet that accompanied the CD tells us that Cooper is an artist who strives "to bring enlightenment to the world"; if the listener takes the simple step of listening to this with headphones on, they will feel pieces of Timothy's soul - no doubt!  That, in my many years of listening to and reviewing music, is what makes the difference... when an artist can communicate his inner feelings through the magical ivory keys with the clarity Timothy does, the listener will "grok" the artist's meaning without complicated analysis.  That was particularly true for tracks like "Soundings", one of the longer tracks on the album (& my absolute favorite)... there is such body in his playing that it reminds me of my own personal tragedies and how the "sounding out" he speaks of can help us to pull ourselves back up by our bootstraps... many of the pieces here were realized after 9/11, which lends itself to such strong vision and interpretation.  I'm highly impressed, and certainly hope we will hear more from Mr. Cooper... this gets our MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED rating; even if "new age piano" is less jazz than you normally listen to, you owe it to your own well-being to get this one.  More information (& a short clip) is available at   Rotcod Zzaj

 David Arkenstone, Loren Gold, Nicholas Gunn and Johannes Linstead - LIVE!:  The DVD that comes with the audio CD is one of the best-produced musical experiences I've seen in the last 5 years (& that's more than a few).  If you don't find yourself wrapped up in the players easy gait and full dedication to the muse - you'll never achieve the state the album describes... which is why it's such an apt title... this wraps you in the experience and won't release you until the entire performance is complete.  Nicholas Gunn's flute is masterful, but he also proves himself very adept at MC duties... full-blown audience participation helps to draw you in, too... Nicholas is also the CEO of "Gemini Sun"... he tells us that their motto is to play music "that enlightens people"... & what they play will take you far, FAR beyond the common perception of "new age"... if you're not opened up to the light by the time the video concludes, you're already dedicated for eternity to the "dark side".  We've reviewed his music before... #67, as well as music from his wife Cheryl Gunn... #38 & #30... though I was highly impressed with all of those CD's, I'm even more amazed at "Live" - and it's excellent to watch him (and all the other players) as though they were right in my living room!  A superb musical experience that gets our MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED rating for listeners who want highly charged energy to be at the core of their experience.  Get more information at   Rotcod Zzaj

Joel Miller - TANTRAMAR:  We reviewed snatches of this powerful CD by Joel in our last issue, based on downloads from the new ArtistShare site, & were very much impressed with his music.  It's not just that he composes well-crafted & vibrant jazz tunes (all 10 tracks are originals), but his tenor/soprano sax work is far above average... he does some cool vocals as well.  He has a lot of players joining him, basically a sextet with 3 guest artists.  The recording is excellent, & because he's an ArtistShare player, you can read all about how the tunes and the recording were produced, a rather unique experience... this is the first site (I've seen) that gives the listener (far) more than just download samples with a few descriptive phrases.  We say that musicians "play", but more often than not, all the listener feels is the intensity of the players dedication to their craft... not true on "Tantramar"... it really feels like all of these folks are just having fun, and this is clearly communicated to the listener... nothin' but pure joy!  That aspect in & of itself makes this album a keeper... you'll never tire of listening to pieces like "Big Tiny", or the highly energetic "Anonymity".  I believe you'll be hearing much more from Joel in the years to come... I give this a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for jazzheads all over the globe.  Get more information by clicking on Joel's name at the front of this review.  Rotcod Zzaj

Michael Dease - CLARITY:  Michael's playing exemplifies the CD title, to be sure... it would be difficult to come across any more clearly than he does on his sweet trombone... when you put that together with the other 7 masterful players (absolutely smokin' trumpet from Brandon Lee, alto sax by Sharel Cassity, Kris Bowers' piano, bass from Matthew Heredia and drums by Marion Felder, Kenneth Salters and Mark Whitfield, Jr.) it doesn't get any more lucid than this.   If you stop & imagine the "brightest" master artwork you've ever observed, & then correlate that to the rich sonic textures Dease & his compadres paint for your ears, it won't take you long to recognize that this highly talented young composer is in the master class already.  The second cut, "One 4 Steve", is a perfect illustration of the verve these folks have for playing... all the instruments are right "with it", & the energy just doesn't slow down... this is, by the way, my favorite piece on the album.  If you want that "lowdown sound" the 'bone can render, there is none better than "Elusive"... slinks right into your brain & won't let go, yet it's "easy" enough to make you think you're in an after-hours joint (even in these "oh-so PC" times) with blue smoke rising to the ceiling of the cave.  The title track is one of the richest textures, and will make you see the light right away!  Ten densely packed and rewarding tracks that surely merit our MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED rating!  Get more information at, or watch him practicing at YOUTUBE.   Rotcod Zzaj

Al Foster Quartet - LOVE, PEACE AND JAZZ (Live at the Village Vanguard):  Foster's timely drums lead the players sensitively through jazz turf that's been trod before, yet in Al's (& the quartet's) hands, it feels like a totally new adventure... the CD won't be released (officially) until 1 September, 2008, so you've plenty of time to scope it out before the release.  As usual, the originals take precedence in my ears, seeming to have more energy, but it's a bit different when a drummer is the leader, so even the cover tracks (in particular, Miles Davis' "Blue In Green") bring the bacon (all the way) home to your heart.  Kevin Hays piano is crystal sharp, & Eli DeGibri's sax makes you truly feel that blue... & that's not to mention the sultry double-bass by Douglas Weiss.  "Brandyn" is the original track that makes Foster's talent (literally) shine through... the drum solo intro leads right into one of the most energetic jazz collaborations I've heard this year (& believe me, I've heard more than a couple this year)... an exceptional piece full of spirit, & definitely my favorite drum-based track of 2008.  Absolutely stunning talent throughout the album... this is already a classic in my ears, & gets a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED from us for anyone who must have strong drums as a part of their jazz equation.  Get more information at Jazz Eyes   Rotcod Zzaj

Roberta Duchak - INTERSECTIONS:  If you love jazz with a female vocalist, you won't be able to do without this fine little CD... Roberta can belt out the blues with the best of 'em, & with an exceptionally talented quintet of players behind her, she's clearly able to take on the world.  This is more like a show on Broadway than that "back-room" kind of tuneage.  The Latin-feel of "Raise the Roof" will have you gettin' up off your duff & kickin' up your heels... it was my favorite tune on the album, to be sure.  Those listeners who want to hear "the cool" behind songs that poke a bit of fun at the "macho" in guys will dig "What You Don't Know About Women", without doubt... Roberta leads a quick-stepping pace that just won't quit on this one.  What's so nice about this experience is that her vocals make everything come across as fresh & full of life.  Though this is our first listen, we are impressed enough to rate this one as HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for any & all who want a touch of quality in their jazz.  Get more information at   Rotcod Zzaj

Gene Bertoncini - CONCERTI:  Jazz fans who love high-talent acoustic guitar jazz will find Gene's CD a perfect match for their listening... this is the kind of jazz that captures your ears and hangs on for a while.  The insertion of a full-string group behind Bertoncini's masterful guitar takes the music to a level far above "street", or "smoky basement" rooms; almost like having your own private orchestra in your living room.  There is a lot to absorb in the arrangements, so listeners who set aside 60 minutes or so for a head-phone ride will be truly rewarded; of course, even without the phones, it's still a very pleasant listen. Those who are looking for "instant gratification" won't find it here... this is definitely a sophisticated musical experience, very tasteful and classy.  I can tell you right now, we will be looking forward to more of Gene's excellent guitar... he gets a definite HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, especially for those who want music that had enduring qualities.  Get more information at   Rotcod Zzaj

Michaela Rabitsch & Robert Pawlik Quartet - MOODS:  Austrian jazz vocalist & trumpet/flugelhorn artist Michaela blends together with Pawlik's superb guitar phrasings to render an album that's most enjoyable and full of great jazz energy.  The other players (Karl Sayer on double bass, Doris Dudli's drums & special guests Albert Kreuzer's electric bass along with percussion from Kornel Horvath) are very tight & contribute significantly to the overall experience.  The arrangements are superb as well, as evidenced by the lead-in to "Afrika"; this is my favorite cut on the album, mostly because it's quite different from what you'd expect for a tune with that title!  Rhythmically & stylewise, the tracks on this unique CD go in many directions... sort of like one's moods might, eh?  Michaela and Robert have been playing together for (about) 10 years now, & it surely shows... very, VERY sensitive to where they are going, they will snare your ears in a matter of seconds.  The word that sticks in my mind as I listen through this fantastic CD is - "diversity"... it's clear from the listening that these players are comfortable with differences, and in my mind, that makes their music immediately accessible.  Their album gets a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED from these old ears.  Get more information at   Rotcod Zzaj


Guideline for artists SUBMITTING to us:  We do NOT generally review .mp3 files/sites.  Being an active artist myself, though, I understand the need for the use of Internet sites as a "staging ground" for reviews!  You are encouraged to email us your .mp3 links... we will visit the site/link, & if we like your energies, we will contact YOU!  (We will NOT respond to followup inquiries about .mp3 files, though!!!  p.s.  If you EVER e-mail me .mp3 files, you will be BLACKLISTED on this site!!!)

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  In This Issue: - IF you are the FIRST e-mail respondent to this note (to  - MAKE SURE your subject states ALEX CD), you will receive (free of charge) a copy of a superb jazz CD by Alex Kontorovich, titled "DEEP MINOR" (which was reviewed in our last issue).  We will have (some) more freebies coming in future issues, so be sure & tell all your friends about us!

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