Issue # 84 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!

Jon Gordon - WITHIN WORLDS:  This CD is the result of an "ArtistShare" project that Jon put together... his alto sax work can only be described by one word - "masterful".  That's true of many of the artists he assembled for the album, many of them from the ArtistShare stable.  There is a lot of talent there, but Jon's stands out (if for no other reason) because the music comes through full of passion and energy for communicating "the message".  Each listener will find something unique in one or more of the 9 tracks.  One thing I wasn't especially attracted to was the album layout... though the artwork was fully acceptable, there wasn't much in the way of biographical information in the liners, and the same held true for the page at ArtistShare... I think listeners will want to become better acquainted with all the players, & the only way they can do that is if they can view more historical information on both the CD jacket and the page.  That's NOT a criticism of the music, however... Gordon's composition and musical communication skills are superb and show great promise.  I give this one a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for listeners 'round the world who love jazz featuring saxophone.  Get more information at   Rotcod Zzaj  

Anna Maria Flechero - WITHIN THE FOURTEENTH HOUR:  We get many CD's in with vocalists doing standards, & few of them shine as clearly as Ms. Flechero's performances do!  She's joined by a whole host of players (about 10 players, far too many to name off here) who contribute a lot to the energy & do a marvelous job of supporting her vocals, but when the song's over & done, you just naturally know that what wrapped you in were Anna's husky and spirited vocals.  If you love high talent jazz vocals, these tracks will go to the top of your playlists; there is no better today.  My take on it (having done a bit of singing myself) is that the combination of rich tone and verve for living is what makes Flechero stand out in a field populated by so many.  If ever I have the chance to watch her perform, nothing will stand in the way of it... yup, she's that good, folks. There's no high-tech wizardry going on here to enhance what she does - it's "just Anna", & you'll be as happy as I was with that, I've no doubt.  I give this a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, as well as the "PICK" of this issue for "best female jazz vocals".  Get more information at    Rotcod Zzaj

Mark Prince - FRACTION OF INFINITY:  We'd not heard Mark's splendid drum works before... we're glad it was sent our way for review, to be sure!  Definitely jazz with a "modern" feel, & joined by a whole host of players with the same high talent levels he displays.  The cut with the highest mojo level (in my humble opinion) was "Friendly Fire"... the drums are recorded right out in FRONT of the players, & come across as right "in your ears", if you will... my favorite, with a splendid level of raw phonkiness, this track will hold you in it's grip for the full 5:54.  That's not the only one, of course... if you dig a kinda' "slinky" sound, you'll love "Abena's Last Stand" & keep queuing it back up on your player.  If you want a tune with a little more traditional feel, you'll enjoy "Rite of Passage" a lot!  What really makes this album stand out (for me) is that the compositions are all original... excellently recorded and performed with high energy levels, this CD will stand the test of time... it's a definite KEEPER.  I give this a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, particularly for those listeners who demand precision!  Just released on 24 June, 2008, it should be available on the racks now.  Get more information at   Rotcod Zzaj

Karen Johns & Company - STAR AND SEASON:  If you love "big band swing" with red-hot & smokin'-husky female vocals out in front, you're going to fall in love with this on the opener, "Carry Me Away"... I did (yes, this is my favorite track), in great part because of Karen's fantastic ability to make "scat" sound like regular conversation.  This is way more than just high talent, this kind of vocalist only comes along once in a blue moon.  Her rendition if "Night And Day" is just the cat's meow, & you'll find it a very comforting listen.  As I listen to this, I can visualize her in one of my old Huntsville haunts (the KaffeeKlatsc h), though I doubt they're still doing live music there... the reason I mention that is because her vocals remind me in many ways of a singer named Beth Jackson who used to perform in that venue.  My whole point here is that Karen has a kind of "southern flavor" in her songs, & those listeners who have heard jazz singers in that neck of the woods will know what I'm talking about when I say there's a little "more" you get out of a well-composed jazz vocal when the singer is from down that way! This is an absolutely splendid album - comes MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED from me.  Get more information at   Rotcod Zzaj

Jamie Davis - VIBE OVER PERFECTION:  This must definitely be an issue for jazz vocalists... Jamie's deep rich vocals and performance style remind me of the Vegas stylings of Lou Rawls, though with a much deeper tone (if you can imagine that).  As many who read this 'zine know, I'm a big fan of original compositions, but when a singer as skilled as Mr. Davis hits the microphone, it wouldn't matter who the composer was... the songs are in the hands of a true vocal master... just superb singing!  Jamie has a real sense of "life" in his style that makes every track sound like a classic... talent that just won't quit.  Unfortunately, I couldn't find any samples on the web for you; one other minor complaint is that the tracks weren't "burned" onto the CD, so when you're ripping them, you have to actually type all the information in!  That doesn't detract (at all) from the excellence of the listen, though... this CD will stay in your collection for a long time to come if you love male jazz vocals... I give it a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, to be sure.  Get more information at    Rotcod Zzaj

Darrell Katz Jazz Composers Alliance Orchestra - THE SAME THING:  If you've been listening to high-spirited all vocal jazz (as I have for the last 2 hours), Darrell's opening track (December 30, 1994) will be a shocker... not in a "bad" way, it's just that this is about as full of jazz experimentation and adventure as you can imagine!  In a strange way, it strikes a "funny bone", too.. there's great spoken word (written by Paula Tatarunis and performed by Rebecca Shrimpton) sort of "sparring" with the music that follows along in the wake of her entertaining textual performances.  Clocking in at over 10 minutes, "Everybody Loves Ray Charles" is my favorite track, no doubt... great call/response lines that just KICK your tail, & when the guitar kicks in on lead, you'll grab your flask out of your pocket & swig down th' whole durned thing!  Actually, this tune alone makes the CD purchase worth it... just visualize Ray doin' "free jazz"!  Another favorite, "I'm Me And You're Not Ha Ha", lets us focus in on Paula's superb word visions... a haunting experience.  This album definitely take the spoken word/jazz paradigm to a new level... this gets a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED from me for those who want to hear something challenging and different.  This gets the "PICK" of this issue for "most enjoyable jazz adventure"... in fact, barring something more cosmic, I'm going to give it the "PICK" of the YEAR for that category.  Get more information at   Rotcod Zzaj

Noah Preminger Group - DRY BRIDGE ROAD:  Noah's tenor sax provides a very pleasant "wake-up" set... I've actually been listening to it via my Palm pilot's expansion card for a couple of weeks now.  There wasn't anything especially distinctive about the CD cover, except perhaps for the picture of Preminger with his sax hanging over his shoulder, but I just had a "feel" that this one would be very interesting.  I suppose the other factor is that this is a debut CD, & I caught that in the liners.  The point here is that Noah's 1 August 2008 release has 6 out of 9 tracks that are all original compositions, with more than just "verve" and high talent going for them... the sextet he's assembled is just "tight"... this album is a clear-cut keeper, & will ride in my car rack with me (a place of honor, one might say).  If you like "laid-back", you'll favor "Luke", the opening track... you can hear this one & others by clicking HERE.  My favorite piece, though, was "Today Is Okay", with a really rambunctious bass lead-in, then some great interplay between the tenor sax & Russ Johnson's trumpet.  Other players are Ben Monder doing guitar, Frank Kimbrough on piano, John Hebert's bass & Ted Poor's drums.  You'll find Noah's jazz well-founded & most enjoyable.  This album would have gotten our "MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED", except that tracks were not embedded on the CD (maybe next time).  It certainly merits the HIGHLY RECOMMENDED rating for jazz listeners everywhere!  Get more information at Noah's site -   Rotcod Zzaj

Misha Feigin, Dave Liebman, LaDonna Smith (with Jason Foureman) - WATERS ASHORE:  Our long-time improvising pal LaDonna Smith sent us this 2007 CD release, as well as several others to be reviewed in upcoming issues, that are part of an improv "revival" of the Transmuseq Records label she & Davey Williams started 'round 30 years ago.  Many who have read this 'zine since it's inception will be familiar with these names, as I reviewed a lot of the Transmuseq material in the early issues.  For this adventurous outing, Feigin (guitars & balalaika), Liebman (soprano & tenor sax, flutes, reading) & Smith (violin & viola) just "start right off" on "Drink Deep"... 20 pleasurable minutes of exploration that will leave you wanting to empty the well.  Misha's spoken-word on track 3, "Jazz", is superb & gives you an intricate view of the "after effects" of one of those honkin' jazz parties we've all been to, surely enhanced by Jason's contra-bass undercurrents.  This is my favorite because of the poetry, but all the rest of the tracks on this album & the others as well will have you seeking out these recent releases as well as several re-releases that will appear at the TRANSMUSEQ site!  "Waters Ashore" is fresh and invigorating improvisation that gets my MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED rating for listeners who want more than just "humdrum" in their musical experience.    Rotcod Zzaj

Wayne Wallace - THE NATURE OF THE BEAT:  Famous players all the way from Carlos Santana to Count Basie, Stevie Wonder & John Lee Hooker have called on this astounding trombone & tuba player to enhance their productions.  You won't hear a more punctual & enjoyable version of EWF's "Serpentine Fire" anywhere other than (of course) the original... and on Herbie Hancock's "Come Running to Me", you'll find a very danceable track that clearly highlights the diversity of style that Wallace is able to play with.  In fact, that's what's most attractive about the songs on this great CD... nearly all musical languages are spoken here.  The most energetic cut (& my absolute favorite), though, is a Wayne original titled "That Walk"... besides the fact that it's composed by him, there's some phasing goin' on behind his crystal-clear 'bone lines that will definitely help you to "walk the jazz walk" - you know, strut it!  I just really DIG this piece.  There's a decidedly Latin influence in his arrangements, with all the high life that implies... if you don't find yourself feeling better after listening to this exciting album a couple times, you're in need of an M.D., for sure.  This enchanting musical adventure gets a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED from us.  Start checking your favorite CD store now - this one gets released on August 19th, 2008.  Get more information at the PATOIS RECORDS site.

Sharel Cassity - JUST FOR YOU:  Sharel's highly lively jazz CD was just released at the end of June, 2008, so if you love exciting new talent, you'll want to rush right out & get your copy now!  Too many players to itemize here, but every player has their place, & the arrangements & execution are flawless.  Ms. Cassity's alto sax work is superb throughout the album, & will make you keep coming back to this one... it's a great collection for ripping to .mp3, so you can carry it with you wherever you go.  While I (always) love the cuts that make you want to get up and dance, strangely enough, my favorite track on the CD was the title track, "Just for You", because it features Sharel's horn right out in front all the way through!  One main point is that this isn't "thinking man's" jazz... it's so full of the verve of life that you've no need to deliberate... just groove right along with the players & you'll be able to hear that this music IS being played with you in mind.  When you are ready to kick up your heels, though, you'll find that the opener (trombonist Michael Dease composition), "Phibes' Revenge", will transport you well into the ether... heavy movement, without doubt.  This is an excellent album & surely merits my MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED rating.  Get more information at   Rotcod Zzaj

Anna Estrada - Soņando Vuelos:  For a debut CD, this is one astonishing performance.  Anna's from Brazil, but has been performing in the Bay area for a few years now, & decided to make her dream of singing come true (say the liner notes)... well, she's accomplished her mission, as you'll surely agree when you listen to this wonderful album.  There will be no doubt in your mind that Latin-flavored jazz is in her blood by the end of the first track, and her husky (yet rich) vocals will have you falling in love with her, too.  The title means "Dreaming Flights" (at least, that's what the translator says), & it's a perfect description for what Estrada conveys through her lively singing... she will have you soaring in no time, feeling the same exhilaration that's apparent from her singing.  The backing orchestra (might as well be, FAR too many players to itemize in a review) sways & moves right along behind her, all to most pleasant effect for jazz lovers of all persuasions.  A grand excursion, with some of the best Latin jazz vocals I've heard in a while... I give this a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, to be sure.  Get more information from    Rotcod Zzaj

Kevin Hays - THE DREAMER:  Kevin's CD release is another "ArtistShare" project... basically some superb jazz, featuring his excellent keyboard work on 11 absolute originals.  Hays also does vocals & clearly displays a talent that many artists doing piano/Rhodes/synth just do not have... he's able to sway you whichever way he wants you to go with his singing (just think Stephen Bishop, from a style perspective, anyway... with a little more sophisticated approach).  I get a real feeling of roots in Zawinul, especially on the passages where he's playing the Rhodes... in fact, my favorite track, "A Question", combines both the Zawinul feel as well as the laid-back yet penetrating Bishop vocal thang.  As you might imagine, I fell in love with his playing immediately, no hesitation, no second guessing... I believe you will, too!  This is a very spirit-filled  and soulful album that will stay at the top of your playlists for years to come... it gets my MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED rating!  Get more information at   Rotcod Zzaj

Georg Breinschmid & Friends - WIEN BLEIBT KRK:  Let it never be said that reviews in this 'zine are "only about jazz", or "only about "regular" music"... we are always pleased to hear & write about music that is on the edge, no matter what the genre.  That's the first thing I'd have to say about Georg's CD.. it takes the listener to a zone they never would have imagined... think of some sort of cross between Django Reinhardt and a "classical gypsy band" from Vienna, Austria.. ha! ha!  One other thing you will come away from this superb musical experience with is a clear respect for Brinschmid's bass playing abilities, as well as his high talent for crafting pieces that have strong jazz leanings, yet leave you wondering why it doesn't "sound like" any jazz you've ever heard before; I don't mean that in any negative way, either, because Georg "has it", in spades.  If you're a "standard jazz" freak, you'll probably go elsewhere, but I give this a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for listeners of all persuasions who have a little adventure in their blood.  This was released on the 1st of August, 2008, so you should be able to find it in your favorite store now.  Watch him on YOUTUBE, or get more information from   Rotcod Zzaj

Mosaic - UNSAID, UNDONE:  If vibrant & upbeat is what you demand in your jazz experience, you'll want this July, 2008 debut CD for sure.  Six of the seven tracks are solid originals, with all the verve & life you'd expect... Matt Belzer's sax, Ned Judy's keyboards, upright bass by Larry Melton, drums & percussion from Mark Merella & scorching percussion by David Font-Navarrete all combine to create one of the freshest jazz listens I've heard (yet) this year.  These players are right on time, & definitely in tune with the muse... your ears will be more pleased than they have in a long time.  The word that comes to mind as the short description for the band sound is "full body"... if you're a sax lover, think of "Kenny G on 21st Century steroids" (without the side effects)... the sounds that Belzer plays on "Hikaru's Dance" (my favorite on the CD) are cutting without being offensive or edgy in any way.  I'm highly impressed by the broad range of talent displayed on this album, & you will be too.  This gets a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for sure.  Get more information at (be sure & tell them Zzaj sent you, of course)  Rotcod Zzaj

Robin McKelle - MODERN ANTIQUE:  When Robin tells you (on the opener, "Abracadabra"... this is definitely the track that I favor the most, perhaps because it's on YOUTUBE - click the link & watch her) that she wants to "reach right out & grab ya'", you'll know she means business... in fact, you'll be so caught up in the magic spell she weaves that you'll volunteer!  Those jazz fans who find "big band" irresistible" won't be able to put this CD back in the rack... it'll just keep on spinning for days & days.  She has excellent style, especially when it comes to scat... this isn't just an attempt to dazzle, it's the real deal... she'll have your heart whirling 'round & 'round.  It's also very clear that Ms. McKelle loves to have fun, and has the talent to pull it off to the degree that the listener will be infected with the joy and love of life that is her message.  She has one of the most sultry voices I've listened to this year.  I can guarantee you that this will be one of your favorites of 2008... it surely rates the MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED rating I'm giving it.  Visit her on MYSPACE at   Rotcod Zzaj

Bill Cole's Untempered Ensemble - PROVERBS FOR SAM:  Bill's ensemble is what the roots of this magazine are all about... unfettered performance, improvisation that creates relentlessly to produce music that stirs all the emotions we need to stay in touch with on our life journey.  The CD was issued in memory of Sam Furnace & captures the complete set that he performed on at the 2001 Vision Festival in New York.  Furnace's alto sax will penetrate your mind and allow you to experience imagery that comes from the most primal parts of you... the titles are L-O-N-G, and probably (like many of my own) come from the heat of the creative moment (usually right after the piece is realized)... one example is the opening track, "Don't Wait for the day of battle before getting your weapons ready"; it won't make much sense until you listen to it - absolutely tribal.  I'm more than (just) impressed... my ears get EXCITED when they hear this kind of exploratory sound, & if you understand that sense of anticipation of the next moment (heck, the next millisecond), you'll agree & declare this MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, as I have.  In FACT, I'm also giving this album the "PICK" of this issue for "best jazz improvisation".  No intellectual (B.S.) analysis needed - this just hits the spot!  The release date is 19 August, 2008, so order your copy now from   Rotcod Zzaj

The Joe Gilman Trio - VIEW SO TENDER- WONDER REVISITED, Vol. 2:  If you hadn't guessed by now, this CD explores the very jazz-friendly music of Stevie Wonder... it's odd to hear a trio doing this, when I'm so used to Wonder's music with far more instrumentation, but Gilman's keyboards, bass by Joe Sanders & drums from Justin Brown, reinterpret Wonder's tunes to the point that you'll wonder why Stevie didn't do them this way in the first place.  Of course, we all know the answer... "non-jazzheads" wouldn't have comprehended it, & sales would have been low... what Joe's fantastic creativity & talent does prove, however, is that Mr. Wonder was/is a master composer!  If it's "move" you want, you'll find my favorite track, "Another Star" to your liking... if, on the other hand, you want something that sounds more "Wonder-ous", you'll probably pick "Knocks Me off My Feet".  All 10 tracks pass on the sense of joy that Stevie has always had in his music, though, so it's an album well worth having & certainly merits our HIGHLY RECOMMENDED rating.  Get more information at or watch Joe & the trio playing SIR DUKE (YOUTUBE).   Rotcod Zzaj

Glenn White - SACRED MACHINES:  Mr. White's full-bodied tenor lines takes me back to a time when jazz was at the forefront of my life... you know, late-night crawls through 2 or 3 cavernous and smoky dens where everyone was "in the mood" for jazz... in those days, a lot of "intellectuals" hung out in such places, too, and the whole scene made for a real intermingling of minds.  What we often didn't realize back then is that it was really the "soul" we were communicating with, usually through the players... & Glenn's playing is in that class.  In other words, it's not just "gut-funk", chords patched together in odd hooks just to attract listeners... it's clear that his talent stems from a deeper understanding than many reed players have of the emotional pull they are in control of.  I can tell you that he reached right out & touched me from the opening bar of this album... & especially so on "Washington Heights", my favorite track on the album; very reflective, yet penetrating and full of soul.  If you love jazz that features reeds, you'll certainly agree with me - this is MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.  Get more information at   Rotcod Zzaj

Puttin' On The Ritz - BANGIN' YOUR WAY INTO THE FUTURE:  This one came through the mail slot (seemingly) with a certain air of "punk" (it was almost, like, "strutting" when I took it out of the envelope), & that was surely borne out when I slid it into the CD tray.... BJ Rubin joins Kevin Shea as the "Outsider Jazz Vocal Duo"... sonic backing came from Peter Evans' trumpet, Jon Irabagon's saxophone & Moppa Elliott's bass.  If you think humor in music has no place in the "modern world", yer' probably a blue meanie anyway, so put this album down... but if you enjoy rock with a cutting edge that isn't afraid to poke fun at (essentially) anyone (YAH, U2), this one will come across like Dirty Harry's nemesis... it'll MAKE YOUR DAY... ha! ha!  These guys are into "deconstruction" in a BIG way... some of the vocals, in fact, will have purists cringing... it's right on the edge of talent, exploratory & sometimes so audacious it will have you scratching your head (if you don't believe, me, listen to their performance of "Earth Angel".  Personally, I find this just distasteful enough to give it a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for listeners who find their Nirvana in "odd-istry".  Ha! Ha!  Get more information at   Rotcod Zzaj

Cynthia Felton - AFRO BLUE (the music of Oscar Brown, Jr):  Ms. Felton has an absolutely astounding cast of musicians joining her on this tribute to Oscar's music; the CD, to be released on the 2nd of September, 2008, will hold you spellbound from the opener ("Motherless Child").  After that splendid spiritual, Cynthia favors us with her vocal rendition of "Afro Blue"... excellent interplay between the players and her vocal leads, with a totally appropriate focus on the music!  If you haven't been "jazzified" lately, this will surely do the trick.  There is one criticism, however... when I went to the site that was supposed to have more about Felton & her music ( ), it says "coming soon"... that is a BIG "no-no" in today's webbed world; there were a few other sites that had reviews of the CD, but nothing a listener could preview with.  I surely hope (for Cynthia's sake) that whoever is handling that aspect of Ms. Felton's campaigns gets that fixed soon, as her music is high-end enough that it surely deserves to be heard.  She has her own unique style, and superb talent when it comes to scatting... I give this debut CD a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for jazz lovers who want tasty & sultry female vocal work as a part of the listen.  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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