Issue # 99 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!



U.O. Project - IT'S TIME FOR U: There are a whole host of folks joining Ulysses Owens drums on this fantastic CD, & every one of them is fully qualified to be an emissary for jazz of the highest caliber; no slouching here, and 4 of the 7 tracks are Owens originals, full of renewed life and energy for jazz lovers everywhere!  The opener, "N'awlins Greens" is an absolutely stunning example of what "th' phonk" is all about, particularly with Sullivan Fortner's excellent Hammond B3 and the up-tempo kickin' drums that Ulysses provides.... cool stuff, no doubt!  It is another Owens original, though, that captures my ears as the clear winner & absolute favorite for me, "The Maestro 'Blues'"... some of that may have to do with the fact that it clocks in at 8:03, the longest cut on the album, but what really cinches it's position at the top is the splendid integration of each & every instrument into the mix with full-tilt jazz energies!  U.O. is a young player, with years & years ahead of him, but he's done a stellar job of showing what he's got here, & I expect we'll be hearing much, much more from him in both the near & long term.  One of the things I noted in the promo sheet is that Ulysses said he wants to "bring music back to its' original purpose"... for people to "escape through the music", & he's done that in a very timely (& ON time) fashion.  I'm very highly impressed with his excellent skills and give him a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, with an "EQ" (energy quotient) rating of 4.96.  Get more information at    Rotcod Zzaj

Mark Moultrup - DAR CHO: I'm more than just "impressed" as I sit here listening to Mark's superb compositions (10 of the 13 tracks are all his), & some of that is because of his amazing vocals & lyrics... when integrated with his excellent keyboard chops & the supreme talents for rhythm he displays, tunes like "What About" will make your ears realize that you're listening to a jazz genius (his scats are just killer on this one).  The group is basically a quartet, with Rodney Whitaker's bass, George Fludas' drums & John Wojciechowski's sax/flutes complimenting Mark's keyboards in every way (the guest artists are Kurt Sweitz on arco bass, Michael Levin on flute & Ernie Adams' percussion).  The beauty here is the amount of truly new creative zones you'll hear... nothing is "the same", yet each piece has elements of the driving forces that make jazz our favorite form of music... especially notable on  cuts like "Good Will In The Wind" - each instrument gets their own "15 seconds of fame" on this one, & the rhythms are both intriguing & driving... you just won't believe your ears as you listen to Moultrup's keyboard talent on this one... clearly my favorite on the album!  & of course, I couldn't resist "Avant Garlic", if only for the title... ha! ha!  Actually, this features Mark's vocal talents again, & creates an entirely new energy for vocal jazz... I've said before that jazz singers are "a dime a dozen" - but that's not true with what Mark's doing - his voice is an additional instrument for the ensemble, & he's totally skilled at using it to create new energy for jazz.  This is most assuredly the most entertaining & invigorating CD I've listened to (yet) this year, & it gets a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, as well as the "PICK" of this issue for "most fun jazz"!  The EQ (energy quotient) rating is 4.98 (nearly the top of the scale).  Get more information at    Rotcod Zzaj

Tony Marcus - VANISHING POINT: Tony's all original compositions here will be pure pleasure for those jazz listeners who love smoothly textured vocals mixed in with beautiful acoustic & electric guitar stylings.  The sax on "Miss Pizazz" wanders very nicely in, under & around Tony's singing, & I totally enjoyed the high energy on "Your Eyes"... though jazz is a part of what Marcus plays here, the music seemed (to me, anyway) to have it's roots more in the rock/pop world, ergo it wasn't an album that caught my ear as strongly as some others.  On the other hand, Tony's guitar on "Lost World" had a haunting quality that (along with his intricate lyric) will make you stop and think for a while.  There IS strong talent displayed here, both in the playing and the vocals, so the CD gets a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED from me, albeit with the proviso that hardcore jazzers may only listen once or twice. Perhaps a bit too "lounge lizard" oriented.   The EQ (energy quotient) rating is 4.73.  Get more information at    Rotcod Zzaj

Ken Greves - THE FACE OF MY LOVE: Can't help but think/dream back to the tube (oh, so many years ago) when growing up in western Pennsylvania... crooners like Andy Williams & Perry Como come to mind, though Ken's vocals are certainly in his own distinctive style; all 16 tracks are uniquely Greves' own style.  Nonetheless, it's clear that he's in love with that solid ol' "lounge jazz" that drew me to sit & listen to male jazz vocals.  His rendition of "Witchcraft/That Old Black Magic" makes it easy to imagine a slow wood fire burning in a piano bar somewhere on Long Island... no smoky cavern here, this is definitely the "uptown" version with brandy snifters being clinked together after the $50 dinner together.  This isn't the kind of jazz that gets you dancin' 'round a tribal fire, it's more like what I call "Maidenform jazz"... you know, silky gowns dancin' th' night away.  Those who want a taste of nostalgia for well-crooned vocals in a jazzy supper club setting will agree when I declare it HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.  "EQ" (energy quotient) for this one is 4.85.  Get more information at    Rotcod Zzaj

Carlos Barbosa-Lima - MERENGUE: Though this is our first listen to Carlos totally engaging and energy-filled Latin-jazz guitar mastery, it's his fifth CD on the Zoho label & will be pure joy for lovers of well-woven guitar mysteries.  The addition of Hendrick Muerkens harmonica on selected tracks complements Carlos' laid-back playing very nicely, most especially on pieces like "Modinha" - a perfect duo that will bring you many pleasant moments!  If you're looking for something slightly more upbeat, you will love the opening track, "Invocation to Xango"... music that just bubbles with joy!  Out of the twenty tunes that really caught my ear, though, my favorite was (Baa-too-kee) "Batuque", featuring Carlos arrangement of a tune inspired by the ritual dances of Brazil's northeast... simple but elegant and full of the energy that drives life in new directions... my only complaint was that it was too short at 2:13.  There are several dance tunes on here, and I found myself wanting to get up & out on the floor at several junctures... that (for me, anyway) was the key to listening to Barbosa-Lima's excellent performances here... high energy music full of the spirit of life.  It is, in fact, the best Latin-based jazz guitar I've listened to (yet) in 2010, & gets a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED from me.  "EQ" (energy quotient) rating is 4.93, very high.  Get more information at   Rotcod Zzaj

Prana Trio - THE SINGING IMAGE OF FIRE: Take yourself out of your "strictly jazz" mindset and put on your "open to all music" hat for this very interesting conceptual CD from drummer Brian Adler's trio... inspired and driven by classic poetry from distant lands (China, Persia & India for example), the players respond to the message with some finely crafted jazz, especially on tunes like "Courteous to the Ant"... one of my favorite pieces on the album, no doubt... Carmen Staaf's piano work on this one just sizzles with life!  Vocalist Sunny Kim adds totally new dimensions to the ancient texts, and magically wraps you into the group's spell - especially on tunes like "Incredible Urge"... this is about as far-removed from the (often dreaded) "lounge jazz" as one can get (that's a compliment of the highest magnitude, Sunny).  This highly talented group will have your ears from the opening note to the closer, "Blindfolded" - the clear winning track for me... it's very easy for you to imagine yourself trekking through temples in the Himalayas on this majestic 5:26 excursion.  Is it "jazz"?  Well, on many pieces, I'd be inclined to say no, but the percussion on the title track will make you "think" jazz (even though you know it's not just another jazz-juke piece).  Is it "engaging"?  Unless your mind is dead, it is some of the most riveting and engaging performance you'll ever hear.  This is some of the most creative music I've heard (yet) this year, and I give it my MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED rating, as well as the "PICK" of this issue for "most inspiring jazz"!  "EQ" (energy quotient) for this fantastic CD is 4.97.  Get more information at or   Rotcod Zzaj

Kenny and Leah - APRIL IN PARIS: I first heard/reviewed this fantastic jazzy duo in issue #97, & was most impressed with the excellent recording quality, as well (of course) as the high talent and energy for the magic that well-played jazz brings to the listener's soul.  You can hear samples at CD BABY (too bad they're not on something more accessible, folks, like AMAZON), or watch a very nicely done vid/trailer of them in performance (and intimate discussion) at YOUTUBE.  They come most highly recommended... Quincy Jones says "There's magic between you two", and I think that sums their music up nicely... Leah's vocals are strongly complimented by Kenny's superb saxophone work throughout the CD... his tones are rich, deep and full of that mellow quality that makes the listener know they are in the presence of a master.  This is excellent music for a kicked back relaxation session, when you want to put the cares of the world behind you.  If you dig jazz that will transport you away into "the zone", this is your ticket... I give this one a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for all listeners that demand excellence in their jazz.  "EQ" (energy quotient) is 4.91.  Get more information at     Rotcod Zzaj

Symphony In DeMeanor - TIME GOES ON: There's really only one way to listen to the music these folks produce - at FULL blast... headphones, to be sure... you'll have flashbacks to concerts you've been at, no doubt... induced by the spooky remembrances of the BIG '70's groups!  We first reviewed them a couple years (or so) ago in issue #69, where they got the "PICK" of that issue for their creative energies.  This CD is no less fantastic - in fact, it's even more action-packed than the last one we reviewed.... that's especially true on tunes like "Madame Lola"... it's like psychedelic, merry-go-round Strawberry Fields meet the 21st Century and explode into a Carny-organism that reminds me of the euphoria all of us boomers had when we first heard "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" - & that organ just SMOKES it, folks, not to mention the guitar solos!  There's a hint (or more) of jazz, but I'd place it more in the "epic psychedelic" category, if you need labels to hang on to... the arrangements are varied and pop some changes on your ears you'd have never imagined on your own... if you don't believe that, you MUST check out "The Past" (these are on CD BABY... nothing seemed to be available for direct link, though there's a cool discussion by the band at YOUTUBE for their original debut CD... though they do have the FULL TRACKS posted on their FACEBOOK site for the CD).  My main criteria for review in this magazine has always been the "energy level" of the performances, and these folks are at the top of that heap, especially as it pertains to creativity... they get an "EQ" (energy quotient) rating of 4.98, almost at the top of the 1-5 scale.  Whether you're a boomer or a 21st Century netizen, you'll dig the creativity you hear on this magnificent CD, which I rate as MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, along with the "PICK" of this issue for "best epic psychedelic album".  Get more information at, & when you buy their CD, tell them Zzaj sent you, ok?    Rotcod Zzaj

Dan Peart - TRUTH BE TOLD: Real heroes exist in today's world (at least in my eyes & ears, they do), and they can be found in little coffee houses & jazz corners across our great land... I was breezin' through downtown Davenport, Iowa & heard this gent pickin' at Mojo's Coffee House... & after listening to about 2 of his originals, I knew he had the "stuff", especially when I heard his harp-playing!  The CD he handed off (limited first edition) has samples available on his CD BABY page... songs like "Mississippi Mud" are what distinguish the truth-tellers from poseurs, and Peart makes it very clear that he's paid his dues on this one.  His music falls clearly in the folk & blues arena, helped in great part by his gravel-influenced vocals... tracks like "No Fool Like A Wise Man In Love" show off significant guitar and lyrical skills as well.  This kind of music can only come from the heart, else it comes off about as fake as a politician in church, & the proof is in the playing... the slickest smooth jazzer can't hold a candle to players like this who've been out on the road learning the lessons and using their talents to tell the story.  Dan's music hits you right where your heart is & will capture your ears - his CD gets a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for any listener into high-energy folk&blues. "EQ" (energy quotient) rating is 4.95.  Get more information at     Rotcod Zzaj

Charlie Apicella & IRON CITY- SPARKS:  There's nothing cooler on a laid-back rainy Sunday morning in the Great Northwest than inspiring bluesy jazz like Charlie & his krew play on this CD... we reviewed these guys back in issue #88, and loved what they did on that album.  "Sparks" just smokes the competition... the official release date isn't until March, 2010, but you can find previews around the net, most notably at YOUTUBE... Charlie's guitar work is excellent, as it was on the first outing, and the other players (Dave Mattock's Hammond organ, drums from Alan Korzin, tenor sax on several cuts from Stephen Riley & guests John Blake, Jr. (violin), and Amy Bateman (violin)) ensure that your energies will be brought to full-tilt!  The CD features 3 originals, and my favorite among those was "Sweet and Sounded" (sorry, it appears there are no samples available yet), where Bateman's violin joins in the basics of downhome (yet somehow uptown) funk... it was the opener, "Sookie Sookie", that really caught my ear & captures my vote for favorite... it's a Cropper/Covey tune that highlights Apicella's guitar with sweet Hammond down under... one of the funkiest tracks I've heard (yet) this year!  The most notable thing about this grouping is how tight they are together... real pleasure in the listening, from the opening to the closing note... ultimate groove with 21st Century flavor, it gets my MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, especially for jazzers who can't go another minute without that funk-driven beat!  Their "EQ" (energy quotient) rating is at the top of the scale - 4.99 out of 5.00.  Get more information at     Rotcod Zzaj

Dan Blunck - FLOWERS FOR THE LIVING: Here's an older recording from Dan, one of my local jazz heroes... Chuck Deardorf does bass, guitar is furnished by Gene Rosati & Dave Zygmunt does drums on all cuts except 3, 5 & 9, where the rhythm's furnished by Ken Paine... Tim Blunck also joins in with trumpet & flugelhorn on tracks 4 & 7... very tight playing, and in a very different style than what I've heard Dan play more recently.  Release was all the way back in 1996, and this effort sounds much more "uptown" in tone and construct... not that that's a bad thing, in fact Blunck's playing on this 'round is very, very solid on all 9 compositions, 8 of which are Blunck originals (track 8 is from Rosati).  The '90's were definitely "different times" than we live in presently, but the jazz energies these guys project here are timeless, & that's especially true for the title track, and "up" tune if ever I've heard one... this lil' sugga' MOVES, folks & tells the story of a life lived as it should be - at full-tilt boogie!  Another track that really stuck in my head was "Fringe Theatre"... bass lead on the opening is simple yet beautiful, and as the 12:57 composition unfolds in freeform wonderment, you will find yourself totally wrapped in the movements the players take you through.  Actually, my favorite on the CD is a really laid-back piece titled "South Island", a musical adventure painting pictures of Dan's travels through South America... just over 9 minutes of Latin-influenced joy.  This is some beautiful and energy-filled playing that gets my MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED rating.  "EQ" (energy quotient) rating is 4.94.  Get more information at

Dave Nelson and the Big Apple Quintet - 32ND STREET: Dave's superb trumpet (and vocals) are joined by piano from Jon Davis, standup bass by Joe Fitzgerald, drums from Marcello Pellitteri and tenor sax from Joel Frahm.  4 of the 9 pieces on this March, 2010 release are original compositions from Dave, which (as always) lends a lot of credibility to the listening (at least, for me it does).  They lead in with "Have You Met Miss Jones" from Richard Rogers, in a nice well-balanced introduction to their high-energy playing, then jump right into a grand blues number by Dave titled "20th Century Blues"... very funky, with a beautiful duet between Dave's trumpet and Joel's sax, reminiscent (in some ways) of the kinds of sessions Lee Morgan had for "Sidewinder"... Frahm just soars on into the ether after the opening, at about :45 seconds into the tune, & your ears realize you're in the presence of modern-day masters of the genre - this one just SMOKES!  If you're into something a bit more laid-back, you'll dig on "The Lady Doesn't Lie", a smooth ballad featuring Nelson's silky-smooth voice.  It's another Nelson original that captures my vote for favorite track, though, the Latin-based "Sao Paulo"... each & every player has their shot on this infectious 7:55 winner, and when Dave slides in over top of the sax for his solo (at about 3:00), you can hear just how fluid and relaxed he is; you won't often hear a trumpet player with this degree of cool!  Some of that cool may have come from his early days... he spent a great deal of time in this area, Puget Sound, & played with favorite players of mine like David Friesen... no matter from whence it came, Nelson has put together a quintet you won't soon forget!  I give this one a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, with an "EQ" (energy quotient) rating of 4.95.  Get more information at    Rotcod Zzaj

Denise La Grassa - APRIL DREAMS: Many who have been reading this 'zine for a while know that when we receive a CD with all original compositions, it (usually) gets "first spin" rights, & Denise's power-packed vocal adventure is no exception... this is killer music, and the players she's chosen to back her clearly feel her strong presence... Scott Tipping's guitar work, Ben Lewis's keyboards, Gerald Dowd's drums, Matt Thompson's bass, with additional guitar/keyboard work from Clifford Bivins all contribute significantly to making all 10 of these tunes "repeaters"... the kind of tunes you'll listen to over & over again.  Denise's style is closer to blues, though the players are fluid and energetic enough that even the hardcore jazzers in our audience will find something to love here.  Her vocal style has a hard-edge to it, and her lyrics remind me in some ways of Bonnie Raitt's better songs... it's clear, though, that La Grassa is her "own" singer/writer - you won't soon forget her, I can tell you that.  I especially dug on "Sweet Talk", perhaps because of the organ down under her vocal... the lyric makes it easy to understand that she can see through any nonsense you toss her way... very cool tune, & my favorite on the album!  The bouncy "Deep Down Love" tells her tale with no punches pulled, and if her sultry tones don't have you hooked by the end of that tracked, you're beyond help anyway.  The keyword for "April Dreams" is energy, and you'll certainly agree when I declare it MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, as well as the "PICK" of this issue for "best all 'round female vocalist".  The "EQ" (energy quotient) for this one is 4.96, very high on our 1-5 scale.  Get more information at    Rotcod Zzaj

Marius Nordal - WAYS OF THE HAND: I first hooked up with Marius on FB, after he posted some comments on some keyboard stuff I had posted at REVERBNATION... he steered me to a couple of his own sites, & I was hooked (immediately) on Nordal's masterful keyboard style from then on.  When he sent a packet of CD's, this is the first that I pulled out of the package... I can tell you now, folks, you have never heard piano like this... every single note is right on target, nothing slouches here, from the opening bar to the closing fade.  He's joined by some outstanding players/singers as well, & that always helps to make keyboards shine... Bob Bowman and Doug Miller do bass, John Bishop does drums and vocals are furnished by Floyd Standifer.  For this keyboard-playing listener, though, it's Marius' note-packed piano that stands out on all dozen tunes... & especially so on pieces like his original "WTO Blues" (the closing track) & the absolutely amazing "Ways of the Hand", another Nordal original.  "Ways" is one of my favorite pieces on the CD, quite probably because there seem to be no notes left untouched on his keyboards... hard to describe, but his method of communicating joy seems to be to keep the notes flowing like a river through both hands & it is quite simply amazing what he's able to accomplish!  The best piece on this 'round for my ears, though, was "I Got Rhythm" (a Gershwin tune)... the bass & drums are totally engaged & together, & you have never heard so many piano notes - this is stunning piano playing at the speed of light!  It's very clear that each & every player here loves jazz & the talent they've been given to pass that love on to the listener.  I give this a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, as well as the "PICK" of this issue for "best piano-based jazz".  "EQ" (energy quotient) rating is 4.97, right up near the top.  Get more information at   Rotcod Zzaj

Otmaro Ruiz - SOJOURN:  Here's another Digital Download Review (DDR) from the promoter... we are very happy to be (finally) getting more & more of the music digitally... there was a time when "legitimate"' artists (especially players of the high calibre Venezuelan jazz pianist Otmaro Ruiz displays) couldn't (or wouldn't) be "bothered" with doing things digitally... 5 years back, that may have been OK, but with the technology ramped up the way it is these days, there's no reason not to do it this way... anyway, on to the music - this is some of the best piano-led jazz I've heard in 2010.  His fantastic piano & Rhodes are joined by Ben Wendel on tenor/soprano sax and bassoon, Carlos Del Puerto Jr. on acoustic bass and Jimmy Branly's drums.  While he (& the group) express themselves in decidedly Latino ways, "Sojourn" is clearly above the cut in it's level of complexity and jazz achievement.  Listen to the sample from "In The Shadows" and you'll hear what I'm talking about immediately... total balance in the composition, but it's still very accessible music... you'll be reminded (in some ways) of Weather Report, but you'll know by the time you complete this listen 2 or 3 times that you're in the presence of very talented (and dedicated) players.  The bass intro/lead-in on "Tobago Road" isn't complicated at all, but sets the stage for a most memorable tune that will stick in your head for days (it's at the top of my playlists right now, & will remain there for a long time to come, I've no doubt).  The closeout track, "Road Stories" was my absolute favorite, though... most likely because it's so energy intense and with everlasting qualities that every jazz listener will devour - I just loved this tune!  An even dozen musical adventures that will have you thirsting for more... I give this my MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED rating, and an "EQ" (energy quotient) rating of 4.96.  Get more information at   Rotcod Zzaj

Empirical - OUT & IN: This is a brand-new group for us, but the jazz they're doing on this fine CD isn't "new"... I mean, it's the first time I've listened to them, but their solid post-bop debut here takes me back to the cool years... players like Eric Dolphy (who this is a tribute to) & with Lewis Wright's vibraphone on the title track (click on the title above to listen to the sample on AMAZON U.K.), which is also the opener, I can't help but hear a little Bobby in there (Hutcherson, that is). The other players, all fresh to our ears, are Nathaniel Facey (alto sax), Tom Falmer (double bass), and Shaney Forbes (drums), with special guest Julian Siegel (bass clarinet/tenor sax)... a young group of players who are clearly enjoying the playing & having a ton o' fun with it - which is what counts here at Zzaj Productions... as I've often said, "if it ain't FUN, it ain't music"!  I really dug on Facey's composition "So He Left", which will have you guessing at every change... nothing "trad" here, and full of most pleasant surprises.  My favorite track is another Facey original, "Dolphyus Morphyus"... a 10:43 voyage through unknown turf that displays the kind of high-energy talent any jazzer with an ounce of adventure in their blood will love... every instrument gets their slice of this epic tune, and it will stick in your mind for days.  If you're not the adventurous type, you'll go elsewhere, but I give them a (definite) MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, & an "EQ" (energy quotient) rating of 4.92.  Get more information at    Rotcod Zzaj

Geoff Leigh & Yumi Hara - UPSTREAM:  Over the last year or so, the "Moonjune" label has become one of our favorites, no doubt about it... every CD we have received from them provides music both challenging and entertaining... the music that Geoff and Yumi present here isn't for "weenies"... it takes some concentration to comprehend their intensities.  Yumi's keyboards are featured, and Geoff plays some marvelous flute, sax (soprano), zither, percussion & electronics that will hold your attention if you but listen... at about 2:10 through one of my favorite tracks, "Mountain Laughs", Leigh's flute work reaches right out and grabs your ears & (just) won't let go... against a backdrop of Hara's cathedral-sounding organ, this is one dynamite excursion!  For something that captures the high energy of the keyboard, you'll thoroughly enjoy "The Strait", which reminds me (in some ways) of one of my favorite improvising pianists, Satoko Fujii.  This duo plays superbly together, anticipating every little twist and turn and mining it for every ounce of energy... just concentrate for a moment on Yumi's vocal on "At the Temple Gate"... yes, it's "new" & "different", but that's what you listen to "Moonjune" CD's for, anyway.... the ADVENTURE of discovery... this is my favorite track on the album!  There is one cautionary note... if you're looking for "fluff" jazz, music with no mystery, move on elsewhere... but if you're like me and want to hear the sounds of now, you'll agree with my MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED... they get an "EQ" (energy quotient) rating of 4.93.  Get more information at Moonjune!Rotcod Zzaj

Kari Newhouse - LIT AT BOTH ENDS:  I first heard/reviewed this fantastic lady's gut-wrenching performance in a LIVE SHOW REVIEW right here in the magickland of Olywa... she handed me off a CD and (as sometimes happens), it stayed in the car player rotation so long that I forgot I hadn't reviewed it yet (my apologies, Kari).  This particular CD was released in 2004, and features full-blown rock adventures that can't be rivaled by many players today... the kind of shining talent that's inspiring for decades.  Kari's biting lyrical style will wake you up to what's really going on around you, and she has the kind of voice that makes for classic rock that you won't soon forget.  Very, VERY impressive... though she doesn't "look" like Janis Ian, the stories she tells are just as penetrating... her keyboards on "Hidden" display the kind of sensitivity that few in the rock genre can grasp!  Her arrangements on my favorite track, "Snow", will just blow you away, and (again), she tells her story with conviction and spirit.  Her guitars on "Perfectly Complete" come in a close second as my favorite tune on the album.  Kari is an artist to be respected and listened to over & over again... I give her CD my MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, as well as the "PICK" of this issue for "best rock CD".  The "EQ" (energy quotient) rating is 4.96 (especially high on my 1-5 scale).  Get more information at    Rotcod Zzaj

Kombu Combo - KOMBU DEMO: As many here know, I don't often review demos, but after hearing these folks at an online site (Jazz Network Worldwide), I asked for whatever they had in need of review.  You can watch/listen to a clip of them here... what they sent was a 4-song demo that clearly shows the varied styles they play their high-energy rhythm-based jazz in... you can check that all out at their MYSPACE place, too.  John DiGiovanni (hyped-up drums) is the leader, with bouncin' bass from Bob Colligan, vibrant vibraphone from Norm Dorrel, great guitars by Sean Holz and solid sax from Frank McKitty.  As you'll see if you visit the pages above, these 4 tracks are the precursor to a CD release, and I can hardly wait to get that.  The mixes on a couple of these pieces were a tad rough 'round the edges... nothing glaring, & it doesn't detract from realizing that their supreme skill is energy... what does come across so clearly is their love of playing, though!  The group is absolutely tight, & I'm looking forward to hearing more from them soon.  I give this a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, with an "EQ" (energy quotient) rating of 4.95.  Just visit the sites above to get more information!   Rotcod Zzaj

Lisa Hilton - TWILIGHT & BLUES: Lisa's piano playing on this CD clearly reflects the album title... not strictly jazz (though the opener, "Pandemonium", is 100% in the jazz zone)... when she moves on to "Woodstock", though, you'll hear that she's a player of many styles... solid keyboards on both pieces, to be sure.  I just loved her interpretation of Marvin's "What's Going On"... her heart is definitely in it, & Jeremy Pelt's trumpet is a perfect match for her out-front keyboard magic... when J.D. Allen's tenor sax kicks in, the tune is clinched for this listener... great work!  The tune that got my vote for favorite, though, is "City Streets", an original from Lisa... some great left-hand stride, & all the rest of the instruments are in complete synch with her mood... you'll think you're out after midnight, that's for sure.  "Twilight" (another Hilton original) came in a close second... full-bodied keys all the way through... Lisa has a nice solid touch on those keys that lets you know she's there without coming across as aggressive.  All-around great CD that gets a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED from these ol' ears & an "EQ" (energy quotient) rating of 4.91.  Get more information at    Rotcod Zzaj

Kristina - OFFSHORE ECHOES: This lady is one of the most exciting jazz vocalists I've listened to (yet) this year... she puts her own unique flavor and style into covers of tunes by folks like Sting & Paul Simon... I was particularly enchanted by the opener, "Tea In The Sahara".. she definitely knows how to weave her voice in, around and through this magic carpet ride!  Her sultry singing on "Love Everlasting", a Jon Lucien tune, swirls around your ears and (very quickly) makes you want to get up & dance the night away.  She's joined by a cast of (what seems like) 1000's, far too long to detail here... most notable (for me, anyway) was Wayne Wallace, who we've reviewed in these pages many times.  I'm hoping that her next album will feature some originals, but as I've indicated, here high energy and innate knowledge of music shine through on every tune... my favorite turned out to be the decidedly Latin-influenced "Ilu Aye"... totally engaging and full of life!  There's a real blend of musics here, & Kristina never gets stuck in a rut... a CD that will hold your ears for many years to come.  She gets a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED from me, with an "EQ" (energy quotient) rating of 4.96. I'm looking forward to more releases from her!   Get more information at Patois RecordsRotcod Zzaj

Oscar Reynolds - RAZON CON AMOR: Oscar found me on FB (I think it was there, anyway) & asked if it'd be cool to send his CD my way... way more than OK, I'll tell you... his all-original music is just stunning, in both quality and energy.  He plays guitars and flutes (panpipes, actually) masterfully and with total passion for getting his message across to the listener... I had reviewed him in issue #75 and was most impressed then, but "Razon Con Amor" takes it a level up, to be sure.  When you listen to his flute work on "Mamuta", you will know right away why this Bolivian artist was able to capture my ears, & the percussion down under propels your imagination to new heights.  Another great composition (& the one that captures my vote as favorite) is "Folsom"... at 12:39, it's the second longest track on the album, and the players take a long time to build the mood (David Pinto on bass, Lalo Izquierdo doing cajon, cajita and donkey jaw and Raul Ramirez on cajon, wood blocks, congas, drums and effects) for you; Reynolds' pipes at about 4:40 will soar you to the outer edges of the universe on this one! I am (again) most highly impressed with Oscar's talent and give this a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, as well as an "EQ" (energy quotient) rating of 4.96.  Get more information at   Rotcod Zzaj

Pablo Menendez & Mezcla - I'LL SEE YOU IN CUBA: If you're among those listeners who have a rigid idea of what "Cuban music" must sound like, you won't believe your ears when you hear the fantastic aural adventure Pablo & crew (a large one, too large to itemize here... check the credits out at Zoho) have put together for your ears (and your heart, no doubt)!  Every single note "fits" into the larger picture, & you realize that this is one of the most gifted groups you've ever heard.  That's especially true on cuts like "El Medico De Los Pianos"... complex structure, but totally accessible... & when the vocals kick in at about 1:05, it's a totally different dimension... pure JOY shines through every moment of this tune!  Pablo's guitar on the intro for "Chicoy's Blues", my absolute favorite piece on the CD, will forever dissuade you from forming any jaded ideas about how "Cuban music" is supposed to sound... and when they roll away from the solo, you'll hear some of the best jammin' jazz you've ever heard.  6:55 minutes of pure bliss... I can tell you, this is THE most energetic band I've listened to this year!  Ten tracks that will have your spirit moving to a higher plane... & surely, when the travel restrictions with Cuba are lifted, this band will be what you fly there for, if you've any jazz in your veins at all.  I give this my MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED as well as the "PICK" of this issue for "most energetic jazz"... it gets an "EQ" (energy quotient) rating of 4.98.  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 that I haven't requested, you will be BLACKLISTED on this site!!!)

Here are a few tunes of MINE for you to listen to - it's from my latest CD release, "AC not PC" (Alphabetically Correct, not Politically Correct)




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