Music Review: Hello Tomorrow – Dave Koz

Hi again…

Once, many moons ago, I was a jazz alto saxophone player. I played for six years until graduating from high school and moving on to college. Some of my fondest memories from high school involved jamming on stage with the rest of the jazz band. Sadly, at that point I no longer had time for it, nor many opportunities to play.

But even though I no longer play my sax, I gained an appreciation for many of the jazz greats that keeps me on the lookout for great jazz music both past and present. Charlie Parker and John Coltrane are on my list of course, but so were more modern musicians such as Branford Marsalis, David Sanborn, Jay Beckenstein (Spyro Gyra), and Dave Koz. Each of these brings something different to the field.

Dave Koz recently switched to a new record label – Concord Records – after nearly 20 years with Capitol Records and his own label Rendezvous Entertainment. He recognizes that it’s a big change, but realized that there are many other people in a similar situation. “Circumstances have led them to take a step in a different direction or reinvent themselves in some way,” he says. “Many of us are at the beginning of a new era, and I’ve found it’s liberating to embrace change.”

He’s definitely done that with his first album on the label – Hello Tomorrow. Koz managed to pull together some truly amazing folks to help him out. Herb Alpert, legendary musician, plays trumpet on the record and most of the songs were recorded at the former A&M Studios – now Henson Recording Studios – where Alpert recorded many of his own classic albums. Add to that Boney James (awesome sax player – “Here She Comes” on Pure) who plays on “When Will I Know For Sure”, and Keb’Mo (blues singer/guitar) who plays on “Think Big” and “There’s a Better Way.” But the hit parade doesn’t stop there… Others include Jonathan Butler (R&B/jazz singer/guitar), Brian Culbertson (jazz/funk keyboards and trombone who also co-wrote some of the songs on the album), Sheila E. (drummer/singer), Dana Glover (pop singer), Jeff Lorber (keyboards/composer), Ray Parker, Jr. (R&B/jazz/funk singer/guitar, Ghostbusters theme song), Lee Ritenour (jazz/blues guitar) and Christian Scott (jazz trumpet). Koz is amazing on his own – but to be working with all of these other talented musicians just raises his work to another level.

Back in 2003 on Koz’s Saxophonic release, he opened the album with “Honey-dipped” which has to be one of my favorite jazz songs of the last 10 years. He repeats the feat on Hello Tomorrow with “Put the Top Down” where his jazz licks are joined by Ritenour, Parker Jr., and Butler on guitar; Marcus Miller on bass; and Sheila E. on percussion. This song just rocks along with a funky bass and drum groove behind the scenes as it builds and builds the conversation between guitars and horns until it fades away.

But funny enough, like on Saxophonic, Koz doesn’t rest on his laurels. This album moves around fluidly from genre to genre. Another of my favorites that is passionately haunting was written and sung by Koz’s friend Glover – “Start All Over Again.” Speaking to Koz’s own journey of change from one part of his career to the next with a new label, this song reminds us that so long as our hearts are beating and we’re still breathing we can start all over again. Her smoky, emotive voice builds to offer a hope that often eludes us when things seem their worst. Merged with Koz’s sax, piano, building guitar and drums, it will hopefully provide some light in the darkness for someone needing a bit of inspiration to keep moving…

And Koz’s song “When Will I Know For Sure” which pairs his tenor sax with Boney James’ soprano was another of my favorites. There’s something about the way this song grooves along to a beat, but plays with melodies back and forth in a way that it seems like it could have gone on forever. I don’t know what it is that adds that feel of mystery, but it’s fun to listen to these two masters go back and forth with various themes as it continues on.

If you are a fan of modern jazz, Dave Koz’s Hello Tomorrow brings together so many great talents from blues, jazz, R&B, rock, and pop that you should find it easy to find something to like among the thirteen tracks. If this is a sign of what’s to come for Koz, I’m excited to see what the next album will bring. <em>Hello Tomorrow</em> is set for an October 12, 2010 release.

Check out Koz’s website – DaveKoz.com – to listen to a few tracks from Hello Tomorrow and information about upcoming tour dates and more!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up these great albums below!

Enhanced by Zemanta

Music Review: En Este Momento by Claudia Acuna

Hi there!

Let me start by saying that I feel, regardless of the language a particular song’s lyrics are sung in, music is a universal language. And that holds true for Claudia Acuna, a Chilean-born singer who mixes Latin rhythms and jazz on her debut album En Este Momento. Branford Marsalis, amazingly talented jazz saxophonist and band leader, produced her album on his own label – Marsalis Music. And based on the quality of music on the CD, I have to say I think I understand why he took a chance on her.

The album takes several Spanish-language classics such as “La Mentira,” written by Alvaro Carillo Alarcon, and three songs by Victor Jara (“El Cigarrito”, “Te Recuerdo Amanda”, and “El Derecho De Vivir En Paz“), who has been labeled as the Bob Dylan of Chile. But she doesn’t just do Spanish-language songs on the CD, she also sings in English on “That’s What They Say”. That said, the Spanish language has always been full of grace and passion to me, and it never stands in the way of communicating the emotions of this amazingly talented singer/songwriter.

I’ve listened to a lot of jazz, but it’s rare to hear Latin influences so easily woven into the jazz landscape. Acuna’s voice rises to beautiful heights, blending her expressive South American roots with jazz traditions. And you can hear the nearly effortless collaboration between her and the musicians on the album: Jason Lindner on piano, Juancho Herrera on guitar and mandolin, Omer Avital on bass, and Clarence Penn on drums and percussion. In addition, Edgar “Yayo” Serko plays cajon, bombo leguero, and palmos, and Branford himself plays soprano saxophone on the album.

Though I appreciate the talents required to sing in one language, let alone two, I found “That’s What They Say” to be the weakest song on the album. To me, Acuna switching between Spanish and English took me out of the emotional component of the song, which starts beautifully but dissolves amidst the language changes.

That said, the rest of the album stands strong and proud. My favorites included “Vuelvo Al Sur” and “La Mentira (Se Te Olvida)”, which to me really let Acuna’s voice shine within simple arrangements. “Vuelvo Al Sur” features Acuna and a simple acoustic guitar melody, where “La Mentira” just builds with a romantic rise from the beginning to the end along with the amazing arrangement involving the full band.

It’s obvious that Acuna revels in the freedom of jazz and personal expression that it allows. But she also stays true to her background on the album, honoring the integrity and vision of other musical leaders of South America. Some of the composers featured on the album have paid the ultimate price for their integrity or are in constant fear for their lives. And though Acuna knows the history there, she picked these songs for her own reasons, not for the history lessons. “I pick songs with stories that I can relate to, and after they have spoken to me I hear things of my own that I want to add,” she says.

And to have Branford Marsalis involved on the album was another boon for her. She thought working with Marsalis was a “wonderful process” because rather than wanting to change her music, he embraced her music and wanted to help shape it. Some producers want to put their own stamp on the music they help with, but Branford is a musician first and a producer second, which helped form the record that is being released.

If you’re looking for a different flavor of jazz for your collection and like Latin sensibilities, I can heartily recommend En Este Momento by Claudia Acuna. Be sure to check it out at your local music store or online.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up the album at Amazon!

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Music Review: Metamorphosen by the Branford Marsalis Quartet

Hey all…

Branford Marsalis. I’ve known about this talented saxophonist since 1985 when Sting’s album Dream of the Blue Turtles was released. At the time, I was in a jazz band playing alto saxophone and we had all been introduce to Branford’s brother Wynton (amazing trumpet player) by our band leader, a trumpet player himself. But when I heard Branford playing on multiple tracks with Sting, I knew I must be playing the right instrument.

Since the early ’80s, Branford Marsalis has been either performing with his own group, playing backup for a variety of amazing artists (including as Sting, Harry Connick Jr., Tina Turner, Bruce Hornsby, the Greatful Dead, Crosby, Stills & Nash, and others), and even worked as the leader of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno band for a few years. He’s been a busy, busy man.

His last album, Braggtown warranted multiple Grammy-nominations and he and his quartet toured worldwide for two years before returning to the studio to begin work on Metamorphosen. “Metamorphosen” is the German word for “metamorphoses” was chosen to represent the growth and development of the band as a group and as individual members. Marsalis and his band have been together for more than 10 years, and you can tell just by listening that these guys enjoy playing together. Branford plays the soprano, alto, and tenor saxophone and is joined by pianist Joey Calderazzo, bassist Eric Revis, and drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts.

Metamorphosen features original works by each member of the quartet and they play a little bit of everything from the world of jazz — from the jazz of discord to quiet ballads to the standard jazz of greats like Thelonious Monk. Jazz is a style of music that takes many different forms. And each member definitely puts his own stamp on his songs.

The album starts with “The Return of the Jitney Man,” which sounds like classic jazz to me with a few strains of “Flight of the Bumblebee” woven in for good measure. Written by Watts, the song travels at a brisk clip driven by quick sax licks and a steady beat.

Though the whole album is amazing, I felt more connected to the slower songs such as “The Blossom of Parting” and “The Last Goodbye” (both written by Calderazzo). The slower tempo brought me into the music much more, as I felt I had more time to experience the melodies, which sometimes get lost in songs like “Jabberwocky” (written by Marsalis). “Samo” (written by Watts) hit me the same way as the other slower tunes, but with a standout baseline in the background.

But the quartet’s version of Thelonious Monk’s “Rhythm-A-Ning” was the highlight. With tempo changes throughout, it must present a challenge to even this set of talented musicians. They flat out fly through the changes without dropping a beat. Such talent is hard to come by except by hard work and practice, which these guys obviously have in abundance.

If you haven’t listened to Brandon Marsalis for a while or are interested in the latest sounds of the jazz world, I can’t recommend Metamorphosen highly enough. As jazz quartets go, these guys are amazing.

–Fitz

p.s. Be sure to check them out at your local music store or Amazon:

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]