by Dee Dee McNeil, Musical Memoirs



Nick Hetko, piano/composer; Rich Syracuse, bass/composer; Jeff ‘Siege’ Siegel, drums/composer.

This production offers a strong, unified, jazz trio of technically astute musicians who are also composers. Opening with the Rich Syracuse composition titled, “Sleeper” they establish their mastery from their very first tune. Each player takes an outstanding solo, introducing themselves to sensitive and attentive listener ears. The pianist, Nick Hetko, recently won the Grand Prize of the Lee Ritenour Six String Competition. He has also performed with icons like James Moody, Chris Potter and Dave Holland. A talented bandleader and pianist, Lee Shaw, mentored the fledgling Hetko and as he explained, gave him the confidence to persevere in the intimidating jazz music world. Nick Hetko was just a high school junior when Dr. Shaw introduced him to her rhythm section and included him in a number of recording demo sessions.

At first, no one suspected that Dr. Shaw was ill. Her trio was busy touring Europe and performing on stages across America. Shaw, Siegel and Syracuse had a close bond. Dr. Lee Shaw was fondly referred to as “The First Lady of Jazz,” by her fellow musicians. Upon her passing, it was natural for Nick Hetko, her student and someone who was by then quite close to her colleagues, to step into her seat at the piano. Consequently, these three musicians, (Rich Syracuse, Nick Hetko and Jeff Siegel), have dedicated their album to her precious memory. One of my favorite songs on this recording was written by Nick Hetko titled, “Captain of a Sinking Ship” where “Siege” Siegel shows off his drumming prowess. It’s an energetic tune with strong Latin overtones and lots of space for these musicians to show-off their ‘chops.’

Rich Syracuse is a composer and bassist, prominent on the New York area scene for three decades. He had a long stint working in the Nick Brignola Quartet and has performed with Kurt Elling, Dave Liebman, the Brubeck Brothers, Mose Allison, and too many more to list. He was pianist, Lee Shaw’s bassist for over twenty-five years. When he’s not performing in concerts across the world, he educates as Professor for String and Electric Bass Studies at Skidmore College in Saratoga, New York; at Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Connecticut and he’s bass professor and ensemble coach at the State University of New York at New Paltz.

Jeff “Siege” Siegel is also an educator,a drummer and composer,who has worked with a virtual who’s who of jazz icons. Some of the familiar names he has played with are Ron Carter, Kenny Burrell, Jack DeJohnette,Benny Golson,Frank Foster,Sheila Jordan, Helen Merrill,Mose Allison and he was a member of the Sir Roland Hanna Trio for five years.

Together, this incredible trio of excellence presents a well-produced album of beautiful, original compositions. They include one old standard, a favorite of mine titled, “I Fall in Love Too Easily.” They pay homage to the great Oscar Peterson when they play “Oscar’s Boogie.” Hetko does a stellar job on piano during this performance. Additionally, you will enjoy listening to the trio’s own, unique songwriting and arrangements. The title tune was penned by the late Dr. Lee Shaw and is quite elegantly performed, with great focus on the piano skills of young Nick Hetko. This is an album you will take pleasure in listening to, time and time again,and a trio who has excellently represented the legacy of Dr. Lee Shaw.



Zach Brock,violin/composer; Matt Ulery,bass/composer; Jon Deitemyer,drums/ composer.

The first cut on this CD is the title tune and it showcases the strength and talent of these three very individual musicians. They have come together to explore separate musical journeys, uniting to make one, powerful trio statement. These three iconic Chicago talents have played music together for nearly fifteen-years. Each musician is secure and seasoned in his own right. Together, they create a fresh palate of art, painting sound colors on the canvas of our ear.

Brock, the violinist, composed the first song, the title tune, “Wonderment.” Matt Ulery lays down a melodic bass line that establishes the rhythm and mood of the song. The violin sings sweetly, while Ulery dances along with Jon Deitemyer on drums. The rhythm contrast against the violin ballad is moving and emotional. Ulery uses bass staccato strings to create interest and Deitemyer doubles the time. I am totally engaged by this unique trio of bass, drums and violin. The drummer, Deitemyer, has written the second song, “Mobile,” with Brock plucking the violin seductively and Ulery walking the bass beneath the production in a semi-march, along with the trap drums. This composition celebrates movement, with Deitemyer locking the rhythm into place beneath the improvisational motion of his two comrades. Each musician is a composer and all the recorded music is original. This ensemble is rich with crescendos of energy, tender with sweetly sung melodies and daring with provocative performances by each individual instrumentalist and composer. Somehow, they meet in the middle, and have created an unusual and very pleasant work of musical art.


Aaron Whitby, piano/Fender Rhodes/Synthesizers/vocal FX; Charlie Burnham, violin/vocals/composer; Fred Cash, electric bass; Gary Fritz, percussion;Jerome Harris,acoustic bass; Rodney Holmes,drums; Keith Loftis, tenor saxophone. SPECIAL GUEST VOCALISTS:Lisa Fischer, Tamar Kali, Rome Neal & Martha Redbone.

The funk just leaps off the CD player and it’s hot and in your face; delicious as the aroma of bar-b-que cooking at the park. Aaron Whitby’s piano playing is hard-hitting, fusion-funk and his musicians seriously lock into his 88-key-grooves. Whitby has composed seven of these eight songs. The one song he ‘covered’ is “The Eye of the Hurricane” by Herbie Hancock. Otherwise, he lets his creative juices flow and serves up some pretty awesome classic jazz-fusion compositions to wet our palate. Whitby uses synthesizers and vocals to pump the various arrangements up. After working many years as a studio musician and playing it all; jazz, R&B, pop, folk and world music, he finally sank his teeth into composing and producing a debut album. His compositions lend themselves to chord changes that inspire improvisation and funky musical trenches that captures the listener’s attention and inspire dance moves and finger-popping. Favorite tunes are: “Sleeping Giant”, that incorporates chants, vocals and the hot licks of Rodney Holmes on drums and Gary Fritz on percussion. They admirably support Aaron Whitby’s inspired piano playing. A male voice chants, “We are the Sleeping Giants.” A female voice shouts, “Sleeping giants – you have the power. Wake up!” In this way, Whitby incorporates some social consciousness into his musical commentary.

Another favorite original composition by Aaron Whitby is the title tune,“Cousin from Another Planet.” I can tell that Whitby is a Chick Corea/Herbie Hancock fan. He knows how to capture a ‘hook’ and enhance the rhythm, fueled by funk. That’s what makes a hit record. The guest vocalists sound as funky and fiery as Whitby on piano. Also notable is Fred Cash on electric bass. Keith Loftis adds a tenor saxophone solo that brings back the days of ‘live’ Rock & Roll shows, reminiscent of the funk that Ernie Watts brings to the stage.

This is an exciting project of original compositions and the keyboard and piano skills of Aaron Whitby grandly embellish his production. Whitby is able to blend many different styles of music into a cohesive package of creative fusion. “The Invisible Man Breathes” is an excellent vehicle to show-off the many faces of Whitby, using time changes and every key on the piano to accentuate his composer vision. Always melodic, Charlie Burnham brings his violin to the party and shines like flickering birthday candles. This recording is full of surprises. From funk, we move into an Arabian production with Middle Eastern flair and the Loftis saxophone replaces the violin with intensity. Avant-garde music parts the clouds momentarily, like a ray of sunshine and splashes across space and time. Aaron Whitby seems to be expressing musically all the moods and mess humanity can make in this one, single song.

“Mrs. Quadrillion” is fun to listen to and very smooth jazz with a funky under-tow. Burnham is back with his violin and Whitby knows just how to introduce you to a melody. He gives his musicians ample time to develop their improvisational solos, and then brings us all back to the comfortable ‘hook’ of the song. Rodney Holmes takes an exciting solo on trap drums.

You will discover that Aaron Whitby is a storyteller, a band leader and an admirable composer. You will hear something new and fresh each time you play this album. Expect the unexpected.

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