By: Dee Dee McNeil, Musical Memoirs

BEN WOLFE –“FATHERHOOD” Resident Arts Records

Ben Wolfe, bass/composer; Donald Edwards, drums; Luis Perdomo & Orrin Evans, piano; Joel Ross, vibes; Immanuel Wilkins, alto saxophone; Ruben Fox & JD Allen, tenor saxophone; Giveton Gelin, trumpet; Steve Davis, trombone; STRINGS: Jesse Mills & Georgy Valtchev, violins; Kenji Bunch, viola; Wolfram Koessel, cello.

When Ben Wolfe’s father (Dan Wolfe) passed away in 2018, Ben was moved to write several compositions to tribute “Fatherhood.” This album is the result of nine original compositions that the bassist has penned. Opening with an up-tempo, walking-bass , embellished with the vibraphone of Joel Ross, Ben Wolfe delivers a song he calls, “Blind Seven.” Wolfe’s father was also a musician, playing a much smaller instrument than Ben’s double bass. His dad played a violin. Dan Wolfe spent a season with the San Antonio Symphony and initiated his son to the world of music.

“He introduced me to jazz,” the younger Wolfe explained in his liner notes.“He loved Monk. He loved Lester Young and Billie Holiday. He taught me a lot about music.”

Ben Wolfe’s use of strings on seven of the ten tracks beautifully ties the jazz elements and classical elements together. On Track two, “Gone Now” you can hear the sad lament to the loss of a loved one. This composition is more beautiful than pathos. Cut #3 titled, “Opener,” struts and walks pridefully straight-ahead, with Ben Wolfe’s rhythmic double bass pushing the musicians to keep stride. JD Allen’ s tenor saxophone takes stage center and tells his own, unique story. The tune “Uncle Leslie” is a waltz and very melodic. Ben Wolfe takes an opportunity to tell his own story about his uncle, using his bass solo to draw us into the character and creativity of this composition.
I’m certain Ben Wolfe’s father would be very proud of this work. It’s a wonderful and expressive tribute to “Fatherhood.” Here is a delightful recording, featuring several talented musicians who, more than amply, interpret these original Wolfe compositions from pen to sound.

THE SESSION – “COLLUSION” Bubble Bath Records

Darrian Douglas, drums; Stephen Lands, trumpet/composer; Andrew McGowan, piano/composer; Jasen Weaver, bass/composer.

This quartet comes out powerfully on the very first track. They don’t knock on the door; they kick it down. Trumpeter, Stephen Lands has composed the song and Andrew McGowan adds his own Thelonious touch to the piano keys to express, “Monk Dancing on a Levee.” Punctuated by staccato notes and a memorable melody, you are drawn to attention from the very first notes. Jasen Weaver is a commanding force on the double bass, walking briskly beneath the staccato trumpet lines. His bass work grabs the listener by the ears and drags us into the synergy of this song. Darrian Douglas takes a drum solo with bravado and brilliance. Now we are introduced to this stellar quartet individually and I realize each musician is gifted in their own right.

Andrew McGowan takes to the electric piano on the second track, “6/8 Tune” and that adds another depth to this production. The element of electronic piano changes the landscape on this ballad that McGowan has composed. The title of the album speaks to our current political state of affairs in the United States. There is a mild swipe at the Trump administration with the tune Jasen Weaver penned titled, “Kelly Ann Con-Artist.” The Andrew McGowan composition, “Five Fingers of Death” is a showstopping tune. It begins with a 5/8 rhythm played successfully against four cross rhythms of syncopation and then dashes into a straight-ahead jazz groove, including a drum solo that soars and punchy staccato lines that enhance the arrangement. Stephen Lands, “Price of a Dream” is another favorite on this album of fine music. The bass line of Weaver is infectious, played with the piano, and accentuating the trumpet melody in a perfect kind of way.

This group of four gifted musicians were brought together originally as a band performing with Jason Marsalis’Vibes Quartet. They have been performing together ever since. They merge the sound of New Orleans roots with consistently inspired moments that only jazz inspires. This is a production I will listen to time and time again.

MATT ULERY – “SIFTING STARS” Woolgathering Records

Matt Ulery, double bass/voice/composer/lyrical poet; Rob Clearfield,piano; Michael Caskey, percussion; Grazyna Auguscik & Katie Ernst,voice; Yvonne Lam & Jeff Yang, violins; Aurelien Pederzoli,viola; Nick Photinos,cello; Michael Maccaferri, clarinet; Nathalie Joachim,flute; Ben Roidl-ward, bassoon; Andrew Nogal, oboes/English horn; Liz Deitemyer,French horn; James Davis & Chad McCullough, trumpets; Steve Duncan & Chris Shuttleworth,trombones; Axiom Brass:Dorival Puccini & Kris Hammond,trumpets; Melanie Erena Kjellsen,French horn; Mary Tyler,trombone; Kevin Harrison,tuba.

This Production opens like a music box, with the tinkle of piano music and then a tenor voice enters, creating an ethereal musical mood. Clearly, Matt Ulery’s music is rooted in jazz, chamber music and orchestral music. This is an art project that showcases Ulery’s original compositions, incorporating vocals into the arrangements. “Sifting Stars” is the bassist’s eighth album release, anchored by pianist Rob Clearfield, who has been a close musical voice with Ulery over the past ten years. This CD features Ulery’s solidifying bass creativity and his composer skills. These are long-form songs that remind me of the endless universe, the beauty of stars, planets and the mystery of space itself. On the first two cuts, Grazyna Auguscik adds her vocals to Ulery’s voicings. On the third track, “I’m So Shallow” Ulery incorporates the vocals of Katie Ernst.

“I tend to write emotionally,” Matt Ulery explains. “When I reach into the abstract space of musical possibilities, the tiny bit I can capture, I tend to let these transient melodies, rhythms and subsequent harmonies … guide me.”

Here is music that is lyrical, mysterious and haunting.It is more classical than jazz,but Ulery claims, from an artist’s perspective, “I feel that much of the harmonic and rhythmic palettes still reflects my relationship with jazz and new music, through a certain rhythmic aesthetic, emotional intent and vibe …. attempting to put something beautiful and fanciful out into the world.”

I regret, even with headphones on, I could not always understand all of Matt Ulery’s lyrical content. However, the melodies sung were so lovely, the voicings still sounded good. Happily, he has included the lyrics on the CD cover, so I was able to finally get the gist of his poetic contribution. I discover, from the written word, Ulery is also a prolific poet, as well as gifted composer. While listening I think, this music would make a dynamic motion picture soundtrack.

DREAM SHANTI – “MUSIC IN OUR DREAMS” Ear Up Records
Jeff Coffin,soprano,alto,tenor & baritone saxophones/bass, alto & C flutes/ clarinet/bass clarinet; Subrata Bhattacharya,tabla/Bol Recitation/rhythm scatting; Indrajit Banerjee,sitar/Zitar; Carter Beauford,drums; Stefan Lessard,electric & acoustic bass; Roy ‘Futureman’ Wooten, wavedrum/cajon percussion/trap drums; Chris Walters, piano/keyboards; Jordan Perlson,Caixi drum/bells/triangle/ percussion/camel bell/metal plate/shakers; Ryoko Suzuki, harmonium.
This music will transport you to Mumbai or Calcutta in the blink of an eye. It is an incredible blend of Indian classical music and the jazz tradition, featuring virtuosic Indian classical musicians, along with reed master, Jeff Coffin. This recording is the result of a jam session held in Nashville, Tennessee, where the various musicians each brought their original compositions to the studio and taught their music to the recording participants on-the-spot. That does not diminish the beauty or precision playing on this project. You will hear smooth jazz and funk intertwined with East Indian, culturally rich music, wrapped together like New Delhi French braids. Coffin asked Bela Fleck and the Flecktones’ percussionist, Roy “Futureman” Wooten to join the recording. He also invited New Orleans-born pianist Chris Walters to join the ensemble. Others who add their talents are from the Dave Matthews Band, Coffin’s friend, Jordan Perlson, on percussion, and Ryoko Suzuki playing harmonium. Coffin has written or co-written four of the seven compositions on this project.
“Music in Our Dreams” provides listeners a rare opportunity to hear Coffin, Carter Beauford and Stefan Lessard combine talents in a musical context that’s quite different from the Dave Matthews Band. It also introduces us to the mastery of Indrajit Banerjee on sitar and zitar, along with the expert talent of Subrata Bhattacharya on both tabla and rhythm scatting. This is an adventure of culture-mixing and talent-blending that crisscrosses continents. Music shows us how easy it is to communicate with one another in a creative, entertaining and loving way.

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