By: Dee Dee McNeil, Musical Memoirs

T.K. BLUE – “THE RHYTHMS CONTINUE” JAJA Records

Saxophonist T. K. Blue’s new suite is composed and dedicated to the memory of T.K.’s long-time bandleader, mentor and NEA Jazz Master, Dr. Randy Weston. Jazz composer and pianist, Randy Weston, passed away in September of 2018. Not only has T.K. Blue composed many of the songs on this album, he has also included compositions by Randy Weston and the late, great Melba Liston. Melba and Randy were dear friends and musical partners.

“Randy Weston was born during the era of extreme racism, segregation and discrimination in the United States,” explained T.K. Blue. “Randy was a warrior for the elevation of African-American pride and culture. His compositions, disseminating the richness and beauty of the African aesthetic, are unparalleled. His life’s mission was one of unfolding the curtain that concealed the wonderful greatness and extraordinary accomplishments inherent on the African continent.”

T.K. BLUE composed the first song,“Kasbah” and explained this title and tribute to Randy Weston.

“Dedicated to Randy’s home on Lafayette Avenue in Port Greene, Brooklyn. A ‘Kasbah’ can be described as a fortress; a safe haven. It’s a place to exchange ideas with people from many different backgrounds. Randy’s home was like a shrine, complete with a vast library of books on Africa, the African diaspora and African-American history, culture and music.”

“Kasbah” is my kind of jazz, straight-ahead and unapologetic! It’s the first of nineteen tracks on this CD of abundant and excellent music. Alex Blake is one of those bass players who grunts and mouths the music as he pumps his instrument. His solo is outstanding and pulls the curtains open for Sharp Radway on piano to glide forward and lift us with his improvisation on the 88-keys. But the star on the stage is composer, reedman, T. K. Blue. The second track titled, “The Wise One Speaks” features kalimba and percussion, along with soprano saxophone. It offers the listener a very beautiful arrangement that transports us to Africa, Brazil or the Middle East. This is world music. The T.K. Blue melodies are infectious. He’s a dynamic composer. On the fourth track, Blue begins to feature the music of his mentor. His solo horn to interpret Weston’s composition, “Night in Medina” is startlingly effective and the horn harmonics added to the mix are lovely. Billy Harper is featured on tenor saxophone during the Weston tune, “Kucheza Blues” that is proudly propelled by the percussion brilliance of Chief Baba Neil Clarke. These arrangements are stunning and exciting. It’s also wonderful to see that R.K. Blue is celebrating the talents of Melba Liston, a female trombonist, composer and arranger who broke down doors for female musicians and arrangers to walk through. Her “Insomnia” composition is well played by T.K. Blue and Sharp Radway on piano.

This is an awesome album of music and tribute. Perhaps T.K. described it best when he said: “The Rhythms Continue is my humble offering to say thank you (Randy Weston) for being a mentor, elder and teacher by sharing your infinite wisdom, and giving all of us pride in knowing who we are and valuing the brilliant cultural legacy of Africa that sustains and nourishes our existence.”

The release date for this project is November 1, 2019.

KENYATTA BEASLEY SEPTET – “FRANK FOSTER SONGBOOK” Sony Records/The Orchard

If you are not familiar with the amazing work of Frank Foster, Kenyatta Beasley’s Septet will introduce you to Foster’s genius jazz sensibilities. For most of Frank Foster’s career, he was soaking up the mastery of Count Basie and his unforgettable orchestra. Foster is a famous composer, arranger, a gifted tenor saxophonist, as well as an educator. From 1953 – 1964, Frank Foster was a sideman and star soloist with the Basie Band. After the Count’s death, from 1986 to 1995, Foster spear-headed the Count’s historic orchestra. Over four decades, Frank foster wrote compositions that have become jazz standards.

Trumpeter, Kenyatta Beasley, was working with students at Ohio State University, as part of their faculty, when he came up with the idea of adding Foster’s original music to their jazz education program. While working on this concept, Kenyatta Beasley decided to take on this recording project. He has woven his own arrangements into those of Foster’s, while endeavoring to keep the energy and beauty of Foster’s work pristine. This is a ‘live’ concert, introduced by Harold Valle. Beasley’s Septet swings hard and plays tenaciously, opening with a tune titled, “Hip Shakin.’ “Kenyatta Beasley says he chose songs that promote swing dancing.

“We wanted to be up onstage having as good a time as the audience was,” Beasley shared.

Carla Cook joins this exploration of Foster’s music, performing the lovely melody of “Simone” with her smooth vocals and Keith Loftis soars on saxophone. Track two is one of my favorite cuts. Pianist, Anthony Wonsey, takes a noteworthy solo on “Cidade Alta” as does dynamic drummer, Alvester Garnett on trap drums. This tune is infused with Afro-Brazilian rhythms. Kenyatta Beasley steps into the spotlight on the sensual arrangement of “House That Love Built,” letting his trumpet present a compelling and emotional melodic serenade. On disc 2, I love the Loftis interpretation of “Grey Thursday,” a sexy, sultry ballad. Dezron Douglas, on double bass, offers a beautiful solo on this tune. On “Katherine the Great” Kenyatta Beasley brought up his friend, Wynton Marsalis from the audience. Consequently, Marsalis happily becomes an unexpected guest artist on this project.

Kenyatta Beasley has a master’s degree in film scoring from New York University, but his roots are deeply entrenched in his native New Orleans. He has written music to over twenty short films, three feature films and he’s written music for countless TV and radio ads. Under the tutelage of his father, Kenyatta began playing trumpet at age three. He’s performed on various musical genres and productions including Shakira, Wynton Marsalis and Mary J. Blige. Beasley has performed with the Saturday Night Live Band and the Duke Ellington Orchestra. His star continues to rise and shine with this double-set CD release celebrating his mentor and friend, the great Frank Foster. This project, recorded ‘live’ at the Jazz 966 in Brooklyn, is bound to be another celebrated musical victory for Kenyatta Beasley and is a fitting tribute to the legacy of Frank Foster.

MAKAR KASHITSYN – “JAZZ ANIMALS” Rainy Days Records

Makar Kashitsyn,alto saxophone; Chad Lefkowitz-Brown, tenor saxophone; Josh Evans, trumpet/flugelhorn; Sasha Mashin,drums; Alexey Podymkin,piano/Rhodes; Alexey Polubabkin,guitar; Makar Novikov,double & electric bass; Hiske Oosterwijk,vocals.

Rainy Days is a Russian record label dedicated to introducing Russia’s finest musicians to the international jazz scene. This group headed by alto saxophonist, Makar Kashitsyn, is made up of American rising stars, saxophonist Chad Lefkowitz-Brown and trumpeter, Josh Evans, along with Dutch vocalist, Hiske Oosterwijk. The rest of the band are Russian musicians. All of the songs herein are composed by Makar Kashitsyn, with the exception of track 4 that was written by Nikita Mochalin and the sixth track, composed by tenor sax man, Chad Lefkowitz-Brown. On the title tune, we are introduced to the various players. It’s a lilting tune, a nice cross between a straight-ahead arrangement and smooth jazz, with Makar Novikov pumping his bass in a modern way. Alexey Polubabkin gets my attention with his impressive guitar work. Nineteen-year-old Makar Kashitsyn flies freely and improvises above the rhythm section’s groove. Labeled a prodigy from Moscow, he is showcasing his composer skills and saxophone chops. Both are quite impressive. The next tune, “Going to Ekaterinburg” is strongly hard bop and pianist Alexey Podymkin is brilliant on piano. Both Makar Kashitsyn and Chad Leftkowitz-Brown take opportunities to express themselves on their respective horns. The horn section itself carries the melody, as well as harmonizing and punching the rhythm throughout. They settle down on “Confession,” slowing the tempo and giving Josh Evans (who is featured on both trumpet and flugelhorn) an opportunity to step forward and sing his song. It doesn’t take long for the ensemble to change the groove and go into a walking bass line and a slow swing mood when Kashitsyn steps forward to play his innovative saxophone solo. The fifth track starts out bluesy and incorporates the vocals of Hiske Oosterwijk, whose soprano voice sings along with the horn lines. Also, at one-point, electronic equipment enters the scene, transforming the production and bringing a contemporary jazz feel to this project. Makar Kashitsyn’s compositions allow repetitious chord changes to inspire improvisation, but I miss the strength that a good and memorable melody always brings to timeless, standard jazz tunes. On “Our Song” Sasha Mashin cuts loose on drums in an impressive way. However, sometimes the improvising, especially on the fades of the songs, stops being interesting enough to hold my attention. On the final song, the vocalist finally sings lyrics on a tune titled, “Phone Call.” The lyrics do not support the title. This composition starts out as a ballad and quickly becomes a straight-ahead arrangement, moving at a double-time pace. The challenge with improvisation, that is one of the trademarks of jazz music, is that musicians come up with consistently fresh, creative and different improvisation. It should never just sound like scales or repeatable lines. When the vocalist re-enters, they bring the arrangement back to a solemn ballad. The talent and energy of this coterie is obvious and clearly these youthful musicians will continue to grow and blossom with time. This debut effort by Makar Kashitsyn displays his propitious talents.

ROXY COSS – “QUINTET” Outside In Music

Roxy Coss,tenor & soprano saxophones/composer; Miki Yamanaka,piano; Alex Wintz, guitar; Rick Rosato,bass; Jimmy Macbride,drums.

This is the fifth album featuring bandleader and stellar reed-woman, Roxy Coss. She has composed every song on this production (except “All or Nothing at All”) and continues her legacy of award-winning composer. It was 2016 when she received the ASCAP Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composers Award. This album titled, “Quintet” not only marks her favorite size of group ensemble, but it also celebrates her #5 album release.

Roxy Coss explained her latest inspiration for composing new original works.

“…My writings changed. …I started thinking about how guitar could function as a melodic, harmonic and accompanying instrument. I like writing harmonies, strong melodies and counter melodies. I’m influenced by modern jazz saxophone and guitar pairings. … By putting the guitar in the group, I could get greater flexibility and create different combinations of textures.”

Surrounded by excellent musicians, the Roxy Coss brash and distinctive sound on both tenor and soprano saxophone push this album forward with energy and passion. Her technique and tone have elicited praise by DownBeat Magazine in their Critics’ Polls for five consecutive years. This album has actually taken original music she previously recorded and reinvigorated her arrangements with this quintet. It’s an enjoyable listen, but I would have been very happy to hear some newly composed compositions. Ms. Coss is also an activist and a respected jazz educator. She’s on the Jazz Education Network’s (JEN) board of directors and on the jazz faculty of the Julliard School, the New School and the Borough of Manhattan Community College. Roxy Coss is also the founder of the important Women in Jazz Organization. If her activist voice stays as loud and boisterous as her saxophone voice, we can expect more great accomplishments and improvisational change from this talented young woman. Favorite cuts on this CD: “Don’t Cross the Coss,” “All or Nothing at All,” “Free to be,” and “Females Are Strong as Hell.”

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