Lisa Hilton’s ‘Escapism’ offers relief from worldly distractions

Lisa Hilton often settles in at her piano and riffs on everyone from Miles Davis and Horace Silver to The Black Keys and Green Day, until she can find peace within the notes, letting them fill the room and fall where they languish in this glow of calm with a touch of brooding blues. Then this past year, the world changed a bit and finding that calm seemed a little more elusive.

“Everything is charged with politics, a large portion of our world seems to be emigrating, and climate catastrophe seems constant,” Hilton says in a news release. “There’s been so much turmoil lately; we can’t find a sense of peace surfing the Internet or social networks — we need really positive sources to balance out this time of disruption in our lives.”

For her 20th album – Hilton has recorded an album a year since 1997- she wanted to provide uplift and relief, where listeners can be energized and feel rejuvenated. This became the theme for her latest release, the aptly titled Escapism. The album (available on December 1 on Ruby Slippers Productions) includes the Alan Lerner and Burton Lane standard, “On a Clear Day” and nine Hilton originals ranging from the high-voltage opener, “Hot Summer Samba” to the introspective and ethereal “Mojave Moon.” Each composition seems to generate, by albums end, a mental release or escape all its own.

“Artists have an important role in our culture and community – it is through art and music that our souls and spirits can be energized, balanced and entertained – we all need to “escape” from our challenges,” Hilton says. “I want our music to be a positive force whether you’re listening on the subway, while at work or lounging on a tropical island. Our music embraces the good experiences in our world.”

After working solo on last year’s Day & Night release, Hilton brought back saxophonist JD Allen, trumpet and flugelhornist Terell Stafford, bassist Gregg August and drummer Rudy Royston into Avatar Studios for one of the last sessions at that revered and storied studio before it became property of Berklee College of Music on September 1.

“It was definitely nostalgic being at Avatar the last few days before it changed ownership since no one really knows what will happen to it – we hope good things,” she says. “I have recorded ten albums there and I love the rooms, they have a special sound and ambiance. I think the entire band knew this recording was a time to savor the sense of the place – there were excellent solos going on, and we had a great sound captured by our engineer, a true sound icon, James Farber. What tremendous musicians and all leaders in their own right – I feel so fortunate to continue to work again and again with them.”

Escapism is an audiophile’s delight from the team of top engineers that Hilton has worked with for years; besides recording engineer Farber, it was mixed by 23-time Grammy® Award-winning engineer Al Schmitt at the legendary Capitol Studios in Hollywood and mastered by multi-Grammy® Award-winners Gavin Lurssen and Reuben Cohen.

Guitarist Molly Miller strikes out on her own in new project

Dr. Molly Miller

Since she picked up a guitar at age seven, Dr. Molly Miller has been captivating audiences with performances that display a talent for entertaining and effortless musicianship seemingly well beyond her years. Now 28 – and the youngest Chair of a University Guitar department in the country – Miller has become one of Los Angeles’ most sought-after musicians, touring the world with superstars such as Jason Mraz and The Black Eyed Peas. In her debut album as a leader, The Shabby Road Recordings, due out this month, Miller heads a trio that includes the all-star rhythm section of Jay Bellerose (B.B. King, Elton John, Bonnie Raitt) and Jennifer Condos (Bruce Springsteen, Sheryl Crow, Stevie Nicks).

The album’s joyful, groove-based instrumentals bring a wealth of musical talent to reimagine popular songs spanning genres and eras, from “Blueberry Hill” by Fats Domino and “You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me” by Smokey Robinson, to “Innocent When You Dream” by Tom Waits. The album’s repertoire was formed organically, over months at the trio’s weekly gig at L.A.’s Perch.

“It was thrilling and humbling to work alongside Jay and Jen – two legendary instrumentalists – to distill these timeless songs to their essence,” says Miller in a news release.

Miller – who received her doctorate in music from University of Southern California – became the youngest Guitar Chair in the country at the same time that she maintained a busy touring and recording schedule with top pop, indie, and jazz artists.

The Shabby Road Recordings came about in a rather spontaneous way – the three musicians would regularly get together to play and one day decided to record in the spur of the moment. The album’s opener “Gimme A Little Sign” (as popularized by Brenton Wood) stems from that first living room session and it captures a spirit that pervades the album – joyful, groove-based instrumental music that recalls a bygone era of such luminaries as Booker T and the MG’s, The Ventures, and Duane Eddy.

The emotional center of the album comes from their touching rendition of the Jackson Brown via Velvet Underground and Nico song “These Days.” Long regarded as a seminal track, “These Days” has been with Miller since she was in high school consuming a steady diet of Velvet Underground and Nico records.

Summer of ’96 showcases originality of jazz/hip-hop fusion

The summer of 1996 was a turning point for singer/rapper/producer Lonnee Stevens and composer/producer Antman Wonder. Not only did the remarkable music of the time point them in the direction of their future careers, but it was the moment when both men took their first steps in the transition from avid fans to creators. Joining forces for the first time as Summer of ’96, Stevens and Antman draw inspiration from the individuality and innovation of that foundational year to discover new pathways into the juncture of hip-hop, jazz and R&B on their debut album, Splendid Things Gone Awry, available July 21 via Unsociable Music/RED.
“1996 was the coming of age for music for my generation,” says Stevens in a news release, citing particularly hip-hop’s unparalleled flowering but also an impressive year for inventive rock music: Sublime’s self-titled debut, DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing…, Beck’s Odelay, and countless others. “Everything sounded so new, just as we were coming of age as creative people.”
Although the fusion of jazz and hip-hop reached a pinnacle in the mid-’90s, the two musics had been intertwined since hip-hop’s beginnings. The always forward-looking Herbie Hancock was one of the earliest pioneers, pointing the way to the future with his 1983 smash hit “Rockit.” As Antman puts it, “One begat the other. Jazz influenced hip-hop majorly, especially in the Golden Era. Hip-hop introduced me to Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock and [producer] David Axelrod through the music that was sampled when I was growing up by people like DJ Premier, Pete Rock, and Just Blaze.”
Hancock’s former boss, Miles Davis, was of course at the forefront as well, collaborating with producer Easy Mo Bee for his final album, Doo-Bop. Hip-hop producers sampled jazz grooves and melodies from the beginning, including Gang Starr’s “Words I Manifest,” which sampled Dizzy Gillespie’s “Night in Tunisia,” and UK-based Us3’s ubiquitous 1993 hit “Cantaloop,” built on the infectious hook from Hancock’s “Cantaloupe Island.” Central to the Summer of ’96 idea are the efforts of the Native Tongues collective, a loose-knit group of hip-hop pioneers that included A Tribe Called Quest, the Jungle Brothers and De La Soul (who released their direction-changing fourth album, Stakes Is High, that year).
Flash forward to today, when those artists’ innovations paved the way for a new generation of jazz/hip-hop fusion. Artists like Flying Lotus, Thundercat and Kamasi Washington are redefining the marriage of the two musics (among other influences) while leading rappers like Kendrick Lamar are finding new ways to draw upon jazz approaches.
Enter Summer of ’96, who don’t so much channel the music of their namesake year as they continue in its spirit of reinvention and individuality. Splendid Things Gone Awry is a rarity in the streaming age, a true album with a central mood and an experimental spirit. The duo built the album via a long-distance collaboration between California native Stevens’ Atlanta digs and Antman’s Philly base. The music is entirely original, using live instrumentation and no samples, with compositions created and played by Antman and restructured and adde onto by Stevens.
“Today everything is synthesized,” Stevens says, “but back then everything was sampled, and it was sampled from soul and jazz records. When we got together, we decided we wanted to make a record that sounds classic but using all original stuff.”

Burning Ghosts release ‘Reclamation’ now available

Burning Ghosts photo by Eron Rauch

According to a recent news release, Burning Ghosts is a politically motivated quartet at the forefront of the jazz-metal underground featuring four of the most acclaimed musicians in the L.A. experimental music scene. Playing scorching instrumentals that touch on heavy metal and jazz, the music is uncompromising and intense, filled with precise rhythmic complexity and textural power. Their first release on Tzadik is an incendiary blockbuster and is destined to become an instant classic!

‘Live from Jazz at the Bistro’ exhibits Sean Jones’ creative spark

The young jazz veteran trumpeter Sean Jones believes passionately in championing the creative arc of artists who are committed to their life journey.
“I think the progression of the art form [jazz] comes with people being allowed to be themselves in their rawest form with no compromise,” he noted and added, “My body of work is going to show a progression of who Sean Jones is in the most honest form.”
While he spoke these words a few years ago, they serve as a vivid manifesto for his new Mack Avenue Records album, Live from Jazz at the Bistro, his eighth for the label and arguably the most dynamic, playful and loose-limbed excursion of his career. Indeed, the 38-year-old Jones brings to the sessions a stalwart poise, the fire of ecstasy and a whimsy in motion. The album is now available for purchase.
“In a nutshell, I’ve been wanting to do a live album for a while,” he says in a news release. “I wanted to capture the band’s energy live and record what it’s like to go to one of my gigs. Granted, recording in a studio creates a polished sound where the music is all tied up. But this album, it’s real raw.”
Recorded at the St. Louis club Jazz at the Bistro, the seven-song album, produced by Al Pryor, features Jones presenting two versions of his band, as quartet and quintet, as they “hover on the bandstand between sobriety and intoxication,” he says. The longstanding quartet, comprising pianist Orrin Evans, bassist Luques Curtis and drummer Obed Calvaire has been together for 11  years.
“Having a band this long is really rare in jazz these days,” Jones says. “It’s really hard to do, but we have managed to keep playing together. When we play, it’s become like a conversation, like second nature.” The exception here is bringing in drummer Mark Whitfield Jr. on four tunes as a replacement for Calvaire, due to a scheduling conflict. On the four quintet tracks, Jones showcases another old friend and collaborator, alto and soprano saxophonist Brian Hogans.

Pop icon Seiko Matsuda’s first jazz project goes into high gear

With over 40 music awards, a record of 24 consecutive No. 1 single hits on Japan’s Oricon charts and several hits on the U.S. Billboard Dance Chart, Seiko Matsuda has been active internationally since 1980. Now, after six years of planning, Matsuda finally unveils her first jazz album Seiko Jazz (available via Verve).
Known as the “Eternal Idol” in Japan due to her long standing career as a pop culture icon, Matsuda has historically collaborated with jazz greats in the past while leaving a visible footprint within its scene. In 2011, famed producer Quincy Jones invited her to take part in his iconic, career spanning “Quincy Jones and the Global Gumbo All-Stars” concert at Los Angeles’ legendary Hollywood Bowl. The following year, Matsuda was a featured artist on the contemporary jazz supergroup Fourplay’s album Esprit de Four. Upon celebrating the 35th anniversary of her debut in 2015, she won the Japanese equivalent of a Grammy Award when she received Best Vocal Performance at the Japan Record Awards.
Seiko Jazz marks the critically acclaimed singer’s debut jazz album, produced by Shigeyuki Kawashima (the first Japanese jazz producer to receive a Grammy® Award) and arranged by Grammy Award-winning bandleader David Matthews. Matsuda is joined by Matthews’ Manhattan Jazz Orchestra to present standards such as “Smile” and “The Way We Were,” as well as the Bossa Nova staple “The Girl From Ipanema” in a way that showcases the cornerstones in the history of jazz.
“I am not only overjoyed to be able to release my album with Verve, but I also feel I have turned over a new leaf after 37 years,” Matsuda says via news release. “Holding this special appreciation to all of the people who have supported me throughout the my career, I only hope to become a better version of myself by constantly learning and taking on new challenges.”

New York City proclaims April 25 as “Ella Fitzgerald Day”

Ella Fitzgerald

On the 65th floor at the iconic Rainbow Room, with an expansive view of the city where Ella Fitzgerald got her first big break and performed her last public concert, the singer’s 100th birthday was celebrated. Verve Label Group, in partnership with the Mayor’s office, hosted a proclamation ceremony today to honor this beloved musical icon on her 100th birthday by naming it “Ella Fitzgerald Day,” in New York City. Grammy winner Tony Bennett joined to acknowledge his dear friend and colleague and closed the ceremony with a rendition of “Our Love Is Here to Stay.”  Vocal students from Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, which Tony Bennett founded in his hometown of Astoria, Queens, opened the Rainbow Room event appropriately with “Blue Skies,” a favorite Ella recording.

Danny Bennett, CEO and president of Verve Label Group acknowledged Ella Fitzgerald’s unique relationship with New York City where she first received public acclaim by winning Amateur Night at the Apollo Theatre in 1934 and performing her last public concert at Carnegie Hall in 1991. Danny Bennett said in a news release, “A year ago, I was asked to take over at the helm of Verve which was founded by Ella’s longtime manager Norman Granz, who created Verve Records in 1955 to provide a nurturing and supportive home for Ella’s recording career but also to foster jazz artists and this great American-born musical genre. I am truly humbled to now be the keeper of the flame and contributing to shine a well-deserved light on artists of the magnitude of Ella Fitzgerald.”

Verve/UMe just released several re-issues of Ella’s most beloved recordings including a four-CD set of 100 Songs For A Centennial, and a six-LP vinyl reissue of Ella Sings The George & Ira Gerswhin Songbook.  Later in the year, Verve will release a new album featuring Fitzgerald’s classic vocal recordings accompanied by new orchestral arrangements by the London Symphony Orchestra. Order 100 Songs For A Centennial here: https://UMe.lnk.to/100SongsCent and Ella Fitzgerald Sings The George and Ira Gershwin Song Books here: https://UMe.lnk.to/GershwinSB6LP.

Commissioner Julie Menin from the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment presented the official proclamation to Richard Rosman and Fran Morris-Rosman of the Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation, and reading from the Proclamation, said, “New York has a long and proud tradition of attracting talented performing artists from around the world, and a standout among them is Ella Fitzgerald, a legendary jazz vocalist who captivated audiences with her distinctive style and incredible talents. Ella has gone down in history as one of the greatest entertainers of all time, and her story and career have continued to inspire singers and performers across our city and far beyond. Together with the Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation, and her legions of fans around the world, I am proud to join in celebrating Ella’s 100th birthday. Now therefore, I, Bill de Blasio, Mayor of the City of New York, do hereby proclaim Tuesday, April 25, 2017 in the city of New York as:  Ella Fitzgerald Day.”  Tony Bennett presented the Foundation with a framed print of his portrait of Ella Fitzgerald, the original of which is in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institution.

Ella Fitzgerald was born on April 25, 1917, and was known as the “First Lady of Song.” She received 13 Grammy Awards, was a Kennedy Center Honoree and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of the Arts.

Pianist Bill Carrothers joins trio Red Planet for masterful collaboration

Red Planet with Bill Carrothers, available in stores on April 14, features 10 tracks, dancing between the trio’s typically electrified romps and folk-tinged ballads, while Carrothers’ impressionistic piano weaves through the nooks and crannies of the music, spinning an elegant web of lyricism and texture. In some ways, it acts as a homecoming of sorts for Carrothers, a Twin Cities native who has long since left for New York before moving to the upper peninsula of Michigan and a busy touring schedule in Europe.

Album release shows are scheduled for the Dunsmore Room in Minneapolis on April 18 and 19, with a European tour planned for the fall of 2017. 

 

 

‘Live from Jazz at the Bistro’ showcases Sean Jones’ creative arc

This album will be released on May 26 by Mack Avenue Records.

The young jazz veteran trumpeter Sean Jones believes passionately in championing the creative arc of artists who are committed to their life journey. “I think the progression of the art form [jazz] comes with people being allowed to be themselves in their rawest form with no compromise,” he said in a recent news release. “My body of work is going to show a progression of who Sean Jones is in the most honest form.”

While he spoke these words a few years ago, they serve as a vivid manifesto for his new Mack Avenue Records album, Live from Jazz at the Bistro, his eighth for the label and arguably the most dynamic, playful and loose-limbed excursion of his career. Indeed, the 38-year-old Jones brings to the sessions a stalwart poise, the fire of ecstasy and a whimsy in motion.

“In a nutshell, I’ve been wanting to do a live album for a while,” he says. “I wanted to capture the band’s energy live and record what it’s like to go to one of my gigs. Granted, recording in a studio creates a polished sound where the music is all tied up. But this album, it’s real raw.”

Recorded at the St. Louis club Jazz at the Bistro, the seven-song album, produced by Al Pryor, features Jones presenting two versions of his band, as quartet and quintet, as they “hover on the bandstand between sobriety and intoxication,” he says. The longstanding quartet, comprising pianist Orrin Evans, bassist Luques Curtis and drummer Obed Calvaire has been together for 11 years.

“Having a band this long is really rare in jazz these days,” Jones says. “It’s really hard to do, but we have managed to keep playing together. When we play, it’s become like a conversation, like second nature.” The exception here is bringing in drummer Mark Whitfield Jr. on four tunes as a replacement for Calvaire, due to a scheduling conflict. On the four quintet tracks, Jones showcases another old friend and collaborator, alto and soprano saxophonist Brian Hogans.

Live from Jazz at the Bistro represents one more triumph in a career that has been impressive in its expanse of accomplishments. A gospel-bred drummer who switched to trumpet when he was ten after hearing Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue and Amandla, Jones found his jazz epiphany basking in John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, which summed up the youngster’s desire to explore the spirituality of the music. He received his master’s at Rutgers University, and then quickly began his ascent into the upper echelons of the jazz world.

He served for six years as the first-chair trumpeter for the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, toured Europe with Herbie Hancock, Marcus Miller, and Wayne Shorter with a Miles Davis project, and is now in his fifth year as a member of the SFJAZZ Collective. Heavily involved in education, Jones has taught at Duquesne University, Oberlin Conservatory of Music, and is now chair of the brass department at Berklee College of Music.

Guitarist Kevin Eubanks merges musical landscape of East and West coasts

Since his 18-year tenure as guitarist and music director of TV’s “The Tonight Show” band ended in 2010, Philadelphia-born guitarist, composer Kevin Eubanks has been on a creative roll. On East West Time Line, Eubanks explores the chemistry he maintains with musicians on both coasts. And once again, his distinctive fingerstyle approach to the instrument is in the service of tunes that run the stylist gamut from urgent swingers to introspective ballads to Latin-tinged numbers and some get-down Philly funk. The Mack Avenue Records project is set for release on April 7.
Joining Eubanks on this stellar outing are longtime collaborator and former Berklee College of Music schoolmate, drummer Marvin “Smitty” Smith, who fuels the West Coast outfit alongside seasoned session bassist Rene Camacho, percussionist Mino Cinelu and saxophonist Bill Pierce. Smith’s East Coast counterpart on this bi-coastal session is the irrepressibly swinging Jeff “Tain” Watts, a force of nature on the kit who combines with bassist Dave Holland, Philadelphia-based pianist Orrin Evans and New York trumpeter Nicholas Payton for a potent lineup. Together these great musicians bring out the best in Eubanks’ six-string prowess and ignite his searching instincts throughout the sessions in Los Angeles and New York.
“Of course, we all came up through New York,” says the Philly guitarist who broke in with Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers during the early ’80s in a recent news release. “But we also got the benefits of seeing the East Coast down and dirty and Hollywood down and dirty, too. We combined both vibes on this recording-the kind of Latin vibe of Los Angeles and the straight-up swinging vibe of New York.”
Overall, Eubanks seems exceedingly pleased with the copacetic nature of his first bi-coastal recording. “I think because I’m so familiar with all the musicians and we played together over the years in different settings, on different tours, that it helped the music quite a bit. There’s something that goes with friendship, knowing everybody’s journey to a large extent, that really enhances the communication between the players on a session. It’s that thing where everybody’s pulling for each other to do well and trying to make each other sound better, and you keep your ego out of it. We all have egos, we’re human beings and everything, but through the love of the music and wanting the best, good things happen. It’s really such a wonderful kind of democracy that you don’t see in other things. I think jazz music is the most perfect example of democracy in action.”