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.”

UK’s Blossoms team with Chase & Status on ‘This Moment’

According to a news release, Blossoms have collaborated with fellow UK chart-toppers Chase & Status for a brand new track titled “This Moment,” out worldwide.

Following their much-lauded performances at Coachella and a main support run with Two Door Cinema Club last month, Blossoms will be returning to North American shores in June with a handful of headlining tour dates plus appearances at  Governor’s Ball in New York City and Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee. They will return in August for Lollapalooza in Chicago. For a full list of tour dates, see below. For tickets, go to www.blossomsband.co.uk

The British five-piece, hailed as the year’s “biggest guitar-pop shooting stars” and “modernist rock heroes” by the NME and whose debut album recently went GOLD in their homeland, have also announced they will be performing at this year’s Glastonbury Festival on the Pyramid Stage, as well as supporting The Stones Roses, opening for them at the legendary Wembley Stadium in London this June.

Be sure to catch the band live at any of the following dates and listen to their critically acclaimed debut full-length on iTunesApple MusicSpotifyAmazon today.

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.

Musical prodigy Emily Bear set to release ‘Into the Blue’

Photo Credit: Nick Suttle

Pianist/composer Emily Bear, 15, has achieved the kinds of accolades and triumphs that take many artists a lifetime to accomplish. She’s performed at the most prestigious venues across the country and around the world, received numerous awards and honors, composed for film and television, made six appearances on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, garnered 30 million views on YouTube, played at the White House, Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, been mentored by the legendary Quincy Jones – and that’s only a partial list.

Now, with the release of Into the Blue, Bear brings us new original jazz compositions performed with her trio. The album comprises five of her original compositions plus a warm, graceful take on “My Favorite Things” that hints at the immortal John Coltrane version before veering off into dazzling variations. Exuding Bear’s own exuberant passion for music, Into the Blue is both accessible and appealing for listeners of any age.

Bear follows the chart topping success of her first album, Diversity–produced by her long time mentor, Quincy Jones–with this inspiring collection of new melodies. Her agility on the piano is matched by her skill in creating stylistic compositions – catchy, intelligent, and sophisticated.

Bear has composed and arranged for orchestra, written for film and commercials.  And while she continues to expand her musical palette, jazz holds a special place in her heart. “What I love so much about jazz is that you have a lot more freedom than in classical music,” Bear says. “Jazz has a groove that doesn’t show up in any other kind of music and I enjoy using all my musical influences to create a unique sound, familiar yet new.”

Charles Jenkins celebrates Christmas on Bounce TV’s “Holiday Praise”

Charles Jenkins

Soul Train Award nominated and Stellar Gospel Music Award winning recording artist Charles Jenkins’ “Holiday Praise” yuletide musical program will air at 8 p.m. Eastern time on Sunday, Dec. 25 and a repeat broadcast at 9 a.m. on Bounce TV. Check your local TV listings for this program.

The hour-long holiday celebration was filmed at the historic Fellowship Chicago church, featuring an all-star musical lineup. The exhilarating concert features performances by Mary Mary’s Erica Campbell singing “Come Let Us Adore Him” and Grammy Award nominated singer Brian Courtney Wilson reinventing Donny Hathaway’s classic “This Christmas.” Deitrick Haddon delivers a passionate take on Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song.” Jonathan McReynolds does a resplendent acoustic cover of “Mary Don’t You Weep” while gospel legend Dorinda Clark Cole sings “Away in a Manger” to a circle of children. The show also features appearances by Tasha Page Lockhart, Isaac Carree, Donishia Ballard, and Dexter Walker & Zion Movement.

Jenkins, who is the pastor of the 8,000-member Fellowship Chicago, initially appeared on the national stage when the world-renowned song “Awesome” topped Billboard Magazine’s Hot Gospel Songs chart for 22 weeks in 2012.  The unforgettable “War” spent five weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s Gospel Airplay chart and was cited by the magazine as the most played gospel song of 2015. Jenkins currently has a Top 10 hit with “Winning,” and his tune “Christmas Music” just made its Hot Gospel Songs chart debut at No. 21.