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Blues guitarist and vocalist Johnnie Bassett dies at age 76

Johnnie Bassett
Photo credit: Cybelle Codish

According to a news release, Johnnie Bassett, the celebrated Detroit blues guitarist and vocalist, died from complications of liver cancer on Saturday, Aug. 4 at Saint John Hospital in Grosse Pointe, Mich. He was 76 years old.
Gretchen Valade, owner of Mack Avenue Records, reflects, “Johnnie Bassett was a wonderful musician and a good friend. Whenever I walked into a room where he was playing, he would start singing ‘Georgia,’ my all time favorite. He was sympathetic and loyal to his friends, and had a good sense of humor. He was a heck of a blues singer who wasn’t appreciated as much as he should have been, and didn’t have as many gigs as he should have had, but he never complained about anything. Johnnie was one in a million, and I will miss him terribly.”
Mack Avenue Records president Denny Stilwell laments the passing of one of the last few truly impactful blues musicians. “This is of course a sad day for us. Johnnie was the second artist signed to our Sly Dog imprint and we will miss his gritty vocals, raw guitar sound and mostly his gentlemanly ways.”
In 1944, Bassett relocated with his family from his hometown in Marianna, Fla., to Detroit, where his legacy flourished as he held his own in the fast company of luminaries such as Ruth Brown, Big Joe Turner, Smokey Robinson, Dinah Washington, former neighbor John Lee Hooker, and a young guitar fledgling named Jimi Hendrix. Even as a young boy in Florida, Bassett was surrounded by music. His mother, sisters, and aunts took him to church and surrounded him with gospel spirituals, and he spent the summers at his grandmother’s fish fries where the likes of Tampa Red, Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup, Lonnie Johnson and others would play while people ate and danced. It was years before Bassett realized these people he was meeting as a young teenager were big names. 

While attending Northwestern High School, Bassett’s brother gave him his first guitar. After much practice, the young teenager went on to perform in talent shows, theaters, and nightclubs with pianist Joe Weaver, a close friend, as Joe Weaver & The Blue Notes. The group, which was performing in some of Detroit’s greatest nightclubs before they were old enough to drink, became the house band for Frolic Showbar in the mid-50s after just three weeks performing there. It was unlikely that Bassett knew at the time that this was what would lead him to performing with legendary vocalist Dinah Washington when she made it to the gig and her band didn’t. The band was eventually playing gigs with John Lee Hooker, Big Joe Turner, Ruth Brown, and Eddie Burns and a tenure as the house band for Detroit’s Fortune Records label. He also spent a bit of time with Chicago’s Chess Records and appeared on the first sessions for Smokey Robinson and the Miracles before Motown’s existence. 
In the mid-60s, after a six year run in the United States Army, Bassett decided to remain in Seattle, Washington. During his stay, he hosted a Sunday night jam session which was frequented by a prodigious young guitarist, Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix usually hung around to pick up licks and tricks, and also to develop an understanding of the tuning of Bassett’s guitar. He achieved his signature sound by using a style of tuning he referred to as Vestapol (open E flat), which he recently joked in an interview that no one under 70-years-old knows about. During this time, he was also backing John Lee Hooker, Little Willie John, and even backed Tina Turner on one occasion. It was the late 60’s when Bassett made his return to Detroit. 
It wasn’t until the early-90s that Bassett emerged as a leader and formed his own band, The Blues Insurgents, with encouragement from drummer RJ Spangler who rallied the guitarist after catching his set on a side-stage at the Montreux-Detroit Jazz Festival. During this time, Bassett recorded a series of albums starting withThe Heid/Bassett Blues Insurgents (with keyboardist Bill Heid and the late saxophonist Scott Petersen), I Gave My Life To The Blues (recorded in The Netherlands), Bassett Hound (also with Bill Heid), Cadillac Blues (nominated for five W.C. Handy Awards and included in DownBeat magazine’s best albums of the 90s) and Party My Blues Away, but his last label, Cannonball Records, went out of business. He kept working and eventually became a hometown legend and treasure, receiving a well deserved Lifetime Achievement Award from the Detroit Blues Society in 1994. He has also earned five Detroit Music Awards, as well as many other nominations. Jim Gallert, Detroit music historian, says, “Johnnie Bassett took the sounds of the Delta, the Basie band, and Funk, and made them into a personal dynamic style. He was a unique and special person.”
Years later, during a four-night residency at Dirty Dog Jazz Café in Grosse Pointe, Bassett found himself speaking with Valade during a break. When Valade asked if Bassett had a label and he said no, she replied with, “Well, you do now.” Bassett soon after signed a deal with Sly Dog Records, a Mack Avenue imprint, where he released 2009’s The Gentleman is Back. His most recent album, I Can Make That Happen, also released on Sly Dog, was released on June 19, 2012. Both albums were produced by his longtime sidemen, organist/pianist Chris Codish and saxophonist Keith Kaminski, and feature their Detroit bands The Brothers Groove and The Motor City Horns, respectively. Codish and Kaminski toured, recorded, and performed regularly with Bassett and helped to guide his career for almost 20 years.  
Bassett is survived by his wife Deborah, daughter Benita Litt, and his wife’s children, Lynn Tolbert, Courtney Campbell and Kenneth Pringle. Funeral arrangements and a memorial service are pending.

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Pianist Aaron Diehl debuts project on July 31 on Mack Avenue Records

In fashion circles, the adjective “bespoke” denotes custom-made suits and shirts and signifies the person who designs and constructs them. On The Bespoke Man’s Narrative, his brilliant Mack Avenue Records debut, pianist Aaron Diehl extrapolates this notion to matters of musical invention.
“The idea for the metaphor was that the composition and concept were specifically for these musicians,” Diehl says in a news release, referring to his working quartet of 30-ish all-stars – vibraphonist (and Mack Avenue artist) Warren Wolf, bassist David Wong and drummer Rodney Green – that interprets the five originals and five arrangements comprising the program. “There’s a sequence, an arc, a beginning, middle and end. Each piece has something to do with my musical development.”
The project gestated in April of 2011 in Indianapolis after Diehl, 26, earned first place in the rigorous Cole Porter Fellowship in Jazz Competition of the American Pianists Association. The award garnered him $50,000 in career support and an opportunity to record with Mack Avenue Records.
“I thought it would be wise to use the opportunity to document this ensemble,” Diehl states. “I decided to compose and arrange music in line with our own sound and conception, while using the strategies of bandleaders like John Lewis and Duke Ellington, who developed their music in line with the abilities of their personnel.”
Diehl is singularly positioned within his generation to apply these lessons to a contemporary context. An alumnus of Todd Stoll’s Columbus (Ohio) Youth Jazz Orchestra, which specializes in performing a broad timeline of Ellington’s music, he spent the last six months of his sophomore year at Juilliard – he was 19 at the time – helping pianist John Lewis’ widow, Mirjana, to organize her late husband’s archive of manuscripts, scores, reel-to-reel tapes and recordings. Already intimate with the stride piano canon from his teens, Diehl applied the quality time with Lewis’ Bach-to-blues oeuvre towards finding a conceptual space in which to coalesce his varied interests.
This quartet initially took shape in 2008 – then with drummer Quincy Davis – when Diehl was asked to play a concert of Lewis’ music. By an April 2010 performance of this repertoire at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, Rodney Green had assumed the drum chair.
“Warren is a virtuoso,” Diehl says of his fellow Mack Avenue artist. “There couldn’t be anyone more appropriate to play the part of Milt Jackson. David is a fluid, precise player with a lot of finesse and a strong bow, who comes straight out of the bebop-based approaches of Percy Heath and Paul Chambers. Mrs. Lewis said that John would have loved him.
Aaron Diehl
Photo Credit: John Abbott
“I hadn’t realized it, but Rodney listened a lot to Connie Kay, and told me that one reason he wanted to be part of this project was to get more inside Connie’s approach.”

In preparing this program of creative refraction of the aforementioned oeuvres, Diehl focused on nurturing an ensemble sound. “Rather than feature just my piano playing, I like to involve everybody in the process,” he says. “Sharing the wealth allows for more musical possibilities.”
For all his collective orientation, Diehl commands attention at the piano. Addressing a Fazioli F-228 grand piano, he showcases a nuanced touch, a comfort zone with tempos ranging from rubato to brisk, encyclopedic harmonic knowledge, an abiding sense of blues expression and a will – when necessary – to swing. He’s assimilated vocabulary across the timeline, finding fresh, idiomatic ways to mix-and-match ideas drawn from a diverse cohort including, among others, Lewis, Ellington, Ahmad Jamal, Marcus Roberts and Kenny Kirkland. As he puts it, “My overall goal is trying to figure out how to connect all the language to make an interesting and engaging performance, and also develop my own voice. Why limit yourself to just playing something here and something there? It’s all gold.”

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Saxophonist Kenny Garrett returns with “Seeds from the Underground” on April 10

Over the course of a stellar career that has spanned more than 30 years, saxophonist Kenny Garrett has become the preeminent alto saxophonist of his generation. From his first gig with the Duke Ellington Orchestra (led by Mercer Ellington) through his time spent with musicians such as Freddie Hubbard, Woody Shaw, Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers and Miles Davis, Garrett has always brought a vigorous yet melodic, and truly distinctive, alto saxophone sound to each musical situation. As a bandleader for the last two decades, he has also continually grown as a composer. With his latest recording (and second for Mack Avenue Records), Seeds from the Underground, Garrett has given notice that these qualities have not only become more impressive, but have provided him with the platform to expand his horizons and communicate his musical vision clearly. Seeds from the Underground is a powerful return to the straight-ahead, acoustic and propulsive quartet format that showcases Garrett’s extraordinary abilities.
For Garrett, Seeds from the Underground is a special recording. It once again consists of all original compositions, and is truly an homage to those who have inspired and influenced him, both personally and musically. “All of these songs are dedicated to someone,” says Garrett in a news release. “And the ‘seeds’ have been planted, directly or indirectly, by people who have been instrumental in my development.”
The album highlights Garrett’s overall approach to music: wide-ranging, receiving ideas from all musical sources and genres. 

“I love the challenge of trying to stay open…about music and about life,” Garrett says. “If it’s music, I just try to check it out. Right now, I’m listening to some music from Martinique, and I’m lovin’ it. If I like it, maybe I can incorporate some of it into what I do.” 

As for composing: “I don’t try to control what I write,” he says. “Music comes from ‘The Creator.’ It’s a gift that’s coming in, and I receive it. I write in all genres, and I’m writing all the time. It’s never about what it is…I just say thank you.”
Seeds from the Underground is the latest stop on what continues to be a fascinating musical journey for Kenny Garrett and his listeners. It’s a recording that is not only a significant personal statement from the saxophonist, but a musical declaration of his continued growth as a musician, and in particular, as a composer.
“Since my last recording, [his Mack Avenue debut, Sketches of MD/Live at the Iridium], I’ve had a lot of different experiences [including the aforementioned Five Peace Band, as well as The Freedom Band featuring Corea, McBride and Haynes],” Garrett says. “What I liked about putting this album together was the idea that my writing had grown and had become a little different, partially the result of Seeds from the Underground.” 

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Cuban pianist and composer Alfredo Rodríguez to release “Sounds of Space” on March 27

Sounds of Space (Mack Avenue Records), the title of Cuban pianist and composer Alfredo Rodríguez‘ debut recording, evokes images of science fiction. In truth, it’s about a far more personal adventure. The project will be released on March 27.

“It’s about the space that surrounds us,” he says in a news release. “In this record I wanted to introduce myself: Here are the people, the places and the sounds that have surrounded me, and made me who I am.”
A key player in Rodríguez’ extraordinary story is producer Quincy Jones, who co-produced Sounds of Space with Rodríguez.
“He is very special, and I do not say that easily because I have been surrounded by the best musicians in the world my entire life,” said Jones in a news release. “And he is one of the best.” 

In turn, for Rodríguez, 26, Jones has not only become a mentor and a teacher but “like a new father.” Still, such priceless endorsement can also create impossibly high expectations. But in Sounds of Space, Rodríguez proves up to the challenge.
The album comprises 11 tracks composed and arranged by Rodríguez. It includes nods to Cuban masters such as Ernesto Lecuona, but also pianistic models such as Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk; it draws on the tradition, but it has a personal imprint. And now and then, Sounds of Space is also shaped by nostalgia for a country left behind, so near yet so far.
Born in Havana, Cuba, the son of a popular singer, television presenter and entertainer of the same name, Rodríguez began his formal music education at seven. Percussion, not piano, was his first choice. 

“But…to choose what I wanted I had to wait until I was 10,” he explains. “So I picked piano. By the time I could actually switch to percussion, I knew the piano was my path.”
He graduated to the Conservatorio Amadeo Roldán, and then to the Instituto Superior de Arte. But while his formal musical education was strictly classical, he also learned music “on the street,” or more precisely, on stage. 

“I didn’t play with many dance groups, but I played in my dad’s band since I was 14,” he says. “And my dad presented a daily TV show and many famous Cuban musicians came through it and we had every type of music. I was still a kid but had a chance to perform every day, and write arrangements for all kinds of music: boleros, rock ‘n roll, dance music-you name it. It is where I learned the discipline of being a professional musician. That was another great school for me. I was very lucky.”

The momentous discovery during that formative period, however, came packed on a CD. 

“When I was 15, my uncle gave me Keith Jarrett’s The Köln Concert,”  Rodríguez says. “That’s when I began to explore the idea of improvisation. Up to then it had been all Bach, Mozart and Beethoven, and I’m thankful to my teachers for it because without that I wouldn’t be the same pianist. But up to that point I didn’t know anything about improvisation. The Köln Concert changed my life. I realized that was what I wanted to do: just sit and play. And not only musical ideas; music doesn’t come only from music. It can reflect and speak to what surrounds us.”

Alfredo Rodriguez Trio perform Cu-bop from Blue Green on Vimeo.

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Guitarist Stanley Jordan obtains 2012 NAACP Image Award nomination

Stanley Jordan
Photo by Keith Major

Guitarist Stanley Jordan has been nominated for a 2012 NAACP Image Award in the category of “Outstanding Jazz Album” for his latest Mack Avenue Records release Friends.
The NAACP Image Awards, celebrating its 43rd anniversary this year, are presented each year to honor outstanding people of color in film, television, music and literature. In conjunction, the ceremony offers awards to individuals or groups who help promote social injustice through creative efforts. Members of the NAACP vote on the awards, and the process is similar to that of the Grammy Awards and Oscars.
The complete awards ceremony will be presented live at 8 p.m. EST/7 p.m. CST on Friday, Feb. 17 on NBC.
In Friends, Jordan shares the platform with the following musical guests: guitarists Bucky PizzarelliMike SternRussell Malone and Charlie Hunter; violinist Regina Carter; saxophonists Kenny Garrett and Ronnie Laws; trumpeter Nicholas Payton; bassists Christian McBride and Charnett Moffett; and drummer Kenwood Dennard
Reflecting on the wealth of music inspired by collaborating with chosen peers on FriendsStanley Jordan says in a news release, “I am so humbled and grateful to all of the wonderful musicians who graced this project. This collection truly speaks to my belief in the integrationist spirit of music. I’d like to move beyond ‘fusion’ and explore the concept of ‘integration.’ When you integrate styles, you combine them into something new while still remaining true to the original sources. The same principal holds for our friendships, which require mutual respect. Our friends are a mirror revealing the diversity within us, and at the same time they give us the courage to share our true selves with the world.”

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Vibraphonist Warren Wolf to perform Nov. 16 at “The Checkout: Live From 92YTribeca”

Warren Wolf

Jazz vibraphonist Warren Wolf is set to perform at 92YTribeca in New York City at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 16 in support of his new self-titled, debut album (available on Mack Avenue Records). The performance is part of 92YTribeca and WBGO’s new series, The Checkout: Live From 92YTribeca, and is a shared double-bill with guitarist Lage Lund. The new series is syndicated and archived via Joining Wolf on-stage for the evening will be saxophonist Tim Green, pianist Lawrence Fields, bassist Kris Funn and drummer John Lamkin. 
It’s no exaggeration to state that the release of Warren Wolf, makes it as apparent to jazz fans as it already is to jazz insiders that the 31-year-old vibraphonist is the next major voice on his instrument. Joined by a unit of authoritative swingers (bassist Christian McBride, pianist Peter Martin, drummer Greg Hutchinson, alto and soprano saxophonist Tim Green, and, on two tracks, trumpeter Jeremy Pelt), Wolf offers a ten-piece program that admirably represents his singular blend of efflorescent chops, muscular attack, lyric sensibility, harmonic acumen, encyclopedic knowledge of hardcore jazz vocabulary, tireless groove and downright musicality.
“I’m trying to bring forth what most cats did back in the day, coming out right at you swinging, nice and hard, not a lot of hard melodies or weird time signatures,” Wolf says in a news release. “I like to play really hard, fast and kind of flashy. I like to take it to a whole other level.”
The Checkout: Live From 92YTribeca is a new music series presented by 92YTribeca and WBGO, and created by WBGO’s Josh Jackson, host of the hour-long jazz radio program, The Checkout. The series pairs some of New York City’s most exciting jazz musicians and brings them to the mainstage at 92YTribeca for a live performance and broadcast on WBGO (as well as the station’s website, Portions of the recorded performance will also be used for future playback on The Checkout, as well as the show’s podcast, and syndicated and archived via The mainstage at 92YTribeca, 92nd Street Y’s downtown cultural venue, regularly features jazz as part of its eclectic offerings, which also include film, performance, visual art and a huge range of musical genres.   
“Our message is growing, and so are the ways we can deliver it – on a clear and consistent radio signal, on, and on mobile telephony,” says Jackson. We’re excited to work with 92YTribeca to create new opportunities to discover, engage, and build the jazz community.”
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Bassist Christian McBride teams up with others on CD “Conversations with Christian”

On his eight CDs that precede Conversations With Christian, bassist Christian McBride has framed himself in ensemble contexts, most recently on the widely lauded 2009 Mack Avenue release Kind of Brown, which showcases the Inside Straight quintet (his return to the acoustic jazz format as a leader) and The Good Feeling, released in September, comprising a suite of well-wrought charts for an A-list 17-piece big band.

Although McBride’s leader and sideman c.v. includes no small number of pungent duos with various game-changers — to name two, McCoy Tyner and Jim Hall — he has heretofore refrained from devoting an entire recording to the genre. That discographical gap is now rectified with Conversations with Christian, on which the 39-year-old maestro places himself in the forefront of the flow on a duet apiece with “13 of my closest musical friends and cohorts”– singers Angélique Kidjo, Sting and Dee Dee Bridgewater; pianists George Duke, Eddie Palmieri and Chick Corea, as well as Dr. Billy Taylor and Hank Jones (who both passed away in 2010); violinist Regina Carter; trumpeter Roy Hargrove; guitarist Russell Malone; tenor saxophonist Ron Blake; and actress Gina Gershon. In the process, McBride unleashes the full measure of his already legendary skills, crafting as complete a portrait of his diverse interests-different vibrations of the blues and African-American church experience, bebop, the American Songbook, the Latin Tinge, the Freedom Principle, even comedy-as he has ever presented.

“I love and appreciate so many different styles and cultures,” he said in a news release. “Changing hats, going from one project to another, from a straight-ahead session to an R&B session to a pop session, has always fueled my activity. I try to put all those different sounds into one pot and make it a coherent, jazz-inflected sound.”

McBride first considered a proposal to do a duet project during the latter ’90s, when he was signed to Verve. “At the time,” he recalls, “I didn’t feel I was ready, or that it was the project I wanted to do. I had other things in mind. But as time progressed, I got to do other projects-putting together the Christian McBride Band and experimenting with a lot of different sounds and layers-and my focus returned to the duets idea.”

This renewed interest coincided with McBride’s involvement with the National Jazz Museum In Harlem (he is co-director), where he launched a still ongoing series of public talks and interviews. “My manager, Andre Guess, and my wife, Melissa Walker, noticed that I had a good rapport with almost everyone I interviewed,” recalls McBride, whose warmth comes through as palpably in conversation as in notes and tones. “They both suggested that it might be time.”

In conjunction with the project, McBride conducted videotaped interviews with each participant. Available as discrete podcasts since 2009, this series eventually led to the popular Sirius-XM radio show, The Lowdown: Conversations With Christian.

“I think the duet is a logical extension of the nature of the bass itself,” McBride says. “It’s the root. Joe Zawinul once stated that the drums are the father of all music, and the bass is the mother. I had a hard time disagreeing. The bass has the rhythm and the pulse, and also the notes and harmonies. That would seem to make it the ideal instrument for any sort of duet.”

The operative principle throughout is McBride’s dictum, “Most of what I enjoy doing is based in, around, and upon the groove; I want to hold down the fort, but have the ability to visit the roof if I want.” Conversations With Christian will assume its place as a masterpiece of the duo idiom.

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Bassist Christian McBride to release project featuring big band on Sept. 27, 2011

Bassist Christian McBride reaches another milestone with the release of The Good Feeling, his first big band recording as a leader and newest release for Mack Avenue Records, on Sept. 27. For over 20 years, McBride has appeared in numerous musical settings with just about any musician imaginable in the jazz as well as R&B and pop worlds. From playing with the likes of Milt Jackson, Roy Haynes, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock and Pat Metheny; to playing with and/or arranging for the likes of Isaac Hayes, Chaka Khan, Lalah Hathaway, Sting and the legendary James Brown, what has always been unique about McBride is his versatility. In addition to his work in the neo-soul arena with The Roots, D’Angelo, Queen Latifah and others, the Philadelphia native has also led his own ensembles: The Christian McBride Band, A Christian McBride Situation and his most recent group, Inside Straight (fresh off their critically acclaimed 2009 effort, Kind of Brown). There are many sides to the musical persona of Christian McBride, and The Good Feeling has him realizing another one: as the leader, arranger and conductor of his big band.
McBride’s first foray into the world of big band composing and arranging dates back to 1995, when he was commissioned by Jazz At Lincoln Center to write Bluesin’ in Alphabet City, featured on The Good Feeling and originally debuted by Wynton Marsalis & The Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra. Since that time he has composed a number of pieces for larger ensembles including The Movement Revisited, a five movement suite dedicated to four of the major figures of the civil rights movement: Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Putting a big band together is no easy task, but in this particular band, McBride feels fortunate to work with some of the most talented musicians in the jazz world. For his part, McBride feels that this process turned out the way he had hoped, with many musicians involved with whose work he is particularly familiar.
“[Trumpeter] Freddie Hendrix is one of the flagship guys in the big band, as is Frank Greene, along with trombonists Michael Dease and Steve Davis. (Steve and I go way back. He was one of my first calls). And the saxophone section was kind of a no brainer – Steve Wilson and Ron Blake – who have been the saxophonists in my last two working bands. I had to have those guys,” McBride says in a news release. “Now, one thing that seems to be my ‘Achilles heel’ with any band that I’ve had during my career is the piano chair, simply because everyone’s working all the time. But the X-Man, Xavier Davis, came in and did such a fantastic job.”
McBride’s interest in writing and arranging with a performer in mind is a trait that has been integral to the success of many great leaders of large ensembles, the most notable being the Duke Ellington Orchestra, with Ellington writing for specific musicians. McBride believes that philosophy works in his big band as well.
“Once you get the guys that you want, then you can write and arrange accordingly,” McBride said. “I’ve done that with all of my small groups. With the big band material, I had Steve Wilson in mind for Brother Mister; you’ve got Shake ‘n Blake that I wrote for Ron Blake. That song actually started out as a duo between he and I, but I thought it would work well for big band, so I just took the time to expand it; I just thought that song would be perfect for him. And I’m already hearing material that would be specifically suited for Michael Dease in the future. I think that’s what all the great band leaders have done – write music with the guys that you have in your band in mind. Because you know what will work.”

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Multi-instrumentalist Warren Wolf to release self-titled project on Mack Avenue Records on Aug. 16

The release of Warren Wolf, the eponymous debut album for Mack Avenue Records by Warren Wolf on August 16, will make it as apparent to jazz fans as it already is to jazz insiders that the 31-year-old vibraphonist is the next major voice on his instrument. 

Joined by a unit of authoritative swingers (bassist Christian McBride, pianist Peter Martin, drummer Greg Hutchinson, alto and soprano saxophonist Tim Green, and, on two tracks, trumpeter Jeremy Pelt), vibraphonist Warren Wolf, 31, offers a ten-piece program that admirably represents his singular blend of efflorescent chops, muscular attack, lyric sensibility, harmonic acumen, encyclopedic knowledge of hardcore jazz vocabulary, tireless groove and downright musicality.

“I’m trying to bring forth what most cats did back in the day, coming out right at you swinging, nice and hard, not a lot of hard melodies or weird time signatures,” Wolf said in a recent news release. “I like to play really hard, fast and kind of flashy. I like to take it to a whole other level.”
“What he does on vibes is pretty incredible,” said McBride, Wolf’s employer since 2007 in the Inside Straight band and co-producer of this album along with Mack Avenue EVP of A&R, Al Pryor. “You can’t hear Warren and not be highly impressed. Give him some music to learn, he pretty much has it committed to memory in a matter of minutes. In a couple of days, he has it on the piano. Then suddenly, he’s internalizing every part of the music-the melody, the chord changes, the song’s overall personality.” You’re listening to him, thinking, ‘Yeah, that’s what I had in mind.'”
Born and raised in Baltimore, where he currently resides, Wolf is less widely known to “civilians” than his bona fides would merit. Still, he’s anything but a newcomer on the scene. In addition to two self-released recordings and two dates for the Japanese market on which he tears through producer-selected repertoire with panache and an informed point of view, his CV includes gigs with such eminent veterans as McBride, Bobby Watson, Mulgrew Miller and Tim Warfield, and recent encounters with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, the George Coleman-Joey DeFrancesco Quartet and a Music of the Modern Jazz Quartet project led by pianist Aaron Diehl, the 2011 American Pianists Association Cole Porter Fellowship winner. He also leads a strong working unit with Green, pianist Lawrence Fields, bassist Kris Funn and drummer John Lamkin.

“I don’t think there’s anything Warren can’t handle,” McBride said. “My dream for him is that he eventually gets to collaborate with the super-duper heavyweights. I can’t wait to see where he’ll go next.”

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Vibraphonist Gary Burton debuts new quartet, new project “Common Ground” on Mack Avenue Records

With Common Ground, Gary Burton, the Grammy-winning pioneer of the four-mallet technique of playing the vibes, is not only delivering his first studio album since 2005, but is also introducing his latest band. Known as the New Gary Burton Quartet, the group is comprised of guitarist Julian Lage, bassist Scott Colley and drummer Antonio Sanchez. 
Common Ground features 10 tunes, including six remarkable originals by quartet members as well as two impressive numbers by pianist Vadim Neselovskyi (a former Burton band member), a gem from the Keith Jarrett songbook and an intriguing arrangement of the standard “My Funny Valentine,” spotlighting Lage.
Well-known throughout his five-decade career for his quartets (beginning with his 1967 group featuring Larry Coryell, Roy Haynes and Steve Swallow), Burton is returning to the configuration for the first time since the mid-’90s.
The quartet served as a reunion of Lage with Burton, who has known the guitarist since he was a teen wunderkind and has featured him in his bands up until three years ago. (During the hiatus from working together, Burton was focusing on revisiting the 1973 chamber jazz classic Crystal Silence duo with Chick Corea, while Lage finished college and worked on his long-awaited debut album, Sounding Point.)
 “Julian has matured so much since I first met him 10 years ago when he was 12 years old,” Burton said in a recent news release. “Julian has kept on growing and developing a sound of his own. He’s a knock out.” Lage fills the quartet guitar chair that was once held by such rising-star six-stringers as Pat Metheny, John Scofield and Kurt Rosenwinkel, among others.
“I’ve always liked the vibraphone-guitar sound,” says Burton, whose masterful vibes glisten throughout Common Ground. “It’s something that I discovered when Nashville country guitarist Hank Garland invited me in the ’60s to record with him. The sound of the two instruments together has an ideal timbre and coolness.” For the quartet’s rhythm section, Burton called Sanchez, who has played with the vibraphonist on and off in recent years. But Colley is new to Burton’s employ. “Once I decided to have Antonio be a part of the group, I asked him what bass player he’d suggest, and he said Scott is the one,” says Burton. “They are a terrific rhythm team.”
While Burton has crossed multiple stylistic borders since he broke into the jazz ranks in the ’60s, he finds that he often returns to the straight-ahead jazz quartet setting. That’s why Common Ground by the New Gary Burton Quartet is so special to him. 
“Since my very first group in 1967, I can count maybe three times that one of my groups over the years clicked so perfectly,” Burton said. “Whenever I start a new group, I often wonder how things will work, to see if the musicians will enjoy playing together and are ready to take the music to a higher level. With the new band, I’m thrilled. It’s proving to be one of the standout bands of my career and has already quickly developed its own identity.”