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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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Pianist Monty Alexander celebrates 50 years in music with two-week engagement at Blue Note

Monty Alexander Photo by:  Alan Nahigian

In a career spanning five decades, pianist Monty Alexander has distinctively bridged the worlds of jazz, popular song, and the music of his native Jamaica. With over 70 albums to his name, Alexander celebrates his 50th year in music with an ambitious, two-week engagement at New York’s Blue Note, on Monday, February 20 through Sunday, March 4.

 Alexander will present the engagement in two parts: Part 1 – The Full Monty: 50 Years in Music! (February 23 – 28) and Part 2 – Jamaica Meets Jazz – A One Love Celebration (February 29 – March 4). The featured body of work and lineup will vary throughout the engagement, with each evening focusing on a project from Alexander’s extensive career (six projects total will be presented throughout the engagement). Special guests throughout the two weeks include Russell Malone, Christian McBride, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Pat Martino, Freddie Cole, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Ernest Ranglin, John Clayton and Jeff Hamilton, and Robbie Shakespeare and Sly Dunbar, among others.

“I derive great personal joy and satisfaction from being able to present music that can bring out people of all persuasions and life styles,” says Alexander in a news release, “from Kingston, Jamaica to New York and the rest of the world – that’s my Harlem-Kingston Express train. That is what this Blue Note booking is all about.”
Part 1 of the engagement will kick off on February 20 with a performance by one of Alexander’s working ensembles, Harlem-Kingston Express, featuring special guest, guitarist Ernest Ranglin. They will perform music from their Grammy Award nominated debut, Harlem-Kingston Express: Live! (Motéma Music – released in June 2011).
On February 21 and 22, Alexander will bring back his long-standing Triple Treat project. Originally consisting of guitarist Herb Ellis and bassist Ray Brown (a group that toured and recorded together throughout much of the 80s), Alexander will reinvigorate the trio in a program titled “Triple Treat Revisited,” featuring one of the “living descendants” of Brown, bassist Christian McBride, as well as guitarist Russell Malone, who appeared on Brown’s last recording, along with Alexander.
Alexander’s Uplift! trio project (stemming from the March 2011 Jazz Legacy Productions release of the same name) will perform on February 23 and 24, featuring organist Lonnie Smith and guitarist Pat Martino respectively. On February 25 will showcase Ivory & Steel, a project that reflects the music of Trinidad and the steel drum tradition (much like the Iron & Steel group Alexander led in the 70’s and 80’s).  
With “A Night at Jilly’s” on February 26, Alexander will honor the first jazz club he performed in when he arrived to New York City from Jamaica in 1963 – Jilly’s. It was here that Alexander began to establish himself on the U.S. scene. During his three year’s at the club, he had the privilege of accompany the great Frank Sinatra.  Special guests for the evening will include vocalists Dee Dee Bridgewater and Freddie Cole.
Closing out Part 1 of Alexander’s engagement will be “The Montreux Alexander ’76 Trio Reunion” on February 27 and 28, dedicated to one of the pianist’s most celebrated albums, Montreux Alexander: The Monty Alexander Trio Live! at the Montreux Festival. The show will feature the original trio, with bassist John Clayton and drummer Jeff Hamilton.
Alexander goes directly to his Jamaican roots with Part 2 of the engagement. On February 29-March 2, Alexander will present “Monty meets Sly & Robbie,” performances with drummer Sly Dunbarand bassist Robbie Shakespeare. Sly & Robbie are two of reggae’s most recognized trailblazers and collaborated with Alexander on his album, Monty Meets Sly & Robbie. The pianist will conclude the engagement by bringing back his Harlem-Kingston Express group for two final nights on March 3 and 4. Special guests for these performance dates are TBA.  

Alexander has been on the express track and now, in this 50th year of phenomenal musicianship, he shows no sign of slowing down. In 1961, the urban sophistication of jazz and the American songbook, and an invitation to accompany none other than Frank Sinatra, lured the teen prodigy Alexander away from Jamaica and the art form most associated with that nation. The move led to an extraordinary career in jazz, reggae and popular song including collaboration with greats such as Tony Bennett, Dizzy Gillespie, Milt Jackson, Sonny Rollins, Quincy Jones, Bill Cosby and Bobby McFerrin.  

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54th annual Grammy Awards: DL Media clients receive eight nominations in six categories from NARAS voting members

In a news release, DL Media announces the following jazz artists who have received nominations for the 54th annual Grammy Awards:

Best Jazz Vocal Album

 The Mosaic Project
Terri Lyne Carrington & Various Artists
[Concord Jazz]

Best Jazz Instrumental Album

[Mack Avenue Records]    

Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album

The Good Feeling

Christian McBride Big Band
[Mack Avenue Records]

40 Acres And A Burro
Arturo O’Farrill & The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra

Gerald Wilson Orchestra
[Mack Avenue Records]

Best Reggae Album

Harlem-Kingston Express Live!
Monty Alexander
[Motéma Music]  

Best Instrumental Composition

Russell Ferrante, composer (Yellowjackets)
Track from: Timeline
[Mack Avenue Records

Best Instrumental Arrangement
Accompanying Vocalist(s) 

Ao Mar
Vince Mendoza, arranger (Vince Mendoza)
Track from: Nights On Earth

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Bassist Pablo Aslan reflects on rebirth of jazz tango on “Piazzolla in Brooklyn”

Not only masterpieces spark new work. Piazzolla in Brooklyn, the new recording by Argentine-born, Brooklyn-based bassist, bandleader, and producer Pablo Aslan, was inspired by a dreadful album.Take Me Dancing, a 1959 jazz tango recording by New Tango master Astor Piazzolla, was dreadful. Piazzolla said so.
Recorded in Buenos Aires with a group of musically bilingual Argentine players, including Daniel “Pipi” Piazzolla, the maestro’s grandson, on drums, Piazzolla in Brooklyn updates Takes Me Dancing into state-of-the-art jazz tango.
“I was attracted by the idea of recreating this … Piazzolla album, through the optic of jazz tango, something that I had spent many years developing for myself,” he says in a news release. “I felt there were many places where the music could be opened up and developed further. I began to imagine which aspects of the pieces could use a more extended formal treatment, which ideas just went by too fast and could stand further elaboration, and where the solo sections could occur. That was the Eureka moment, when I realized that the material in this record had a potential that just needed to be unleashed.”
Aslan has been working on jazz tango for the past 20 years. He grew up in Buenos Aires in the 1960s and 70s, but moved to the United States to study music. After graduating from the University of California Santa Cruz, and attending Cal Arts, and UCLA, he headed to New York City in 1990. By then he had rediscovered tango and had become “the tango guy.” He played traditional gigs, for dancers. For years, he was a regular feature in milongas (tango dance halls) around the United States and in concert performances with Raul Jaurena, Pablo Ziegler, and Yo Yo Ma’s Soul of the Tango. But he also started to probe the possibilities of jazz tango.
Early on he formed a trio with the late saxophonist Thomas Chapin and pianist Ethan Iverson (The Bad Plus), “without really knowing what I was doing. I just formed this band,” he says. ” I put some charts together where everybody could solo and improvise. Interesting stuff would happen, but I couldn’t necessarily say that it was real tango, which is what I was trying to do.”
But the hard work paid off in recordings such as Avantango (2004), Buenos Aires Tango Standards (2007) and, most notably, Tango Grill (2009), an album that earned Grammy and Latin Grammy nominations.
For Aslan, Piazzolla in Brooklyn was a chance to finally address Piazzolla in his own terms. “He was a model and an inspiration for my work,” he says. “But I also systematically avoided his music. I always felt that it was too strong and defined, and that his own interpretations very rarely have been surpassed. In Piazzolla in Brooklyn, I found my own way into Piazzolla’s music, a place where I could create my own world and actually interact with him.”

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Guitarist Rez Abbasi embraces Pakistani musical influences on new album “Suno Suno”

In guitarist Rez Abbasi‘s Suno Suno (“Listen Listen” in Urdu) the music has a heaven-and-earth quality. It’s built on melodies with an elusive, indefinable vocal quality, and solid grooves. It has an almost indescribable center and a hard edge. There is nothing standard about the songs or the soloing. 
Much of the inspiration for this music came from Pakistani Qawwali, a devotional Sufi music (popularized in the west by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan) which, not unlike gospel, is meant to elevate the spirit and bring the listener and participants closer to a higher power. However, in Suno Suno there are no obvious references — not for most Western ears anyway. In fact, Abbasi reaches beyond a simple ‘translation into jazz’ for something more essential. 

“I’ve been listening to Qawwali most of my life,” says Abbasi in a news release, “and making a conscious effort to bring that element into my compositions, was a natural and powerful step. Something I was intent on notdoingwas imitating for example, Qawwali melodies. Rather, I wanted to utilize my history with the music as an intuitive tool for composing.”
He continues, “People are used to hearing overt influences in what is called a jazz hybrid, but I think the new paradigm that gets the best results is to write from the raw elements and feelings that lie just under the musical radar. This way the result remains organic and not simply a juxtaposition of genres.”
Performed by a group of singers, two harmoniums, and a percussionist, and paced by the clapping of the ensemble, Qawwali is an expression of praise whereby melodies are often repeated without variation in order to create a trance-like euphoria.
In Suno Suno, his eighth recording as a leader, Abbasi says in the album notes, “The challenge was to capture some of the power, passion and joy of Qawwali with an instrumental jazz group, without direct imitation.” His group, “Invocation” comprises Rudresh Mahanthappa, alto saxophone; Vijay Iyer, piano; Johannes Weidenmueller, bass, and Dan Weiss, drums. 

Born in Karachi, Pakistan, Abbasi has lived in the United States since he was four. He began his studies at the University of Southern California and soon moved to New York City to attend the Manhattan School of Music. His influences in guitar evolved quickly from George Benson, to Pat Martino, Wes Montgomery, and, most decisively, Jim Hall. Other notable influences were John Coltrane, Keith Jarrett, Bela Bartok and Claude Debussy.
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Vince Mendoza presents all-star cast for new project “Nights on Earth”

After a remarkably productive decade which saw him writing stellar orchestral arrangements for recordings by such popular singers as Bjork, Melody Gardot, Sting and Joni Mitchell (he won two of his six Grammy Awards and 25 nominations for his contributions to her Both Sides Now in 2000 and Travelogue in 2003), Vince Mendoza has shifted focus back to his own compositions for the first time in 13 years. His most personal and compelling project to date, Nights on Earth is yet another crowning achievement in the career of the acclaimed composer-arranger-conductor.
On this eagerly-awaited follow-up to Epiphany (which he recorded in 1997 with the London Symphony Orchestra), Mendoza recruited an all-star cast of longtime collaborators like guitarists John Abercrombie, John Scofield and Nguyen Le, drummer Peter Erskine, percussionist Luis Conte, organist Larry Goldings, steel drummer Andy Narell, pianists Kenny Werner and Alan Pasqua, saxophonists Bob Mintzer and Joe Lovano. He is also joined by such new friends as Brazilian vocalist Luciana Souza, Malian kora player and singer Tom Diakite, Argentinian bandoneon master Hector del Curto, Algerian drummer Karim Ziad, French saxophonist Stéphane Guillaume and young American jazz stars in bassist Christian McBride, drummer Greg Hutchinson and trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, a winner of recent awards from the Jazz Journalists Association and DownBeat. Along with members of the Metropole Orkest, the Dutch ensemble that Mendoza has presided over as chief conductor for the past six years, they bring to life these evocative pieces that flow directly from the composer’s heart to his pen.
“I always thought that being a musician is about having a community of artists that inspires you,” says Mendoza in a recent news release, “and I think part of the process of the creation of this recording has to do with the people that I have met and learned from along the way. A lot of what this music has to do with is celebrating that community of the musicians from the many traditions that they represent.”

While names such as Abercrombie, Scofield, Lovano, Werner, Mintzer and Erskine represent the jazzier side of Mendoza’s community of artists (they appeared on his 1990 Blue Note album Start Here and his 1991 follow-up for the label, Instructions Inside), musicians like Souza, del Curto, Diakite and Ziad represent his adventurous explorations into world music (as on 1992’s Jazzpana and more recently on 2009’s Viento: The Garcia Lorca Project).

“I have an affinity with these musicians and their music, as they also have with my writing,” says Mendoza. “I wanted to incorporate them into my compositions, to frame their voice in an interesting way. And I thought they would have a connection to my writing style in their improvisations.”

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Detroit Jazz Festival’s 32nd season on Labor Day weekend

Voted one of the top three jazz festivals in North America in national jazz publications this year, the 32nd annual Detroit Jazz Festival continues to demonstrate how much jazz shines as a symbol of freedom and democracy during Labor Day weekend.

Subtitled “We Bring You the World,” artists from Benin, Brazil, Cuba, Israel, Japan and the Netherlands will convene in Detroit. Performers include: Toots Thielemans, Dave Holland, Luciana Souza, Gary Burton, Ivan Lins, Paquito D’Rivera, Angélique Kidjo, Kevin Eubanks, Vijay Iyer, Vinicius Cantuária, Joe Lovano, Mandrill, Chuck Jackson, Deacon Jones Blues Revue, Steve Wilson, U.S. Airforce Airmen of Note with Joe Locke, Anthony Wilson, Sun Ra Arkestra, Sammy Figueroa, Tony Monaco, Richie Goods, Rahsaan Patterson, Sean Jones, and Christian McBride with Ernie Andrews and the Detroit Jazz Festival Orchestra, this year presented by MotorCity Casino Hotel.

While artists are visiting from across the globe, some of native Detroit jazz artists will be coming home. The Detroit-born Dianne Reeves, Geri Allen, Regina Carter, Curtis Fuller, Robert Hurst and Karriem Riggins will prove once again that, based on the talent that comes from southeast Michigan, there must be something in the water. The festival will also recognize Detroit’s big band tradition with a J.C. Heard tribute band led by Walt Szymanski, and the music of Detroit’s Jean Goldkette played by Josh Duffee & his Orchestra.

With the drum being the most universal instrument, 2011 artist-in-residence Jeff “Tain” Watts will beat the drum on the JPMorgan Chase Main Stage opening night. He will be joined by his newly created project “The Drum Club,” featuring percussionists Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez, Tony Allen, Pedro Martinez and, Susie Ibarra, along with vibraphonist Joe Locke and bassist Robert Hurst. The freedom theme will be further celebrated opening night with “Sing The Truth!” featuring Dianne Reeves, Angélique Kidjo and Lizz Wright performing the songs of the legendary Miriam Makeba, Abbey Lincoln and Odetta. The festival’s closing concert on the same stage aptly features another important drummer, Karriem Riggins, collaborating on a special jazz-based performance with hip hop artist Common. His ensemble will feature Robert Hurst, Perry Hughes, Mike Jellick, Roger Jones, Mic Holden and DJ dez.

For more information on the Detroit Jazz Festival, go to
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Grammy-nominated MacArthur fellow and saxophonist-composer Miguel Zenón releases his fifth album

Miguel Zenon

In Alma Adentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook (Marsalis Music), saxophonist, composer and arranger Miguel Zenón brings that jazz tradition home – his home.
The album is comprised of 10 pieces, two each by Bobby Capó, Tite Curet Alonso, Pedro Flores, Rafael Hernández, and Sylvia Rexach, who Zenón refers to as “the George Gershwins, Cole Porters and Jerome Kerns of Puerto Rican song,” and it features his regular quartet augmented by a 10-piece wind ensemble. The music was arranged by Zenón and orchestrated by Argentine pianist, composer and arranger Guillermo Klein.
“This project grew out of my interest in exploring the history and development of The Puerto Rican song,” says Zenón in a news release. “… I started focusing on the similar characteristics between The Puerto Rican Songbook and The Great American Songbook, not only musically, but also in terms of cultural impact. From there on, the project started to take shape.”
Zenón has explored his musical heritage previously in albums such as Jibaro (2005), in which he revisited the country music of Puerto Rico, and last year’s Esta Plena, in which he reinterpreted the traditional plena style.
“These are songs I know well because either my parents listened to them or they were very popular when I was a kid, so I grew up listening to them,”  he says and, he notes, he’s not alone. “We have been playing some of these songs with the quartet for awhile, and after every concert we have people who come to tell us ‘You know, my mom used to listen to that song on the radio…’ or  ‘I used to hear that song when I was younger…’.”
But in Alma Adentro the subject is popular song  – and it transcends regionalisms.The wind ensemble and Zenón’s core quartet – Luis Perdomo, piano; Hans Glawischnig, bass; and Henry Cole, drums – were recorded in the same room, live. 
“Very often when I play this type of material I’m thinking about the lyrics to the song,” he says. “In this case these are songs I know well so it’s actually difficult for me not to think about the lyrics. But eventually, you internalize the words and make it more your own, then it becomes something much more personal.”
Remaking popular songs is part of the stock in trade of a jazz musician, but Alma Adentro was a profoundly different experience for Zenón. 
“This was not just about melodies and harmonies,” he says. “There was a deeper, more emotional connection here. I grew up with these songs and they all had a very special and lasting effect on me.”