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‘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.
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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.”

Cuba-based jazz artist Harold López-Nussa debuts first release in U.S.

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Photo Credit: Eduardo Rawdriguez

“El Viaje (The Journey),” the title track of Cuban pianist and composer Harold López-Nussa’s debut release on Mack Avenue Records, seems to sway gently like a boat in the water – as if readying for a voyage or returning to port after arrival – trumpet and voices whispering memories. This scene aptly describes López-Nussa’s experiences of traveling throughout the world, yet always finding his way back to his hometown of Havana, Cuba. This journey of body and spirit has led simultaneously to a musical exploration where he visits various genres and ideas while staying true to his foundational roots.

The release of López-Nussa’s music stateside is a significant postscript to President Obama’s recent trip to Havana. The conservatory-trained pianist is the first Cuba-based musician (he has dual citizenship in both Cuba and France) to release an album internationally since the lifting of many of the restrictions associated with the longstanding trade embargo. States Mack Avenue Records President Denny Stilwell in a recent news release, “Harold follows in the modern day tradition of exemplary Cuban pianists who have recorded and toured internationally. We feel he is an emerging artist with immense creative potential to breakthrough.”

El Viaje features The Harold López-Nussa Trio with younger brother Ruy Adrián López-Nussa on drums and percussion and from Senegal, Alune Wade on bass and vocals. This trio is augmented on certain tracks with guests including his father Ruy Francisco López-Nussa on drums, Mayquel González on trumpet and flugelhorn, and Dreiser Durruthy and Adel González on percussion.

López-Nussa, who collaborated with Wade on the 2015 album Havana-Paris-Dakar, said: “Having a non-Cuban musician on this recording speaks to our contact with other cultures. Especially with African culture, which is so far from ours geographically and yet so close. Every time we play, I believe we enter into a journey we are creating,” he says, speaking from his home in Havana.

“Ever since I was a kid, since I began to study piano, music, I have tried; I have searched for that journey of the mind, always traveling with music. I remember that I started playing ‘El Viaje’ while on tour as a way of feeling closer to home, and when I’m here, it’s also a way for my mind to travel.”

López-Nussa has moved with ease between the classical, popular and jazz music worlds. A quick look at his experiences reveal a recording of Heitor Villa-Lobos´ “Fourth Piano Concerto” with Cuba’s National Symphony Orchestra (2003) but also winning the First Prize and Audience Prize of the Jazz Solo Piano Competition at the Montreux Jazz Festival, Switzerland, in 2005. He was part of projects as diverse as Ninety Miles (a recording with David Sánchez, Christian Scott and Stefon Harris) and Esencial (an album of compositions by revered Cuban classical guitarist, composer and conductor Leo Brouwer), both in 2011.

As for his popular music and on-the-job training, he was part of projects such as the Cuba volume of Rhythms del Mundo, which paired him with veterans from Buena Vista Social Club and he spent three years in the touring band of singer Omara Portuondo, an opportunity he calls “a blessing.” He has distilled all those experiences not only into a rich, personal style, as a player and composer, but it infused López-Nussa with an engaging attitude about making and sharing music.

New release reflects diverse jazz styles of Mack Avenue SuperBand

superbandUp tempo grooves meet listeners from Mack Avenue SuperBand’s “Live From the Detroit Jazz Festival – 2014″ release. The project documents the third incarnation of the Mack Avenue SuperBand, an all-star ensemble of bandleaders from the superb roster of the Motor City jazz label. Once again, this powerhouse congregation joined forces under the leadership of bassist Rodney Whitaker to dazzle a hometown crowd in picturesque Hart Plaza, with the results captured for another knockout live recording.

Joining Whitaker as three-time veterans are his longtime rhythm section partner, drummer Carl Allen; pianist Aaron Diehl; and guitarist Evan Perri of Hot Club Of Detroit. Alto saxophonist Tia Fuller returns from the SuperBand’s debut outing after taking the second year off, while vibraphonist Warren Wolf and tenor saxophonist Kirk Whalum make it two in a row after joining the band for the first time in 2013.

The SuperBand comprises a distinctive blend of generations and styles, which Mack Avenue Records President Denny Stilwell says captures the diversity of the label itself.

“The SuperBand has always been and will always be a mix of veteran players and top younger talent, which really represents the Mack Avenue roster,” Stiwell says in a recent news release. “When you look at this particular line-up, there are a wide range of styles represented: from the Django-influenced guitar approach of Evan Perri to the soulful/gospel leanings of tenor saxophonist Kirk Whalum, and when you consider the other players, you can find just about everything in between. And each of them are bringing performing and writing chops that are top shelf.”

The final – and perhaps most important – member of the ensemble is the enthusiastic Labor Day weekend crowd. “The Detroit Jazz Festival is one of the best live festivals on Earth to play,” Whitaker says. “That audience is pushing you to play and encouraging you. Then you’re on the bandstand with a lot of cats that really admire each other, so the combination of having a good time and an excited and lively audience makes for a great recording.”

Or, as Diehl adds succinctly, “Quite simply: Detroit knows jazz. They’ll let you know when you’re on the right track, and certainly when you’re not.”

Whitaker sees the gospel roots of most of Mack Avenue’s artists as the common thread that binds them together and allows a once-a-year gathering like the SuperBand to be so successful. Even guitarist Perri, who would seem to be an outlier with his gypsy jazz influences, is a Detroit native in whom the bassist recognizes the influences of Motown, funk, and soul. The SuperBand helps to lend a distinctive identity to a label whose artists spans multiple generations, styles, and hometowns.

“These days, not everyone who plays jazz necessarily lives in New York,” Whitaker points out. The Detroit Jazz Festival is the culminating place where we all get together every year and talk about music and career development – and form a mutual admiration society. It makes the label more of a family. The hang is part of the music, and the hang happens every Labor Day weekend.”

For Whitaker as music director, the hang begins several months earlier, as he reaches out to each musician to solicit their contributions to the year’s repertoire. Of the half-dozen tunes on this year’s release, all but one were written by members of the SuperBand. The exception is Herbie Hancock’s “Riot,” which kicks off the album in combustible fashion with fiery solos from Wolf, Perri, Diehl, Whitaker, and Allen.

SuperBand returns with Mack Avenue Records release available Sept. 2

superbandMack Avenue SuperBand’s Live From The Detroit Jazz Festival – 2013 documents a concert at the Motor City’s capacious Hart Plaza by an ensemble of leaders culled from Mack Avenue Records‘ extraordinary artist roster. It’s the second configuration of the group, which debuted at the 2012 Detroit Jazz Festival, mixing veteran stars with mid-career leaders and up-and-comers. The resulting album, Live From The Detroit Jazz Festival – 2012, received critical kudos for the fiery chemistry and soloistic derring-do contained therein.

Back for round two are trumpeter Sean Jones, guitarist Evan Perri, and the rhythm section of pianist Aaron Diehl, bassist (and music director) Rodney Whitaker and drummer Carl Allen, plus Gary Burton returns as a special guest. Joining the mix are veteran soul/jazz saxophone giant Kirk Whalum and the sensational vibraphonist-marimbist Warren Wolf. The results are scintillating-a program as cohesive and precise as a studio recording, but infused with energetic vibrations emanating from the several thousand hip, enthusiastic fans who attended the concert.

Whitaker attributes the simpatico in part to his process of following collective, inclusive principles in organizing the program. “I solicited everyone’s input,” he says in a news release. “With artists at this level, you don’t need to dictate every moment. Sometimes it’s more important to listen and facilitate. When you have a conversation with everyone about what music we’re playing and the direction we want to go, everybody buys in.”

Whitaker discerns several common denominators that promoted camaraderie. One is the role of gospel music in the musical development of Whalum, Jones, Wolf, Diehl, Allen and himself during formative years. “Everyone – not just those who grew up in church – tries to tell a story in the way they play, in the way they try to touch an audience and say something to them,” he says. “They put together their solos to get across a message that music is not just about notes, but has some greater meaning, whatever you may translate that to mean.”

That communicative quality permeates the proceedings. So does the high level of mutual respect of each member for the musical abilities of all the others.

“Everyone liked performing together,” Whitaker says. “You could feel it in the rehearsals. Everyone felt empowered. There was no hierarchy, no one playing the star. In 2012, the idea was more to have a showcase for everyone’s skill, and have people come on and off the bandstand. This year, Al and Denny wanted a more cohesive sound, and that’s how all the musicians felt, too.”

Now available: Jazz bassist Christian McBride and Inside Straight releases “People Music”

It’s not simply his abundant virtuosity that has made Christian McBride the most in-demand bassist of his generation. McBride consistently combines his deft musicianship with an innate ability to communicate his enthusiasm to an audience-a warm showmanship that transforms his own passion into infectious joy. It comes across whether he’s leading his own bands; sharing the stage with jazz legends like Sonny Rollins, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock or Pat Metheny; accompanying pop giants like James Brown, Sting or The Roots; or collaborating with classical masters like Kathleen Battle, Edgar Meyer or the Shanghai Quartet.

Any time that McBride steps into the studio or onto a stage he plays what could be called “people music,” but it’s a particularly apt title for the second release by his hard-swinging acoustic quintet Inside Straight. Four years after Kind of Brown, the band’s acclaimed debut album, People Music (available on Mack Avenue Records) delivers a more road-tested, “lived-in” Inside Straight, able to dig deep while projecting that ebullient vigor that has become McBride’s trademark.

People Music is my personal mantra as a musician,” McBride says of the title in a recent news release. “Sometimes jazz musicians can get too caught up in their own heads; they get so serious and so caught up in their creativity that they’re not bringing the people in. So I figure the best way to communicate is to let the people navigate where you should go.”

For Inside Straight, that inclusiveness extends to the name of the band itself, famously the result of a contest that generated more than 3,000 submissions from fans. But more importantly, as is evident throughout eight original tunes on People Music, that means balancing intense interplay with an exuberant personal expression that speaks directly to the listener.

“When you pull the people in, you can go anywhere as long as they feel like they’re a part of the ride,” McBride says. “That’s why Cannonball Adderley was always my hero-he always exemplified high artistry, but no matter how esoteric or abstract it could get, he still related to people. And I’ve always felt that this band plays ‘people music’.”

People Music  features two slightly different incarnations of Inside Straight. Six of the album’s eight tracks feature the core lineup of McBride, saxophonist Steve Wilson, vibraphonist Warren Wolf, pianist Peter Martin and drummer Carl Allen. The other two tracks substitute pianist Christian Sands and drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr., who have performed extensively with the band when Martin’s touring schedule with Dianne Reeves or Allen’s duties as Artistic Director of Jazz Studies at Juilliard keep them away from the bandstand. Sands and Owens also comprise McBride’s new trio, which will make its recording debut later this year.

McBride contributes half of the repertoire for the album, but felt it was important to also feature pieces written by the other band members, all of whom are accomplished composers in their own rights.

Pianist Aaron Diehl to perform “The Music of John Lewis” via live webcast at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola

Aaron Diehl

According to a news release, Aaron Diehl will be performing two sets of “The Music of John Lewis”  via live webcast at 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. in support of upcoming Mack Avenue Records debut, The Bespoke Man’s Narrative. This performance is part of Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Birth of the Cool Festival. Joining him will be Warren Wolf, vibraphone; David Wong, bass; and Rodney Green, drums. Special guests are the MIJA String Quartet.

 Fans can view the Live Webcast Here or see the performance live at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, 10 Columbus Circle #5, in Manhattan, NY.

Guitarist Kevin Eubanks showcases breadth of artistic influences on “The Messenger”

With his second Mack Avenue Records release, The Messenger (available on Feb. 19, 2013), acclaimed guitarist Kevin Eubanks continues to explore his own unique musical vision. This vision offers the listener an opportunity to share a musical journey that truly exemplifies where Eubanks is at this stage of his illustrious career; one that, for over three decades, has seen him incorporate into his creative process a willingness to embrace the broad spectrum of his musical experience, while continuing to seek out new vistas.

The Messenger is a project that reflects not only the guitarist’s virtuosity on his instrument, but also his impressive compositional skills-writing all but two tracks. Best described simply as a “Kevin Eubanks” recording-without specific categorization-as his intent with The Messenger is to communicate the breadth of his artistic influences.

“I wanted to branch out a little bit more on this recording,” Eubanks states in a news release. “I didn’t want to be as concerned with the ‘jazz sound’ as much; I wanted to let out a little bit more of what I’ve been musically exposed to.” Eubanks compares this philosophy to sports: “It’s like with professional athletes; most of those guys can play three or four sports. Society makes you choose one or the other. But that doesn’t change who you are inside,” or in Eubanks’ case, preventing him from showcasing his versatility on this album.

Eubanks is joined on most tracks by his sterling fellow quartet members: Billy Pierce on reeds, Rene Camacho on bass, Marvin “Smitty” Smith on drums and Joey De Leon, Jr. on percussion. This project also has a family flavor, featuring younger brother Duane on trumpet (“Sister Veil,” “JB,” “420”), and older brother Robin on trombone (“JB,” “Queen Of Hearts”). For Eubanks, in addition to his brothers making valuable contributions to this recording, their involvement is representative of something more.

“Their participation came about through some conversations that we’ve had, and I asked them if they’d like to be a part of the record. We’ve actually been talking about doing a family project for years, so their participation is really an entry to that,” he says.

The Messenger is Eubanks’ testament to being musically honest. It’s a realization of what he feels is particularly important at this point of career and his life.

“I feel that I’m at the point where I just have to be me,” he says. “I want to do what has the most immediate honesty, and just lay it out.” Throughout the album there is a feeling of exploration and revelation that invites the listener in. The guitarist never ceases to surprise, creating a program reflecting that honesty-offering a full range of moods, textures and tempos.

With this album, Eubanks takes another step in his evolution not only as a guitarist and composer, but also as a musical communicator. It’s his way of making a statement about his personal view regarding the musical spectrum and its place in our lives, with sincere ideas of spreading the word to others. Arriving at the name of the title tune, Eubanks explains, “There is an urgency about it; it has the energy of a message that really should get across. The Messenger, I feel, is in everyone. We’re at the point [in our lives], that whatever it is that you feel strongly about, that can help a person or persons that you love, or a situation that affects your life…you should let that message out”.

Vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant signs with Mack Avenue Records   

Cecile McLorin Salvant

Mack Avenue Records is proud to announce the signing of Cécile McLorin Salvant, winner of the 2010 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition. The announcement comes as the 23-year-old prepares for her debut album in 2013, titled Woman Child.

“Recording for Mack Avenue has been a truly wonderful experience,” said Salvant in a news release. “As a young artist, I have found the support and encouragement that is paramount in this stage of my development.”

Al Pryor, Mack Avenue Record’s executive vice president of A&R, said, “Cécile has the preternatural ability to delve deeply into the core of a song and then serve it up to an audience. Calling on the vocal techniques of Ella, Sarah and Betty Carter, together with the intelligence of Billie Holiday’s phrasing and the wisdom of Bessie Smith’s lyricism, she heralds a new generation of female jazz vocalists. We are thrilled to partner with Cécile as she adds the vocation of recording artist to her journey as a jazz singer and performing artist who will undoubtedly contribute to the legacy of those artists who came before her.”

Salvant was born and raised in Miami, Fla., of a French mother and a Haitian father. She began classical piano studies at age five, and began singing in the Miami Choral Society at age eight. Early on, she developed an interest in classical voice, began studying with private instructors, and later with Edward Walker, vocal teacher at the University of Miami.

In 2007, Salvant moved to Aix-en-Provence, France, to study law as well as classical and baroque voice at the Darius Milhaud Conservatory. It was in Aix-en-Provence, with reedist and teacher Jean-François Bonnel, that she began learning about improvisation, instrumental and vocal repertoire ranging from the 1910s on, and sang with her first band. In 2009, after a series of concerts in Paris, she recorded her first project Cécile (self-released), with Jean-François Bonnel’s Paris Quintet. A year later, she won the Thelonious Monk Competition in Washington D.C., judged by Patti Austin, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Kurt Elling, Al Jarreau and Dianne Reeves.

With performance experience in Europe as well as the United States, Salvant has been accompanied by renowned musicians such as Jean-Francois Bonnel, Rodney Whitaker, Aaron Diehl, Dan Nimmer, Sadao Watanabe, Jacky Terrasson (with a noted collaboration on his latest album, Gouache), Archie Shepp, and Jonathan Batiste, among others. She has performed at numerous festivals, including Jazz à Vienne, Ascona, Whitley Bay, Montauban, Foix, the Spoleto Jazz Festival, and the Detroit Jazz Festival; with Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra in New York’s Rose Hall and Chicago’s Symphony Center; and with her own band at the Kennedy Center. Additionally, for the second consecutive year, her sole voice can be heard backing the CHANEL® “Chance” ad campaign.  

Renowned saxophonist Jackiem Joyner presents his latest album “Church Boy”

Jackiem Joyner has traveled all over the world with his signature saxophone sound, yet he returns home—figuratively—on his fourth release, Church Boy. Reaching back to his roots and reigniting his faith, Joyner brings together his beloved jazz and his foundational gospel music.

The album is a transparent and honest testament of Joyner’s faith. After graduating from high school, Joyner moved from upstate New York to Virginia and found himself with no money, no job and homeless. For almost six months Joyner lived from shelter to shelter, sometimes staying with a friend, until his life turned around.

“I found myself praying a lot because these were very difficult times,” says Joyner in a news release. “I learned that if I didn’t experience those hard times, I believe my character would have been different.”

With his masterful talent of instrumental jazz, Joyner tells a story without words. Church Boy offers familiar covers as well as songs penned, produced and arranged by Joyner, and features guest artists Kirk Whalum and Jonathan Butler. The fusion of the two distinct genres of jazz and gospel flow seamlessly as the popular saxophonist endearingly nicknamed ‘Lil Man Soul’ makes clear his connection to Gospel music.