Saturday, August 4, 2018


New release by Zoo Berries - EP1 (released on Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit Records)
With a bass player at the driver’s seat, New York City based band ​Zoo Berries cruises with ease through the groove, paying tribute to vintage RnB and Soul with a pinch of millennial lyricism and daring solos. ​Zoo Berries​ is the latest addition to the label and artist collective Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit Records. 

The five tracks on ​Zoo Berries’ ​EP1 make a concise and strong statement starting with Hip Hop beats, going into heartfelt blues and meditative mindsets, and concluding with an existential spoken word exploration.

The opener ​Back in Time​ starts with a cheerful funky bass groove that seamlessly evolves into a full-on piano-saxophone conversation. Next is the bluesy slow simmering track ​Brother​, building anticipation that pays off in the form of two simultaneous explosive saxophone solos entangled within each other (featuring ​Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit Records label mate ​Arnan Raz on tenor saxophone).  ​Final Decision ​draws inspiration from an earlier release of by Ayal Tsubery (Decisions, 2014) and serves a smooth hip hop landscape that quickly turns into a grinding hard hitting rock anthem with a dark chant-like screaming saxophone solo.

From those turbulent moments, Zoo Berries takes us into the serene introspective ​Shir le Shabbat​ (from Hebrew: a song for sabbath) bringing the bass to the front with a solo that oozes expression and reveals an intimate connection to eastern musical traditions.  For the final track, ​Acceptance​, singer/songwriter ​Keren Or Tayar
​steps in to deliver a thought provoking spoken word part, which the band enwraps in a meditative wondrous mood that lingers well after the last note decays. 

In a typical straightforward manner, ​Zoo Berries’​ bandleader ​Ayal Tsubery describes his experience making EP1: ​“Making a record that exudes raw live energy was my goal, and that meant we were all gonna play in the same room, no separations, no headphones, no editing. We came into the studio, tuned up, and started cutting takes. Six hours later we had an EP”

1. Back In Time
2. Brother
3. Final Decision
4. Shir LeShabbat
5. Acceptance

Recorded by Dan Shatzki at Vibromonk Studios Brooklyn NYC.
Mixed and mastered By Alessio Romano

Marty Elkins - Fat Daddy (NAGEL HEYER RECORDS 2018)


Vocalist MARTY ELKINS has a special affinity for older jazz and swing tunes. She has a liquid, bluesy voice that is the perfect vehicle for standards originally sung by artists like Alice Faye, Ella Fitzgerald, and Ethel Waters. Although the 14 songs on Elkins’ newest CD, FAT DADDY (Nagel-Heyer Records, July 6, 2018), were all written between 50 and 90 years ago, Elkins makes them feel as fresh and relevant today as ever. 

FAT DADDY is Elkins’ sixth CD since 2000. Four of her CDs are on Nagel-Heyer Records, a German label that specializes in mainstream jazz with internationally known artists. She found her way to that label through her friend Warren Vache, who also records for them. 

Elkins began singing jazz while she was in college in Boston and had the opportunity to perform with pianist Dave McKenna. She came to New York City in the early 1980s and sat in with Max Kaminsky’s band at Jimmy Ryan’s, which was a popular venue for traditional jazz and the last surviving jazz club on 52nd Street. Elkins then spent years honing her chops playing in clubs in and around New York with many of the top musicians that live and work in the area. She also performs from time to time in Europe. 

Elkins is joined on FAT DADDY by some old friends with whom she often works, including JOEL DIAMOND, a prolific producer, composer and pianist who has worked with a range of vocalists including Jane Olivor and Gayle Winters. He produced this CD and joins Elkins on piano and organ on several tunes. JON-ERIK KELLSO on trumpet performs with Vince Giordano's Nighthawks. Guitarist JAMES CHIRILLO has worked with many of the swing era’s greats, including Benny Goodman, Buck Clayton, and Benny Carter, among others. STEVE ASH, who also plays piano on this disc, was selected by The Kennedy Center and The U.S. State Department to tour West Africa and France as part of The Jazz Ambassadors in 2004. Bass player LEE HUDSON is a busy touring and recording artist who performed with Lou Donaldson, Illinois Jacquet, and Dizzy Gillespie, among many others. Drummer TARO OKAMOTO has played with such jazz notables as Reggie Workman, Duke Jordan, Barry Harris, Billy Harper and Eddie Henderson. Veteran percussionist LEOPOLDO FLEMING is perhaps best known for his performances with Nina Simone, with whom he worked for 17 years. 

The 14 songs on this project were all written and originally performed between the 1920s and 1950s. Although many of these songs are associated with Billie and Ella, Elkins manages to stay true to the sensibility of the songs while sounding unlike anyone else. Her voice is attractive and relaxed. She sings with a lot of warmth and feeling, but never emotes. The lyrics and mood of a song are much more important to her than mere pyrotechnics. Her favorite instrument is the trumpet, and it’s easy to hear how it’s influenced her tone. She loves to sing ballads, but she can swing as well as any of the old masters. “I sing these songs because they make me happy,” says Elkins. “They’re fun to sing and listen to. They never get old. When I hear this music, it’s like being wrapped in a warm blanket.” 

Elkins opens the CD with her swinging version of “You Turned the Tables on Me,” which was first recorded by Alice Faye in 1936. Elkins chose to include “On Revival Day” after hearing LaVern Baker’s recording of it on her 1958 “LaVern Baker Sings Bessie Smith.” “How Can You Face Me” is a Fats Waller tune from 1936, and “That’s All There Is To That” is a Clyde Otis/ Kelly Owens tune that was originally released by Dinah Shore in 1956. “It’s Too Hot For Words” was first recorded by Billie Holiday in 1935. Holiday also recorded “Trav’lin’ All Alone” in 1937, and she recorded around 14 versions of “I Cover The Waterfront.” “Cow Cow Boogie,” which is associated with Ella Fitzgerald, was written for the 1942 movie “Ride ‘em Cowboy.” Ella also made famous “It’s A Pity To Say Goodnight,” which was originally recorded by Dorothy Squires in 1946. “My Old Flame” has been recorded by many artists. It was composed in 1934 by Arthur Johnston (music) and Sam Coslow (lyrics) for the film "Belle of the Nineties." It was originally sung by Mae West accompanied by Duke Ellington’s orchestra. Billie Holliday also did several versions of it. “Fat Daddy” is a fun tune first performed by Dinah Washington. “These Foolish Things” is another widely recorded tune. It was written in 1936 by Englishmen Jack Strachey and Eric Maschwitz, who was romantically linked to the Chinese-American actress Anna May Wong while working in Hollywood. The lyrics reflect his longing for her after they parted and he returned to England. “I Can’t Face the Music,” recorded by Ethel Waters in 1926, is one of the oldest songs on this disc. “Sugar," also known as "That Sugar Baby o' Mine,” was also recorded in 1926 by Ethel Waters. “Trav’lin’ All Alone” was written by James C. Johnson in 1929 but made popular by Billie Holiday 1937. 

Stephen King said, “Sooner or later, everything old is new again,” and Marty Elkins demonstrates just how that’s done by making the chestnuts on FAT DADDY sound as fresh as the day they were minted. Her straightahead, smoky interpretations create a stimulating immediacy, because she imbues these songs with a naturalness and sense of sheer fun that only an experienced artist can evoke. 

JOEL DIAMOND  piano (6, 7, 10, 14), organ, alto saxophone (10)
STEVE ASH  piano
TARO OKAMOTO  drums, tambourine
LEOPOLDO FLEMING  percussion (10)

2. ON REVIVAL DAY  (2:45)
3. HOW CAN YOU FACE ME  (3:48)
6. COW COW BOOGIE  (3:35)
9. MY OLD FLAME  (6:02)
10. FAT DADDY  (3:53)
11. I CAN’T FACE THE MUSIC  (4:40)
12. SUGAR  (3:40)

Produced by Frank Nagel-Heyer and Joel Diamond

Michika Fukumori - Piano Images (SUMMIT RECORDS 2018)

MICHIKA FUKUMORI, a native of Japan, has been living in New York City since 2000. A soulful pianist, she was drawn to the U.S to study jazz and become involved in the New York jazz scene. PIANO IMAGES (Summit Records, June 22, 2018) is her third CD release since coming to States. The CD is a solo project, featuring Fukumori on piano playing mostly stunning original compositions as well as several of her favorite jazz standards.  

Fukumori has played in some of the most prestigious jazz clubs in Manhattan with top New York musicians. She has been honing her chops for 20 years and decided it was time to express herself as a solo artist. According to Fukumori, “PIANO IMAGES is a conversation between me and the piano. It’s the story of my life that I portray through music. It’s a story about where I was born, my experiences growing up, and what I feel about the state of the world. I wanted to express how happy I am to be able to make music in my little corner of the world.” 

PIANO IMAGES was produced by STEVE KUHN, the prolific pianist known for his lyrical and evocative playing. Fukumori has been studying privately with Kuhn since 2001. Kuhn also produced Fukumori’s other CDs, Quality Time (2016), and Infinite Thoughts (2004). “I was a big fan of Steve’s since I started to listen, study and play Jazz in Japan,” says Fukumori. “Studying with him is my dream come true. He’s my teacher, my mentor and my musical hero.” 

Fukumori composed eight of the 13 tunes on PIANO IMAGES. Her compositional style is like her style of playing -- sensitive and inventive with a subtle sense of swing. She opens the CD with “Colors of Blue,” one of her own compositions. “I learned how important the blues is to jazz after I moved to this country, and I fell in love with the form. This is my dedication to this music.” Fukumori infuses the tune with a rhythmic feeling that comes from a Japanese dance style. “Into the New World,” another of her originals, is a gentle swing tune with a light-hearted feel. It represents her hope and prayers for the world. 

“The Seasons” is a suite of four compositions in which Fukumori paints a picture of of Iga, her hometown in Japan. Iga is a small city surrounded by mountains where Fukumori lived until she was 18. These pieces were drawn from memories of her childhood. The first of the suite is “The Answer,” which represents winter and a feeling of anticipation. “The Story I Want to Tell You” represents spring. Fukumori recorded this piece on her previous CD in a trio setting, but because the song for her has such a strong association with Iga, she wanted to record it again in a more intimate context. “The Days We Were Smiling” represents her nostalgia for all the fun she had in summer growing up, hiking, swimming, fireworks and especially family gatherings. “Tomorrow is Full of Promises,” is a happy, lively tune that represents autumn and Matsuri, a kind of lively Thanksgiving festivity. 

Fukumori also composed “Palco (A Little Dancer)” and “My Muse.” “Palco” has a buoyant dance feel that represents Fukumori’s impression of the movie “Billy Elliot,” the 2000 film about a boy who wants to become a professional ballet dancer. “My Muse” is Fukumori’s dedication to Steve Kuhn and represents the joy that music gives her. 

Fukumori is also a fan of Jobim and dedicates “Chovendo na Roseira” to the great Brazilian artist. Fukumori imbues the song with “suadade,” or a deep state of melancholy. She also performs Jobim’s “Luiza,” another piece filled with longing. Richard Rodgers’ “Where or When” is one of her favorite tunes that she’s been playing since before she came to this country, and “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” is the Cole Porter number that appeals to Fukumori’s romantic, sensitive nature. And in honor of her mentor, Steve Kuhn, Fukumori decided to include one of his original compositions, “Oceans in the Sky,” on which Fukumori and Kuhn perform a lush, four-hand version. 

Fukumori is a superbly sensitive pianist who has fully embraced the jazz idiom but suffuses the music with her own personality and cultural heritage. PIANO IMAGES is a series of musical portraits by an artist with a refined sensibility and the skill to embrace you with her musical vision.

About Michika Fukumori Born on Japan's main island, Fukumori grew up in the city of Mie and began to play piano at the age of three. After studying classical composition at the Aichi Prefectual University of Fine Arts and Music, Fukumori studied with renowned Japanese pianist Colgen Suzuki and began working professionally at a variety of jazz clubs in and around Tokyo. In 2000, Fukumori moved to the United States and began studying with Ron Carter and Geri Allen at City College of New York, earning her Master’s Degree in 2003. While attending CCNY, she also began taking private lessons with Steve Kuhn. Since then, Fukumori has been playing regularly at many of Manhattan's most prestigious jazz clubs, such as The Blue Note, The Garage, Cleopatra's Needle, Arturo's, Antique Garage, and Jazz at Kitano. 

Today Fukumori enjoys a variety of work in the U.S. and takes annual trips back to Japan where she tours extensively, leading various trios and quartets.

Steve Kuhn  piano duet on #11

Arranged by Michika Fukumori; Produced by Steve Kuhn

1. Colors Of Blues  (3:17)
2. Into the New World  (4:17)

The Seasons

3. The Answer Is … (Winter)  (3:52)
4. The Story I Want To Tell You (Spring)  (5:11)
5. The Days We Were Smiling (Summer)  (4:50)
6. Tomorrow Is Full Of Promises (Fall)  (2:21)
7. Where Or When  (2:59)
8. Palco (A Little Dancer)  (4:57)
9. Chovendo Na Roseira  (4:27)
10. My Muse  (3:55)
11. Oceans In The Sky  (5:46)
12. Luiza  (5:00)
13. Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye  (2:47)

Christine Hitt - Magical Kite (2018)

Vocalist Christine Hitt's "MAGICAL KITE" produced/arranged by Geoffrey Keezer featuring John Beasley, Jeff Hamilton and more

"She has an unpretentious approach while sharing her great musical sensibilities with others. She's a real joy to work with."
Jeff Hamilton, legendary jazz drummer

MAGICAL KITE, the newest CD from vocalist and multi-instrumentalist CHRISTINE HITT, comprises a range of styles, from standards to gospel to bebop. The selection of songs reflects Hitt’s eclectic tastes and influences, but it’s her innate musicality that elevates and personalizes these songs.  The CD was produced and arranged by GEOFFREY KEEZER, the prolific, Grammy nominated pianist, composer, and arranger, and features JOHN BEASLEY on piano. She’s also accompanied by some of the top jazz musicians in Southern California. MAGICAL KITE is the long-awaited follow-up to YOU’D BE SO NICE TOCOME HOME TO, her 1999 MaxJazz debut that featured Hitt on vocals and piano, along with several well-known jazz artists.

Hitt’s warm voice can express a rich tapestry of tones, and she sings ballads and swing tunes with equal facility. Keezer’s arrangements truly set this recording apart, but Hitt also wanted the experience of  Keezer as an accompanist; she closes the CD with a gentle but emotional duet with him on “Around The World.” With Hitt’s sophisticated lyric interpretations along with her musical chops, MAGICAL KITE is a showcase from an experienced artist with great depth and maturity.

John Beasley, piano, Fender Rhodes, melodica
Geoffrey Keezer, piano (9) 
Jeff Hamilton, drums (1,5,7,8)
Gene Coye, drums (2,3,4,6)
Leo Amuedo, guitar
Bob Sheppard, alto sax  
Walter Rodriguez, percussion
Eric Hitt, bass
Erin Bode, vocals (4,6)
Cory Hitt, vocals (2,3,4)

Arranged and produced by Geoffrey Keezer
Executive producer Christine Hitt

1. Wade in the Water  4:40
2. Magical Kite  4:00
3. Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing  5:39
4. Shower the People  5:09
5. Yardbird Suite  4:15
6. Believe in Me  4:26
7. Shine on Harvest Moon  6:23
8. Smile  4:17
9. Around the World  3:23

Hey! This week's fantastic $5.00 album is ...