Reviews and Recommended Jazz by Nick Bewsey

Category: Mack Avenue Records (page 1 of 2)


A TOP RECORDING OF 2015. If you dig piano jazz that swings and purrs, Aaron Diehl liberally dishes out both on his second recording, Space Time Continuum. It’s also one of the best albums you’ll hear this year. Continue reading


A TOP RECORDING OF 2015. A WRTI RECOMMENDED CD. The first sound you hear on Beautiful Life is a home recording of Ana Marquez-Greene singing “Saludos” at a Christmas celebration in Puerto Rico with her mother, Nelba, and her father, Jimmy, playing saxophone in the background, a year before her death at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012. She was 6 years old. That brief moment flows into a ravishing duet between the saxophonist and guitarist Pat Metheny that makes the beginning a musical celebration of the life of Ana. Read the full review at

SEAN JONES, never before seen

A TOP JAZZ RECORD OF 2014. An exceptionally gifted musician and leader, trumpeter Sean Jones has an accomplished track record. As a young man, he turned to jazz after hearing John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. But it was the music of Miles Davis that pushed Jones toward his destiny as a player with the capacity to lead the pack. You can track his career through six previous solo albums for Detroit’s Mack Avenue Records, each of them conceptually interesting, all of them ringing with Jones’s clear, sweet voice on the horn. That’s in addition to holding the lead trumpet chair for the LCJO until 2010, touring in Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock’s Miles Davis Tribute Band and most recently, taking a star turn on Dianne Reeve’s record Beautiful Life, with an ace solo on Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You.” Continue reading


What is it about vinyl records that cause listeners to swoon? As a recent convert myself (I’ll cop to the fact that I’ve recently invested in a Clearaudio turntable rig), I can say that despite the slight nuisance of getting up every 15 minutes to turn over the platter, the sound of vinyl captures the essence of a performance in a way that digital media cannot. The warmth of analog sound, together with the depth and dynamic range of vinyl is sonically apparent to most listeners and even non-audiophiles. A welcome resurgence of interest of vinyl has not gone unnoticed by recording labels, since most of them offer a vinyl edition and CD to accompany their current digital releases.

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Out Here is a seriously entertaining and musically affecting trio record from monster bassist Christian McBride that also serves as an splendid introduction to two of the best up and coming players in jazz, pianist Christian Sands and drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr. The Philadelphia-born McBride, whose solo career launched in 1995 with Getting’ To It (Verve,) has sideman credits on over 300 recordings in addition to 10 of his own as leader, but this is his first trio recording. Now fully acknowledged as a jazz standard bearer, an astonishing feat for the 41 year old, McBride has adroitly exploited his encyclopedic knowledge of music to find success as a bandleader, mentor, composer and producer.

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Since winning the coveted Cole Porter Fellowship in Jazz Competition of the American Pianists Association in 2011, Aaron Diehl has been stirring up a lot of enthusiasm among those lucky enough to hear him in person or on his two hard-to-get independent releases. That’s satisfied with his major label debut recording for Mack Avenue, The Bespoke Man’s Narrative, a formal reckoning of contemporary jazz piano drawn from Diehl’s training – he studied at Julliard – and his absorption of works by the Modern Jazz Quartet, Ellington, Ahmad Jamal and McCoy Tyner. But the luxurious sound on this album proves Diehl is something of a visionary, too.

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Guitarist Kevin Eubanks stretches in a number of satisfying directions on The Messenger, his second release for Mack Avenue Records since leaving his gig after 18 years as the bandleader on The Tonight Show. His previous CD, Zen Food (2011) was an intimate outing flavored with contemporary twists and a laid back vibe as if Eubanks was getting his feet wet after being absent from the recording studio, but there is no hesitation of musical prowess or sound ideas on The Messenger. Continue reading


“Seeds From The Underground,” saxophonist Kenny Garrett’s second recording for the Mack Avenue label, catches the alto player heading up an all-original date with pianist Benito Gonzalez, bassist Nat Reeves, drummer Ronald Bruner and percussionist Rudy Bird. Press notes confirm Garrett’s affection for melody and rhythm and “Seeds” gives us the lyrical side of the saxophonist, who dedicates each tune on the recording to musical friends, teachers and heroes that Garrett has encountered during his illustrious 30-year career.

There’s a wide range of feeling and mood on the recording, from the exuberant post bop surge of “J Mac” (written for Jackie McLean) to the groove-based lines on “Wiggins,” written for his high school ban director. Keith Jarrett, Ellington, Monk and drummer Roy Haynes each get a tune written for them, along with musical praise for Mother Earth (“Welcome Earth Song”) and the music of Guadeloupe. As a composer Garrett covers a lot of bases and history – “Detroit” incorporates the static layer of pops and clicks of a worn vinyl LP and brings in vocalist Nedelka Prescod to evoke the music Duke Pearson arranged for Donald Byrd’s 1964 album, “A New Perspective,” with nods to “Chant” and “Cristo Redentor.”

Garrett has always been an innovator. His muscular tone and taut phrasing mesh well with the Latin tinge he gives most of his originals and at its core, “Seeds” illustrates Garrett’s high standard for playing jazz and the album makes a convincing musical statement for both the man and his inspirations. (10 tracks; 70:04 minutes) 


I was introduced to this dynamic 26-year-old Cuban pianist when he opened for Chucho Valdes in January, 2012, at the McCarter Theater in Princeton, NJ. On stage, he quickly established himself as a force, a powerhouse pianist with a touch of mischievous showmanship – he had the sell-out crowd leaning forward in our seats in anticipation of how he would play his next composition. At one point, he took strips of paper and wove them among the piano strings to create a buzzy, electronic effect.

Having fled Cuba in 2009 by way of Mexico, his crackling debut album in the US, “Sounds Of Space,” (Mack Avenue Records) is a compelling tour du force and it’s essentially free of theatrics save for Rodriguez’s lightning fast reflexes and punchy keyboard runs. No wonder Quincy Jones was impressed enough to co-produce this date. Rodriguez composed and arranged an all-original set that builds on his influences, from the artists of his homeland to Bud Powell (“Cubop”) and yes, even Ahmad Jamal (“Crossing The Border”). He gets a major assist from saxophonist/clarinetist Ernesto Vega, bassists Gaston Joya and Peter Slavov, and drummers Michael Olivera and Francisco Mela. For a first recording, Rodriguez provides plenty of wow, with a front-and-center enthusiasm that gives “Sounds Of Space” its speed and invention. (11 tracks: 58:27 minutes)


The stylish jazz saxophonist Kirk Whalum consistently hits that crossover sweet spot with his buttery tone and lyrical phrasing that finds him at home in multiple places, be it smooth jazz, R&B, gospel or straight-ahead jazz. Like his 2011 tribute to Donny Hathaway, “Romance Language” dips into familiar territory. In collaboration with his brother, vocalist Kevin Whalum, they re-imagine the classic 1963 album, “John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman,” a desert-island disc of tenor sax/vocal bliss if ever there was one. That’s a risky proposition, but Whalum’s devotion to the original’s emotional core is evident throughout “Language.” Recorded mostly “live” in Nashville with his touring band, Whalum and co-producer/pianist John Stoddard update all six songs that were on the original and places them squarely in the present day. Turns out that these pitch-perfect pop/jazz confections have an elegance all their own with instrumentation that’s as smooth as Kevin Whalum’s honeyed pipes. Whalum rounds out the recording with four superbly soulful tunes associated with Brandy, Lewis and Jam, Eric Benet and Joe, and while they have their own merits, those first six tracks deserve their own playlist. (10 tracks; 55:10 minutes)
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