Saxophonist Chico Freeman, 66, son of saxophonist Von Freeman [1923-2012], originally from Chicago where he played in the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians), left the U.S. to live and work in Europe as an expatriate for the last 10 years. In so doing, he followed the lead of numerous musicians who felt that jazz was marginalized in the States, thus much more appreciated abroad. Guess what? He’s back. Spoken Into Existence (Jive Music), by the Chico Freeman 4-Tet, features pianist Antonio Farao (Italy), bassist Heiri Kanzig (Switzerland) and drummer Michael Baker (United States). The 13 tracks run the gamut from Stanley Turrentine’s 1962 “Soft Pedal Blues” and five pieces that Freeman wrote for each of his daughters reflecting their different personalities to “Seven Steps To Heaven” (Miles Davis) and originals by his bandmates. The musical palette—which incorporates Major League improvisation—straddles hip-hop, funk, bop and blues plus Asian and African motifs.


Yelena Eckemoff is a highly-gifted pianist/composer who lets violinist Mark Feldman shine on her Leaving Everything Behind (L&H Productions). She also has legendary drummer Billy Hart and bassist Ben Street moving things along in a jazz route because Yelena is a classical pianist from the Moscow State Conservatory who left her studies, her country, her life and her children behind to come to America. The result is an absolutely gorgeous classical/jazz synthesis that drips with pathos (especially “Tears Of Tenderness”). Evocative, romantic, with a sound that leans heavy on violin and piano/violin interplay, Leaving Everything Behind grows on you with repeated listenings.


The CCM Jazz Orchestra (Cincinnati Conservatory of Music) is In Search of Garaj Mahal (Harmonized Records). Not sure if they found what they were looking for but it’s almost beside the point as this stirring big-band gets down with blaring attention-to-detail. Consider it the world’s first jamband orchestra. Wild, unpredictable, entertaining as all hell, led by guitarist Fareed Haque with Scott Belck as Musical Director, it goes from funk to world music, post-bop to swing. By the way, Garaj Mahal is no person. It’s a band led by, you guessed it, Fareed Haque.


I don’t like listening to children. Hate when artists incorporate children’s chorales. And I certainly do not want to have to sit through children singing the blues. That said, 16-year-old Canadian guitarist Spencer Mackenzie is Infected With The Blues. It’s a heady debut with covers of Ray Charles (“Mess Around”), Memphis Minnie (“Kissing In The Dark”), Lowell Fulson (“Sinner’s Prayer”) and Jimi Hendrix’s arrangement of Bob Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower.” His guitar playing comes straight out of the Stevie Ray Vaughan/Johnny Winter school and I must admit, he certainly can sting that ax. He even wrote “Goodbye Lucille” in tribute to BB King. He wrote “Devil Under Her Skin” in protest of conniving girls and how they want to lead him into temptation. What he lacks in vocals and experience, he more than makes up for with his stunning instrumental ability. As he says, “I got the blues running through my veins. If people say I’m too young, that’s a shame.”


Here Today: The Songs of Brian Wilson (Ace Records London) is a 25-track gem smartly tackling the lesser-known compositions of the one and only true Beach Boy. Bobby Vee(!) sings the title song. The only artists here you probably ever even heard of are Jan & Dean, Jay & The Americans, Carmen McRae and maybe The Hondells and Little Peggy March but that’s the genius of this collection. These are not new songs from artists who wanted to pay tribute to a legend. The tracks date back to the 1960s and are oh-so-rare. For instance, Glen Campbell recorded Brian’s 1965 “Guess I’m Dumb” but it was never released in England so Johnny Wells did it in 1966. Get the picture? “Farmer’s Daughter” was a lesser track on the Beach Boys’ 1963 Surfin’ USA album and here it is reprised by Basil Swift & The Seegrams. So not only might you not have heard of the artists, but you probably never even heard the songs! Those tunes you do know are “Help Me Rhonda” (Bruce & Terry), “Don’t Worry Baby” (The Tokens), “Surf City” (The Tymes), “God Only Knows” (Betty Everett), “Good Vibrations” (Hugo Montenegro) and “Carolina No” (Nick DeCaro). Much more interesting, though, is a track like “Don’t Hurt My Little Sister” (The Safaris) that Brian wrote for Darlene Love but was never released proving even Brian Wilson’s failures were genius.

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