The new year revealed a new jazz/rock/funk fusion: Brian Kastan’s self-released all-original Roll The Dice On Life where his bandmates prove worthy adversaries on the second of this two-disc pleasure bomb. In battle, they tend to constantly one-up each other like the great jazz cutting contests of the 1940s. Yet when they complement each other on Disc #1, the strange grooves (that take getting used to but are, ultimately, rewarding), the one dreamy ballad and the scary “Rat Attack” are all highlights.

Kastan is a fascinating musician, both for the way he plays and for his lifestyle. He’s a composer whom Hollywood uses for soundtracks. He plays electric and acoustic guitar plus bass. His awards, though, are for nature photography. His work adorns museum walls in New York City, Europe and Asia. He has a Masters in Music and a degree in psychology. He’s a certified clinical hypnotist and a published author.

And he knows how to pick and lead an A-List band: singer/songwriter Miles Griffith comes from the bands of Ron Carter and Wynton Marsalis. Bassist Steve Rust is on loan from Paul Simon. Drummer Peter O’Brien kicked out the jams for Edgar Winter and the late Roy Buchanan (who turned down replacing Brian Jones in the Stones) before joining Orleans.

Highly Recommended.


There are very few labels that when you receive one of their CDs, you just know it’s going to be good. Jazz label ECM is one. Rockabilly label Lanark is another. I knew right away that The Chicago Way by Toronzo Cannon would be a doozy because it’s on Alligator Records. It’s even better. This Windy City denizen has plied his craft for years, paying his dues as a sideman and jamming at every open-mic night he could find. The singer/songwriter/guitarist/producer has finally made his career statement on his fourth CD: 11 soul-drenched funky blues tunes fit to shakin’ and a’shimmyin’ to like Jello on a plate. You can’t help but move. He’s got all the proper components to drive your hungering self wild what with the horns and the splashy Hammond B-3. I’m partial to “Chickens Comin’ Home To Roost” and “Mrs. From Mississippi” but, as the saying goes, you can pick your own highlight. Bravo!


Steve Slagle kills it on his self-produced Alto Manhattan (Panorama Records) with his alto sax and flute, playing aside the legendary tenor/soprano sax man Joe Lovano. What a front line! His five originals bespeak a soiled elegance of late nights and weary travel. When he goes solo alto for “Body And Soul” (the standard originally written for the 1930 Broadway musical Three’s A Crowd), it flies upward in ever-widening concentric circles. He does “Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry” from the 1944 Philadelphia production of Glad To See You (which never made it to Broadway) and McCoy Tyner’s 1962 “Inception.” Slagle and Lovano rumble and ramble on majestically backed by piano/bass/congas/drums for some blues (“I Know That You Know”) and a lovely tribute to the great jazz-harmonica pioneer Toots Thielemans, one of so many artists who never made it out of 2016 alive.


Another alto sax man, Nick Lyons, has teamed up with pianist Carol Liebowitz for their First Set on Line Art Records. The all-original concert, which took place at a series of gigs starting January 2011 and continuing into 2012 at the Sunday concert series of Connie Crother’s Brooklyn loft, also features the closing “Another Time” from 2007. This dreamscape of an album is not only soothing and somewhat mystical, but rather hypnotic and, upon repeated listening, bears fruit. The melodies seem to insinuate themselves into your gray matter. The interplay is playful and amusing, filled with a chemistry that can only be achieved after years.


A twin-mallet front-line is rare in jazz circles, but less so when it comes to Latin Jazz. In the 1970s, Double Image, with David Friedman and Dave Samuels, were one such band. Besides Cal Tjader and Bobby Hutcherson, Herbie Mann used twin vibes on his albums with Dave Pike. Now comes Alfred “El Toro” Flores. His self-released Zarabande contains nine originals by the band featuring a front-line of El Toro on marimba and MalletKat (electronic xylophone) with Joe Caploe on vibraphone and percussion (complete with a piano/bass/drums rhythm section). The result is a joyful ride through Afro-Latino neighborhoods starting with “Ogun” (the African God of Weapons) where steel pan drums provide a Caribbean sway. “Judah Memphis” bubbles with syncopated surprise. “The Painful Truth” features a breathtakingly gorgeous marimba solo by El Toro as Caploe’s vibraphone provides stunning counterpoint. “Praise” has bassist Pete Ojeda plucking away pizzicato-style for his own showcase solo. It amounts to a solid winner for the San Antonio Texas musical conquistador.


Till They Lay Me Down by David Wise is the saxophonist/composer’s self-released manifesto of personal proportions. I love how he has the balls to record the traditional Jewish “Kol Nidre” prayer, commonly sung at the start of the service for Yom Kippur, the high holy day, as a vehicle for his wild jazz improvisations. He also totally transcends the once-corny-but-no-more “Here’s That Rainy Day” from the 1953 mostly forgotten Broadway musical Carnival In Flanders. The other seven are his and they swing mightily with post-bop assurance, except for “Lullaby” which is so soothing, you might fall asleep.


And finally, The Drive of The Sugar Hill Trio (Goschart Music) is palpable on its new 11-track beauty. Tenor saxophonist Helge Christian Torkewitz who doubles on flute, drummer Austin Walker and two bassists (depending upon the track) give new arrangements to beloved (but not overheard) fare such as Jimmy Van Heusen’s 1944 “Like Someone In Love,” Thelonious Monk’s 1951 “Ask Me Now,” Gigi Gryce’s 1953 “Minority,” John Coltrane’s 1959 “Spiral,” Oliver Nelson’s 1960 title track, Phineas Newborn, Jr.’s 1961 “Theme For Basie” and—the highlight—a great jazz reinvention of the 1962 Bobby Vee pop hit “The Night Has A Thousand Eyes.” This one hasn’t left my CD player yet.

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