Jung on Jazz February 1999
(Criss Cross Jazz) Influenced by the playing of Wayne Shorter and Junior Cook, Tim Warfield has been earning raves developing his own voice with the bands of Nicholas Payton and Christian McBride. Warfield, whose parents raised him in a musically rich environment, began playing the alto at the age of nine before puberty augmented the young man’s timbre and he switched over to the tenor. A music major at Howard University, Warfield began his career gigging with trumpeter Marlon Jordan, the Jazz Futures, and organist Shirley Scott. Gentle Warrior is Warfield’s third release for the Criss Cross Jazz label and features pianist Cyrus Chestnut, bassist Tarus Mateen, drummer Clarence Penn, and trumpeters Nicholas Payton and Terell Stafford.
Warfield begins Gentle Warrior with a moody lament entitled “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Your Face.” Warfield’s mellow stylings are impeccable and he is fully matched by Chestnut’s poise and patience. Chestnut excels on the ballad, which seems to have his natural tempo. Payton joins the quartet for “Adonis,” a light-hearted reference to the vanity of a colleague. Payton has been consistently impressive and he does not disappoint, playing the higher register passages marvelously. Warfield plays “Constant J” in 5/4 and builds the music to a frenzied intensity. Chestnut pounds block chords, opening up the tune for Warfield, who blows away at will. It is clearly the most exciting moment on the record.
Warfield is evolving into a first-rate player and he warrants much of the praise he has received for his work with McBride and Payton, but to realize his fullest potential, Warfield must continue to pursue his own voice as he has done here. Each of the eight selections on Gentle Warrior has its own personality and the music is intriguing form beginning to end.
– TOP –STAN GETZ
Quintessence, Volume 1
Images of Stan Getz and Chet Baker are synonymous with the term West Coast or cool jazz. Evolving from bebop in the ’50s, cool jazz was more subtle in its approach, more introverted and laid back, then the heated playing of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. Stigmatized for being too predictable and too “white”, cool jazz was a crucial in the development of jazz and made cult figures of both Getz and Baker. Quintessence, Volume 1 is a live recording from a 1983 Getz performance in Norway. Getz and Baker are joined by Getz’s quartet of pianist Jim McNeely, bassist George Mraz, and drummer Victor Lewis.
Getz’s lovely tone captures the listener from the outset of “I’m Old Fashioned.” The tenor saxophonist’s seductive, breezy delivery is entrancing, as he makes way for Baker’s wistful tenor vocals. McNeely’s lush accompaniment serves as a perfect backdrop for the pair. Although Baker’s singing sounds strained on Gershwin’s “But Not For Me,” he manages to make his way through. Perfectly at ease, Getz’s warm and friendly swing may not be earthshaking, but it is soothing to the soul, and what he does, he does better than anyone. Getz asserts himself for a good-natured “Stablemates.” Lewis deftly negotiates the changes along with the saxophonist. It is the drummer’s brightest moments on the date.
At the time of this recording, Baker was 54 years old and his skills had deteriorated significantly, but on this session the trumpeter benefits greatly from a superb rhythm section and Baker turns in a surprisingly consistent performance. Getz is his poised self and exhibits more of his fine form and romanticism. Is there a better ballader in jazz? The second volume should follow and if it is any bit as good as the first, it should not be missed..
– TOP –PONCHO SANCHEZ
(Concord Picante) A native Angeleno, Poncho Sanchez is the frontman for the most popular and well-known Latin-jazz band in the Southland. A former member of Cal Tjader’s band, Sanchez has carried Latin-jazz music to the mainstream in Los Angeles for almost two decades. Although Sanchez has recently played the House of Blues and the Playboy Jazz Festival, he still brings his music to the people, playing in local clubs like Steamer’s Cafe and the Santa Fe Springs Swap Meet. The fact that Sanchez still makes Norwalk his home reflects his no-nonsense, down-home attitude and makes Sanchez seem like a modern day Latin-jazz Robin Hood. Afro-Cuban Fantasy is the conga player’s seventeenth release for Concord Picante (the Latin-jazz arm of Concord Records) and follows back to back chart toppers Conga Blue and Freedom Sound. Sanchez’s band employs the talents of fellow Californians, the Banda brothers (Ramon on timbales and Tony on bass), David Torres on piano, Jose “Papo” Rodriguez on bongos, Sal Cracchiolo on trumpet, Scott Martin on saxophones, and Francisco Torres on trombone, and also features the sultry vocals of Dianne Reeves.
Subway sound effects introduce “Subway Harry,” a cha cha cha, but dissipates to a volatile mix of vibrant percussion and boisterous brass. Sanchez even occasionally yells a subway stop or two for emphasis. “Sambroso” is a mambo that is overflowing with heated, pulsating beats, but still remains swinging. The title track “Afro-Cuban Fantasy” has an army of percussion augmenting the pounding chords of Torres and the battalion of horns.
Latin-jazz has a poor tendency to become repetitive and tiresome, but not Sanchez. His music is consistently vibrant, full of vim, vigor, and vitality. It is the essence of life, stirring emotions to grab a partner and dance the night away or order Pina Coladas poolside. Grooving to the animated vibrations of the conguero has one asking, “How does one say Cuba Libra is Spanish again?” .
– TOP –JOHN HICKS
A Billy Strayhorn Songbook
Albums based upon the Billy Strayhorn songbook are nothing new. Joe Henderson caught the ears of Grammy voters in 1991 with his Strayhorn album Lush Life. It was only a matter of time before a piano trio tackled the music of Strayhorn, one of America’s finest composers. Pianist John Hicks began his career with Art Blakey in 1964 and although he had an important partnership with Betty Carter in the late ’60s, Hicks has recently been more of a journeyman, playing with the likes of Lester Bowie, David Murray, Pharoah Sanders, and Arthur Blythe. Although, it seems Hicks has now found a home with his trio of Dwayne Dolphin on bass and Cecil Brooks III on drums.
Hicks captures the mood of utter yearning with his poignant portrait of “Blood Count” and his rendition of “A Flower is a Lovesome Thing” is moving. Hicks is in top form, unleashing a wellspring of emotion with his beautiful variation of “Chelsea Bridge” and “Passion Flower.” But it is the wonderful “Something to Live For” and “Lush Life” that clinches the deal. The two numbers are what distinguish Hicks’s tribute from all the others. The pianist sounds inspired and his melodic interludes are heartwrenching. Both Dolphin and Brooks aid greatly in Hicks’s vivid portrayal of Strayhorn’s work.
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When top vibraphonists are mentioned, Joe Locke should be right alongside Milt Jackson, Bobby Hutcherson, Gary Burton, Dave Pike, Mike Mainieri, Gregg Bendian, and Steve Nelson. The New York City resident has played on sessions with Kenny Barron, Walter Davis, Jr., and Eddie Henderson. Slander (And Other Love Songs) is Locke’s third Milestone release and features his quintet; pianist Billy Childs, bassist Rufus Reid, guitarist Vic Juris, and drummer Gene Jackson.
Locke’s speedy alterations and percussive intensity make everything swing on “Song for Cables.” The combative interplay between Locke and Jackson make the music exhausting, but it’s not disagreeable. Locke puts a new and inventive twist to the exploited theme of “Mission Impossible.” The vibraphonist’s maverick contrapuntal harmonics give the tired melody just what it needs, a shot of verve. An electrified version of “Can’t Help Falling in Love” is also of interest. Juris’s distorted, liquid tone is an ideal foil to Locke’s tantalizing mallet work.
Slander (And Other Love Songs) is Locke’s most promising endeavor and is evidence that the 39-year-old vibist belongs in the upper pantheon of jazz vibraphonists.
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Being a Marsalis in jazz is like being a Kennedy in American politics. The name alone brings pressures and expectations that are extraordinary and beyond comprehension. Jason Marsalis is the 21-year-old drummer son of Ellis and younger brother of Wynton, Delfeayo, and Branford. The young timekeeper has been playing with his father and also with his brother Wynton’s former bandmate, pianist Marcus Roberts. Tempered by Herlin Riley and Jeff “Tain” Watts, Marsalis pays tribute to these influences with his new release on Basin Street Records, The Year of the Drummer, an album of original compositions. Marsalis’s quintet includes trumpeter Antonio Gambrell, saxophonist Derek Douget, pianist Jonathan Lefcoski, and bassist Jason Stewart.
Paying homage to Watts, Marsalis is subtle and careful not to overwhelm the mature solos of Gambrell and Douget on “The Upper Second Line.” Gambrell’s tart trumpet statements are reminiscent of Lee Morgan. The original concept for “Discipline” was inspired by fellow percussionist Leon Parker. Playing essentially the same groove over and over again, Marsalis is able to utilize every inch of the drum set, mirroring Parker’s approach of simplicity. “He Who Swings De Rumba Clave” is a rumba that evolves into a cha cha, a la Danilo Perez’s “Hot Bean Strut,” off the pianist’s Impulse release Panamonk. Marsalis’s crisp rhythm shifts set up Gambrell’s buoyant notes and Lefcoski’s tasteful support.
The bar raised by Wynton and Branford is difficult to hurdle, but Marsalis has a sound foundation and is well on his way to building his own legacy. Marsalis’s compositional skills are acceptable and will improve with time, but it is his determination to establish his own voice that sets him apart from the pack. Perhaps, 1998 was the year for drummers. It was definitely Marsalis’s year.
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Ernie Watts is best known for his role as the tenor voice behind Charlie Haden’s Quartet West and for his extensive work with the big bands of Buddy Rich and Gerald Wilson. With a Grammy under his belt for his work on the film “Chariots of Fire,” and a handful of albums for JVC under his own name, Watts releases Classic Moods, his most intriguing material to date. A classy quartet album, Classic Moods features Mulgrew Miller on piano, George Mraz on bass, and Jimmy Cobb on drums.
The album opens with a mesmerizing encounter between Watts and Miller. Watts plays with passion and intelligence, crafting his solos beautifully. Coupled with Miller’s lyrical swing, Watts’s finely tailored tone and sensual romanticism meet the essence of the Ellington ballad. Watt’s treatment of “Round Midnight” is articulate and he is supported exceptionally by Miller, who fills in the gaps in memorable fashion. Watts builds “Lush Life” with a series of luscious statements. Cobb probes the depths of his instrument, outlining the tapestry of the ballad with superb brushwork.
Like Frank Capra movies and Sunday afternoon barbecues, Classic Moods is destined to be an American classic.
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Although David Sills has been playing the saxophone since he was ten, it wasn’t until he heard John Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things” that his passion for jazz became concrete. A graduate of Cal State Long Beach with a degree in saxophone performance, Sills has been working locally in Los Angeles and Orange County area clubs for the past five years. Sills’s debut Hangin’ Five on the Orange County based Resurgent Music label was a remarkable coming out party for the Manhattan Beach resident. Journey Together is Sill’s second record and his first for Naxos Jazz. Sills’s quintet reads like a who’s who of Los Angeles’s finest musicians, guitarist Larry Koonse, pianist Alan Broadbent, bassist Darek Oles, and drummer Joe La Barbera.
Zealous, straight-ahead fans will appreciate Sills’s spirited version of Lennie Tristano’s “317 East 32nd Street’ and Joe Henderson’s “Inner Urge,” which find Sills ripping off a series of provocative passages, riding Koonse’s underlying guitar melody. La Barbera’s accents and flourishes serve the leader/saxophonist well and compel the music forward. Sills stays away from honking, squeaking, or grandstanding of any sort, opting rather to keep his playing coherent and his purpose apparent. On “Aliya,” Sills’s warm tone is alluring and his fluid playing is superb. The interaction between Sills, Broadbent, and Koonse is inspirational.
The 28-year-old tenor saxophonist sites his primary influences as John Coltrane, Joe Henderson, Sonny Rollins, and Stan Getz, it isn’t bad company to be associated with. Sills avoids the sophomore jinx and Journey Together is yet another fine chapter in the David Sills story. It has been a pleasure to journey with him thus far. Sills’s Journey Together can be purchased at all fine record stores at a bargain mid-line price.
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Riding high off the amazing success of “Malembe,” Cubanismo! has been topping the Billboard Latin charts for the past two years. Fronted by leader/trumpeter Jesus Alemany, Cubanismo! has been touring the States extensively for the past two years, bringing Cuban music to the masses. Reencarnacion is the Cuban ensemble’s latest and is sure to be a hit.
Under the watchful direction of Alemany, Cubanismo! roars into action with the pilon “El Platanal de Bartolo,” made famous in the late ’50s by Electo Rosell”Chepin” y su Orquestra Oriental. The Cubanismo! version showcases the vocal musings of the Cuban singing sensation, Rolo Martinez and a blistering tirade of brass and percussion. From the outset, Cubanismo! has the listener dancing in their seat. Next up is the mambo aptly entitled “Mambo UK.” In classic Cuban mambo form, Alemany leads the trumpet chorus, showing off his bullfighter chops with a soaring solo. The mambo also features pianist Ignacio “Nachito” Herrera, whose rich melodies and panache match Alemany’s bravado tit for tat.
Along with Los Van Van, Cubanismo! is one of the baddest Latin jazz groups on the scene. As the music of Cuba and the rhythms of the barrio blend into the fabric of mainstream Americana, Cubanismo! is destined to become a household name.
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When the U. S. State Department called upon Charlie Byrd to be a part of a South American goodwill tour, the guitarist was happy to answer the call. And it was that tour that enabled Byrd to come in contact with Brazilian popular music and lead to his appearance on Stan Getz’s Jazz Samba album. The rest is bossa nova history. Byrd’s latest bossa nova brigade features guitarist Romero Lubambo, vibraphonist Chuck Redd, bassist Nilson Matta, drummer Duduka Da Fonseca, tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton, and vocalist Maucha Adnet.
Hamilton’s timbre and cadence on the opening “Meninha Flor” is remarkably warm and consistent. It harks back to a Getz, on top of his game, during his bossa nova years. Byrd is equally as charming in his accommodating accompaniment. Byrd is a very respectful guitarist and upholds the Brazilian melody “Violao Quebrada” well. The guitarist’s melodic riffs and immaculate phrasing are compelling. The most intriguing point of the album occurs on Byrd’s delightful retooling of Chopin on “Freddie’s Tune.” Hamilton and Redd are tasteful in their contributions, further allowing Byrd to explore the depths of his bossa nova creativity.
Get aboard this Brazilian escapade and join Byrd for a charming bossa nova delight.
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In recent years, vanity has run amuck in jazz. Most artists are releasing material supported by high profile, all-star musicians rather than their own working band, thus eliminating any possibility for continuity and inundating the market with confusing and inconsequential music. These all-star musicians take no shame in grandstanding, soloing with the bravado of a Latin jazz band and ultimately pulling the helpless audience into their musical vacuum. So it is always a pleasure to find a poet among these Harlequin musicians. Brad Mehldau has been the most promising young musician to emerge since Mulgrew Miller. Although Mehldau has not taken many lumps as a sideman, largely gaining his notoriety during his brief stint with wonderboy Joshua Redman, Mehldau’s chops have been growing by leaps and bounds. Growing in large part because Mehldau has been playing with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jorge Rossy for the past five years. In that time, Mehldau has released three albums for Warner Brothers and his fourth, the third volume in The Art of the Trio series also features his trio.
Mehldau’s reshaping of the chorus phrases of “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” is right on the money. The pianist’s distinctive lyricism and refined touch are mesmerizing, and his focused reading of the Rodgers and Hart standard sets him apart from the field. Grenadier’s sympathetic playing on “For All We Know” is simply sublime. Mehldau’s drifting melancholy is evocative as his superb fingerings are clarified by Rossy’s intuitive contributions. Mehldau’s lighthearted soulfulness is compelling on a fine arrangement of “Young At Heart.” Rossy is more forceful and he drives the war- horse standard to its edge, and then, gracefully returns it to its recognizable cadence. It is one of the high points on record this year.
Hopefully, Mehldau’s partnership with his trio will yield engaging music for years to come, but for now, we have his body of work thus far, and although it may not be groundbreaking, it has been individualistic. Like the many great pianists before him, that’s a start. Mehldau excels at the intimacy of the trio format, and Songs: The Art of the Trio, Volume Three, makes a strong argument for record of the year.
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As one of the founding members of the groundbreaking Latin jazz supergroup Irakere, Paquito D’ Rivera has written a page in the jazz history books. But with his memorable stint with Dizzy Gillespie and his tenure as director of Gillespie’s United Nation Orchestra, the Cuban saxophonist has extended that page to a chapter. Guided by famed Blue Note producer Bob Belden and accompanied by a full string orchestra, D’ Rivera recorded 100 Years of Latin Love Songs for the Seattle-based Heads Up label. An enhanced CD, 100 Years of Latin Love Songs is a collection of Latin music ranging from Antonio Carlos Jobim to Dominican composer Luis Kalaff.
D’ Rivera’s light, foggy soprano saxophone tone rounds out “Ay Ay Ay,” authored almost a century ago, yet it remains amazingly contemporary through Belden’s arrangement. D’ Rivera’s charm and his accessibility invokes a comfortable ease for the listener. D’ Rivera picks up the clarinet for a taste of Mexican sensuality on “Vereda Tropical.” D’ Rivera’s floating statements are followed in stride by the guitar of Aquiles Baez. “Acercate Mas” is a hauntingly beautiful Cuban ballad with splendid orchestration from Belden. D’ Rivera’s passion and subtle inventiveness makes for a delightfully rich program.
D’ Rivera is the quintessential balladeer, with a keen sense for romance and a touch of refined feminism to his music. 100 Years of Latin Love Songs is a pretty record, worthy of any collection.
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Although it sounds cliché, Latin jazz has come a long way. From Dizzy Gillespie’s now famous meeting with Chano Pozo to Irakere’s signing on Columbia, Latin jazz has grown steadily in popularity for the past four decades. But in the ’90s, Latin jazz has been spreading like wildfire. Poncho Sanchez, Tito Puente, Eddie Palmeri, Cubanismo!, Los Van Van, and Ray Barretto have all had a hand in Latin jazz’s phenomenal success and have passed on the clave to the next generation of musicians, such as conguero Johnny Blas. Mambo 2000 is Blas’s follow-up to Skin And Bones and features pianist Mark Gutierrez, bassist Paul Perez, percussionist Jose DeLeon, and trombonists Art Velasco, Francisco Torres, Steve Baxter, Dan Weinstein, and Isaac Smith.
“Mucho Chops” doubles as the album’s opening number and also as the perfect description of Blas. Blas’s band is in prime form for his originals “Mambo To The Max,” “Feels So Right,” and “Grab A Hold of Yourself.” The title track “Mambo 2000” is powered by the heated rhythms of Blas’s congas and DeLeon’s timbales and also includes solos from all four trombonists, Velasco, Torres, Baxter, and Smith. Blas’s sizzling reworking of “Picadillo” is highlighted by Weinstein’s dynamic solo and the pulsating beat formed at the hands of Blas.
The appeal of Latin jazz is obvious; it grooves. If people want an opportunity to shed their boring and often tedious lives and move to the clave, they should look no further than Mambo 2000. Blas’s albums should have a warning label, “Beware: may cause uncontrollable movement below the hips”. Both Skin And Bones and Mambo 2000 are available at most retail stores or by calling CuBop toll-free at 1-800-SF-VIBES.
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Brown’s exotic tone is in peak form on “Oui Lee.” His questing style is anything but predictable. Kirk Brown chimes in with some confident swagger of his own. Brown does not let up, driving even harder on “Trane’s Example.” The composition and the quartet only gain more momentum and power as the song progresses, so two minutes into the music it becomes an all-out blowing session with Brown and Ra battling it out. And the winner is ? The listener, who is treated to some Joe Frasier-style sonic punches. Brown even manages to fuse in some Latin rhythms with Art Burton playing congas on “Venus.” Brown handles the situation, easing up a bit, but still maintaining his profound edge.
The whole album cries out for the repeat button. This is the kind of thing that will stop the incessant dripping. Very highly recommended.
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Working with pianist Kenny Werner and bassist Bruce Gertz is nothing new for saxophonist/trumpeter Miles Donahue. Both have appeared on his albums Double Dribble and The Good Listener. It’s also nothing new for Donahue to feature another saxophonist, he did on The Good Listener, so it seems familiar territory with close friends on Donahue’s latest, Simple Pleasures. Werner and Gertz reprise their roles and are joined by tenor saxophonist George Garzone, guitarist Mick Goodrick, and drummer Billy Hart.
The lingering melody of “I’ll Be Seeing You” is perfectly suited for Donahue’s energetic style as he executes a series of remarkably convincing tenor passages. Werner is a terrific pianist and he does not disappoint, coordinating swirling left hand shapes with supple right hand remarks. “Bill” is Donahue’s tribute to the late pianist Bill Evans and Werner sustains the direction of the composition for the group. Donahue picks up the trumpet for a reading of “September Song.” The trumpet is not his strongest horn, but Donahue holds his own in the company of first-rate musicians, developing his theme at a comfortable pace.
Compared to the two albums mentioned before, Simple Pleasures is Donahue’s finest outing. It is a nice way to get acquainted with his playing.
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A funny thing happened when the mainstream jazz media wasn’t looking, Woody Shaw got popular. It is a shame that like Rahsaan Roland Kirk, it’s happening in large part after the trumpeter had passed on, and although the hype is not on the level of a John Tesh, at least Shaw’s getting some well-deserved props. Finally. Joel Dorn’s 32 Jazz has some part in this Shaw renaissance, since they have released the bulk of the trumpeter’s Muse recordings, five so far. Imagination is yet another forgotten Muse recording from 1987 with pianist Kirk Lightsey, trombonist Steve Turre, bassist Ray Drummond, and drummer Carl Allen.
Shaw’s beautiful tone and superb phrasing are deployed for the title tune “Imagination,” a slow theme that is thoroughly satisfying. Turre’s delicate fills are quite complementary to Shaw’s setting. Shaw sets a brisk pace to “You And The Night And The Music” which leads to some inspired efforts from Allen and Drummond. Shaw at forty-three sounds better than most of the young players now. Shaw’s luminous take on “Stormy Weather” is astounding. The trumpeter’s melodic subtlety and sheer inventiveness are unparalleled. Shaw’s sequences are never hurried and always deliberate. There is no question that he was one of the best.
Imagination is essential for any collection. When will Dorn open the flood gates and release all of Shaw’s material in one huge box set?
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Derf Reklaw (Fred Walker spelled backwards), the legendary multi- instrumentalist with Eddie Harris, Herbie Hancock, Lionel Hampton, and Ahmad Jamal, hails from Chicago’s south side. It is one of the most underdeveloped inner cities in the United States and Reklaw’s emergence from such overwhelming adversities is a credit to his profoundly strong sense of will and character. He brings such determination and awareness to his debut as a leader for Ubiquity Jazz, From The Nile.
Introduced by the baritone vocal poetry of Kamau Daaood, “Sunrise On The Nile” has the same vibe as John Coltrane’s rendition of “Song of the Underground Railroad” with its unique orchestral approach. Pushed on by a dominant rhythm section, Reklaw’s playing of the flute goes way out, egging Rahmlee Michael Davis on, who responds with a charting trumpet solo. “Hannibal” features elephant cries and Reklaw on alto saxophone. Nick Smith repeats the chorus on the piano offering, giving percussionist Pondaza Santiel on the tumba an opportunity to explore. Reklaw, backed by Smith’s pounding block chords and synthesized elephant cries, lays into the music. Reklaw returns to playing the flute for a fascinating revamping of Coltrane’s “Ole.” With John Rangel on piano, Jeff Littleton on bass, and Billy Higgins on drums, Reklaw plays some of his finest work.
From Chicago’s inner city to Los Angeles’s Leimert Park, Reklaw has remained loyal and true to his humble roots, in music and in life. The residents of Los Angeles should recognize such creative souls as the true heroes of today. From The Nile is textured and complex music that awakens the senses, but more importantly, the mind and the soul. It should not be missed and is available in wide release or by contacting Ubiquity Recordings at www.ubiquityrecords.com.
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