Schapiro 17’s Sophomore Album Is A Positive First Original Impression

Courtesy: Summit Records

Big band leader Jon Schapiro apparently is not the type to rest too easily on his laurels.  Just over a year after releasing his group Schapiro 17’s debut album New Shoes: Kind of Blue at 60, he and his fellow musicians returned this month with their sophomore album, Human Qualities.  The eight-song record is not for those with short attention spans.  Those songs total approximately 70 minutes, with the shortest running five minutes, 19 seconds and the longest 11 minutes, 37 seconds.  Now, those listeners who can and will remain engaged will find it an enjoyable offering.  That is due in no small part to those featured arrangements.  They will be discussed shortly.  Staying on the matter of the record’s songs, their sequencing adds its own share of appeal.   The record’s ompanion booklet rounds out its most important elements and will be discussed later, too.  Each item noted here is important in its own way to the whole of Human Qualities.   All things considered, they make the record a presentation that will appeal widely to jazz fans.

Human Qualities, the latest album from Jon Schapiro’s Schapiro 17 big band project, is a work that will appeal widely to jazz fans.  That is due in no small part to its featured arrangements.  As already noted, the songs are not short by any means.  Their run times range from more than five minutes at the shortest, to more than 11 minutes at the longest.  Audiences who can overlook those run times and take in the songs will appreciate that the arrangements this time are primarily original works.  Only one of the songs featured in this record, ‘The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face,’ is a cover.  By comparison, the group’s debut album was just a collection of covers of songs from Miles Davis’ timeless record, Kind of Blue. So for the group to branch out this time and take that first real big step is admirable in itself.

Staying on the topic of the new compositions, they in themselves show even more why the arrangements are important to the record.  The record’s opener, ‘Count Me Out’ (likely not ironically) lends itself stylistically to works from The Count Basie Orchestra.  This is even discussed in the liner notes featured in the album’s booklet, which will itself be discussed later.   The comparison is noticeable right off the top through Deborah Weisz’s performance on piano.  The light, almost bouncy performance clearly exhibits that influence.  There are some who would like to argue that the introduction of Rob Middleton’s performance on saxophone changes things, but a close listen to his work and comparison to various saxophone performances from Basie’s group actually boasts its own similarity.   Much the same can be said of Walter Harris’ performance on trombone.  It is just as similar to works from Basie and company as the saxophone solo.  Now as the arrangement progresses, the style does change gradually, moving into more of a bop style work.  Interestingly enough, as the arrangement reaches its finale, it does echo hints of its opening segment for a unique ABA format here.   

Another example of what makes the record’s arrangements so important to this album’s presentation comes later in the album in the form of its title track.  The 11 minute, nine second song is more of a modern jazz style work, complete with the subtle addition of a guitar line.  The call-and-response approach of the horns early on here and general dynamic control (especially in Rob Wilkerson’s saxophone solo) adds so much more for listeners to appreciate.   The whole thing comes to head in a moment of controlled chaos in the song’s final minutes that is just as engaging as the rest of the song.  The whole is a complete contrast to the album’s opener, and another example of what makes the album’s arrangements so important to its presentation.  ‘House Money’ is yet another example of the importance of the album’s musical arrangements.

‘House Money’ is as different from the other arrangements noted here as they are from the rest of the album’s arrangements.  The gentle chromatic pattern in the song’s opening piano line gives the song a nice, bluesy vibe.  That vibe, though, evolves as the bass line enters, giving way to thoughts of Charles Mingus.  As the song continues to progress, the frenetic energy exuded by the collective even more echoes that free jazz approach of Mingus, Ornette Coleman and others of the era.  The difference is that said stylistic approach is presented here through the use of a big band, making for even more interest.  When this is considered along with the approaches taken to the other arrangements noted here and the rest of the record’s works, that whole shows great diversity in the arrangements, and just as much creativity.  That creativity and diversity is certain to entertain and engage listeners throughout the record.

As much as the album’s arrangements do for its appeal, they are just a portion of what makes the album work as well as it does.  The sequencing of the arrangements adds its own appeal to the album.  As noted, the album starts on a high note, in terms of its energy, in ‘Count Me Out.’   ‘Tango,’ with its smooth, Latin-tined saxophone line and guitar, keeps the record moving fluidly even with the light melody.  ‘Hmmm’ (yes, that is really the song’s title) picks things back up with its light swing and piano line.  The horn flares added to the mix.  The energy immediately pulls back from there with the group’s take on ‘The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face.’   The energy remains reserved from there until the album reaches ‘A Bounce In Her Step.’  Though, one could argue that the semi-avant-garde approach of ‘Hallelujah’ is actually where the change really starts to happen gradually.  From that point on, the energy carries on through to the album’s finale, ‘House Money.’  Looking back through all of this, what becomes evident is that there is clear thought in the way of the album’s sequencing.  It starts upbeat but then gradually pulls back before finally making its way back up again.  What this does is ensure even more, listeners’ maintained engagement and entertainment.  That is because the energies keep things from becoming one way for too long.  This element plays along with the constant change in stylistic approaches to make the album that much more appeal.  Keeping all of this in mind, the album’s arrangements and sequencing thereof plays directly into its appeal.  It collectively is still just a part of what makes the album work.  The companion booklet that comes with this record rounds out its most important elements.

The booklet that comes with Schapiro 17’s new album is important to address because of the information that it provides.  Trumpet player Ingrid Jensen outlines the album, song-by-song.   She outlines the most important aspects of song in her notes, creating a full, rich background for each work along the way.  That background adds even more to the listening experience.  Her explanations all come across as being so natural and simple, too.  In other words, she makes sure that the most casual listeners will understand and appreciate the songs just as much as the most versed jazz aficionados.  That assurance means that listeners will have that much to appreciate about this album, too.  When it is considered along with the varied arrangements featured arrangements and their sequencing, that whole comes together to ensure the album’s appeal across the spectrum.

Schapiro 17’s sophomore album Human Qualities is a presentation that every lover of jazz will appreciate.  That is due in part to its featured musical arrangements.  The arrangements are for the most part, the group’s first original works, following a debut record that was just a collection of Miles Davis covers.  They take listeners through a range of jazz styles, which itself will appeal to audiences, even being presented by the big band collective.  The sequencing of the featured songs creates its own appeal, considering how it ensures the styles and energies change just enough from one song to the next.  The album’s companion booklet puts the finishing touch to the record.  The background that the liner notes provides for each song sets the stage for the songs and makes a great accompaniment as listeners go through the album.  When it is considered along with the album’s content and sequencing, the whole ensures the album deserves its own spot among any critic’s list of the year’s best new jazz and blues albums.  Human Qualities is available now.  More information on Human Qualities is available along with Schapiro 17’s latest news at:



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Eagle Rock’s Mingus Montreux Show Shines In Phil’s Picks’ 2018 Top New Live CDs List

Courtesy: Eagle Rock Entertainment

Going to live shows is neither easy nor inexpensive nowadays.  Between the collective cost of tickets — which is itself oftentimes bank-breaking — transportation, food, potential lodging and souvenirs, and of course planning around work and family schedules, getting out to live shows is not easy for anyone.

Those barriers make the availability of live recordings something critical for audiences everywhere, regardless of genre.  To that end, live CDs deserve their own consideration just as much as studio recordings, each year.  Keeping that in mind, Phil’s Picks has developed once again a list of the year’s Top 10 new live CDs.

This year has been an interesting one for live CDs.  Some notable live CDs were featured as part of bigger bundles (E.G. The Rolling Stones’ San Jose ’99 and Voodoo Lounge ’94 shows) while others, such as Alice Cooper’s A Paranormal Night @ The Olympia Paris and Marty Friedman’s One Bad M.F. Live were standalone offerings.

Some were standout offerings for all of the best reasons.  Others had some problems to note.  Keeping all of this in mind, this year’s crop of live CDs deserves just as much attention as the vast sea of studio recordings released throughout the year.

Topping this year’s list is yet another live CD from the people at Eagle Rock Entertainment in the form of Charles Mingus’ classic 1975 Montreux Jazz Festival show.  This recording presents Mingus at one of his finest moments, and why his live performances were — and still are today — such powerful presentations.

Coming in second in this year’s list is the new Jimi Hendrix live CD, Live at the Hollywood Bowl.  This CD was released as part of the bigger Electric Ladyland box set, and stands out so strongly because of its set list, Hendrix and company’s performance and the production values.

Third place in this year’s list of the year’s best new live CDs goes to veteran viking metal outfit Amon Amarth.  The 30-song set list spans two nights and quite an expansive portion of the band’s catalog.  That set list is directly mirrored on its DVD and BD presentation, and sounds just as good.  Though because of the intensity of the show, it is still better appreciated being seen and heard and not just heard.  That’s not to say the CD presentation is bad, but audiences will agree that hearing it makes for far more appreciation for the concerts’ DVD and BD presentations.

Also featured in this year’s list of top new live CDs are those noted new offerings from Marty Friedman, Alice Cooper and The Rolling Stones alongside new offerings from Opeth, Devin Townsend and John 5 to name just a few more titles.  As always, this critic’s list features 10 of the year’s top new offerings plus five honorable mentions, which follow, for a total count of 15.  Without any further ado, here is Phil’s Picks’ 2018 Top 10 new Live CDs.


  1. Charles Mingus — Live at Montreux 1975
  2. Jimi Hendrix — Live at the Hollywood BowlAug. 14, 1968
  3. Amon Amarth — The Pursuit of Vikings25 Years in the Eye of the Storm
  4. Devin Townsend Project — Ocean MachineLive at the Ancient Roman Theatre Plovdiv
  5. Opeth — Garden of the TitansLive at Red Rocks Amphitheatre
  6. The Rolling Stones — No SecuritySan Jose ’99
  7. The Rolling Stones — Voodoo Lounge Uncut
  8. John Mclaughlin & The 4th Dimension and Jimmy Herring & The Invisible Whip — Live in San Francisco
  9. Marty Friedman — One Bad M.F. Live
  10. Accept — Symphonic TerrorLive at Wacken 2017
  11. Alice Cooper — A Paranormal Night at The Olympia Paris
  12. Fates Warning — Live Over Europe
  13. Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow — Memories in Rock II
  14. John 5 and The Creatures — It’s Alive
  15. Overkill — Live in Overhausen

Eagle Rock’s New Mingus Montreux 1975 2CD Set Is A Solid Audio Companion To Concert’s ’04 DVD Release

Courtesy: Eagle Rock Entertainment

Jazz great Charles Mingus is considered by most critics and aficionados alike to be one of the most important names within the jazz world. From Mingus Ah Um to Cumbia & Jazz Fusion to The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady and beyond, the impact and importance of Mingus’ works both as a composer and band leader have been felt throughout the ages. Sadly, the world lost the greatness that was Charles Mingus what seemed too early in 1979 as a result of Lou Gehrig’s disease, otherwise known as ALS. Luckily, his legacy has since lived on through a variety of re-issues and archived live recordings through various labels. This Friday, Feb. 2, Eagle Rock Entertainment will release the latest of those archived concert recordings when it releases Live at Montreux 1975 on a new 2CD set. The companion piece to the concert’s previously released DVD presentation –released via Eagle Rock Entertainment in 2004 — this recording is such a critical piece of Mingus’ history because it would be one of his final live performances before being diagnosed with the disease, playing one of its most pivotal roles. The concert’s set list is just as important to the recording’s presentation as its back story. Last but most definitely not least of note to examine here is the band’s performance throughout the concert. It will be discussed later. Each element noted here is important in its own right. All things considered, Live at Montreux 1975 proves to be a recording that belongs in the home library of Mingus’ fans and jazz aficionados alike.

Eagle Rock Entertainment’s mew 2CD presentation of Charles Mingus Live at Montreux 1975 is a critical piece of Mingus’ history. Even having been previously released on DVD in 2004, it doesn’t lose that importance. As a matter of fact, the very fact that 13 years have passed since that initial release renews that importance. It proves to be such an important recording in no small part because it would be one of his last live performances before ALS would eventually take away his ability to perform or even record. The 85-minute concert presents Mingus and his band mates (at the time) at the top of their game, often times seemingly untamed and at others so smooth yet throughout. This will be discussed later. What’s more, it presents the band performing two of Mingus’ critical albums in whole along with a pair of equally important covers. This will be discussed shortly. All things considered here, the concert itself proves to be a concert that presents Mingus and company at the top of their collective games. With any luck, it will eventually be complimented with a new Blu-ray re-issue that makes up for the concert’s previous DVD re-issue.

The new 2CD presentation of Charles Mingus Live at Montreux 1975 is an important piece of Mingus’ history in part because of its very background, which has been pointed out. That back story is only one element that makes it such an important recording. Its set list is important in its own way. The concert’s set list is its own important part of its presentation. Audiences will note that the 5-song, 85-minute performance lifts from two of Mingus’ most talked about albums — Changes One and Changes Two, both of which were recorded together in 1974 for Atlantic Records — while also adding in a take on Duke Ellington’s hit song ‘Take The A Train’ and Mingus’ own 1959 classic ‘Goodbye Pork Pie Hat.’ Given, it doesn’t encompass the whole of those two albums, but it does present at least three of the albums’ best works. Even more interesting is that while ‘Take The A Train’ is not included on either record, there is a cover of Ellington’s ‘Sound of Love’ included in Changes Two. That cover is replaced here with ‘Take The A Train.’ The inclusion of the Ellington cover — both on and off record — is important to note because during his life and career, Mingus was called the heir apparent to Ellington. Getting back on track, the songs pulled from Changes One and Changes Two get quite the extended takes — takes that are certain to keep listeners’ attention. That is thanks to the group’s performances, the last of the recording’s most important elements.

The performances put on by Mingus and company throughout the course of the concert definitely stand out, as was noted earlier. At times, the performances feel wild and untamed such as in ‘Cell Block F, ‘Tis Nazi U.S.A.,’ and ‘Sue’s Changes.’ At other times, such as in ‘Goodbye Pork Pie Hat’ and ‘Devil’s Blues,’ is so much calmer. Mingus’ calm, cool work on the bass on ‘Goodbye Pork Pie Hat’ couples expertly with drummer Dannie Richmond and pianist Don Pullen in this song to give it such an enjoyable, relaxed vibe. Saxophonist and trumpeter George Adams and Jack Walrath add their own touch to the song, making it even more smooth. Pullen’s wildly outrageous work on ‘Cell Block F, ‘Tis Nazi U.S.A.’ illustrates quite well the events of the Attica riots. The easygoing vibe of ‘Take The A Train’ from the group in whole stands out just as much. From the playful improved piano line to the time keeping to Mingus’ own work on the bass, listeners can close their eyes and so vividly see passengers getting on and off the train thanks to the group’s work here. It is just one more way in which the group’s performance proves its importance to the concert. Every one of the songs featured in this performance could just as easily. That being the case, it becomes obvious in listening through each performance, why taking in the musicians’ talents, why their performances are so important to this presentation. When they are joined with the recording’s set list and its back story, the end result is a recording that will appeal to jazz fans in general just as much as it will to Mingus’ most devout fans.

Eagle Rock Entertainment’s new Charles Mingus Montreux ’75 2CD set is a presentation that is certain to appeal to any of the famed jazz bassist’s fans and to jazz aficionados in general. The companion piece to Eagle Rock’s 2004 release of the concert recording on DVD, it offers plenty for audiences to appreciate. That is especially considering it is the first time that the recording has been released on CD. The back story behind this concert, and Mingus’ eventual health decline not too long after, adds plenty of interest to the concert. The set list, while not wholly representative of Changes One and Changes Two, presents a rich picture of the albums. The group’s performance over the course of the show’s nearly 90-minute run puts the finishing touch to the recording. Each element, as has been made clear in the discussions here, is important in its own right to the recording’s whole. All things considered, Eagle Rock Entertainment’s new 2CD presentation of Charles Mingus Live at Montreux 1975 proves to be a great companion piece to the concert’s previously released DVD and another piece that Mingus’ fans will appreciate just as much as jazz fans in general. It will be available in stores and online Feb. 2. More information on this and other titles from Eagle Rock Entertainment is available online now at:




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Live In Tokyo Presents A Master Musician At His Finest

Courtesy:  Eagle Rock Entertainment

Courtesy: Eagle Rock Entertainment

The term master is a word that is generally used for someone who has spent many years honing one’s talents. And not only that, but someone whose time honing his or her talents have paid off in the most positive ways possible both for himself/herself and for others. There are masters in every profession. There are master carpenters. There are master chefs. There are even master electricians and martial artists. So what makes a musician a master at his or her own craft? The answer is much the same as those people who spend their own lives honing their crafts. It leads to yet another question: Who are the masters in the music industry today? Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, and Queen are just a few acts that come to mind. Another master that comes to mind is the hugely talented and so humble guitarist Jeff Beck. His latest live recording Live in Tokyo is proof positive of why Beck is deserving and has been deserving of the title of master for many years. That s evident throughout the hour and a half-long set. Beck shows so much talent and humility throughout the show, handling his own tunes and covering songs from other masters, too. Along the way, Beck lets his band mates keep the center stage while he does his own thing. Staying on that line of thought, Beck’s own on-stage presence in this concert shows even more why he is considered one of the masters. He shows that he doesn’t need big antics or even big riffs to make an impact on his audiences. And last but not least worth noting as proof of his position is the fact that Beck didn’t need to spend any time between songs killing time. He let his music (and that of his band mates) speaks so loudly in its beauty and impact that it speaks perfectly for itself. It left no need to waste any time between songs, thus making the performance presented here so enjoyable. And in the end, it leaves not even a shadow of a doubt as to why Jeff Beck is one of the true masters in his field.

Jeff Beck is a master of his field. He has far more than proven this throughout the course of his decades-long career. From his earliest days as a member of the famed Yardbirds up to his current solo career. His latest live recording Live in Tokyo shows without a shadow of a doubt why some five-plus decades since he first started making a name for himself he is considered one of the industry’s true masters. Beck proves why he is one of the industry’s masters on Live in Tokyo first and foremost through the concert’s set list. He breezes through his own compositions and those of other masters from across the music industry. Those masters include: Jimi Hendrix, Charles Mingus, The Mahavishnu Orchestra, and even John Lennon and Paul McCartney among others. The fact that Beck handles such variety of music with equal ease shows great talent. It also shows a great knowledge and respect for the history built by said masters as audiences will hear for themselves throughout the concert. He performs with such ease. Yet it’s obvious he never takes for granted his craft nor the talents of those to whom he pays tribute. Such great talent and respect for his fellow musicians in this form proves without a shadow of a doubt why Jeff Beck is considered a master. It’s definitely not the only way he proves it here (as if he really needed to do so). He also proves himself a master through his humility, which could be included in his on-stage presence.

While Jeff Beck’s name graces the cover of his new live recording, his on-stage presence proves to be a total counter to that billing. He shows so much humility throughout the course of the concert, letting his band mates–Jonathan Joseph (drums), Nicholas Meier (guitar), and Rhonda Smith (bass)–take the center stage most of the time. He doesn’t just fade into the background by any means. But he also doesn’t show himself to be like other well-known musicians who try to covertly hog the limelight while their band mates try to shine. He shows quite the level of humility, allowing Joseph, Meier, and Smith to display their talents just as much as himself if not more. It’s really something rare to behold especially in the current era of the music industry. It’s also quite refreshing. That humility coupled with Beck’s own talents show here even more why Beck is justifiably considered a master.

Staying on the matter of Beck’s talents, He shows with his talents that he doesn’t need huge riffs, pyro, crazy antics (  without his guitar) or other extras to entertain audiences. He doesn’t show the need to speed through any of the songs, either. He more than lives up to the adage that it takes a real musician to play slow and with control. What’s more he lives up to that adage more than once throughout the course of the concert. That casual approach oddly enough actually makes the performance even more enjoyable. In turn it proves yet more why Jeff Beck is one of the greatest of the music industry’s masters.

Jeff Beck proves in so many ways throughout Live in Tokyo why decades after he first broke out he is considered one of the best in the game. He shows why through his humility, his knowledge and respect for the history of music, and through his own ability to entertain audiences without really having to try. One more way that he proves his place in the music industry’s upper echelons is through the fact that he didn’t even need to spend any time killing time between songs to entertain audiences. His talents (and  his band mates) prove so substantial throughout the concert that audiences won’t feel like they are losing anything in that lack of interaction. Audiences will be so entertained that all they will feel and hear is the music. By the time the show ends, audiences won’t even realize that it all passed without even the slightest break for conversation. That is how loudly and how solidly the talents of both Beck and his band mates spoke throughout this concert. It truly says something about an entertainer when he or she doesn’t need to rely on such extra in order to entertain audiences and fill time at the same time. Considering this, it is one more way in which Jeff Beck proves that now in his 70s, he is only coming into his prime and yet is justifiably considered one of the greatest of the masters in the music industry. Together with all of the aforementioned aspects of this concert, audiences will see with crystal clear vision just why Jeff Beck is one of the greatest in his business. It also shows why Eagle Rock is the greatest in its business.

Jeff Beck has made quite the name for himself over the course of his decades-long career. That career includes time with other greats and with those that are perhaps not so well-known. Through it all, Beck has persevered and risen throughout those decades to become today one of the true masters of the music industry. Whether it be through his stage presence, his very display of talent, or his knowledge of and respect for the history of music, Jeff Beck shows throughout Live in Tokyo without a doubt why he is a master musician. Audiences will agree with this sentiment when they purchase this concert for themselves on DVD and Blu-ray. It is available in stores and online now. More information on this and other recordings from Eagle Rock Entertainment is available online at:



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