Rick Margitza’s New LP Has Lots Of “Heart”

Courtesy: Le Coq Records

Saxophonist Rick Margitza’s resume reads like a who’s who of the jazz community.  Over the course of his decades-long career, Margitza has recorded and performed with some of the jazz world’s most famed and respected figures, such as Chick Corea, McCoy Tyner, and Miles Davis.  For more than three decades, Margitza has been making music in some capacity.  Yet, for all the work that he has done throughout his career, the last time that he released a solo record as a band leader (as opposed to an accompanist) was 17 years ago in the form of 2004’s Bohemia.  Early this month, Margitza ended that drought when he released Sacred Hearts.  The 11-song record was released Feb. 5 through Le Coq Records, and offers much for audiences to appreciate, beginning with its very packaging.  This aspect will be discussed shortly.  The musical arrangements that make up the body of the record add to its appeal.  They will be discussed a little later.  The album’s production puts the final touch to its presentation.  It will be discussed later, too.  Each item noted here is important in its own way to the whole of this album.  All things considered, they make the album one of this year’s top new jazz albums. 

Sacred Hearts, thefirst new solo album in more than 15 years (17 years to be exact) from Rick Margitza, is a positive return for the veteran saxophonist.  It is a presentation that will appeal to any modern jazz fan just as much as his existing catalog.  That is due in no small part to the album’s packaging.  The packaging is important to the album’s presentation in that it features “liner notes” of sorts that actually give some background on each of the album’s songs.  Audiences learn through the “notes” that for the most part, the songs are dedicated to someone who Margitza knows.  The one exception to that rule is ‘Trail of Tears,’ which according to the “notes,” “is for all the people who have died under the hands of social injustice.”  These notes are all so important to address because providing even such minimal notation is rare to nonexistent in jazz albums.  Jazz fans, unlike those of most other genres, are largely left to have to interpret the titles and arrangements in their music for themselves.  The only way for those fans to really gain insight into the songs – save for miraculously having such minimal background information  — is to either read or hear interviews with acts on radio/TV, or to get it direct from the acts at concerts.  Not having even that most basic of information is actually detrimental to jazz records, so to have it here builds a good foundation for the record.  That is because in having a basic understanding of the songs’ purposes, audiences will find themselves even more engaged in the songs.  So again, to this end, having even the slightest background on the songs here is key to this album’s presentation. It is just one of the record’s most important elements.  The arrangements themselves add to the engagement in and enjoyment of Sacred Hearts.

The musical arrangements that make up the body of Sacred Hearts are important in part because they connect so well to the songs’ titles.  Case in point is the arrangement featured in ’12-123.’  According to the song’s description, the song is a celebratory work that honors Margitza’s family.  He notes in the description that the song “is for all the new life in our family.”  The song’s upbeat but still controlled stylistic approach translates well, the happiness felt by being among family.  Margitza’s performance on the saxophone, Jeff Boudreaux’s timekeeping, joins with the subtle percussion, piano, and vibraphone here to make the arrangement so engaging and entertaining.  It does so well,  again, to echo the emotions felt about a growing family, whether it be through marriage, the birth of a new child, or both.  It will surely put a smile on any listener’s face.  That is even more certain considering that this arrangement so easily lends itself to works from the likes of Margitza’s jazz counterparts in Yellowjackets.

‘Trail of Tears,’ which comes late in the album’s run is another example of the importance of the album’s featured arrangements.  It has already been noted that the song is a response to what has happened to Americans throughout America’s history due to social injustice.  The somber tone exhibited through the arrangement does well to illustrate the mood and emotions of those who have been wronged by the system and by their friends and family.  Margitza himself is largely to thank for that, through his performance.  The accompaniment of the piano and subtle time keeping adds even more to the arrangement’s depth.  What’s more, it would have been so easy for Margitza to have gone perhaps in a more avant-garde direction here, considering the theme here.  To have taken the alternate path leads to even more emotional impact.  Kudos to all involved here for making such a work instead.  It is just one more way in which the arrangements featured in this recording serve so well, to show their importance to the album’s whole.  It certainly is not the last example of how the arrangements show their importance, either.  ‘Muse’ is yet another way in which the album’s musical arrangements show their importance.  According to the information printed in album’s packaging, the song is meant as a tribute “for all the extraordinary artists who have shaped my life.”  The statement is illustrated throughout the song through the use of musical styles from different jazz sub-genres and eras.  The 10-minute-plus composition opens with a distinct Weather Report type approach before eventually changing gears and turning in a more modern approach a la John Coltrane.  The style evolves again from there, becoming even more modern.  Simply put, the song really does pay tribute to Margitza’s forebears.  It’s one more way in which this album’s musical content proves so important to its whole.  When this arrangement is considered along with the others noted here and the rest of the record’s compositions, the whole leaves no doubt as to the importance of the album’s musical content. 

While the packaging and content featured in Margitza’s latest album are equally important in their own way to the whole of the album’s presentation, they are just a portion of what makes the record successful.  The production that went into each composition is also worth examining.  The production that went into crafting each arrangement ensures that each instrument is expertly balanced with its counterparts within each composition.  Even the rare instances in which the vocals are added to the whole, their subtle, airy nature gives those arrangements even more richness.  All in all, whether it be in the more complex songs or the simpler works (which require their own share of focus because there is less instrumentation – it is easy to get lax with simpler compositions) the production presented throughout this record brings out the best in each work.  When this is considered along with the importance of the album’s packaging and its content, the whole of the album makes itself a viable new listening option for any jazz aficionado.

Rick Margitza’s new album Sacred Hearts is a presentation that any jazz purist will find appealing.  That is proven in part through its packaging.  The packaging offers at least some background on the songs.  That background, while minimal, at least gives audiences a starting point in listening to the songs and appreciating them.  The arrangements themselves match well with the titles.  Audiences will agree after reading through the titles and the brief background information in the packaging.  The record’s production puts the finishing touch to its presentation, bringing out the best in each composition.  Each item noted here is key in its own way to the whole of the record’s presentation.  All things considered, they make the album in whole a viable contender for a spot on any critic’s list of the year’s top new jazz/blues albums.  Sacred Hearts is available now.  More information on the album is available along with all of Rick Margitza’s latest news at  https://www.facebook.com/rmargitza.  

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Black Utopia Re-Issue Another Hit For Sherinian

Courtesy:  Armoury Records/Eagle RockEntertainment

Courtesy: Armoury Records/Eagle RockEntertainment

Derek Sherinian’s second solo album Black Utopia is an interesting work from this world renowned keyboardist.  There is so much to say about this record and not enough space or time to go into everything.  So instead of rambling, we’ll hit on the main points of what makes this album just as enjoyable for Sherinian’s fans the second time around as it was in its original release.   The first aspect of this album that makes it so enjoyable is its sequencing.  That is to say the order of the songs.  The second factor that listeners will appreciate (especially those that might be hearing the album for the first time) is the A-list guest stars that agreed to be a part of this album.  The third factor in the success of the album’s re-issue is the reworked liner notes.  All three of these factors together make Black Utopia an album that any Derek Sherinian fan will appreciate just as much in its new re-issue as they did in its initial release some ten years ago.

The success of Black Utopia is thanks in large part to its sequencing.  The album’s sequencing greatly exhibits the understanding of and appreciation for music possessed by both Derek Sherinian and co-producer Simon Phillips.  The pair treat Black Utopia as if they were creating a set list for a live show.  The energy of the songs rises and falls just enough throughout the course of the album’s nine tracks to keep listeners fully engaged.  That energy rises and falls just enough within the context of the songs themselves to make the energy in the transitions between songs even more impactful.  It shows on a deeper level, the pair’s understanding of and appreciation for their craft.  The resultant effect is one the makes this album one of those rare albums that listeners will want to take in from start to finish without skipping even one song. It’s just the starting point of the album’s success, too. And that’s saying something.

Black Utopia’s success is thanks in large part to its sequencing.  The sequencing of the songs would be moot without the music crafted by Sherinian and the guest musicians that make appearances on this album.  That is the second factor in this album’s creation that makes it a success.  Sherinian invited some of the biggest names in the business to join him on this record.  And it’s a good thing they accepted his invitation.  Among those major names are the likes of Simon Phillips (The Who, Judas Priest, Gary Moore, etc.), Zakk Wylde (Ozzy Osbourne, Black Label Society), Al Di Meola (Return To Forever, Chick Corea), Yngwie Malmsteen, Billy Sheehan (Steve Vai, David Lee Roth, Mr. Big) and others.  Their talents are well shared throughout the record.  The whole group teams up on the album’s opener for what is without a doubt one of the album’s absolute best works.  Malmsteen puts on a virtual clinic with his shredding, while Sherinian himself manages somehow to mix in a touch of jazz/fusion at one point, adding even more flare and substance to the song.  And the combination of Zakk Wylde, Simon Phillips, Tony Franklin and Jerry Goodman on ‘Nightmare Cinema’ is incredible.  Sherinian’s etherial keyboard part set against Phillips’ drumming early on perfectly illustrates the song’s title.  It establishes quite the eerie vibe.  The eventual addition of Wylde on guitar adds even more depth to the song as it progresses.  It is simply something that must be heard in order to be fully appreciated.  The same can be noted of the album’s remaining tracks.  Sherinian  and his fellow musicians come together on each song to show just why their addition to Black Utopia is such an important part of the album’s overall success.

The who’s  who of musicians recruited to record Black Utopia alongside Derek Sherinian is just as important to the success of the album as its sequencing.  Without the talent of the musicians in question, the sequencing would not be all that important to discuss.  Thankfully that wasn’t the case here.  And because it wasn’t the case, it leaves only one remaining factor to note of this re-issue.  The factor in question is the updated liner notes included with the album.  This time out, Black Utopia includes an article crafted by journalist Joe Lalaina, of Guitar World magazine.  Lalaina outlines the album in his own words.  Sherinian’s own thoughts on Black Utopia are also included as a follow-up to Lalaina.  Listeners will take special interest in Sherinian’s comment about working with Brian Tichy (Something Unto Nothing, Ozzy Osbourne, Billy Idol).  He notes that it was his friendship and working relationship with Tichy that led the pair to work together on this album.  There’s also mention of his excitement of working with both Yngwie Malmsteen and Al Di Meola.  One of his comments in particular regarding this can’t be repeated here.  But it will most definitely have listeners laughing.  It’s the finishing touch to an album that any hard rock fan should hear at least once now that it has been re-issued by Armoury Records.  More information on this and other albums from Derek Sherinian is available online at http://www.dereksherinian.com.  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Stan Getz Live Is A Tribute To The Legacies Of Both Getz And Nobs

Courtesy:  Eagle Rock Entertainment/Montreux Sounds

Courtesy: Eagle Rock Entertainment/Montreux Sounds

Claude Nobs started what is today one of the most respected festivals in the music world over forty five years ago when he founded the Montreux Jazz Festival.  Little did he know at the time that it would grow to be what it has become today.  It has grown from hosting the world’s best jazz artists and groups to being the venue that every band and artist across the spectrum dreams of playing.  It has indeed hosted some of the best of the best and some of the best to be, as is evidenced through the deal made between Montreux Sounds and Eagle Rock Entertainment.  The deal between the two companies has garnered some of the best live recordings to date.  It has also helped Eagle Rock maintain its place at the front of the class in terms of live recordings.  And it has continued to do so with the release of a recording that is a classic Montreux performance in every form of the word.  The recording in question is of the late great sax player Stan Getz.  The recording in question is taken from Getz’s very first ever performance at Montreux in 1972.  He is joined by two other very highly respected jazz artists in keyboardists Chick Corea and drummer Tony Williams.  Along with bassist Stanley Clarke, the quartet’s performance stands as a true tribute the legacy of not only the Montreux Jazz Festival, but to its now dearly departed founder, Claude Nobs.  Mr. Nobs would have been proud to see this recording finally see the light of day.  And so will true jazz lovers, too.

True lovers of jazz will appreciate this recording for a variety of reasons.  One of those reasons is the backstory provided by Corea himself in the DVD’s bonus booklet.  Corea states in the bonus liner notes that the quartet seen in this recording was also the group that ended up going out on tour with Getz prior to the show in 1971.  According to Corea, Getz was planning to go out on the road in ’71, but had no band with which to tour.  After making some contacts, the group presented here is the group that toured together.  It’s obvious that during that tour, a bond had formed between the band members.  Getz pulls back time and again throughout the roughly hour long set, allowing his band mates to get their time in the spotlight and then some.  It was his quiet way of telling the audiences that the show wasn’t about him.  It was about everyone on stage.  Again, this is echoed through the sentiments shared in the DVDs bonus booklet.  Corea shares so much insight on how he came to be friends with Getz and on how the group grew as friends and individuals.  So few people take the time to read liner notes, etc. on DVDs, Blu-rays, and CDs.  But this is one of those examples of why those booklets and liner notes aren’t always just wasted ink.  It helps to make this show more than just a recording.  Because of those liner notes, it becomes a fully immersive musical experience and equally important historical document of sorts.

The bonus booklet included with Stan Getz: Live at Montreux 1972 is but one part of what makes this live recording so enjoyable is the performance of the band.  As Corea noted in the bonus booklet, the band seen in this recording is the same band that toured with Getz the previous year.  What’s so amazing about the performance is that while the band had already played a handful of shows through 1971, just watching the band’s members perform together here one would think that they were playing together for the first time.  There was so much energy among the entire group in every song.  Williams’ drumming was completely off the charts.  It goes without saying that his playing is something to which EVERY drummer today should aspire.  The precision yet seeming controlled chaos of what he did is awe inspiring, even today.  And Getz’s own performance on the likes of ‘La Fiesta’ is just as incredible.  He proved that he was just as talented playing rather up-tempo pieces as he was playing slower pieces, like ‘Lush Life’ and the show’s opener, ‘Captain Marvel.’  The way that his fingers moved on ‘La Fiesta’, one would expect them to get tangled among themselves.  And his breath control, handling such long strains is incredible.  That set against his chops on the set’s slower songs proves why he is still so revered among jazz artists and musicians overall even today.  Corea exhibits his own talent throughout the show.  Again, it is something audiences must see for themselves to fully appreciate.  And appreciate it they will when they pick up this performance both on DVD and CD.  That’s right.  It’s available not only on DVD, but CD, too.  This is another positive to the recording’s overall presentation.

Stan Getz: Live at Montreux 1972 is a stunning tribute both to the legacy of Stan Getz and his band mates, and to the festival’s late founder, Claude Nobs.  The DVD presentation alone is outstanding for a variety of reasons.  Two of those reasons are already listed off here.  It is put over the top thanks to the inclusion of a solely CD recording as well.  This is hardly the first time that Eagle Rock has included a CD recording as an option for its live recordings.  As a matter of fact, Eagle Rock has done so with pretty much every live recording that it has released to date.  So why is this performance so important on both DVD and CD?  It is important because it completes the documentation of this classic performance and solidifies even more both the talents of the musicians presented here and the legacy of the Montreux Jazz Festival.  The performance is available now on both DVD and CD.  More information on this and other Montreux Jazz Festival recordings is available online at http://www.eaglerockent.com and http://www.facebook.com/EagleRockEnt.  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Return to Forever have returned in a big way on new live release

Courtesy: Eagle Rock Entertainment/Eagle Records

Return to Forever has returned.  And it has returned in a huge way.  The band released its brand new live set, “The Mothership Returns” this past Tuesday, June 19th.  Being that it’s been nearly forty years since the band released its last full-length studio album, this new live release is an excellent “return” for this jazz/fusion/rock band.  It’s an equally impressive introduction to the legendary act for fans who might be new to RTF’s music.

Jazz/fusion, jazz/rock, jazz.  Call it what you will.  But one thing that can be said of Return to Forever on its new live release, “The Mothership Returns”, is that it shows that in the nearly four decades since the release of RTF’s last release, this band hasn’t lost even the slightest bit of steam.  The double disc audio portion of the set covers some of the band’s biggest hits including:  ‘School Days’, ‘Spain’, and Medieval Overture’ just to name a few.  This incarnation of RTF isn’t the original lineup.  But even with a new lineup, the band is still as strong as ever.  Drummer Lenny White’s work behind the kit is incredible to say the least.  He keeps perfect time all while crafting some of the most creative music of any drummer out there.  And founder/keyboardist Chick Corea continues to prove why he is one of the top musicians in his category, too.  Alongside Stanley Clarke (Bass), Jean-Luc Ponty (violin), and Frank Gamble (guitars), the quintet’s performance makes for a wonderful experience for any lover of jazz.

The audio portion of “The Mothership Returns” is impressive in itself.  But it’s the addition of the bonus dvd that makes this release that much more enjoyable.  The documentary, “Return to Forever:  Inside The Music” is a bonus that makes the whole epxerience that much more enjoyable.  The documentary offers insight into how the songs on the live show came to life.  There’s even an extra discussion on the song, ‘Dayride.’  Bassist Stanley Clarke discusses how he came up with the song.  He notes in the band interviews that it started coming to life when he was watching the Grammys one night.  Mel Torme was awarding a Grammy to Chick Corea, and mispronounced Chick’s last name.  Clarke laughs about how Torme had to be corrected about the pronunciation of Chick’s name.  That’s just one of many more memorable anecdotes shared by the band throughout the interviews.

The bonus documentary dvd included in “The Mothership Returns” is loaded with lots of memorable anecdotes that audiences will love to listen to again and again.  They aren’t all that make the bonus documentary the great extra that it is.  As the band talks about how the songs on this show came to life, each one shares with audiences what the other band memers bring to the table.  Not one of the band members has anything bad to say about the other.  Drummer Lenny White even jokes with bandmate Stanley Clarke about how Clarke had told him that he [Clarke] swore he would not be playing ‘School Days’ at fifty years old.  that obviously didn’t work out too well for Clarke.  That camaraderie shows through to the show, too.  The chemistry between every one of the band members is evident in their playing during both the audio and video portions of the show.  It’s part of what gives the show the energy that it has.

The video portion of the set is another extra that makes the bonus dvd a welcome addition to “The Mothership Returns.”  As the band discusses the songs featured on the audio portion of the set, audiences get to see performances of those songs from the Montreux Jazz Festival.  One of the songs discussed that’s not included in the double disc audio portion of the set is ‘Dayride.’ As noted earlier, there is a discussion of this on the bonus dvd. Fans who pick up “The Mothership Returns” will get to not only hear the discussion on this one, but see it performed at length, too, thanks to that inclusion. 

The entire “Inside The Music” documentary clocks in at just over an hour.  In that time, the documentary alone shines as the cornerstone of the bonus dvd.  From the insight into the band’s music to the laugh filled anecdotes to the extra bonus content, the bonus dvd helps to bring the entire package completely together.  Together with the double disc performance by this newest incarnation, RTF has proven that even after nearly forty years the band is still a leader not just in the world of jazz, but in music in general.

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