Tag Archives: Review

CD of the Month: Solon McDade – Murals


The CD of this month comes from Canadian double-bass player and composer Solon McDade. Solon basically grew up on stage, he was playing alongside with his parents and siblings in the McDade Family Band, a group that toured Canada with their own brand of Canadiana folk music at festivals and theaters throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

“Murals” is his debut-album as band-leader and it features nine original compositions of him. The album was officially released on April 20 with a celebration in his home town Edmonton AB.

A second eastern Canadian release is planned for Montreal, QC at the Upstairs Jazz Bistro & Bar on July 21st.

The line-up on the album is
Solon McDade – Bass
Donny Kennedy – Alto Saxophone
Jeremiah McDade – Tenor Saxophone (his brother)
Paul Shrofel – Piano
Rich Irwin – Drums

All musicians are well established in the Canadian Jazz scene and have performed with well-known national and international musicians.

Interesting about this line-up is the two saxophones, alto and tenor sax which gives the whole album it’s unique character.

The album starts with the tune “He’s a Problem In The Locker Room”. The tune was written for the Montreal Canadiens hockey defense player P.K. Subban who was (and still is) very popular in Montreal but was traded to Nashville because he  created “problems in the locker room”. The tune starts with a very swinging melody and the first musician featured here is drummer Rich Irwin, the two saxophones take over in an open dialog followed by a piano solo. Bass and drums produce a steady swinging groove for the soloists. We hear a bass and drums solo before the saxophones play the head, so everything very traditionally organized but very dynamically and relaxed played. Great tune and great start into the album.

The second song is called “Buy The Tractor” and Solon told me that this song is about getting older. The melody is played by the saxophones in two voices. It’s a rather soft song and it features Paul Shrofel on piano and both saxophonists, again very dynamically played.

The next tune is my favorite tune on the album. It’s called “Do Airplanes Scratch The Sky” and refers to a quote from Solons daughter about the condensation trails airplanes leave in the sky. The tune starts very slow, rubato. The first solo goes to Solon, he plays very melodically, followed by Donny Kennedy on alto sax. The best part of the album comes when the focus shifts to Jeremiah McDade on tenor sax (at around 5:22). The tenor sax rises from the ground up in the sky and piano and drums follow the saxophone, again great dynamics, great solo and my highlight of the album.

The album continues with “Whatever Whatever”,  a tune where alto sax and piano are featured as soloists.

The fifth song on the album is called “The Ballad Of Sir William Ormerod”. It was written for a fictional character that writer Victoria Coren created in order to entrap people that were crashing funerals with the hopes of free food and drink. Paul Shrofel on piano is the featured player here, he plays a long and beautiful intro. Dynamics increase with the saxophones playing a melody of long notes, but reduces for a bass solo and increases at the end of the bass solo again with both saxophonists improvising and playing together. The great dynamics come again from the rhythm section, especially Rich Irwin on drums knows how to do this perfectly.

“Off The Bed Rose” is about a dog named Rose that used to jump on Solons bed when he first moved to Montreal and could stay with a friend while searching an apartment. He was not used to dogs so he tried to talk the dog off the bed without having to get to close to it. You can hear this phrase in the melody. Very funny. The song is an up-tempo 12-bar blues and played in jam-style, both saxophones and piano plus the drums get their chance to improvise.

The next tune is called “Blues for Sebastian”. It has been written for Solon’s friend Sebastian who has the Blues sometimes. Again very dynamically played with great saxophone and bass solos.

“Ali’s Second Line” comes next and was written for Solos’ wife Alison and uses one of her favorite grooves. Drums, bass and piano push the saxophone players with their groove to peak performances.

The album ends with “A Shorter Thing”. It was written for Wayne Shorter and uses the chord progressions from the Wayne Shorter tune “Fall”. The song starts with the rhythm section only and an elegant piano solo, followed by a saxophone interlude and a tenor sax solo. The song and the album finish with a soft fade-out, leaving a final impression in your ears. Very sophisticated.

Dear Solon: Chapeau. You have managed to impress me strongly with your first album as a leader. You found excellent fellow musicians to play your fine compositions very dynamically and very refined.

The album gets a clear recommendation from me. Unfortunately I will not be in  Montreal on July 21 for the release concert at the Upstairs Jazz Bistro & Bar. Let’s hope that this group gets the chance to perform in Europe.

Here is a great video from the album release show in Edmonton:

You can check out the complete album on Solon’s website:

And finally a playlist of the album on iTunes:



CD of the Month: Jeanne Gies – Howard Alden – Window


My favorite album at the moment comes from Jeanne Gies and Howard Alden and is called “Window”. It features nine original compositions from from Brazilian songwriter Manu Lafer. All the lyrics come from vocalist Jeanne Gies and the arrangements are by guitarist Howard Alden. The album was recorded 2016 in Brazil.

Jeanne Gies and Howard Alden are the only musicians on the album, so this is music at its core, no extensive sound painting, just a singer and a guitar. Both musicians have a lot of experience in this setup and know how to make a diversified and entertaining album.

I met Jeanne Gies some weeks ago at a jazz workshop in Bozen, Italy where she was teaching the vocalists’ class while I was trying to improve my guitar playing (here is a picture of her together with Si Wages).


I had the chance to listen to her basically every evening after dinner singing jazz standards accompanied by one or two guitars, and I think this is one of her favorite setups. In this constellation she has the freedom and the space to fill a room with her unique swinging and extremely precise voice. The lyrics are always clear to understand and are an important part in her singing. Her voice is light as a feather, only with a rarely used light vibrato and her phrasing is pure jazz.

Howard Alden on the other hand is also no stranger to me. I saw him around a year ago live in Bern together with Andy Brown. Accompanying a singer is for me the perfect role for him. He plays usually a Benedetto 7-string guitar which allows him to produce a full and well-balanced sound including lower frequencies where a bass player is typically found.

Manu Lafer is a composer, singer, and pediatrician from São Paulo, Brazil. He has composed more than 300 songs, more than 100 of which have been recorded. Manu worked with some of Brazil’s most respected composers, arrangers and singers. He initiated this project by approaching Jeanne and Howard about recording his music as a duo and he gave complete freedom to both of them to realize this album. In the booklet of the CD he writes: “Jeanne Gies adds her own lyrics (to my songs), in the same fashion that the Brazilians used to write words to American songs they cherished”.

The album starts with the song “Journey”, no pick-up, no intro, first note comes from Jeanne Gies. The song has a catchy melody and comes fresh and easy. Howard adds a solo on his tenor banjo and Jeanne sings openly at the end.

The second tune is called “Soul Tree”. The inspiration for the lyrics came from a bottle of wine in an Indian restaurant in Brazil. This time Howard Alden plays a solo on the guitar without overdubbing.

The third song “Gypsy” sounds like a Jazz-standard with classic love song lyrics and a second guitar recorded on top of the rhythm guitar. The extra guitar playing in a higher range fits perfectly and matches the setup I experienced during evening sessions at the workshop in Italy.

“Crime”, the next tune is according to Jeanne the “most challenging to write due to the melodic complexity, yet ultimately, one of the most satisfying artistically”. The complexity is however not noticeable, it is absorbed and resolved completely by the artistry of both musicians.

The next song is the title song of the album. “Window” is a ballad where the melody and the singing of Jeanne Gies are harmonically so clear and so distinctive that I would not need a guitar at all.

“Ta Shema”, the sixth song on the album, is an exception, because Lafer wrote it for his sister. Lafer prepared a detailed translation and wanted Jeanne Gies to “keep as close to the spirit of his lyrical intent as possible”. This is my favorite song on the album and Howard Alden managed to translate the original arrangement with its rich instrumentation into its quintessence without losing the spirit of the song.

The album continues with “Sky” another slow tune, harmonically and melodically rather demanding. Howard Alden plays a wonderful solo and Jeanne’s singing makes us longing for the “sky overlooking the ocean”. Very nice.

“Translation” is the next song and continues with the spirit from “Sky”, full of desire, but this time shifting to the inside.

“Account”, the last tune of the album sounds very traditional and is again recorded with a rhythm guitar and a second overdubbed solo guitar. The lyrics of this tune also make it clear, that the “Journey” we started has come to an end and “the truth that was hidden revealed in miraculous ways”.

Miracles happen, and this album is one of them, but they came here not unexpected because we see two experienced masters of this duo-setup inspired by fresh and rich compositions from a different culture. The result is a unique mélange of modern Brazilian and American music, perfectly arranged for an unplugged setup of guitar and vocals.

One way to see Jeanne Gies live is to look out in New York, where she is quite actively performing. The other option is to come to the workshop in Italy, which I attended. The workshop is organized by German luthier Stefan Sonntag. He already announced the new dates for April 2019 (and Jeanne Gies will be again the teacher for the vocalists’ class). If you sing or play guitar, keep an eye on Stefan’s website for the inscription to this event.

Here is a review of this years’ workshop:

And finally a playlist of the album on iTunes: