North America Jazz Alliance

The North America Jazz Alliance is a sextet made up of fearsomely talented gentlemen. They display metronomic precision and nightcub grace through The Montreal Sessions. But there are many surprises along the way. Not least is the fact Kenny Kotwitz was gifted Art’s hand-made Excelsior accordion in 2010 by the van Damme families. He does the man and the air piano proud. John Labelle is the singer on three of these cuts. Let me make a confession. Sorry, Frank Sinatra is not the God I see him as. Although it is a bit nefarious, I have to admit that I was willing to give the counter-argument about the Mafioso. Mark Murphey is not all that impressed with me. Yes, they have their way, and I can see why they would be popular. But I demand more from my singers, even in the rhymey sprechestimmey mode. Labelle is subtler, smoother, and more convincing overall. Labelle may one day be the cat that takes me back to Frankie, but for now, this is the way it is. Although I love instrumental jazz, the guy doesn’t have enough to satisfy me. You’ll get my point of view if you listen to Close Your Eyes. Smooth as a $100 bottle Scotch. The lion’s share of the work is instrumental, and it is a great example of what it means for professionals to be consummate. Did I mention that there are a few vibes included in the ensemble? Steve Hobbs is the arranger and also manages the ensemble. The cat has a Gary Burton-esque style with strong Hampton influences that provide a sharp counterpoint to Kotwitz. Credit producer Peter Maxymych with gathering the band, though, as the concept of a vibes/accordion/guitar-centered quintet was his. Greg Clayton, the last member of that core trio on guitar, does not get as much attention as I would prefer but his presence was essential as the genre relied on the instrument to do double duty as both a rhythm section and as a lead player. It would be difficult to do much without it. The true star of this entire thing is the high level of musicianship. This, I believe, will have van Damme sporting a Cheshire smile in eternity. He’ll be replacing Gabriel’s trumpet with a ‘cordine’, a pair sunglasses, and the advice that he should cool his jets and just let the swingin’ flow…and I don’t mean suh-wingin! from

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