Superb Noir jazz vocals Billy Brandt – City Noir

Superb Noir jazz vocals Billy Brandt – CITY NOIR:  Comparisons have been made to singers & storytellers like Tom Waits, & while that’s cool, what Billy’s superb noir jazz vocals take me back to is one of my own vocal/spoken-word heroes, Gil Scott-Heron… you can get a an intimate view of Billy’s ultra-hip performance style in the excellently produced trailer video for the title track, “City Noir”…

…since he’s just up the road from me (in Seattle), I’ve asked the promoter to see what we can do to get me up there to do a LIVE SHOW review for his penetrating jazz vocal works… in the meantime, be sure to SUBSCRIBE to his YouTube channel to watch more of this creative genius!


Zzaj-Rant – The Culture of “we MUST make this BETTER – even if it’s fine as it is”

Before I start my rant, I’d like you to take just a quick glance at the numbers in the chart below…

I captured this screen on 11/17/2017, so if you want to get the most current view of it, please visit the WordPress Gutenberg forum.  In fact, I would MOST STRONGLY advise that you do so, especially if you have any interest in websites, blogging, etc.  What is transpiring here is a concerted effort to RAM a new EDITOR for WordPress down the throats of the entire WORLD… now, I’m not (any kind) of a “numbers guy”, but even a simpleton can figure out that if a product in development is getting a 2.6 rating – that product is NOT READY FOR PRIME-TIME… yet, despite repeated messages to (one of) the authors of this product, they are still trying to get the editor INSERTED into the WordPress 5.0 CORE release…

The type of response I received from them is along the lines of “we must make the editor better“, and “there will be an option to revert to the old editor“… if THAT is the case, why not simply devise a POPUP during the installation of the 5.0 upgrade (or whichever version this GUTENBERG editor manages to slide itself into) asking the person installing the product if they would LIKE to use the new Gutenberg editor, or retain the old one.  What kind of response did I get when I posed that question?  “Then, the users would get the old experience, instead of the new one“… I didn’t bother replying to that (at least, I don’t think I did, but who knows – I was REALLY dissatisfied with that kind of an answer)… so, what I’m really ranting about here is the ATTITUDE of those folks who are trying to get this new product inserted into the core… if the numbers, as well as the comments, show that a large number of customers are NOT SATISFIED with the new editor – it should not even be CONSIDERED for addition to the WP CORE!

Anyone who knows me can attest to the FACT that if someone tries to “PUSH” something on me – it will (almost automatically – though I actually DID test this product) be REJECTED… before this new product is ever considered for implementation in a new CORE release, there should be a full-blown user test from highly qualified and reputable WP authors… if GUTENBERG can’t achieve at least a 4.5 rating from those super-users – it should be either ABANDONED – or provided as a SEPARATE PLUGIN only… I’ve said my piece (for now), but may be back with more thoughts on this as it marches along…

Please GO to the REVIEW AREA for Gutenberg and rate this effort (hopefully with a 1-star, but it should be your own choice, of course)




My pal Tony (Roc) Adamo just CAN’T STOP putting together live raps that are KILLER! He’s done just that on one of the songs from his upcoming album, titled “Sonic Henderson”, & shared the YOUTUBE video ( with me a couple weeks back… this thing just RAWKS, folks, and the recording is flawless… I can hardly wait for the full album to review… besides his own “hip/spoken word”, Tony has stellar players with him – Mike Clark Drums/ Mike LeDonne Organ. Jack Wilkins Guitar, and they KICK IT – be sure & check it out, folks!”

ZzajRant – Days of conflict!

It seems obvious to me that artists of all stripes (players, poets, even visual artists) need to take the recent conflict-driven events (I’m talking about the election, of course, but it could be any other stress providers) and “make the most of them”.  A recent blog post I read regarding the broad subject of “creativity” stated that “Creativity is nourished by conflict.”  In other words, my fellow players, the coming four years (and probably many more than that) will NEED your most creative efforts to keep us all on track and moving forward!

I’ve no doubt you’ve seen similar writings, too… even from antiquity… the times that are the most difficult, in a societal sense, are the times that should render fresh and new insights into how to “move on”… not just whining and bellyaching, but reaching down into your “inner player” (or your “inner poet) and catching the vibrations that will wrap your mind (and your instrument) around the problems we have in society.  Additionally, that doesn’t mean creating words/music that intentionally inflame; in other words, not a whole opus of “bad language”… of course, I do understand that a few raw words, inserted in the right place & at the right time, can be a part of the “solution”; but USE your creative ability to suggest better things… better results… & ultimately “solutions”, instead of just bitching about the problem!

The power of healing music is inestimable, and I review a lot of albums that fall in that category; all well and good, but I believe it’s necessary for artists to dig a little deeper, focus on what they believe the problems are and create “hooks” that will stick in people’s head (no matter what part of the globe they reside in), and urge them to move past the idiocies we see in cultures across the world!  NOW is the time to get that message out… if you “wait on inspiration”, you may never write the poem… create the song… or even pen that blog post!  The coming years are not going to get better unless the folks with the real POWER – those who understand that well-crafted artistry can help us normal folks step up to the plate and DO IT!  NOW!!! 

This is a short post in what I expect will become a (somewhat) “regular” series of them – & if you took the time to read these 300 or so words – PASS it ON!!!!

Hennie Bekker – Beyond Dreams Pathways to Deep Relaxation (special review by Zzaj)


Hennie Bekker – BEYOND DREAMS Pathways to Deep Relaxation:  Hennie is an artist you need to hear… he’s been “on the scene” for decades, all ’round the globe; I first reviewed his music in issue # 119, and as impressed as I was then, when I started listening more closely to this beautifully sculpted set of string and synth work, it was clear to me that his goal of “combining rhythmic entertainment with melodies that listeners could enjoy while preparing for sleep, meditating, or practicing yoga or general self-exploration” had been fully realized!  The opening track, the 8:48 “Self Connect“, will convince you that you are in the presence of a master musical craftsman who has never forgotten his roots; he grew up in Mufulira, a Zambian copper mining town 10 miles south of the Congo border, where the symphonic sounds of the African wilderness captivated his young spirit and led him to play with various bands across the African continent, then eventually on to London and Canada.  When you read his extensive discography, you will realize that Hennie is among the most prolific players in the world.  I have no doubt that parts of the title track, “Beyond Dreams“, were drawn from his experiences around the drummer camps he grew up near during his youth, but he has honed those memories into one of the most inspiring and relaxing musical adventures you will ever hear! 

The simple piano lines that are woven through the string and pipe sounds on “Letting Go” will allow you to reach higher states of relaxation, almost to the point that you will be “floating”, if you will.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard a piece that so subtly captures your mind and helps to take the tension away (and, as many of you know, that is truly saying something, since I listen to a whole host of musical styles and composers who are above the average cut)… Hennie is among the best I’ve listened to.  In my own life, I’ve had some experiences where the only viable therapy was music, and this album should be at the top of the list for music therapists looking for “just the right album” to reach the inner core of the spirit and help lift it back to where it belongs.

You will hear majestic orchestral strings on the beautiful “Quiescence” that have a marvelously uplifting quality – your soul will be shimmering brightly, and all your cares and concerns will be abandoned for the living of a life more meaningful than you could have imagined; that may sound like “hypester spin”, but I can guarantee you will feel the closeness of your maker as you listen to this grand sonic masterpiece!

My personal favorite of the six pieces offered up, “The Calm“, was also the longest on the album, clocking in at 13:20, so ensure that you’ll have no interruptions when you listen to it… this is exactly the kind of music my therapist (long time and many moons ago) was recommending – I just hadn’t heard it yet… the most poignant (as in pleasurably stimulating, per Merriam-Webster) part of this composition is the integration of bell/chime sounds in and around the keyboard and strings… in fact, Hennie’s music should be “prescribed” for folks who need a bit of help finding their way… if this doesn’t help to settle your raging seas – nothing will!

Hennie sometimes refers to his works as “music medicine”, especially since they incorporate certain sounds and structures that help to stimulate frequencies that automatically help a person to relax… if you are looking for something that will take you away from the pressures of everyday life and aid you in getting back to a more inspired sense of life and the living of it, this fantastic music comes MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED from me… my “EQ” (energy quotient) rating is 4.99 for this superb musical journey.  Be sure to visit the Hennie Bekker website  to learn more about Hennie and his most enchanting (and helpful) music!    Rotcod Zzaj

White Sun – White Sun II (special review by Zzaj)

White Sun – WHITE SUN II:  These folks (the core members are Harijiwan, two-time Emmy winner Adam Berry, and White Sun’s singer Gurujas; they got high marks for me in issue # 159, especially for their ability to create songs that “stay in your head” (probably much as the ancient singers and players intended with music that’s based on mantras) – and they do this in a most modern way, so that you feel their vibrations shining through into your soul… just listen to the 4:45 “Suniai“, and you’ll hear what I mean – Gurujas vocal on this is simple, yet a total projection of the unique power she has to wrap the listener in comfort and spiritual goodness.  The release of this new eleven-song aural adventure doesn’t “officially” happen until the 26th of August, 2016, but if you visit the White Sun website, you can pre-order it now, and watch some excellent videos of the group.  The percussion on the beautiful opener, “Gobinday Mukunday“, is better than any similar album I’ve listened to/reviewed in 2016, and the piece keeps coming back to capture my attention… that may be because the phrase means “clearing the subconscious” – and this powerful piece will do exactly that for all but those whose spirits are inaccessible.  My personal favorite on this album is “Chattra Chakkra Varti” – perhaps that is because it is a mantra used to remove fear, anxiety and phobias; a mantra to make one experience victory, and every time I listen to it, I emerge with a sense of new purpose and, indeed, winning against those demons that sometimes plague me (and us all, I suspect)!  I can say, without qualification, that this is the most beautiful meditative music set I’ve listened to (yet) in 2016… it gets a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED from me, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) of (a perfect) 5.00 – meaning that it also gets the “PICK” of 2016 for “best meditative album”!  As noted above, visit the White Sun website to get more information about these most enlightened players and their guests on this album (and tell them you read about them here, of course)!!!        Rotcod Zzaj

B-I-G kudos to Jerry’s Automotive & Towing (Olympia, WA)

One of the first things that most attracted me to Jerry’s Automotive & Towing (Olympia, WA) was their advertisement of “full service”, and their absolute willingness to make the term actually MEAN something!  It’s not just that they pump your gas for you, wash your windshields & check your oil (if you ask them to), they are, in a certain sense, a “throwback” to an era I was part of… I used to work at the pumps, changed a few tires and was there to watch as the “machines” came in & sorta’ “took over the business”.  Well, with these folks, you get both the high-tech capability and professional manner, but also a sense that you “belong” there!

I’ve been using their excellent services for a good year or two now, and there are several reasons:

Towing service – they offer full-service & highly qualified towing that is unparalleled in this town!

Full pump service – as mentioned above, when you pull up to a pump, you can expect quick and professional service to get you right back on the road again!

Highly-qualified mechanics – I trust both the top & bottom end work on my 1966 GTO to their lead mechanic, and that’s something that doesn’t often happen

If you’re looking for a place you can trust to get the job done, & done well, you need look no further.  The best example of their mechanical ability and professional manner is setting the timing on that GTO… I’d already been to a couple of other places, and thought I had it pretty well set, but when the condenser blew in my distributor, I asked Rob (the mechanic) if he could take a look at the timing, since he was going to have to replace the points anyway.  Within one short afternoon, he called me back & said the timing was set, & the car was ready to pick up… I can’t tell you just how overjoyed I was when I got behind the wheel & torqued that goat a bit to test out the timing…. the guy NAILED it!  Prices are (extremely) reasonable, and they will work closely with you to make sure you get just what you want (& need)…  I’m giving them my MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, and suggest that you may want to check them out the next time you’re in need of a tow, a repair, or just a good old friendly fill-up!  Again, KUDOS to y’all at Jerry’s Automotive & Towing.  (be sure & tell them you read about them here, too, ‘k?).

Bill Wren – Road To Chiang Mai (special review by Zzaj)

Bill Wren – Road To Chiang Mai:  This is Bill’s third release, & I’ve reviewed each one with increasing anticipation for the next.  After some personal tragedies hit him hard, he wound up (as artist-types often do) re-thinking where he was at & what he was doing!  After re-marrying around 2012 (I believe), he went on a honeymoon trip to various places ’round the Pacific, and a part of that was an extended trip to Thailand.  As I listen to compositions like the beautiful “Harmonia“, it’s very easy for me to picture some of the lush scenery in Thailand, and it brings back memories for me of long motorcycle treks through the entire northern part of the country (some simple, but lush, vocals are absolutely grand).  What most sets Bill’s work apart from other composers is his innate ability to use the sonic to enhance the listener’s images of what Bill was seeing when this music was first conceived.  From a personal perspective, Bill said he felt that the 2:59 “Ebb and Flow” came close to signifying his personal transitions during the difficult times after his first wife’s passage, and as you listen to it, you’ll hear (in most intimate detail) the sadness/joy/emotion he was feeling when the piece was realized… I just loved the keyboard and harp/string interplay on this piece.  Of course, he wasn’t alone in putting this marvelous music together, either… his musical partner Frank Ralls (who has been with him on each of his three releases) produced this one & so had a great amount of influence on the finished album.  The title track, Bill’s composition of “Road To Chiang Mai“, is both powerful and subtle at the same time (something I experienced a great deal when I lived in Thailand)… strong influence of the Orient shines through (I can easily visualize those elephant trains carrying the opium south to Bangkok as I listen to this – whoops – that’s another story, lol).


One of the things that was most impressive for me during my own travels between Pattya Beach, Korat and all the towns in between was the friendly spirit of the people in the country, and my personal favorite song of the thirteen offered up for your aural pleasure captured that friendliness in a most amazing way – “Enchanted Kingdom” will lift you out of whatever “bad place” you may be (or have been) in, and make you realize with full-string orchestral airiness and abounding POWER that a life well-lived, especially through the times of darkness, is truly what you’ve always been after.  Bill, Frank and the whole crew of players who did the music (Electric Guitar, Acoustic Guitar, Mandolin, Banjo: Micah Gilliam; Electric Guitar: Judson Crane; Bass Guitar: John Gibson; Live Strings: String Mob LA; Penny Whistle: Jim Farrelly; Drums, Piano, & Orchestral Programming: Frank Ralls; Voice: Aubrey Logan, Ben Bram, Tim Davis; Violin Solo: Ann Marie Calhoun; Cello Solos: Ben Lash, Judy Kang, & Nick Curry) turn in a performance that you won’t soon forget!  I’m more than “just impressed” with the music created here, and give it a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of a (perfect) 5.00 – meaning that it also gets the “PICK” for “best and most inspiring orchestral work”.  Get more information at Bill’s website.       Rotcod Zzaj 


Arun Shenoy “A Stagey Bank Affair” (special review by Zzaj)

Arun Shenoy & The Groove Project – A STAGEY BANK AFFAIR:  It’s been a while since I wrote my first review of Arun’s splendid instrumental works (issue # 131), and I’m even more enchanted on this new release than I was on that first album.  One part of this new release that got me excited immediately is the new video that accompanies it for the title track, “A Stagey Bank Affair”… (watch below):

As you’ll see (& hear), this short clip does a far better job of explaining the “spirit” of circus & merriment that Arun & The Groove Project evoke with their high-energy/high-talent compositions than mere “words” can express… this goes far, FAR beyond the “contemporary instrumental” framework noted in the promo sheets… this is full-blown fun, and certainly will merit new consideration by the Grammy Awards (the album I reviewed earlier was nominated for the 55th awards) (& remember to pass on to your friends that you heard it FIRST right here – this one will not only be nominated, but will WIN).  Arun’s stellar guitar work is complemented by one heckuvva cast of players… Ravichandra Kulur Flute; Jeff Coff and Nick Stefanacci on Saxophone; Jonathan Anand Wesley, Ed Roth and Dave Gross doing Keyboards; Felipe Praino, Jim Kimo West and Owen Gurry on Guitar; Ian Cameron Violin; Duke Purisima Bass; Jerry Chua Drums; and Don Hart providing Orchestration.  As you listen to tunes like “Speedway Rush“, featuring some astounding flute work from Ravichandra, and some wonderful orchestration, you’ll realize right away how powerful this musical extravaganza is!  The high-energy vibe and total beauty created on the 4:10 “Mary Go Around“, will make you fall in love with it right away – I particularly loved the keyboard/flute duos on this tune.   For some strange reason, the emotion-laden violin on “Sad Clown” evoked aural images of the Beatles “Fool On The Hill” (not quite sure why).

Of the ten excellent tracks offered up for your merriment & aural enjoyment, it is the the 4:57 “Hot Head Balloon” that got my vote for personal favorite… it most clearly illustrated (for this reviewer, anyway) what they were trying to do for the listening & viewing audience… bring to life the carnival/circus that life can (and should) be every day… in other words, Arun knows just how to use his music to inspire joy and fun!  If we had more music like this rolling round the globe, no one would be interested in thoughts of war and mayhem running so rampant today.  I give Arun and the Groove Project players a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for this totally absorbing musical adventure.  “EQ” (energy quotient) rating is a 4.99.  Get full information on the project, the players and Arun at his page for this fantastic album.         Rotcod Zzaj

Ann Licater – Beyond The Waves (special review by Zzaj)


Ann Licater – BEYOND THE WAVES:  As long-term readers of this magazine know, I’ve been reviewing Ann’s work for a long, long time now… at least since 2010, and perhaps before that!  She has a splendid array of players joining her flute work on this release, including Arielle, Arnaé Batson, Dan Ferguson, David DiLullo, Peter Phippen, Scarlet Rivera (read this document to see more detail about the players on each of the tracks).   What makes Ann’s music so unique is that all the tunes are originals, something quite unusual for even the best of flutists… what you will hear (if you listen closely to each tune) is totally hers… her spirit, her originality and her advanced musical insight.  The percussion intro on “Island Garden” moves ever so smoothly into a halcyon for these ever so hectic days… you will also hear her true mastery in the art of “weaving/layering” sounds into a song on this wonderful tune.  The electric bass intro from Peter on “Shimmering Waters” melds perfectly in with the other instruments, and will paint memories of your own experiences ’round shores distant or close, I’ve no doubt.  Many other artists I’ve listened to over the years who are doing flute work can come across as pretentious, or distant, but Ann’s special talent is making sure you know where she’s coming from, and she does an excellent job of that on my personal favorite of the 12 originals offered up – “Halcyon Morning” – this song will give you hope for every day, and energy for the future we all share.  This music will both touch and thrill your inner core, and you won’t find any artist who is better at giving you the gift of relaxation and rejuvenation.   I give Ann and all her players a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.99 for this most calming musical adventure.  Get more information about the release at Ann’s page for the album. Rotcod Zzaj