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Jemal Ramirez | African Skies

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Howard Wiley Jemal Ramirez Warren Wolf

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Jazz: Cool Jazz Jazz: Post-Bop Moods: Type: Improvisational
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African Skies

by Jemal Ramirez

This album took one year to compose the original music, transcribe tunes I wanted to play, perform and record this music. This album is a true snapshot of each musician on this double album. No more than two takes of any of these tunes was needed.
Genre: Jazz: Cool Jazz
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  Song Share Time Download
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1. Latina
4:40 album only
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2. On the Move
5:04 album only
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3. African Skies
6:35 album only
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4. A Long Way Home
6:26 album only
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5. It Always Is
6:24 album only
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6. A Good Time
5:30 album only
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7. Where Are They
5:22 album only
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8. Save Your Love for Me
5:19 album only
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9. No Time Left
6:33 album only
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10. Episode from a Village Dance
5:56 album only
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11. Stasia
5:56 album only
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12. Jitney
6:39 album only
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13. Sister Cheryl
7:15 album only
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14. The Big Push
7:04 album only
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15. Big Girls
7:02 album only

ABOUT THIS ALBUM


Album Notes
The following words are from the liner notes written by famed jazz music writer Scott Yanow. These liner notes appear on the vinyl version of this album released on Joyful Beat Records.

AFRICAN SKIES liner notes

As a freelance jazz drummer, a bandleader and an influential educator, Jemal Ramirez has been making an impact in the Northern California jazz scene. With the release of last year’s Pomponio and now with his new African Skies double-CD, Ramirez is on his way to gaining greater recognition for his drumming, composing, and ability to fuse together talented musicians into a personal group sound.

The exact sextet featured throughout African Skies only actually existed for three days; the two in which this recording took place and a single gig performed the night before the first record date. However Jemal Ramirez was quite familiar with each of his sidemen’s playing, and all but trumpeter Mike Olmos were also part of Pomponio. “I’ve known our saxophonist Howard Wiley the longest,” says Ramirez. “We met around 20 years ago at the Stanford Jazz Workshop and played together regularly for three or four years. I enjoy his energy and his constant creativity. I’ve always been a big Bobby Hutcherson fan and knew that Warren Wolf would fit in perfect with this group.” The drummer had also been long acquainted with pianist Matthew Clark, bassist John Shifflett and trumpeter Mike Olmos, each of whom are very active in Northern California.

African Skies is filled with high-quality post-bop jazz pieces that utilize advanced harmonies and original chord changes. It is a fine showcase for these inventive musicians with Wolf, Wiley, Olmos and Clark taking many rewarding solos while Shifflett and Ramirez give consistently stimulating support to the lead voices. Although most of the songs on African Skies are either originals or superior obscurities, the sessions came together quickly. “We just went into the studio with the charts and recorded. There were no more than two takes on any of the songs and several are first takes. With musicians of this caliber, it does not take long.”

The program begins with the Freddie Hubbard tune “Latina.” Ramirez leads the piece in and there are excellent spots for Wiley, whose passionate tone on alto is a little reminiscent of Sonny Criss, and the energetic Wolf. Ramirez’s “On the Move” lives up to its title. The medium-up piece, a dedication to the music that tenor-saxophonist Joe Henderson played with trumpeter Kenny Dorham in the mid-1960s, has high-energy statements from trumpeter Olmos, pianist Clark and Wiley on tenor.

Michael Brecker’s “African Skies” is given an infectious r&b groove which inspires heated yet thoughtful statements from Wolf and Clark on electric piano. Tom Harrell’s “It Always Is,” which has rarely been recorded, deserves to be discovered and is given an exciting interpretation with blazing tenor, trumpet, piano and vibes solos. Listen to how Ramirez drives the band throughout including during the rousing closing ensembles.

The leader’s “A Long Way Home” is a bit unusual for it originally did not have a melody. Howard Riley (on soprano) and Warren Wolf play off of each other, inventing a theme along the way in what turns out to be a picturesque ballad.

Bassist-trombonist Matt Finders contributed a few songs to this set including “A Good Time.” Originally written for a group with four horns, Finders reworked the tune for the sextet and the result is an infectious Latin romp with Wiley in particularly passionate form. Ramirez’s “Where They Are” is a somber and tasteful tribute to the composer’s father and two of his grandparents, all of whom passed away in recent years.

“Save Your Love For Me,” has Wolf’s vibes playing the melody in place of the usual vocal and he is featured throughout the successful instrumental version. Ramirez and his group perform Benny Golson’s “Speak Low” in 7/4 time which makes the standard from the 1950s sound brand new. Finders’ “Isla’s Aria” has a particularly likable theme, nice arranged sections behind the soloists, and an assortment of relaxed and warm improvisations.

The second disc begins with the drummer’s cooking ‘No Time Left,” a modal piece that definitely has the feeling of urgency throughout the rewarding solos. Ramirez’s drum breaks over the closing vamp are a highlight. The mysterious-sounding “Stasia” is quite atmospheric. Donald Brown’s spirited “Episode From A Village” gives the group an opportunity to utilize a Latin feel. Wolf’s speedy runs on vibes steal the show although Ramirez’s supportive rhythms should not be overlooked.

John Scofield’s “Don’t Shoot The Messenger” is a medium-tempo swinger that inspires some fine playing by Wolf, Wiley and Matthew Clark (on electric piano). Drummer Victor Lewis’ “Big Girls,” which was first heard by Ramirez performed by Lewis with Bobby Watson’s Horizon, is a melancholy ballad that is given a haunting treatment. Christian McBride’s “Youthful Bliss” is a real swinger that is given an enthusiastic treatment.

Wayne Shorter’s harmonically advanced “The Big Push” sets a melancholy mood, has some of Warren Wolf’s finest playing of the set, and features Wiley creating a heated improvisation. After Matt Finders’ thoughtful “Jitney,” the outing concludes with Tony Williams’ most famous original “Sister Cheryl” which proves to be as singable as ever in this melodic version.

Jemal Ramirez, who grew up in Merced, California, remembers hearing the fusion jazz that his father loved in the 1970s and the pop music that his mother listened to on the radio. His father had been a semi-professional drummer before Ramirez was born and, since there was a drum set in the house, he enjoyed playing along to father’s records. Ramirez performed in his school bands starting in fifth grade, gigged around town, and learned a lot while attending the Stanford Jazz Workshop as a teenager in 1991. Among his musical experiences since then have been performing fusion with After Dark, working with the Eric Reed Trio at the Antibes Jazz Festival, and playing regularly with Marcus Shelby for three years, often four or five times a week. Since earning a degree in Music Education, Ramirez has worked as an educator/band director in addition to being a freelance drummer.

While his life was certainly busy, Ramirez also had the desire to perform and record as a leader. “I wanted to play with the musicians who I had the most fun with, all of whom are at a high level.” On his first solo album, Pomponio, the drummer put together a septet that, in addition to trumpeter Joel Behrman and percussionist John Santos, featured Warren Wolf, Howard Wiley, Matthew Clark and John Shifflett. The music, which was sometimes a bit reminiscent of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, mixed together originals with revivals of some rarely-played songs from the era.

African Skies is an important step forward for Jemal Ramirez. “With the two CDs coming out, we are getting many opportunities to play at many more venues. I would love to take these musicians out on the road in the future because I sure enjoy playing with these guys.”

And fans of modern straight ahead jazz will certainly enjoy hearing Jemal Ramirez and his musicians on African Skies and in concert.

Scott Yanow, jazz journalist/historian and author of 11 books including The Jazz Singers, The Great Jazz Guitarists and Jazz On Record 1917-76

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