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March 8th, 2021

Sharel Cassity: Fearless (self-produced)

Saxophonist Sharel Cassity’s latest is called Fearless and it features her in a mostly original program with a great quartet that includes pianist Richard Johnson. Cassity makes some daring choices throughout on the disc, including a rather unique take on "The Very Thought Of You". The lead-off track, "Whimsy", evokes the early years of the Wynton Marsalis Quintet. Fearless is a provocative album where even the ballads grab your attention, and it’s definitely an impressive listen.

Gregory Dudzienski Quartet: Beautiful Moments (OA2/Origin)

Chicago saxophonist Gregory Dudzienski leads a great local quartet (rounded out by Chris White on piano, Kelly Sill on bass and Jeff Stitely on drums), on a program of nicely written and wonderfully executed originals on his newest, Beautiful Moments. From the mellow title track, to the exciting swinger "The Father", there is a lot to love here. Like, basically every track.

Erwin Helfer: Celebrate the Journey (The Sirens)

Chicago's own jazzy-bluesy, boogie-woogie pianist, Erwin Helfer, has gotten 2021 off to a nice start with his new album Celebrate the Journey, released on Steven Dolins's local record label, The Sirens. He calls the ensemble he leads the Chicago Boogie Ensemble... a fitting name for this bunch. The rhythm section of Helfer, Lou Marini (bass) and Davide Ilardi (drums) is joined by saxophonists John Brumbach and Skinny Williams on a batch of fun tunes - from "St. James Infirmary" to a handful of Erwin's originals. Everything here is laid back and smile-inducing, as you would expect.

Chicago Soul Jazz Collective: It Takes a Spark to Start A Fire (self-produced)

The Chicago Soul Jazz Collective is a crew of top-notch Chicago musicians - John Fournier (tenor sax), Marques Carroll (trumpet), Amr Marcin Fahmy (piano), Larry Brown, Jr (guitar), Andrew Vogt (bass) and Keith Brooks (drums) - who got together and released one of my favorite albums of 2020. Rooted deeply in the sounds of Horace Silver, Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers, Freddie Hubbard and Stanley Turrentine, the disc features original music with foot- tapping/head-bobbing grooves, and includes guest appearances from Nicholas Payton and Raul Midon, It Takes A Spark to Start a Fire is a solid jam.