Friday, December 5, 2014


Steve Koven
Bungalow Records
4 out of 5 stars

Being a pianist involves taking on a lot of roles.    One role would be the anchor of a ensemble providing rhythmic and harmonic support.    Another role would be anchoring a vocalist or a soloist to ensure they sound good and effective on stage.    There is a time that comes where the pianist has to do all those roles and both shine on one’s own as a solo performer.

In his 20+ year illustrious career, after putting out trio recordings, leading various projects in the city and working with a vocalist, Steve Koven reflects on his career in a different way by performing a solo recital of 12 compositions that draws upon his varied influences in jazz, classical, gospel, folk and latin music styles.

As a pianist and composer, Mr. Koven has a sheer knack of producing melodic and concise melodies that could be well suited for film music or a perfect soundtrack to a hectic day at work for relaxation.    His playing and compositions echoes feelings of joy, rememberance, melancholy and romanticism while staying true to both his art and craft as a searching, improvising musician.

I give kudos to Mr. Koven for putting out a unique project that is original, creative, reflective and celebratory of his achievements over the years that he has been a musician.    For a solo piano record, it’s an effective break from the usual standard repertoire and thus casts a light on other aspects of solo piano music that has not been encountered before.   “Solo Retrospective” is a moving musical journey which brings concise beauty into each performance and leaves the listener craving for more upon listening.


Thursday, September 25, 2014


Deborah Ledon
Independent, 2014
3.5 out of 5 Stars

In her debut record, Vancouver native Deborah Ledon brings a very smooth, laid back and sensual take on adult contemporary Latin Jazz that is infused with creative arrangements, clear vocals, and strong back up from a team of skillful musicians.  

Instead of littering her debut jazz record with pure Great American songbook standards, she takes songs from various pop icons, a few jazz classics, Latin standards and even a few originals of her own.   For instance, Deborah brought a lot of freshness and uniqueness by interpreting k.d. lang’s “Constant Craving” in a Latin style; Gloria Gaynor’s disco classic “I Will Survive” was treated as a moody, romantic, yet light Latin number that was innovative and not kitschy at all; Joni Mitchell’s “Help Me” was treated as a spicy salsa groove; and Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love” was taken as a moody tango backdrop that adds to the “misterioso” of Leonard Cohen’s music.

In addition to these pop classics, Deborah Ledon also contributes to the project by contributing originals to the project such as “Se Va Y Se Va”, “Te Estrano”, and “I Love To Love You”.   With these songs it showed great command of the Latin idiom and language, and she is also an effective communicator of expressing her emotions through her own work.

What I appreciate in Deborah’s voice is her clear sense of diction and feeling when she sings such songs.   The lyrics are treated with proper respect and she is really coming of her own as a Latin jazz stylist.   The only thing I wished in this project was more varied styles such as swing, but with this record and what she is trying to do she has effectively found her niche in Latin music and is willing to grow within it.  Deborah’s “Diving for Pearls” is a debut full of promise, poise, and possibility for one who is willing to take creative new risks with her music.   


Tuesday, September 16, 2014


Darlene Love.   Tata Vega.   Merry Clayton.   Lisa Fisher.     What do these four artists have in common?

For starters, they possess some of the most wondrous and rapturous voices ever captured on stage and on record.   But they also share one thing:  they made their mark behind the spotlight as backup singers for some of the great pop/rock legends of today such as The Rolling Stones, Luther Vandross, Sting, Bruce Springsteen, and Lynyrd Skynyrd to name a few.  

20 Feet From Stardom, which won the 2013 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, has got to be hands down one of the best documentaries of music I have ever encountered.   It gives us a close eye view of the very people that made these records shine.   These artists were classically trained, got their start in the church, and eventually spread their wings backing up such historical artists that their careers are set.

What this film also shows is the hardships they go through and the choices that they make while being a backup artist and eventually trying to spread their wings as a solo artist.   We see how the underbelly of popular taste, record executives, and record labels would not take further chances of such talented backup singers since it is not just about the voice, but about the package.   Some of these singers are even better than Whitney, Mariah, or Celine combined, but they are not given a chance because the pop music world is a vicious cycle of what can be “packaged” and “marketed” to be acceptable to the public.

For instance, backup singer Lisa Fisher, who sings for the Rolling Stones and Luther Vandross, has tried her hand at a solo career and even won her first Grammy award as a result.   But her record company stopped working and producing her sophomore release since the numbers “didn’t sell”.   

Darlene Love is an inspirational story in which she got her start singing backup vocals for Phil Spector’s records, and since she didn’t want no part of Phil’s control anymore, she was out of work and ended up back in the church and cleaned houses for a living.   Then while cleaning a house, she got back into music after hearing her own song on a clients bedroom radio, prompting her that she needs to sing and pursue a solo career for the rest of her life.   Not only she saw success, but also landed a movie deal and regular appearances on the late night talk show circuit such as David Letterman and Jay Leno.

20 Feet From Stardom, from start to finish, is a soulful and uplifting look at true talent going against all odds to make it in the cutthroat world of the music business, while not sacrificing their integrity and character in the process.


One of the most insightful documentaries about music that has come out in recent years has got to be Tom Berninger’s “Mistaken For Strangers”.   

The movie is an in-depth look of a tale of two brothers living different lives while trying to understand one’s strengths and failures as they grow together in real life.  The brothers in question are Tom Berninger himself and his rock and roll superstar brother, Matt Berninger, who is the lead singer of the Grammy nominated alternative group “The National”.

In this film, we see the behind the scenes look at Tom envying the glamorous and the “successful” life that his brother Matt leads, while accompanying him on tour as a roadie for their latest tour.   Personalities clash, tempers flare, and emotions arise as one sees the fun and excitement of it all while others see it as a strict business transaction that must go to order as planned.

Another part of the film is Tom’s struggles to put together a quality documentary and body of work that he can be pleased at and at once feel like he has achieved “success”.    There are scenes where he feels like he hasn’t made it and wished like he was his “quarterback” brother that has got everything on a string except the kitchen sink, not knowing that he has strengths, qualities, and unique abilities that a “superstar” doesn’t have.

For Tom Berninger’s first film, this is an amazing film that is part family story, part rock documentary, and part social commentary that illustrates the message of what is “true success”.    The world sees rock stardom and performing to thousands of people as “successful”.   For those that live at home and make underground films, the world may not see it as a success.   Tom Berninger through its blood, toil, sweat and tears has created a portrait that illustrates effectively that when one is in the zone and does what they love, no matter what the setbacks, disappointments and curveballs thrown in their way, everyone is a success in their own unique ways.