February 27, 2024

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CD review: Jean Fineberg & Jazzphoria 2022: Video, CD cover

JAZZphoria is a contemporary octet based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Their material ranges from swing and blues to funk, R&B, hip hop, bebop and New Orleans second line. The tight four-member horn section and grooving rhythm section replicate the arrangements and power of a Jazz Orchestra, while presenting a fun and exciting live show. Leader Jean Fineberg wrote all the tunes at her nine music composition residency fellowships areound the US, and guitarist Nancy Wenstrom contributed one tune.

Saxophonist Jean Fineberg brings her four-horn octet to the stage to feature tunes from the new album that will be released in April 2022. They call the music “groove beat” because it’s all about the rhythm! Jean’s original tunes/arrangements cover swing, bebop, funk, R&B, New Orleans Second Line, jazz waltz, reggae and the kitchen sink.

JAZZ phoria is a contemporary original music octet led by saxophonist/composer Jean Fineberg. Danceable rhythms are the backbone of the group’s all-original repertoire, which includes swing, bebop, funk, R&B, New Orleans Second Line, reggae and the kitchen sink. JAZZ phoria is fueled by veteran musicians who have performed and/or recorded with Melba Liston, Larry Elgart, David Bowie, Laura Nyro, Cornell Dupree, Andrea Bocelli, Mo’fone, The Montclair Women’s Big Band and many others. Jean Fineberg is a recipient of nine composer-in-residence fellowships, two grants from the NEA, multiple grants from Meet the Composer, The American Federation of Musicians, Chamber Music America, the Doris Duke Foundation and IntermusicSF. Her compositions have been performed at the Monterey Jazz Festival, The San Jose Jazz Festival, Carnegie Hall, The Grammys and the Kennedy Center. The ensemble’s name refers to the ethereal moment when everyone is in sync and “in the zone.”

Tenor saxophonist-flutist Jean Fineberg puts the icing on the cake of a 50-year career with the April 8 release of Jean Fineberg & JAZZphoria on her Pivotal Records imprint. While the album is her first under her own name, Fineberg is anything but a newcomer to the music world: She has since the early 1970s been building up a jaw-dropping body of accomplishments that includes rock and fusion bands, session work on pop hits, and touring with jazz, salsa, and singer-songwriter icons. Many of those accomplishments are reflected in her debut album, which places her at the front of an octet (the JAZZphoria of the title) with baritone saxophonist-bass clarinetist Carolyn Walter, keyboardist-flutist Erika Oba, trumpeters Marina Garza and Tiffany Carrico, guitarist Nancy Wenstrom, bassist Susanne DiVincenzo, and drummer Lance Dresser, plus special guests.

Much of JAZZphoria’s personnel overlaps with the Montclair Women’s Big Band, the celebrated Bay Area ensemble of which Fineberg has been assistant director and resident composer since 1997. She wanted to concentrate the 17-piece band’s creative force into a streamlined, four-horn powerhouse. “I wanted a team atmosphere,” she adds regarding her strategy. “We have that in the big band, as well as in JAZZphoria. … However, we do have a man on drums, so we’re not one of those single-gender bands!”

It’s not really a single-genre band either, despite the obvious jazz context. Fineberg leads JAZZphoria through a wild variety of sounds and styles. The opening “Bluesworthy” is classic big-band swing, while “Unfinished Business” is a sly tango. “Dive Bar” is a stinging guitar-led blues. “Raw Bar,” though it uses a Middle Eastern harmonic language, harks back to the fusion band DEUCE, which Fineberg co-led in the 1980s.

“I don’t want all my music to sound the same,” Fineberg says. “I’m too interested in different things.”

The album’s wide range of musical flavors gets a boost from its equally wide range of soloists. Each of the band’s eight core members gets moments in the spotlight (and on multiple instruments, in the cases of Fineberg, Oba, and Walter). So do their guests. Jennifer Jolly takes a muscular piano turn on the New Orleans groover “More Funner”; percussionist Michaelle Goerlitz brings zesty energy to “St. Mildred the Short’s” calypso; Ariane Cap doubles down on the bluesy “Live at the Buck Snort Saloon” with her driving slap-bass; and Ellen Seeling—Fineberg’s directing partner in the MWBB—delivers a gorgeous, sultry trumpet line on Nancy Wenstrom’s “Unfinished Business.”

In short, Jean Fineberg & JAZZphoria is the sound of not just one, but a whole array of highly accomplished and versatile talents. Even so, it is Fineberg, who, in addition to leading the band, composed all but one of the tunes and arranged the whole album, whose vision is at the album’s heart.

Born April 1, 1946 in the Bronx and raised in nearby New Rochelle, Jean Fineberg knew she was a musician from early childhood. She began studying piano at 6 and violin at 9 before discovering the flute at 11. She also dabbled in drums and guitar as a teenager, then eventually began to study tenor saxophone, which became her main instrument. She took it and the flute with her to Pennsylvania State University, where she earned two bachelor’s degrees and a master’s in succession.

In 1972, Fineberg became a founding member of Isis, an all-female jazz-rock band based in Manhattan. While the band never achieved major commercial success, it won positive notices and opened doors for Fineberg on the New York music scene. Along with Isis’s three albums, she played on dozens of recordings across the 1970s and ’80s, including smash hits by David Bowie, Sister Sledge, and Chic as well as the Brecker Brothers horn section. She toured with Laura Nyro and jazz trombonist-bandleader Melba Liston and performed with Dizzy Gillespie and Clark Terry at Carnegie Hall. In the mid-’80s, Fineberg co-founded (with Ellen Seeling) the fusion band DEUCE, which became a staple of jazz festivals and recorded two albums of her original music.

Settling in the San Francisco Bay Area, Fineberg reestablished herself in the 1990s as a first-call West Coast musician before joining Seeling’s newly established Montclair Women’s Big Band in 1997. In the 25 years since, it has been her primary outlet, both in the reed section and as the band’s primary composer and arranger. The superlative musicianship she encountered in the band was the catalyst for Jean Fineberg & JAZZphoria, Fineberg’s long-in-the-making debut as name-above-the-title bandleader.

Fineberg is on the faculty of the Jazzschool at the California Jazz Conservatory in Berkeley, where she directs annual Jazz & Blues Camps for women and girls (“my way of trying to pay it forward”). On the extramusical front, she has published her poetry in more than 20 journals; her new collection is A Mobius Path (Finishing Line Press).

1. Bluesworthy
2. Synesthesia
3. Raw Bar
4. Hemiology
5. Unfinished Business
6. More Funner
7. Key Westing
8. St. Mildred the Short
9. Dive Bar
10. Away with Words
11. Live at the Buck Snort Saloon

Tenor sax/flute – Jean Fineberg
Bari sax/flute – Carolyn Walter
Trumpet/flugelhorn – Tiffany Carrico, Marina Garza
Guitar – Nancy Wenstrom
Keys/flute/piccolo – Erika Oba, Jennifer Jolly
Bass – Susanne DiVicenzo, Ariane Cap, Jodi Durst
Drums – Lance Dresser, Jeremy Steinkoler

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