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Diana Rein

Queen of My Castle

Diana Rein and Ana Popovic have interesting commonality. Both play blues guitar, sing, learned as children, are songwriters and were born in Eastern Europe (Rein-Romania and Popovic-Yugoslavia). Their similarities end there and So Cal dweller Rein, also a former child actor Home Alone I & II, honed her craft in Chicago. For Queen of My Castle, she retains Windy City fundamentals with hard rocking edges, countered by ingénue singing. Notable songs are “Yes, I Play The Blues,” the title track and  “Heat.” Alternately, Rein’s sultry side shines for “My Love,” “In The Chill of The Night” and instrumental ballad “Zoe.”

Sergio Mendes
In The Key of Joy
Concord Records 

This is one of a two-CD companion to filmmaker John Scheinfeld’s documentary chronicling Sergio Mendes’ impressive six-decade career (other is the film’s sound track). The bandleader/composer/keyboardist and longtime Los Angeleno maintains bossa, pop, jazz and hip-hop traits established during 2006 breakout project Timeless recorded with the Black Eyed Peas’ ITKOJ doubles-down on the formula, enlisting rappers Common and Compton’s Buddy, Brazilian keyboard wizards Hermeto Pascoal and João Donato, Brazilian master guitarist/singer Guinga,  band alumni singer Joe Pizzulo and daughter, Voice alumni Sugar Joans, Colombian pop duo Cali y El Dandee, R&B/jazz vocal sensation Sheléa and Mendes’ wife/singer, Gracinha Leporace. 

Judy Wexler
Crowded Heart
Jewell City Jazz

Los Angeles singer Judy Wexler continues down the very adventurous “non-standard” path for Crowded Heart. With collaborator, pianist/producer Alan Pasqua, she recorded songs by present-day jazz artists, Kurt Elling, Gregory Porter, Renee Marie and Luciana Souza that resonated with her, musically and lyrically. However, these singers are very individualistic and not easily transferable. Nonetheless, the creative duo ambitiously proceeded with an ensemble of notable LA musicians. The results are a collection of even-keeled, mostly somber songs suitable for unwinding and intimate settings. Standouts are Souza’s vibrant, bossa-tinged “Circus Life,” the romantic title track and Elling’s guitar-laden ballad “We Will Fly.” 

Josh Nelson
The Discovery Project Live in Japan
Steel Bird Music 

High-caliber Southern California pianist Josh Nelson has worked with top-flight performers in jazz, R&B and pop. Some of them are Kurt Elling, Natalie Cole, Benny Golson, Dave Koz, Freda Payne, Sara Gazarek and Tom Scott. Since 2004 Nelson has been leading and recording with his own groups. The latest project is a live recording in Japan with bassist Alex Boneham and drummer Dan Schnelle, highlighting the bandleader’s artistry and range. “Mint Blues” and “Reflections” recall the swinging and bluesy mastery of legends Oscar Peterson and Erroll Garner. While, “Atma Krandana” and “Introspection On 401” are nuanced 21st  century jazz.

Sara  Gazark
Thirsty Ghost
Sara Gazarek Music

After 15 years of professional recording, Seattle born/Los Angeles residing jazz singer Sara Gazarek controls her music. She produced and recorded sixth, and title track-less CD Thirsty Ghost. The title symbolizes her recent tumultuous personal history, introspection and artistic growth. Musically, Gazarek intermixed standards with Stevie Wonder’s “I Believe When I Fall in Love,” Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” and Nick Drake’s “River Man.” She additionally composed “Easy Love” with organist Larry Goldings and transformed pianist Brad Mehldau’s “When it Rains” into “Distant Storm,” which includes jazz star Kurt Elling. Most importantly, the singer confidently let’s her astounding voice pilot the selections.