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(Published: March 16, 2016)

Washington, D.C., native, trumpeter par excellence, Al Strong, an alumni of The Duke Ellington School for Performing Arts, in D.C., is a proud extremely productive graduate of the well-known prestigious Jazz Studies Department of North Carolina Central University (NCCU), in Durham, North Carolina. Under the able and excellent direction of chairman and reedman Dr. Ira Wiggins, the NCCU Jazz Studies Department has distinguished itself as one of the finest programs in the nation, maybe the world. Their big band ensembles, vocal ensembles, faculty bands have performed at the White House twice, as well as at The Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island, and The Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland. The NCCU Jazz Studies Department faculty, of which Strong is a member of, includes well-seasoned, dedicated musicians, like artists-in-residence, saxophonist Branford Marsails, and pianist Joey Calderazzo, who are serious about keeping the fire lit to this music we call jazz.

Strong's new album "Love Strong Volume 1" is a testament to that continuing Carolina flame and he is a fine example of a humble superb artist who knows that his music must reflect his life, yet at the same time it must do what this music has always done-heal, stay in the blues tradition and swing! His ensemble included some fellow former NCCU musicians who knew exactly what Al wanted and the soulful recording is full of thought-provoking original selections and standards done in a way that shows off Al's tendency to mix it up nicely, and always keep it in the pocket. Kudos to the drummers, both former NCCU Jazz Studies students, Jeremy "Bean" Clemmons and Iajhi Hampden who both keep outstanding time throughout the festivities. Clemmons was also the CD's producer and mixer. Wiggins and Calderazzo are also included on the recording.

The CD starts out swinging nicely (as in 4/4) with an original called "Getaway 9." It begins with a hip solo from saxophonist Bluford Thompson and a hot one from Al. The pianist Lovell Bradford also dug in nicely when his time came to deliver his chops. The selection also featured tasty accented drumming from Clemmons. "Getaway 9" is the best tune of the outing and was the perfect way to begin it not only because it swings but because it set the first-class, sophisticated tone for the rest of the album. Also noteworthy are the two beautiful, blissful, nostalgic ballads, first an original called "Was" and the equally pleasing to the ear "Lilly's Lullaby."

Al's Latin, calypso-like, go-go arrangement of "My Favorite Things" put a surprising twist to a well-used composition that has been recorded and performed by numerous musicians including the master of the modern saxophone North Carolina native John Coltrane. Strong's reading is strictly high energy and features the distinctive percussion work of a young master New York-bred, NCCU graduate Brevan Hampden. Al also does a very creative job with pianist/composer Kenny Barron's masterpiece "Voyage" which is generally played in an upbeat manner. This one starts out slow and begins to pick up speed midway with fat licks from Al. It ends swinging and is about as nice as it get as far as fine music is concerned.

Al is on his way to becoming a master musician if he keep moving in this direction. His music is not only a joy to listen to, it is obviously the work of a very dedicated individual who spends a great deal of time in the "shed" practicing his art form. It is the horn work of an artist whose blues-inflicted, Southern-church happy feeling sound is quite evident. It is a sweet sound that the North Carolina native the great bassist the late Percy Heath smiled and called "that good old one foot stomping Sunday church beat." It is that feeling that one gets from Al Strong's sound and it is a sound that we look forward to hearing more of in the future. We can hardly wait for Volume 2!

Al Strong is scheduled to appear at the world famous Blues Alley Club, in Al's hometown of Washington, D.C., March 28. 2016. For more information call (202) 427-2641.

More Information: https://alstrongmusic,com

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