March 31, 2014
Kris Adams Longing (Jazzbird JB 003)
As a glance at the composers and lyricists whose work is presented here instantly conveys, Kris Adams draws her repertoire from a broad palette. There are songs by Joni Mitchell, songs with lyrics by Norma Winstone and Abbey Lincoln, songs from the pens of names as diverse as Mary Lou Williams and Cole Porter. There are also songs with lyrics by Kris herself, to music by Steve Swallow (Wrong Together), Joakim Breicha (When You Smile) and one, Pulled Pork, for which she also wrote the music, and there are also some Latin touches. Kris’s voice is light and tuneful, gently introspective, and admirably suits the contemporary jazz scene. Most of the arrangements here are by Greg Hopkins, who also plays trumpet and flügelhorn. Among other instrumentalists on this album are pianist Tim Ray, guitarist Eric Hofbauer, saxophonists Shannon LeClaire and Bob Patton and Rick DiMuzio. This album will prove especially attractive to those whose taste leans towards thoughtful and highly musical latterday concepts of jazz song.
Juhani Aaltonen To Future Memories (TUM Records TUM CD 036)
Hearing Juhani Aaltonen play, it is hard to believe that this questing, inventive and always forward-looking musician has been active in Finnish jazz circles since the end of the 1950s. Although he was an in-demand studio musician through the following decades, Juhani also played free jazz and jazz rock, worked with musicians such as Edward Vesala, Arild Andersen, Heikki Sarmanto, Helsinki’s New Music Orchestra, Peter Brötzmann and the UMO Jazz Orchestra, and he also led his own small groups.
Now, many years later, Juhani is as adventurous as ever before, playing alto and tenor saxophones and flute and bass flute in intriguing explorations of music composed by Antti Hytti. The core group is Juhani’s quartet: pianist Iro Haaria, bassist Ulf Krofors, drummer Reino Laine; extended on this outing by bassist Ville Herraia and percussionist Tatu Rönkkö. The music is drawn mainly from Antti Hytti’s work in the motion picture industry, for which he composed during the 1980s and 90s. The composer’s themes are often pleasingly lyrical, a quality that is especially appropriate for an instrumentalist such as Juhani, who has always maintained lyricism in his playing.
Henrik Otto Donner & TUMO And It Happened . . . (TUM Records TUM CD 039)
Always melodic and intriguing, the music composed by Henrik Otto Donner is especially suited to the music played by TUMO. This is a large studio-assembled orchestra drawn from Finland’s notable and effective improvised music scene. On this occasion, TUMO is joined by alto and tenor saxophonist Juhani Aaltonen and vocalist Johanna Ilvanainen, both of whom provide thoughtful interpretations of the composer’s concepts. TUMO is a 33-piece orchestra, with brass, reeds and rhythm conducted by Mikko Hassinen, and strings conducted by the composer. This album was recorded late in 2012; sadly Henrik Otto Donner died the following year.And It Happened . . . is an eloquent memorial to a fine musician.
More information about Kris Adams can be found on her site (see above) and the Jazz Promo Services website; and there is also the TUM Records site. As always, Amazon is the place to go for these and other albums.
March 23, 2014
In a musical world where originality is much rarer than publicists would have us believe, it is always a delight to hear a singer-pianist as gifted as Dena DeRose. Importantly, Dena is not simply a pianist who sings; neither is she a singer who happens to accompany herself from the piano. Rather, she is a hugely talented jazz pianist who could (and, indeed, has) made her name as such. She is also a distinctive and distinguished jazz singer, whose work in this form would be highly collectible regardless of how she was accompanied. That Dena can bring these two marvelous assets together with skill and flair puts her in a class of very special artists.
Some time ago, I was privileged to be invited to write the liner notes for Dena’s Another World (Sharp Nine CD 1016-2) in 1999, and there I drew attention to the aplomb with which she performed the difficult dual role. It is a role that she achieves with seemingly effortless ease, and if this were not enough, she is also a skilled arranger, creating spacious settings for the musical delights presented by herself and her accompanists who include Ingrid Jensen, Steve Wilson and Steve Davis. On a later album, 2000’s I Can See Clearly Now (Sharp Nine CD 1018-2), Dena is again surrounded by strikingly gifted fellow musicians, among them Jim Rotondi and Joe Locke. Also apparent here is how much Dena has grown between these albums, and it is a growth that continues with Love’s Holiday (Sharp Nine CD 1024-2), a lovely 2002 set mainly of standards, through which she demonstrates how far ahead she was then of her contemporaries in the over-populated world of jazz singing. Also here, Dena’s arranging talent is brought into the spotlight as she performs songs heard a thousand times before, letting her listeners hear Lover, I Thought About You, I Didn’t Know What Time It Was, and The Nearness Of You, as if they were fresh from their composers’ pens. On this CD, Dena is again aided by an outstanding instrumental team that includes Peter Washington, Matt Wilson, Tony Kadleck, and Sara Della Posta, while Rotondi, Locke and Davis all appear again.
As is well known, Dena became a singer in an accidental way. As she was starting to make her mark as a pianist, illness prevented her from playing for a while and instead she began to sing. By the time she was able to resume playing, her qualities as a singer had been recognized by audiences. Importantly, she, too, had realized that this previously undeveloped talent was one of real merit. From that moment on she became one of the best singer-pianists in jazz today. Indeed, however far back one might care to spread the net, Dena DeRose is a major presence in that important field.
Two live sets very well worth the attention of music lovers are Live At The Jazz Standard Volumes 1 & 2 (MaxJazz Records MX1 504 & 505), recorded in 2007, and Travelin’ Light (MaxJazz Records MX1 507), recorded in 2012. On the date recorded at New York’s The Jazz Standard, Dena is joined by bassist Martin Wind and drummer Matt Wilson with saxophonist Joel Frahm sitting in on a few numbers. Among the songs performed are Speak Low, Alone Together, Green Dolphin Street, Lover and a marvelous interpretation of Laughing At Life. Surprisingly, Dena had not been recorded unaccompanied until Travelin’ Light, a set performed at Antwerp’s The Chromatic Attic. This album as much as any confirms that hearing Dena is an exceptional experience; her voice is warm and engaging, her interpretations, both vocally and instrumentally, are musically and emotionally satisfying.
In all of this delightful music making, Dena subtly underlines her respect for the intentions of the composer and lyricist, yet still makes the songs entirely her own in a way that is wholly charming. And all the while, she stamps her own jazz feeling firmly upon the material.