May 24, 2015
Michael Dees The Dream I Dreamed (Jazzed Media JM 1071)
Although only recently becoming a familiar name to all who love to hear good songs well sung, Michael Dees has been around for a long time and heard by unknowing millions. During these many years in the business, dating back to the late 1960s, he was often heard singing on film and television soundtracks. He sang What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life on the soundtrack of the 1969 film, The Happy Ending, and the title song for the 1970 film, A Walk In The Spring Rain; he appeared on The Steve Allen Show; and he recorded albums for Dot Records and Capitol Records, the latter including 1968’s Talk To Me Baby. In later decades, Michael was heard on the soundtrack of Sabrina (1995) and he provided the singing voice, performing One For My Baby And One More For The Road, for actor Ray Liotta who played the role of Frank Sinatra in The Rat Pack (1998). He also recorded a fine album in 2002 for Mack Records, One Single Rose, but that was a dozen or so years ago and since then only those lucky enough to catch him live at jazz and supper clubs in and around Los Angeles and Palm Springs (where he now lives) have heard him. Now, there is a new album, recorded in late 2014, that shows another facet of this remarkable artist’s talent. Although his past performances have found Michael singing the great standards, he is also an accomplished songwriter and that particular talent is on vivid display on The Dream I Dreamed, all the songs on which are his compositions. And good songs they are, too, ranging through romantic ballads, I Miss You, Where Love Goes, I’m Home, and the especially attractive I Stay, to gently bouncing swingers, In A Moment, So Crazy For You, Back In New Orleans. Michael is accompanied by front-rank studio and jazz musicians: pianist Terry Trotter, bassist Chuck Berghofer, and drummer Steve Schaeffer, with guest trumpeters Steve Huffsteter and Sal Marquez, tenor saxophonists Chuck Manning, Bob Sheppard and Doug Webb, and percussionist Don Williams. Although Michael displays maturity with his interpretation of the lyrics he sings (here his own – elsewhere those of others), his lithe and fresh vocal sound is something many will love and certainly belies whatever age it might say on his passport.
Rebecca DuMaine The Consequence Of You (Summit DCD 654)
After some years working in regional theater as both actor and educator, Rebecca DuMaine began developing a latent interest in the standards of the Great American Songbook and in jazz. This interest had simmered throughout her childhood, thanks in large part to her father, Dave Miller, Bay Area pianist (and, when off-stage, successful attorney). Although an established teacher at New York’s Actors Studio, Rebecca developed her interest in jazz singing, taking particular note of the understated work of singers like Irene Kral and Peggy Lee, identifying an innate ability to inhabit a song’s lyric in a manner that mirrored her acting talent. Back on the west coast in 2008, she began working with her father’s trio and signed with Summit Records, making two albums, Deed I Do in 2011, and Better Than Anything in 2013. This new partnership was a learning curve for father and daughter. Although well known locally for many years as trio leader and accompanist to visiting jazzmen, Dave was not used to accompanying a singer but he reveled in the new demands. While Rebecca had acted on stage in all manner of productions, including Shakespeare, she was now performing in a very exposed setting for a very different audience. To help her master her new craft, she studied with Madeline Eastman and Kitty Margolis, finding work wherever she could. That father and daughter have succeeded superbly is evident from every note played and sung on The Consequence Of You. Ably supported by guitarist Brad Buethe, bassist Mario Suraci, and drummer Bill Belasco, Rebecca performs songs including There Will Never Be Another You, Exactly Like You, You’ve Changed, and Too Close For Comfort. To all the songs, many warmly familiar, she brings intelligent appreciation of the lyrics and, together with Dave and the other instrumentalists, finds the right balance twixt melody and rhythm that turns this into a jazz outing with many effective moments that allow everyone to share in the spotlight, notably in the many well-taken solos for Piano and guitar. These artists are billed as ‘The Dave Miller Trio with Rebecca DuMaine’ and this is how it should be because this is not a singer with backing group but a quartet of like-minded musicians wholly in tune with one another and with the music they perform.
Judy Wexler What I See (Jazzed Media JM 1065)
Although an established singer, Judy Wexler, has made far too few records and this one, released a couple of years ago, has not received the attention it so richly deserves. The songs choice is interesting – none overused, all melodically and lyrically pleasing. Among them are King Pleasure’s Tomorrow Is Another Day, Dory and André Previn’s Just For Now, Benny Carter’s Another Time, Another Place, and The Moon Is Made Of Gold by Richard Jones. Judy’s vocal sound is warmly enfolding, yet has a sinewy directness, suggesting an underlying strength of character. The accompanying instrumentalists providing an ideal frame for the musical pictures the singer paints are pianist Jeff Colella, guitarist Larry Koonse, bassist Chris Colangelo and drummer Steve Hass, with guests trumpeter Ron Stout, bass clarinetist Bob Sheppard, trombonist Scott Whitfield and percussionist Billy Hulting. Approaching the songs directly, with no unnecessary frills, Judy clearly revels in the subtleties of music and lyrics and takes full advantage of Jeff Colella’s fluid and spacious arrangements. Lovely stuff and if you missed it on its 2013 release now’s the time to seek to correct that omission.
For more on all these artists, including booking, see Mouthpiece Music or the artists’ websites (as highlighted above). To order CDs see label sites, Jazzed Media and Summit, or the usual walk-in and on-line stores, the latter including Amazon.
May 15, 2015
The Cunninghams São Paulo Lights (NH 8416)
This fine album brings both sorrow and joy. The sorrow is because this is one of the last recordings made by Don and Alicia Cunningham before Alicia’s death in December 2014. The joy comes from the music as this exceptional vocal duo joins forces with the Elvaldo Soares Quartet during a 2012 visit to Brazil. The four instrumentalists, leading lights of the richly varied São Paulo music scene, are pianist Elvaldo Soares, guitarist Cesar Lopes, bassist Lito Robledo, and drummer Douglas Andrade. Experts in Brazil’s national music, they are also experienced jazzmen. Among the songs heard here are some from the Latin and the jazz repertoires as well as standards. They include Anos Dourados, by Antonio Carlos Jobim-Chico Buarque de Holanda, Peter & Paul, Eumir Deodato, Morning, Clare Fischer, Love Vibrations, Horace Silver, My Ship, Kurt Weill-Ira Gershwin, and More Than You Know, William Rose-Edward Eliscu-Vincent Youmans. From soulful ballads to breakneck bebop by way of rhythmic Braziliana, the vocal duo is center stage throughout with their contrasting sound and style blending superbly: Alicia’s coolly poised, Don’s urgently edgy. Adding to the rhythmic drive of the quartet, Don is heard playing conga drums on some tracks, while on the closing track, São Paulo Lights, Roberto Sion plays flute and reeds. Lively and hugely entertaining, this is one to savor. The album might take some finding but do try; it is well worth the effort and you will surely agree that the duo had earned the acronym SJVP by which they were known: Super Jazz Vocal Pair.
For more on The Cunninghams, see my article in the June 2015 issue of Jazz Journal.
Joshua Breakstone 2nd Avenue (Capri 74137-2)
Bringing new life not only to some familiar music but also to the concept of ‛chamber jazz’, guitarist Joshua Breakstone presents this new release. Subtitled The Return Of The Cello-Quartet, this admirable set features not only Joshua’s fleet and deceptively simple-sounding lines but also cellist Mike Richmond, bassist Lisle Atkinson, and drummer Andy Watson. All four musicians play with skill, ingenuity and are very much like-minded in their approach. This is collective music making where the overall concept takes precedence over individuals. That said, the solos by the individual members of the group are all highly effective and vividly display their improvisational abilities. Among the music heard here are standards, I Wish I Knew and The Lamp Is Low; and jazz works, among which are Dexter Gordon’s Evergreenish, Cannonball Adderley’s Home, and Lee Konitz’s Thingin’. There are also two originals, one each my Lisle and Joshua. As a fine example of the qualities of musicianship these four men bring to their work, the (doubtless surprising) inclusion of I’m An Old Cowhand should be heard. Melodically, this is embedded in the subconscious of many and to hear it revived and reinvigorated with such sparkling wit and eloquence is a real joy.
For more on Joshua Breakstone contact Braithwaite & Katz ([email protected])
Michelle Lordi Drive (Creeper Music)
Michelle Lordi is a singer worth hearing again and again. She is a young woman, yet throughout this album displays maturity in the manner in which she presents songs, which are mostly standards. Among these songs are You’re My Thrill, Imagination, My Ship, I Fall In Love Too Easily and (I Don’t Stand) A Ghost Of A Chance. A clear, distinctive vocal sound marks Michelle’s work and it is a delight to hear her display care and understanding of the intent of the composers and lyricists. Choosing to stay close to the original forms in which the songs were cast, she colors them with subtle touches of phrasing that make them fresh and appropriate for today. There is a sophisticated elegance in Michelle’s approach but not one that distances her, instead it makes the listener eager to draw closer to share the experience. Michelle is accompanied by pianist Tom Lawton (Orrin Evans on three tracks), tenor saxophonist Larry McKenna, bassist Madison Rast, and drummer Dan Monaghan.
David Berkman Old Friends And New Friends (Palmetto PM2177)
With this new release, pianist David Berkman also displays his skill as a composer. He is clearly a listener, demonstrating this by writing music that effectively showcases the individual talents of the musicians with whom he is working. This music ranges through intimate moods, of which Psalm is an example, through lively swinging pieces, Up Jump Ming, to exhilarating blues-ish romps, No Blues No Really No Blues. David’s gifts as a soloist are similarly evident, but here he is primarily a team player and quite a team it is. With David are bassist Linda Oh (a member of his current quartet), drummer Brian Blade, and saxophonists Dayna Stephens (also in his quartet), playing soprano & tenor, Billy Drewes, soprano & alto, and Adam Kolker, soprano, alto & tenor (the last named also playing clarinet and bass clarinet). Brian Blade has worked with David from time to time over the years although not as often as both might have liked, given their separately busy schedules as bandleaders. Nevertheless, their musical affinity is evident throughout this fine set and Brian’s subtly understated propulsion is a highlight. Contemporary music-making of a very high order that will delight existing fans and should attract many newcomers.
For more on David Berkman contact Braithwaite & Katz ([email protected])
Roger Davidson Live At Caffè Vivaldi Volume 2 (Soundbrush SR 4002)
This second volume of music recorded at Caffè Vivaldi by Roger Davidson presents a set of his own compositions (there is one piece by Jobim). Released on Soundbrush (Roger’s own label), it is filled with delights. Although an eclectic musician, Roger has a very special affinity with the music of Brazil and this is vividly demonstrated here as he and his trio dance through the timeless rhythms of that land. On the first volume recorded at this venue, Roger played duets with bassist Pablo Aslan who is here again for three tracks, the rest of the set having bassist David Finck, with drummer Adriano Santos underpinning the music with an infectious beat. Over the years the musical links between Brazil and jazz have become ever stronger and Roger Davidson can take much credit for the part he has played and continues to play in this meeting of musical minds.
Perry Beekman S’Wonderful (own label)
For this new set of standards, singer-guitarist Perry Beekman is again joined by his regular musical companions, pianist Peter Tomlinson and bassist Lou Pappas. On their previous set, reviewed in April 2014, the trio played the music of Rodgers and Hart while here it is the work of George and Ira Gershwin on which they focus their respectful attention. George was deeply influenced by jazz in the 1920s and 1930s, and this is reflected in his compositions and correspondingly his themes were immediately picked up by musicians of the day and in every succeeding decade. Here, Perry’s arrangements retain the melodic delights of the songs, while allowing moments for improvised solos. George’s brother, Ira, also responded to contemporary trends in popular music and his lyrics display wit, ingenuity, poetic charm and wistful longing. Heard here are many of the Gershwins’ timeless wonders, among them Fascinating Rhythm, I Got Rhythm, How Long Has This Been Going On?, I’ve Got A Crush On You, and Someone To Watch Over Me.
For more on Perry Beekman see his site.
Most of these albums are available at Amazon.