Jazz CD Reviews – late January 2018

January 31, 2018

As Is (Alan & Stacey Schulman) Here’s To Life (independent)

At the heart of this exceptional album are singer Stacey Schulman and guitarist Alan Schulman. Although both of these artists have been active in the music business for many years, their names have only recently become known to audiences. Alan has played as a sideman with many noted jazz artists, while Stacey’s voice has been heard often if anonymously through her work as a session singer and in commercials and on soundtracks. Despite having been around for more than two decades, Stacey’s singing voice, fresh and vibrant, casts a youthfully optimistic glow on the songs she sings, while bringing mature understanding to her interpretation of the lyrics. Most of the songs chosen for this, their second album, are well known but are far from being overdone. Stylistically, Stacey and Alan touch on jazz, bossa nova and purest balladry. as is cdIn all cases, they find new ways to approach the songs, ways that preserve the origins yet make out of them very personal statements. The musicians joining Alan and Stacey here include drummer Marcus Baylor, bassists Rashaan Carter, Matt Geraghty and Kevin Powe, Jr., and percussionist Alejandro Lubini. Among the songs are Buddy Johnson’s Save Your Love For Me, featuring alto saxophonist David Binney, Barry Manilow and Johnny Mercer’s When October Goes, Stevie Wonder’s Overjoyed, Ann Ronnell’s Willow Weep For Me, featuring harmonica player Grégoire Maret, Dizzy Gillespie’s A Night In Tunisia, and Phyllis Molinary and Artie Butler’s Here’s To Love. There is not a weak track here while some are outstanding (notably, for me, Willow Weep For Me and When October Goes).

For more on Alan & Stacey Schulman, including booking, contact Mouthpiece Music.

Marlene VerPlanck

January 21, 2018

Marlene VerPlanck

An exceptionally gifted singer, Marlene VerPlanck died on Sunday, 14 January 2018. Comfortable in almost any setting, Marlene was a superb interpreter of the great standards and she also happily integrated with jazz musicians, performing live and on record with small groups and big bands. She was born Marlene Pampinella on 11 November 1933 in Newark, New Jersey. Starting to sing at the end of her teens, during the 1950s she worked with the big bands of Tex Beneke, Charlie Spivak and Tommy Dorsey. Also on these last two bands was trombonist-arranger J. ‘Billy’ VerPlanck (1930-2009) and they soon married. Settling in the New York area, they worked as studio musicians during the 1960s and 1970s, Marlene singing on hundreds of commercials and also as a studio back-up singer for many artists (including Frank Sinatra). She also sang in jazz clubs and began recording as a solo artist, with her husband as arranger. From the 1980s onward, Marlene toured internationally as a solo artist, gaining a wide following, and she also recorded extensively, mostly for Audiophile Records. The first of her albums I heard – and reviewed for Jazz Journal – was entitled Pure and Natural, a phrase that aptly defined Marlene’s vocal sound. Not long after that first hearing, I met and interviewed Marlene and Billy – also for JJ – and a lasting friendship was formed. Among musicians with whom she recorded are Loonis McGlohon, Harry Allen, Warren Vaché Jnr, Tedd Firth and John Pearce and she also worked with Glenn Francke’s Big Band in the USA, the French band, Saxomania, and the UK’s Midland Youth Jazz Orchestra. Most unusually, her voice never appeared to age, and on her last engagements in 2017 (which included her 27th UK tour) her sound remained as clear and as true as always. Marlene’s interpretation of lyrics was profound and while her ballad singing was her greatest achievement, she also sang mid- and up-tempo songs with rhythmic flair. In an email in December 2017, she said how much she was looking forward to her upcoming tour of the UK but she succumbed to pancreatic cancer.

Jazz CD Reviews – January 2018

January 3, 2018

Andrew Distel It Only Takes Time (Jeru JJR 9 CD)

Resident in Chicago since 2000, this is Cincinnati-born Andrew Distel’s second album. Best known until now as a trumpet player who occasionally sings (as displayed on his first album, Stepping Out Of A Dream), here Andrew showcases his vocal talent. He presents a well-chosen selection of songs, including Kurt Weill & Ogden Nash’s Speak Low, Johnny Mandel & Dave Frishberg’s You Are There, Jerome Kern & Otto Harbach’s Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, Amor, by Ivan Lins, Who Cares, by the Gershwins, and Into Each Life (Some Rain Must Fall), by Doris Fisher and Alan Roberts. Also heard are two of Andrew’s original compositions, both with lyrics by J. Adam Oaks. Andrew’s principal collaborators are Peter Martin, piano, Carlos Enriquez, bass, and George Fludas, drums, while also heard are Brian Schwab, trumpet, Raphael Crawford, trombone, Jim Gailoretto, woodwinds, Howard Levy, Dave Onderdonk, guitar, and Geraldo DeOlivera, percussion.distel A ten-piece string section makes an effective appearance on a couple of tracks. Andrew has an intimate style that is well served by his attractively warm and gently persuasive vocal sound. Interpreting the lyrics with understanding, he also explores the melodic nuances of the songs. Male vocalists remain something of a rarity in jazz and it is good to add this fine singer to the ranks. This album will appeal to the audience for jazz and to that for classic pop and must surely bring him many new fans.

Sunny Wilkinson Into The Light (Sunchance no number)

Long an assistant professor of jazz studies at Michigan State University and later Artist in Residence there, Sunny Wilkinson’s previous albums include A Gentle Time, Highwire, Alegria, and Sunny Wilkinson. On this, her latest release, Sunny performs songs with lyrics that appeal to her sense of family. For five of these she wrote the lyrics – three to compositions by her husband Ron Newman, who plays piano here, one composed by Bob Berg and one by Brian Lynch. Among other songs are Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Corcovado, Bobbie Gentry’s Ode To Billie Joe, James Taylor’s Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight, and Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi.sunny Sunny and Ron are joined by Ed Fedewa, bass, and Larry Ochiltree, drums, both of whom are also music teachers. Sunny’s interpretations delve deeply into these songs, searching for and finding their hearts and souls. With a mature vocal sound that is fluid and intensely musical, Sunny delivers on the promise of this concept with honesty and integrity.


For more on Andrew Distel and Sunny Wilkinson, including booking, contact Mouthpiece Music.

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