Jazz CD Reviews – March 2018

February 25, 2018

Mica Bethea Suite Theory (indie release)

This is composer-arranger Mica Bethea’s third album and it reinforces his growing stature as a leading contributor to contemporary big band jazz. Here, Mica has turned his talent to the creation of a profound musical portrait of his life. The first movement portrays his first two decades and is filled with promise. Entitled Crystal Clear, it is named for a long-time friend, Crystal Bay, who works with quadriplegics. By dark coincidence, following a road accident in 2005 Mica sustained injuries that rendered him quadriplegic and the second movement, Destiny’s Boat, traces the immediate aftermath. It is impossible for an outsider to imagine the effect of such catastrophic damage to a young and gifted multi-instrumentalist and his dawning realization that he can no longer play. During this period of his life, Mica was greatly helped by another friend, Destiny Guerra, hence the title. The third movement depicts the time when Mica began the arduous task of building his new life.zz The Mica Bethea Big Band Suite The title, Meniscus, refers to the curve on top of contained liquid, which can be either concave or convex and by implication suggests whether a glass is half full or half empty. The joyous rumba-based form makes clear that Mica’s view is decidedly positive. The fourth and final movement reflects Mica’s attitude toward himself and his location not only in place but also in time; that he is who he is and always will be. The title, Guardian of Forever, is taken from a Star Trek episode and refers to a time portal through which other dimensions might be visited. An alt take of the second movement is included because Mica did not want to lose the solo by alto saxophonist Todd Guidice. And by the way, the main title, Suite Theory, is a play on the name of Mica’s favorite bakery, Sweet Theory. Throughout, the music heard here demonstrates yet again that Mica Bethea brings a new, distinctive and exciting flavor to contemporary big band jazz.

For more on Mica Bethea, including booking, contact Mouthpiece Music.


Akira Tana Jazzanova (Vega)

Akira Tana is long established as a leading jazz drummer and noted for his work with bassist Rufus Reid in the duo TanaReid. Akira’s jazz credentials go back to his earliest days as a professional musician and coincident with this is his abiding love for the music of Latin America, especially the exhilarating rhythms of Brazil. Joining Akira on this album are pianist Peter Horvath, bassist Gary Brown and percussionist Michael Spiro and adding to the rich instrumental mixture heard are notable guests: soprano saxophonist Branford Marsalis and trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, while Ricardo Peixo provides fluid arrangements and also contributes some guitar moments. JAZZaNOVA-coverImportant in much of the music of Brazil is its rhythmic underpinning and often romantic vocals. The first of these qualities stems from Akira who is a master of percussion. That second quality is provided by several singers who are gifted interpreters of this repertoire: Claudia Villela, Claudio Amaral, Maria Volanté, Jackie Ryan, Carla Helmbrecht and Sandy Cressman. For this release, Akira has chosen to perform examples of Brazil’s much loved contributions to popular music, several of the songs coming from composers Antonio Carlos Jobim, Ivan Lins and Elis Regina. These  include Águas de Março (Waters of March), Caminhos Cruzados (Crossroads), Bilhete, Corcovado, Love Dance, Por Causa De Você (Don’t Ever Go Away), Chega De Saudade (No More Blues) and La Gloria Eres Tu. There are also two original songs by Claudia Villela, Jangaga and Diride. The inherent romanticism of these songs is brought out superbly in these excellent interpretations. Lovely music, exceptionally well performed and warmly recommended.

For more on Akira Tana, including booking, contact Mouthpiece Music Mouthpiece Music.

All albums available at Amazon.

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.

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.

Available from all usual outlets including Amazon.

Jazz CD Reviews – November 2017

November 27, 2017

Cheryl Bentyne reArrangements Of Shadows (artistShare AS 0157)

When hearing Cheryl Bentyne’s delightfully fluid and youthful sound it is hard to believe that she has been around for so many years – the majority of them with ManTran. There are also about a dozen solo albums, on many of which she explores the Great American Songbook. In a sense this is what Cheryl does here on this, her latest release – but with a difference. This arises because she has chosen to perform songs by Stephen Sondheim who is rightly famous for his Broadway shows although many of these songs are not often heard outside the context of their original setting. The reason for this is that in many instances the song lyrics are not necessarily complete in and of themselves; they are integral to the storyline of the show and develop out of and/or advance plot lines. Cheryl is clearly aware of the potential problem this presents and was determined to find a way of performing them in an un-stagey manner that does not lessen their impact. As she observes: “Sondheim doesn’t just write song lyrics. He writes monologues. He writes how people really speak, and I wanted my renditions to sound as natural as Sondheim meant them to be.”cheryl

Helping Cheryl achieve her aim are arrangers who are perhaps best known for their work in jazz: Bevan Manson, John Beasley, Kevin Axt, Mark Kibble (all of whom also play on this album), Jamieson Trotter and Eli Brueggemann. Included in the nine songs on the ten tracks (one song is sung twice) are Comedy Tonight, from A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, Not A Day Goes By, from Merrily We Roll Along, Move On, from Sunday In The Park With George, and I Remember, from Evening Primrose, which was a television production. The song heard twice is The Ladies Who Lunch, from Company, the second version having Cheryl singing with only the instrumental trio of John Beasley, piano, Kevin Axt, bass, and Dave Tull, drums. Joining Cheryl on the first version of The Ladies Who Lunch are fellow singers Janis Siegel and Tierney Sutton, while singers Mark Kibble and Armand Hutton appear on Send In The Clowns, from A Little Night Music. In addition to the core trio, the instrumentalists accompanying Cheryl on some tracks are Tom McCauley, guitar and percussion, Brad Dutz, percussion, John Arrucci, marimba, Roy Wooten, cajon, and on two songs a string quartet (Rafi Rishik, Irina Voloshina, violins, Jennie Hansen, viola, Armen Ksajikian, cello). Beasley lays out on a couple of tracks and in step keyboard players Tom Zink and Bevan Manson. In recent years, Cheryl has shrugged off serious illness that would have defeated many but there is never a hint of this in these engaging and thoroughly rewarding interpretations. Far from it, in fact, because she explores the heart of the lyrics, finding humor and optimism and along the way setting the bar high for future jazz performances of these songs.

For more on Cheryl Bentyne, including booking, contact Mouthpiece Music.

Petra van Nuis & Andy Brown Lessons Lyrical (String Damper SDR 2136)

Also youthful in sound is singer Petra van Nuis who is heard here with an attractive selection of songs she and her guitarist husband Andy Brown have chosen. Underlying Petra’s light yet sensual vocal sound is a mature understanding of the lyrics and this especially evident on Weill & Nash’s Speak Low, Mandel & Webster’s A Time For Love, Sievier & Hamilton’s You’re Blasé, Jones & Schmidt’s Try To Remember, Philippe-Gérard & Vannier/Mercer’s When The World Was Young and Legrand & Demy/the Bergmans You Must Believe In Spring. There are also light-hearted yet engaging versions of Burke & Monaco’s I’ve Got A Pocketful Of Dreams and Oliver & Melrose’s Doctor Jazz.andy b The latter is a venerable classic of early jazz and it is a real pleasure to hear it again, especially as it blends so well with much later songs. Almost all of these songs are familiar, yet they are performed in a fresh and thoroughly entertaining manner. Interestingly, while the songs of Rodgers & Hart have long appealed to jazz artists, those of Rodgers & Hammerstein are less common in the genre. Here, Petra and Andy prove that music by the latter can work very well in careful hands with versions of Oh, What A Beautiful Morning and Bali Hai. This album is a real joy and warmly recommended to all who like to hear good songs well played and sung.

For more on Petra and Andy, including booking, contact: Petra van Nuis & Andy Brown.

Lisa B I Get A Kick: Cole Porter Reimagined (Jazzed Media JM 1076)

Lisa B’s love for poetry and other forms of the spoken word is as important to her as her love of singing. For this, her latest release, she has chosen to sing the songs of Cole Porter whose work consistently demonstrates that he too was at heart a poet. The ‘re-imagining’ indicated by this album’s subtitle is largely musical, choosing interesting tempi and rhythmic pulses not always associated with this composer. Examples of this come on the funky Night And Day and the Brazilian-flavored You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To.lisa b The spoken word is heard very effectively in her introduction to I Happen To Like New York, which reflects on her immigrant forebears life-changing moment of arrival in their new homeland. Among the other songs hear are Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye, Wake Up And Dream and Easy To Love. Lisa’s accompanists here are, collectively, keyboard players Ben Flint, Jim Gardiner, and Frank Martin, saxophonist Michael Zilber, bassists Fred Randolph and Troy Lampkins, drummers/percussionists Jeff Marrs, Alan Hall, Paul van Wageningen and John Santos. Although all of the songs heard here are familiar, they are made fresh by the always engaging and intriguing treatment they are given, notably through the arrangements (by Lisa and Jim) and the singer’s emotional commitment.

For more on Lisa B, including booking, contact Mouthpiece Music.

All albums available at Amazon.


Jazz CD Reviews – mid-October 2017

October 18, 2017

Jackie Allen Rose Fingered Dawn (Avant Bass 2017)

An especially attractive singer, Jackie Allen has a mature vocal sound, and during the past thirty-plus years she has recorded several albums. This is her twelfth and here as on most of her albums and live dates she is joined by her husband, bassist Hans Sturm. On this session, the compatibility of wife and husband is especially apparent as all the songs are original compositions by Hans (music and words). In all the songs it is clear that Jackie is very comfortable and this is confirmed by Hans’s comment that “if she doesn’t connect with a particular lyric, I go back and rework it until she’s satisfied.” Many of the songs heard here have origins in aspects of the couple’s lives, beliefs, interests and emotions and the treatment, by composer and performer, bring to the fore these important elements. Poetry is important to Hans and this is immediately apparent in the title track, which takes its cue from imagery evoked in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, which includes Dawn being described as “rosy-fingered”, words that have become an almost clichéd way to describe that time of day, while on Time, Hans deliberately and wittily makes use of just about every cliché that has ever been used about time itself. In contrast, NOLA Love Song musically reflects the city of New Orleans through its well-deserved reputation for good food and its easy-going ambiance. Food also makes an appearance (as do automobiles) in Bel Air BBQ.jackieA Hans’s poetic reflections are displayed throughout and particularly in The Laugh That Is You, Sweet Dreams and Moon On The Rise, all of which are pleasingly romantic. The poetic atmosphere continues through the last track, Steal The Night, which is inspired by the lines: “Do not go gentle into that good night,” through which Dylan Thomas memorably urges the reader/listener to rage against that which awaits us all. Throughout, Jackie gives intelligent and beautifully nuanced readings of the lyrics (which all appear in the liner) and surely many of these songs will find their way into the repertoire of others. Jackie and Hans are joined here by Victor Garcia, trumpet, Andy Baker, trombone, Geoff Bradfield, soprano and tenor saxophones and bass clarinet, Tom Larson, keyboards, John Moulder, guitar, and Dane Richieson, drums and percussion. Lovely music that will bring lasting pleasure.

For more on Jackie Allen, including booking, contact Mouthpiece Music.

Sinne Eeg Dreams (Artist Share AS 0153)

This is Danish jazz singer Sinne Eeg’s ninth album as leader and is the second to be recorded in the USA. In collaboration with Sinne here are Jacob Christoffersen, piano, Larry Koonse, guitar, Scott Colley, bass, and Joey Baron, drums. There are also moments where background vocals from Warny Mandrup, Lasse Nilsson and Jenny Nilsson are heard. Four of the ten songs heard here are standards, all of them being imaginatively interpreted. On What Is This Thing Called Love there are notable contributions from Joey and Scott, while on Falling In Love With Love and I’ll Remember April there is highly sympathetic accompaniment and solo playing by Larry. On Anything Goes Sinne is accompanied only by Jacob’s crisply eloquent piano.sinne There are also four of Sinne’s compositions (words and music) and two co-compositions, these being The Bitter End (with Søren Sko) and Head Over High Heels (with Mads Mathias). On Aleppo Sinne addresses a contemporary issue, focusing her lyric on the fate of children helplessly caught up in a seemingly unending international crisis. Special note must be made of the playing and arranging of Jacob whose long musical relationship with Sinne has allowed them to develop and intuitive understanding that is apparent throughout. Sinne’s vocal sound is fluid, melodic, and thoroughly charming. Her phrasing is that of a master and this delightful album will appeal not only to her growing army of fans but also to all who love to hear the best in today’s jazz singing.

For more on Sinne Eeg, including booking, contact Mouthpiece Music.

All albums available at Amazon.

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