June 16, 2015
Connie Evingson All The Cats Join In (Minnehaha MM 2010)
Not many things in life come with a guarantee, but just seeing Connie Evingson’s name is an assurance of musical quality and this new album fulfills all expectations. The music is good, the instrumentalists with whom she is working are highly skilled, and the singer herself is superb. On my old website I listed three albums, two of them being Let It Be Jazz (Summit) and Gypsy In My Soul (Minnehaha). I mention these because the first included some Beatles’ hits while on the second Connie is accompanied by three different American bands all playing in the style of the QHCF. On this new release there are two songs by Paul McCartney, I’ll Follow The Sun and World Without Love, while the accompaniment throughout is by another band modeled upon the Quintette du Hot Club de France. This group is the John Jorgenson Quintet, the leader doubling on clarinet on some tracks but mostly heard on guitar where his extraordinarily fleet and inventive work vividly displays his admiration for Django Reinhardt, founder of the QHCF. This particular quality has brought John recognition at the Django Reinhardt Memorial Festival in France and he appeared on screen in 2004’s Head in The Clouds, playing the role of the master. With John in his quintet are Jason Anick, violin, Doug Martin, rhythm guitar, Simon Planting, bass, and Rick Reed, drums (and here and there John also adds attractive vocal touches harmonizing with Connie).
Connie’s singing on this wholly admirable set is outstanding; her always true vocal sound is sinewy, poised, engaging and a joy to hear. Among the well-chosen songs are Solitude, by Duke Ellington and Eddie DeLange, Black Orpheus by Luiz Bonfá and Antonio Maria, All The Cats Join In by Eddie Sauter, Alec Wilder and Ray Gilbert, Tickle Toe by Lester Young and Jon Hendricks,The Jersey Bounce by Tiny Bradshaw, Eddie Johnson, Bobby Plater and Buddy Feyne, as well as several standards including Love Me Or Leave Me, Dream A Little Dream Of Me, Between The Devil And the Deep Blue Sea, and You’re Driving Me Crazy. Worth more than this passing mention, Connie is joined on All The Cats Join In/Tickle Toe by Jon Hendricks, 93 years old at the time and clearly enjoying himself enormously. A similar sense of enjoyment is always apparent in Connie’s work, whether she is fluently evoking the heart of a ballad or swinging lithely on mid- and up-tempo songs. A thoroughly delightful effervescence pervades everything that Connie does and this new release is something to savor. I don’t know how far and wide Connie travels from her Minneapolis base – I know she plays New York and Toronto – but club, concert and festival promoters the world over should be clamoring for her. If you are lucky enough to live in or near the Twin Cities do yourself a real favor and catch her live. If that’s not an option buy this album. It’s wonderful.
Deborah Latz Sur L’Instant (June Moon 40515)
I have remarked before on Deborah Latz’s ability to delve deeply into the lyrical heart of the songs she sings. Perhaps this is because of her highly successful career acting in various settings, most notably in one-woman performances. What matters here, is that Deborah’s interpretative skills are directed at a rich and varied repertoire of songs, many of which are familiar in the jazz world yet most often as instrumentals rather than vocals. The jazz works Deborah sings here are Abbey Lincoln’s Throw It Away, Dave and Iola Brubeck’s Weep No More, Miles Davis and Jon Hendricks’ Four, Thelonious Monk and Abbey Lincoln’s Blue Monk, and John Coltrane and Jon Hendricks’ Mr. P.C. There are also standards from the American Song Book: Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein’s All The Things You Are, Eden Ahbez’s Nature Boy, and Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg’s Over The Rainbow, and the album opens with the Love Theme from Spartacus, by Alex North and Terry Callier. The singer is supported by the empathic instrumental duo of pianist Alain Jean-Marie and bassist Gilles Naturel, both of whom have fine solo moments. On this album, Deborah delivers a highly enjoyable set of music that appeals both to the intellect and the emotions.
Ken Greves Night People (Jazz Cat Productions)
An elegant, wee small hours presentation by New York nighttime singer Ken Greves of some classic songs that take an optimistic look at some outwardly dark emotions. Lost love, faded hopes, bruised feelings are all addressed here with care and understanding. Among the songs are One For My Baby (And One More For the Road),The Night We Called It A Day, Street Of Dreams, Let Me Down Easy, and I Keep Goin’ Back To Joe’s. Ken is accompanied with flair by pianist Frank Ponzio, bassist Peter Donovan and drummer Vito Lesczak. These comments are deliberately brief because I had the pleasure of writing the liner notes and that is where you can read my thoughts on the singer and the songs at length.
These albums are available at stores both walk-in and on-line, the latter including Amazon.
October 18, 2012
Albums by jazz singer Connie Evingson are always things of beauty, and that most certainly can be said of her latest, Sweet Happy Life, released in October 2012.
Before considering this new CD, however, a quick glance at her work in the past decade immediately reveals how wide she casts the net of her repertoire.
On her 2003 CD, Let It Be Jazz (Summit DCD 1021), Connie turns to the music of Lennon & McCartney with delightful and often unexpected results. Few of the thirteen songs hereon are overly familiar and on these, as on the handful of Beatles’ hits that are included, she approaches the material with wit and ingenuity. The following year, Connie teamed up with three different Django Reinhardt-style bands, the Clearwater Hot Club, the Parisota Hot Club and Pearl Django. On Gypsy In My Soul (Minnehaha MM 2006) the music is vibrant and colorful and Connie and the instrumentalists revel in the free, open swing that admirably reflects the gypsy legend. Mostly the songs are standards, although a couple of Reinhardt’s own compositions are included, Nuages and Anouman (Django’s Premonition), the latter having a new lyric by Connie herself. (This CD also appears on my Post entitled Django’s Legacy.)
On Little Did I Dream (Minnehaha MM 2008), Connie and pianist-composer-singer Dave Frishberg blend in a magical musical tour through Dave’s idiosyncratic songbook. Wit, wry humor, intelligence all feature in the nuanced lyrics that are Dave’s forte. Although he sings only once on this collaboration, Dave is the composer of all 14 songs and the lyricist for 8 of them; adding immeasurably to the mix, he plays piano throughout.
For years, singers have enjoyed exploring the work of individual songwriters and Song Book albums abound. It is especially delightful that in this instance, Connie has chosen to honor the work of a lyricist whose name might not immediately come to mind, yet whose words are known to millions. Norman Gimbel’s lyrics are emotional journeys into love and longing, tales of happiness lost and found, poems of heartbreak and joy. Among his most famous are English-language lyrics for songs that first appeared in Brazil and France, notably Agua De Beber, Samba De Orfeu (Sweet Happy Life), The Girl From Ipanema, Watch What Happens, Bluesette, I Will Wait For You. As these titles demonstrate, among the composers with whom Norman has worked are Antônio Carlos Jobim, Michel Legrand, Toots Thielemans, and Haroldo Lobo. With composer-credits such as these, it is not at all surprising that subtle Latin rhythms permeate this album, evoking visual images that are enhanced by glowing performances.
Ably abetted by fine instrumentalists, including Danny Embrey, who is also responsible for most of the charts, Laura Caviani, Joan Griffith, Randy Sabien, and Phil Aaron, Connie delivers exquisite interpretations of these songs that must rank with the best of the past and set markers for the future. Given their source, some of the songs have an infectious rhythmic undertow; while others are filled with languorous longing. Here you will find the familiar, one of the songs, Killing Me Softly With His Love, was a huge 1973 hit for Roberta Flack, rubbing congenial shoulders with the unusual, Adventure, is a previously unrecorded lyric to Jobim’s ballad Olha Maria. This was an instrumental from the movie The Adventurers and reflects Norman’s long involvement with films and television. Others from this source that Connie has chosen are I Will Wait for You and Watch What Happens, Michel Legrand songs from The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg. There is also an extended version of Canadian Sunset that swings mightily throughout. This was composed by jazz pianist Eddie Heywood whose 1956 recording was a hit, as was a version recorded later in the same year by Andy Williams, this time with Norman’s lyric. Here, the rhythm section of Tanner Taylor, Gordon Johnson and Joe Pulice set up a swinging foundation that recognizes the jazz origins and provides a base for Connie to develop her ideal vocal line and for Dave Karr’s driving tenor saxophone solo. Connie’s comment on this track bear repeating: “This track is relatively long but the band was swinging so hard, I didn’t have the heart to shorten it!”
Just as she does on all her albums, on Sweet Happy Life Connie Evingson vividly demonstrates that she is a highly accomplished jazz singer. Her voice is expressive and lean, she swings gracefully, and she is always a joy to hear. If you have yet to hear this outstanding singer then you have a real treat in store, whichever you choose to hear first. But be warned, you’ll find it hard to stop with only one.
July 25, 2012
During his short life, Django Reinhardt influenced many jazz guitarists. It could hardly have been otherwise. He was an innovative genius; in a word, he was original.
This man, who appeared to have come out of nowhere, seemed not to have built his playing style on that of any other jazz guitarist, continues to influence jazz guitarists, many of whom were born after he died.
Django had the most unlikely beginnings, born into a gypsy life, with all the prejudice and discrimination that meant. He was born Jean Baptiste Reinhardt an 23 January 1910, in Liberchies, which is near Luttre, Belgium. Living a nomadic life with his gypsy family, he first played violin but later took up the guitar and worked in a touring show before he was in his teens. Everything could have come to an abrupt stop when in 1928 he suffered serious injuries in a caravan fire. The worst of the damage was to his left hand, and ever after he could not use two of his fingers. Remarkably, Django devised a unique method of fingering the guitar and began a solo career in clubs, mainly in Paris, where he soon made startlingly clear that he was different. It was in Paris, in 1934, that he and violinist Stéphane Grappelli formed the Quintette Du Hot Club De France.
With this group and through sitting in with visiting American jazzmen, Django made many records and swiftly earned an international reputation. In today’s pop music world, international sensations happen often, real and manufactured; at the time, the late 1930s, it was unusual and in his case even more remarkable because non-Americans simply did not make an impact on jazz. He did, and it was an impact that has continued to have its effect through the decades.
Directly affected by Reinhardt was his co-leader of the QHCDF, Stéphane Grappelli. Apart from his work in that group, he can be heard on many albums because he lived a long life and enjoyed a full career, being eagerly embraced by a new young audience from the 1970s onwards. An interesting CD of Grappelli’s music is Improvisations (Essential Jazz Classics), which draws mainly from recordings made when the violinist was between his first key period, when he was alongside Django, and the second, which came after he had become a notable figure on the world stage. This in-between spell, the mid-1950s, can be heard here on sets that are particularly rewarding, in part because Grappelli is no longer playing second fiddle to Reinhardt but is an increasingly confident leader. Perhaps deliberately, he largely avoids comparisons by working without a guitar on many tracks. He does, though, return occasionally to his roots and in whatever group setting displays invention and swing, is always thoroughly melodic, and consistently demonstrates how jazz can be simultaneously light-hearted and emotionally fulfilling.
A near-contemporary of Django’s was Oscar Alemán, a self-taught Argentine guitarist who visited France in the 1930s where he encountered Django and completely embraced the new style of jazz guitar playing. The extent of his conversion can be heard on Swing Guitar Masterpieces (Acoustic Disc), recorded in Copenhagen, Paris, and Buenos Aires between 1938 and 1954. Later in his career, Alemán began to play with more reference to his South American heritage, but the impact Django had made never left him as can be heard on Buenos Aires 1965 1975 (Frémeaux).
The lasting impact of the QHCDF can be seen from the number of bands that have followed their example through the years. For example, there is the New Quintette Du Hot Club De France, a group led by Django’s son, Babik Reinhardt (1944-2001), and who can be heard on a self-titled 1998 recording reissued on Frémeaux. This CD demonstrates the respect Babik and his companions had for the original creators of this style although, fortunately, Babik was clearly aware that his father was inimitable and he and his colleagues seek not to copy but to breathe the master’s spirit. Similarly breathing the spirit is the Hot Club de Norvege, a band formed in 1979 and still playing today. Guitarists Jon Larsen and Per Frydenlund, bassist Svein Aarbostad and violinist Ivar Brodahl (later succeeded by Finn Hauge) appear on a number of well-received albums, among them Swing de Paris (Hot Club) and Django Music (Hot Club).
Then there is Austrian gypsy guitarist Harri Stojka, who can be set amidst the front runners in the specialist field of those who perpetuate the airily swinging music of Django. Harri’s playing is deft and fleet; his single note lines are dramatic and swing fluently. Harri can be heard on A Tribute To Gypsy Swing (ZoHo) on which his violinist is Eva Berky. Together, they play many items that nestled in the repertoire of the QHCDF, notably Reinhardt’s own compositions, Nuages and Nuits De Saint-Germaine-Des-Pres. This is exceptionally attractive music, played to perfection by a fine guitarist.
The USA is not left out of the admiring circle of enthusiasts of the music of Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli. On a 2004 CD by jazz singer Connie Evingson, Gypsy In My Soul (Minnehaha), she presents music inspired by Django and teams up with three different QHCDF-style bands: the Clearwater Hot Club, the Parisota Hot Club and Pearl Django. The music is vibrant and colorful and singer and instrumentalists revel in the free, open swing that admirably reflects the gypsy legend. Mostly the songs are standards, along with a couple of Django’s own compositions, Nuages and Anouman, the latter having a new lyric by Evingson herself.
In the UK, guitarist Martin Taylor, who worked with Stéphane Grappelli in the 1970s, formed Spirit of Django in 1994 and became very popular with a Jazz Album Chart No 1 as well as poll success in the USA. Recently, marking the centenary of Django’s birth, Martin reformed the group with Alan Barnes and released Last Train to Hauteville (The Guitar Label). The group also appeared in concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall, proof, if needed, that the music and the spirit of Django Reinhardt remain as powerful as ever, despite all the musical and cultural changes that have taken place in the past half century.
Listening to Django Reinhardt’s music today, all these years after his death in Fontainebleau, France, on 16 May 1953, it is still vividly apparent why he was such an important influence on the development of jazz guitar music. His distinctive, flowing lines are filled with inventive ideas and although often overflowing with deeply romantic melodies are always intensely rhythmic. His compositions are many and include Manoir De Mes Rêves, Djangology, Anouman, Nuits De Saint-Germaine-Des-Pres and Nuages, the latter a gorgeously dreamy ballad.
Django himself can be heard on many reissues, among them Django D’Or (Gazell), Anthologie (Cristal) and The Best of the Radio Sessions (Fuel), while an unusual CD, and one perhaps best-suited to serious followers, especially those who play the guitar, is Complete Solo Guitar And Duet Recordings (Essential Jazz Classics). For the general listener, though, eager to hear a lot from this master jazz guitarist at work, extensive and attractive multiple-CD boxed sets abound, including Postwar Recordings 1944-1954 (JSP), Djangology (Red/Membran) and Swing de Paris (Properbox).