Jazz CD Reviews – June 2015

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 e

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.latz 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.

Far Away Places . . .

March 17, 2013

Here are some thoughts on three female singers from countries that do not spring instantly to mind when talking about jazz. Yes, I know that jazz has long been an international form of music, but I would suggest that if the average jazz fan from the USA or UK were asked to make a list that reached double figures of musicians from Poland, Finland and Italy, they might well struggle. Why is that? It isn’t as if there are no Polish, Finnish or Italian musicians of the highest caliber and more than worthy of serious consideration by jazz fans around the world. I do not doubt that many readers of these words who live in Poland or Finland of Italy, countries that have lively jazz scenes, will be screaming out lists of names, but those from the USA and UK might be much quieter. Well, here are three names, one from each of the three named countries – all are seriously worth your attention. They are Deborah Latz, Sofia Laiti and Roberta Gambarini.

Jazz singer-stretched

Deborah Latz is now well-established in New York City, and her latest release, Fig Tree, finds her again exploring the Great American Songbook, something that she did to considerable effect on an earlier album I enjoyed. This field of music is one that she clearly admires and respects and, indeed, performs very well; all of which might come as a surprise if a newcomer to her work had first read of her background. Before becoming known as a singer, Deborah built a career in acting and performed several one-woman shows, which embraced the popular culture and often dark history of Central Europe. One of these shows brought her Best Actress Award at the Jerzy Grotowski Theater Festival in Poland. Unafraid to confront historical issues that echo painfully through to the present day, Deborah also appeared in a one-woman performance, The Prisoner, which centers upon a Holocaust survivor. Ably composing words and music for her one-woman show, Travels With Ma Own Self, a career move towards working as a singer was perhaps inevitable, and it is a move that Deborah has accomplished with enormous skill.

Writing about an earlier album, Lifeline, I remarked that although billed as a jazz singer I thought that she really belongs in that large group of singers who bring jazz touches and thinking to the art of popular song.dlatz1 I felt that she did this very well, comfortably finding empathy with American song standards while also displaying rapport with songs better known to European audiences. On Lifeline Deborah is accompanied by her then regular trio of pianist Daniela Schächter, bassist Bob Bowen and drummer Elisabeth Keledjian (as well as guest tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm). Deborah and her collaborators deliver attractive and thoughtful interpretations of songs such as I Get Along Without You Very Well, Witchcraft, How Deep Is The Ocean, and I Didn’t Know What Time It Was and altogether this is a thoroughly entertaining CD.

Clearly, Deborah is at ease with the standards, especially ballads and on Fig Tree she sings Blue Skies, You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To, Ill Wind, Embraceable You and Moon River. But she comfortably moves into the jazz arena, singing Hi-Fly, which is by Randy Weston and Jon Hendricks, and Alberta Hunter’s I’m Having A Good Time. LatzNewImageThere are also attractive examples of Deborah’s abilities as composer and lyricist:You Are, Fig Tree and She Was. On this album, Deborah is supported by the core trio of pianist Jon David, guitarist John Hart and drummer Willard Dyson, while saxophonist Peter Apfelbaum appears as guest soloist. Deborah’s vocal sound is light, delicate, yet her interpretation of lyrics is profound. She sings with springy joyousness that imparts to the listener the pleasure she clearly has in singing these songs.

Go to her website for more about Deborah Latz;her albums are available everywhere, including Amazon.



Since 1989, Sofia Laiti has also been based in New York City. I first heard Sofia on her fourth CD, You Don’t Know Me, which was released in 2004. On this album, she ably demonstrated why she had gained an admiring following on the city’s jazz and contemporary pop scenes. Sofia sings in a mature contralto, comfortably displaying her mastery of her second language.slaiti1 On this CD, she is backed by an effective quartet: pianist Larry Ham, bassist Leon Lee Dorsey, drummer Vince Ector, and veteran tenor saxophonist Houston Person. Sofia performs a selection of mostly familiar songs, for some of which she finds a relaxed intimate mood. Others, such as La Vie En Rose and If You Go Away lend themselves to the dramatic interpretations that they receive.

On her 2011 release, Like A Road Leading Home, Sofia broadened her repertoire to include latterday pop and in particular the music of Bob Dylan. Only recently has Dylan’s work been taken up by singers in and on the edges of jazz and many listeners will not be surprised that his songs lend themselves to interpretation by contemporary singers. The songs have interesting melodies and meaningful lyrics that explore many topics not often touched upon by the writers of classic pop. Sofia’s interpretations reach to the heart of these songs and she delivers always fascinating variations on the originals, leaning in some instances towards country while the blues that Dylan so admires can also be heard. slaiti2On this release, Sofia is joined by pianist James Weidman, bassist Marcus McLauren, guitarist Adam Lomeo, and drummer Vince Ector, while accordionist Mariel Berger and violinist Scott Tixier bring added colour to the basic ensemble sound. This is a very pleasing set that should appeal widely and should certainly extend this admirable singer’s audience.

Go to her website for more about Sofia Laiti; her albums are available everywhere, including Amazon.



Within days of her arrival in the USA in 1998, Roberta Gambarini won third prize in the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition, coming behind winner Teri Thornton and runner-up Jane Monheit. Her move to America came after she had established her name in her homeland as a jazz singer of exceptional promise, and she was now intent on studying at the New England Conservatory of Music. Some singers have seen the Monk contest open up a route to fame and fortune, but Roberta chose to remain solidly rooted in jazz, despite the inevitable absence of acclaim outside the genre. That she has fulfilled all her early promise, building a reputation not only with jazz audiences but also among jazz instrumentalists with whom she has worked, is a credit to her ability and perseverance. These include front-rank artists such as Benny Carter, Hank Jones, with whom she recorded an album, Michael Brecker and James Moody. robertaeasyThe last named of these appears on two tracks on Easy To Love, and others appearing with her include pianist Tamir Hendleman and bassist John Clayton. The subtle support of front-rank players propels Roberta into plangent performances of songs that while familiar are by no means overdone. They include On The Sunny Side Of The Street, Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry, Too Late Now, and Only Trust Your Heart. The charts here are by Roberta and are comfortably loose, allowing singer and instrumentalists to swing through exhilarating variations on familiar chords. Roberta has a mellow and mature sound, her phrasing is ideal and her interpretation of lyrics excellent.


On You Are There, Roberta is accompanied only by Hank Jones and the results are majestic. (Only Hank Jones? That’s a bit like saying my only car is a Rolls Royce.) Among the songs interpreted here with love and skill and genuine sincerity are Stardust, Deep Purple, When The Lights Are Low, Just Squeeze Me, and You’re Getting To Be A Habit With Me. Throughout, the mature understanding for the material makes every song a delight to hear. robertahankChoice of tempo is not always obvious, and so much the better for this, and unlike many of the other younger generation of jazz singers, Roberta handles scat with considerable aplomb.


For Grammy-nominated So In Love, Roberta is again backed by front-rank instrumentalists, among them tenor saxophonist James Moody, trumpeter Roy Hargrove, pianist Gerald Clayton, and drummer Jake Hanna. Again, Roberta has made all the arrangements and again the response is exceptional, bringing new life to old favorites, such as Day In, Day Out, Get Out Of Town, That Old Black Magic, From This Moment On, and You Must Believe in Spring. Even Beatles music something not readily adaptable to jazz, gets a new lick of paint.



Go to this website for more about Roberta Gambarini; her albums are available everywhere, including Amazon.


A final thought: although these singers were born far apart and grew up in very different cultures, they have some things in common. Obviously, all are hugely talented, all have great empathy with the Great American Songbook; less obvious, until you hear them that is, all have excellent linguistic skills. Nowhere is there a hint that English is not their first language. One other link they share, and the only one that is a little less sunny, is that in order to achieve their present stature in today’s world of jazz singing, they had to leave home. Is it only me that finds this sad? Again, maybe it’s only me, but I think that a closer look at artists still working in Poland and Finland and Italy – to say nothing of Sri Lanka and South Africa and New Zealand and China and, well, the list is endless – is something well worth taking.

Or do we all just sit and wait for them to come to us?

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