October 25, 2016
Alyssa Allgood Out Of The Blue (Jeru Jazz JJR-5-CD)
Among the many new young vocalists who happily label themselves as ‘jazz singers’ are just a few who truly deserve the title. Unquestionably, Alyssa Allgood is one of these few. Based in Chicago, she has gained acclaim locally and has also attracted attention further afield while studying, then working with mentors including Jay Clayton and Madeline Eastman, and taking part in the 2015 Shure Montreaux Jazz Voice Competition. Alyssa’s love of jazz is immediately apparent from her choice of material, which includes Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil, Hank Mobley’s Watch Me Walk Away (Dig Dis), Sam Rivers’ Beatrice, Joe Chambers Mirrors (all with lyrics by Alyssa), Only A Memory (Ceora) by Lee Morgan and Milton Suggs, Joe Henderson’s If, Horace Silver’s Peace, the Bobby Timmons-Jon Hendricks classic, Moanin’, as well as Noticing The Moment (Moment’s Notice) by John Coltrane, Peter Eldridge and Kim Nazarian. As the album title makes clear, the material and its originators are associated with the classic Blue Note label and that company’s ethos lies at the heart of Alyssa’s work. Indeed, all of the instrumentalists heard here are with the label today. These collaborators are saxophonist Chris Madsen, organist Dan Chase, guitarist Tim Fitzgerald, and drummer Matt Plaskota. All play with skill and the mutual empathy is apparent throughout, in ensemble, supporting the singer, as well as soloing with flair. The arrangements, by Alyssa and Dan, are crafted to allow ample space for inventive vocal and instrumental solos. Alyssa’s singing voice is light and true, she is rhythmically assured and has a clear understanding of the intentions of the originators of the music. As is apparent, most of this music began as instrumental pieces and in some instances Alyssa’s vocals follow the original solo lines. Vocalese is a difficult art, as is scat singing, but Alyssa displays her accomplishment in these areas. Not that these forms of jazz singing are overused; rather, they are blended into a wholly satisfying display of jazz singing. Contemporary in presentation, the blues are never far away; a comment that might also apply to Blue Note Records. Alyssa Allgood is a name to look out for and to remember.
Matthew Kaminski Live At Churchill Grounds (Chicken Coup CCP 7026)
Playing Hammond B3 organ, here Matthew Kaminski leads his quartet through a live date, recorded over two nights in Atlanta. Rounding out the quartet are Will Scruggs, tenor saxophone, Rod Harris Jr, guitar, and Chris Burroughs, drums, all of them playing with the spirit heard in Hammond-led groups of the past. Also featured here is vocalist Kimberly Gordon, who sings on If I Had You, I Love Being Here With You and So Danco Samba. Mixed in with the standards are pop songs, such as the Beach Boys’ Sail On Sailor, and jazz pieces, like Jimmy Smith’s Midnight Special, Duke Ellington’s Just Squeeze Me and It Shouldn’t Happen To A Dream, on both of which Kimberly sings, and Lou Donaldson’s Hot Dog. And then there’s the almost inevitable April In Paris, which started out as a popular song but gravitated into the world of the jazz organist by way of Wild Bill Davis (not forgetting Count Basie), here given a long workout by all five musicians. Throughout this album, the spotlight is mainly on Matthew and his solos are always interesting. So too are those by Will, playing with drive on the swingers and with sensitivity on ballads. A fine example of Rod’s playing comes on Jack McDuff’s A Real Goodun, which closes the album. A very entertaining occasion that swings from start to finish and leaves the listener wanting more. Speaking of which, this is Matthew’s third jazz release, the others being Swingin’ and Taking My Time. A footnote for those with a sporting inclination: Matthew has played organ for eight seasons at the home of the Atlanta Braves and has also released an album in this style.
Rebecca Dumaine Happy Madness (Summit DCD 687)
Singing with obvious delight in the material, here Rebecca Dumaine presents a selection that draws mainly upon the music of earlier times. Among the songs are standards but there a few from more recent times, all of them given a fresh outlook yet their treatment shows her respect. The songs include Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke’s Like Someone In Love, Harry Warren and Mack Gordon’s The More I See You, Marvin Fisher’s Destination Moon, Jerome Kern and Johnny Mercer’s I’m Old Fashioned, Joe Bushkin and Joe Devries’s Nobody Else But Me and Cole Porter’s It’s All Right With Me, while the album takes its title from the song by Antonio Carlo Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes (with Gene Lees’ lyrics). Providing admirable support for Rebecca is the Dave Miller Trio, a longtime association. With Dave on piano are Perry Thoorsill, bass, and Bill Belasco, drums (Dave is Rebecca’s father). The trio is augmented on some tracks by guitarist Brad Beauthe and saxophonist Pete Cornell. Relaxed and happy music that is collectively a very pleasing set that will appeal to those who enjoy hearing good songs sung and played well by straightahead jazz performers who clearly admire this music. For details of an earlier album by Rebecca, The Consequence Of You, see my post in late-May 2015.
Joshua Breakstone 88 (Capri 74144-2)
Tributes paid by a jazz artist to others are by no means unusual, but this set from guitarist Joshua Breakstone takes an intriguing approach. One original by Joshua apart, the music heard here is written by jazz pianists and the fact that there is no pianist in the group means that an alternate view is taken of the music. Thus, aspects that might, perhaps, have been unobserved by the many fans of the composers concerned are revealed. Among the composer-pianists featured by Joshua are Cedar Walton, Black, Tadd Dameron, If You Could See Me Now, Lennie Tristano, Lennie’s Pennies, and Mal Waldron, Soul Eyes. Joshua’s collaborators here, collectively named The Cello Quartet, are cellist Mike Richmond, bassist Lisle Atkinson, and drummer Andy Watson. Although Joshua is the principal soloist, all make an important contribution and this is very much a collaborative venture. It is worth noting Joshua’s comment regarding the reason why he has chosen to perform pieces composed for (and at) the piano: “It’s merely the expression of one guitarist’s love and admiration for the instrument and those who happen to play the hell out of it and use it as a vehicle for composition.” Altogether, this a rewarding and entertaining album that will appeal to many.
Mili Bermejo & Dan Greenspan Arte del Duo (Ediciones Pentagrama APCD 707)
The music performed by this duo has an appealing freshness, which is, perhaps, surprising as singer Mili Bermejo and bassist Dan Greenspan have worked together for a quarter century. Mili’s early years saw her move from Buenos Aires to Mexico City to Boston, where she has taught at Berklee College of Music since 1984; Dan started out in New Haven before moving to Boston where he became an in-demand session musician and more recently the couple have settled in New Hampshire. The music heard here ranges widely both stylistically and geographically with a handful of originals by Mili as well as songs by composers from Mexico, Armenia, Argentina, Uruguay and France. Melodically and rhythmically rich, this music is sung and played with emotional intensity and considerable technical expertise and will have widespread appeal.
Al Strong Love Strong Volume 1 (independent)
On his debut album, trumpeter Al Strong displays his technical skill and also his awareness of the paths taken by jazz in recent years. Although a relatively new name on the contemporary jazz scene, he plays with mature confidence. Most of the music played here has been composed by Al and there is an emotional depth to the music, a quality not always present nowadays. There are also some well known themes, including Kenny Barron’s Voyage, Thelonious Monk’s Blue Monk and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s My Favorite Things. Joining Al here are several musicians, some of whom also take solos, forming groups of different sizes. Among them are saxophonists Bluford Thompson and James ‘Saxmo’ Gates, keyboard players Ryan Hanseler and Lovell Bradford, and drummers Jeremy ‘Bean’ Clemons and Iahji Hampden. Contemporary jazz, played with sensitivity and always displaying an awareness of what has gone before.
Richard Sussman The Evolution Suite (Zoho ZM 201614)
For more on Alyssa Allgood, Matthew Kaminski, and Rebecca Dumaine contact Holly Cooper at Mouthpiece Music; for Mili Bermejo & Dan Greenspan and Joshua Breakstone contact Braithwaite & Katz (Ann@bkmusicpr.com); and for Al Strong and Richard Sussman go to Jim Eigo’s Jazz Promo Services site.
Albums by these artists are available at the usual outlets, including Amazon.
July 10, 2016
Mike Jones Roaring (Capri 74142-2)
Comfortable in many styles of jazz and other popular music genres, pianist Mike Jones presents a romp through a selection of pre-swing era songs that includes many standards. Among these are Yes Sir, That’s My Baby, What’ll I Do, Mean To Me and Me And My Shadow. For several years, Mike has been a fixture in Las Vegas serving as musical director of the Penn and Teller magic show and more recently was with the Broadway production of the show. It was during this engagement that this recording date was conceived and for it Mike teamed up with bassist Katie Theroux and drummer Matt Witek. Although they had not worked together as a trio before, they are all such highly accomplished musicians that the result is a highly entertaining master class in mainstream jazz. Oh and by the way, if stars were awarded here, the cover art is worth an extra one.
Michika Fukumori Quality Time (Summit DCD 679)
Musically trained from very early childhood, including studying classical composition, Michika Fukumori moved to New York to pursue her studies and quickly established herself on the city’s club circuit as a notable jazz pianist. Michika’s repertoire on this release includes music that is familiar but presented in an engagingly fresh manner – Duke Ellington’s Solitude, Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Someone To Light Up My Life, Leonard Bernstein’s Lucky To Be Me and Somewhere, Jule Styne’s Make Someone Happy – as well as four originals by Michika and one of producer Steve Kuhn’s compositions, Looking Back. Michika is joined here by bassist Aidan O’Donnell, a Scotsman now also resident in New York, and drummer Billy Drummond, a mainstay of the jazz and studio scene since the 1980s. Excellent jazz piano playing that is warmly rhythmic and wholly engaging.
Joe Policastro Pops! (JeruJazz )
Well established in Chicago, the members of the Joe Policastro Trio are all experienced as leaders as well as sidemen. Instrumentally, the line up is uncommon: Joe plays bass, Dave Miller plays guitar and Mikel Avery plays drums. Also stepping up are two other guitarists, both of whom appear on two tracks each; Andy Brown on More Than A Woman and Me And Mrs Jones, and Andy Pratt on Wave Of Mutilation and Drive. As those titles will have already indicated, Joe and his collaborators choose much of their repertoire from post-1960s pop music. The four tracks mentioned reflect the Bee Gees, Billy Paul, The Pixies and The Cars, while other pop artists covered include Stevie Wonder and Tom Waits. Aside from his obvious liking for pop (the trio has a regular gig at Chicago’s noted nightclub Pops For Champagne) Joe works extensively in jazz, in particular leading three bands that keep alive the legacy of Gerry Mulligan. Relaxed playing by skilled instrumentalists who blend with seemingly effortless ease.
Ben Adkins Salmagundi (Ben Adkins Music 190394498177)
Although based in New Orleans, drummer Ben Adkins is musically inspired by numerous musical genres. There is jazz funk, hard bop, swing, balladry, all more and everything is performed with skill and understanding. Heard here are some established jazz works (Blue Mitchell’s Fungii Mama, Charlie Parker’s Cheryl, Billy Strayhorn’s Chelsea Bridge), a standard (Arthur Schwartz’s You And The Night And The Music), as well as six originals, one by Chris Adkins and five by Ben himself. Joining drummer Ben are Alphonso Horne, trumpet and flugelhorn, Joshua Bowlus, piano and keyboards, Paul Miller, guitar, and Stan Piper, bass. Also appearing on one track each are saxophonist Michael Emmert, guitarist Chris Adkins and vocalist Linda Cole. The word used as this album’s title means a mixture (or potpourri), and in this case it is a very tasteful blend of music old and new and all of it is played with skill and flair.
For more on Mike Jones contact Braithwaite & Katz (Ann@bkmusicpr-com); for Michika Fukumori and Joe Policastro contact Holly Cooper at Mouthpiece Music; and for Ben Adkins go to Jim Eigo’s Jazz Promo Services site.
Albums by these artists are available at the usual outlets, including Amazon.
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.
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 (Ann@bkmusicpr.com)
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 (Ann@bkmusicpr.com)
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.
March 24, 2015
Rodrigo Lima Saga (JSR 6063/4)
Best known thus far as an accompanist, notably touring as a member of Ithamara Koorax’s band, this debut album by Rodrigo Lima is a real treat for lovers of the guitar and the music of Brazil. The musical styles heard here include choro, Novos Cariocas, samba, Canção Praieira, and bossa nova, Altinho, and much else that has become familiar to international audiences over the years. Although it is the guitar, mainly classical and also electric, that is prominent, Rodrigo is impressively joined by guest artists, among whom are Anat Cohen, saxophone, Hugo Fattoruso, keyboards, Hubert Laws, flute, Ithamara Koorax and Aline Morena, vocal, Mike Mainieri, vibraphone, Raul de Souza, trombone, Zé Eduardo Nazário, João Palma and Laudir de Oliveira, percussion, and Hermeto Pascoal, keyboards, while most of the arrangements are by Rodrigo and Arnaldo DeSouteiro. Mostly on this double album are heard original compositions by Rodrigo, and there are also some on which he collaborated with Pascoal, João Cavalcanti, Pedro Rocha and others, as well as a 20-minute jazz and Latin-tinged exploration of the 3rd Movement of Brahms’ 3rd Symphony. In contrast to the excellent instrumental combinations heard here there is a fine solo performance of A Velha Sozinha by Rodrigo on acoustic guitar. Throughout, the music is romantic, melodic, with flowing lines and always a joy to hear. Well known in South America, especially in Brazil, his homeland, Rodrigo Lima also plays extensively in Europe, especially in Spain. This release must surely expand his international audience.
Rachel Caswell All I Know (Turtle Ridge TRR-002)
Any singer choosing to present her art in the exposed setting of a duet needs to be good at what she does and Rachel Caswell certainly is that. It takes confidence, too, appearing in this setting and again Rachel has that confidence. The result is an excellent album, mainly of standards, that acts as a showcase for a singer who must surely and quickly build an international following. On seven of the twelve tracks, Rachel is accompanied by guitarist Dave Stryker, while on the other five she is in company with bassist Jeremy Allen. Throughout this set, Rachel delivers subtle jazz improvisations that enhance the original songs and remain always respectful of the intentions of the composers. Her vocal sound is graceful with a sinewy hint that adds immeasurably to her interpretations. Among the songs are If I Should Lose You, One For My Baby, Agua de Beber, I Fall In Love Too Easily and Feelin’ Groovy. This set should appeal to jazz and popular song audiences alike. Its appeal to fellow jazz singers will be clear from what Sheila Jordan has said of her: “Rachel is a wonderful singer with a deep feeling and a fantastic improvisational talent complemented by a lovely rich sound.”
For more information on Rachel Caswell, see Jim Eigo‘s website.
Mavis Rivers Mavis and Swing Along With Mavis (Warners 8122795 8480 and 7385)
The name of Mavis Rivers comes up only rarely when talking or reading about jazz singers and that’s a pity because she was exceptionally good. I recall reviewing some of her albums many years ago and also playing tracks on my long-gone radio show but I confess to having forgotten all about her. Mavis’s name has come to mind now with the review in March’s Jazz Journal of two reissued albums. Among the best of her recorded work, they are a very good introduction to her, especially as they come in Warner’s low-cost reissues from Japan. Only 62 when she died, Mavis packed a great deal of music into her life and fortunately for us she left a substantial recorded legacy that vividly demonstrates not only her vocal skills but also her ability to present her talent in a rich variety of settings. She was born Mavis Chloe Rivers into a large and musically-inclined family on 19 May 1929 in Apia, Western Samoa. With the outbreak of World War II the family moved to the American part of Samoa where, backed by a band led by her father, Moody Charles Rivers, she entertained American servicemen. After the war, the family moved to Auckland, New Zealand, and by 1948 she was singing on radio and the following year began her recording career. Some of her recordings from this period can be heard on The TANZA, Stebbing and Zodiac Years on Ode Records. Not surprisingly, most of the music Mavis recorded at this time reflected her Polynesian background, but her vocal skill and her admirable sound are already very much in evidence.
In 1953 Mavis came to the USA on a scholarship to study music at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah (her family were Mormons). She came back to the USA in 1955, this time to Los Angeles, where she found work singing in clubs at night (a secretarial day job was necessary), including playing with a Hawaiian band. The bass player in this band was Glicerio Reyes Catingub (known as David), with whom she formed a musical and personal relationship and they were married on 4 October 1955. After a brief spell out of music when her two sons, Matthew and Reynaldo, were born, Mavis resumed working, playing clubs in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. As the 1950s rolled over into the 1960s, Mavis was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best New Artist and also recorded extensively, first for Capitol Records and then for Frank Sinatra’s Reprise label. Two of the Reprise albums are those reissued on Warners and reviewed by Brian Robinson in Jazz Journal. Giving 4 and 5 stars respectively to Mavis and Swing Along With Mavis, the reviewer points out that both benefit from very good charts and backing, the first with Marty Paich, the second with Van Alexander, with the former band including a host of leading jazzmen. These sessions come from 1961 and there was another very good Reprise recording date that year, Mavis Meets Shorty, this one teaming Mavis with Shorty Rogers, on trumpet and fluegelhorn, with charts by Chuck Sagle. All three of these Reprise albums are together on a 2014 Fresh Sound double album. In 1964 Mavis made another excellent album, this time with Red Norvo, with whom she often appeared live; this was for the Vee-Jay label, We Remember Mildred Bailey. Mavis not only worked with Norvo, but also with George Shearing and André Previn; that she regularly kept company with musicians of this caliber speaks volumes for her own skills and how other musicians regarded her.
Just as Mavis had come from a musical family, so her own family continued the tradition with her alto saxophonist and bandleader son Matt Catingub becoming a respected figure on the Los Angeles studio and jazz scenes. Apart from regularly playing together in California, in the early 1980s mother and son appeared in Auckland, New Zealand, at a Royal Variety Performance for Queen Elizabeth. Mavis and Matt also recorded together on his Sea Breeze albums My Mommy And Me and Hi-Tech Big Band. The 1980s also brought a new album under her own name, It’s A Good Day, for Delos. Mavis continued to work through the rest of the 1980s and into the 1990s, including appearing on another of Matt Catingub’s recording sessions, this one also for Sea Breeze, I’m Getting Cement All Over Ewe. They continued playing live dates together and it was at one of these, at the Vine Street Bar and Grill on 29 May 1992, that she suffered a stroke. Rushed to Queen of Angels-Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital, she died. Following her death, her son reported that only days earlier they had been speaking of fellow singer Sylvia Syms who died after performing and Mavis had said that this was a “great way for a singer to go,” adding “I’d like to go the same way.”
Thanks to references to her by Marc Myers on his JazzWax website in January 2012, and to the re-release in 2015 of some of her albums, the name of Mavis Rivers lives on. Still not nearly as prominent in the minds of lovers of jazz singing as should be the case, now there is no excuse for not listening to and admiring the work of this exceptional jazz artist.
To buy any of the CDs mentioned here you can as usual go to Amazon.