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.

Available from all usual outlets including 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.

Jazz CD Reviews – late September 2017

September 30, 2017

Patrick Arthur/Dana Fitzsimons/Chris Otts the ¢heap 3nsemble (independent release)

This highly musical Atlanta-based trio is exploratory, inventive and lyrical. To use founder Dana Fitzsimons’ words, the music played is “. . . dominated by melodicism and space, rather than rhythmic density”. Drawing inspiration from an abstract painting by Gerhard Richter, drummer Dana teamed up with tenor saxophonist Chris Otts and guitarist Patrick Arthur to develop music free from the restraints of too-rigid tempos and conducive to calm reflection. cheap danaAgain quoting Dana: “Since we’re living in such a crazy and stressful period in our own history, we wanted to work with sustained sounds and less rhythmic freneticism, and make music that could heal.” Among the tracks are originals by Chris, Volkslied and Reflection, and Patrick’s Front, as well as works by Bruce Hornsby, Fortunate Son, Chick Corea, Matrix, Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, Pure Imagination, and Raymond Hubbell and John L. Golden, Poor Butterfly. Throughout, there are well-crafted solos from saxophonist and guitarist, all with controlled emotional heart, and intelligent underpinning from the drummer. Interestingly, the cover art on this album is the Gerhard Richter painting that inspired Dana to conceive this music.

For more on Patrick, Dana, Chris and the ¢heap 3nsemble, including booking, contact Mouthpiece Music.

Manny Echazabal Short Notice (independent release)

A recent graduate of University of Miami, tenor saxophonist Manny Echazabal presents a selection of his own compositions on this, his debut album. For his themes, Manny has developed some concepts that originated in assignments but there is nothing tentative or immature about the end product. Other ideas stem from personal experiences, and while not all of these were good they did prove inspirational. Among these works is the title track, which was a “write a composition in just an hour” assignment given by trumpeter Terence Blanchard who also teaches at UM. Another piece is a three-part work, New Dawn, that deals with aspects of depression, while Abraham’s Warriors centers upon fundraising efforts of a family friend whose young child had terminal cancer. Although the thinking behind this music is outwardly dark, the musical results are far from this. Instead, they are filled with optimism and light and vividly demonstrate Manny’s exceptional musical skill.manny After graduation, he played in Miami clubs and also various jazz festivals. Manny is a fluent player, his technical ability comfortably matching the tasks he sets himself through his compositions. The quartet on this session is completed by pianist Tal Cohen, bassist Dion Kerr and drummer David Chiverton, all young musicians who are similarly gifted and are making names for themselves in the US. This release is sure to extend their audience.

For more on Manny Echazabal, including booking, contact Mouthpiece Music.

Josh Nelson The Sky Remains (Origin 82741)

On this musical portrait of Los Angeles, pianist Josh Nelson takes inspiration from places and people and events that have added to the city’s rich history. Instrumentalists joining Josh on this album are trumpeter Chris Lawrence, alto saxophonist Josh Johnson, clarinetist Brian Walsh, organist Larry Goldings, guitarist Anthony Wilson, bassist Alex Boneham, drummer Dan Schnelle, and percussionist Aaron Serfaty. Also heard are vocalists Kathleen Grace (on Bridges and Tunnels, The Sky Remains, Pitseleh, Run) and Lillian Sengpiehl (on Bridges and Tunnels, Ah, Los Angeles, Lost Souls of Saturn), both of them soloing well – sometimes with lyrics other times wordlessly – and also blending effectively with the instrumental ensemble. Anthony takes a long and engaging solo on Ah, Los Angeles, Chris, Brian and others solo on Lost Souls of Saturn, a track that has intriguing instrumental ensemble passages underpinned by fiery percussion. josh nelsonSeveral of the works hear here are Josh’s compositions, among them Bridges and Tunnels, which paints an aural image of those aspects of the city familiar to moviegoers (and depicted also on the sleeve), Ah, Los Angeles, inspired by John Fante’s semi-autobiographical 1939 novel Ask the Dust, and Pacific Ocean Park, a long forgotten amusement park. Also largely forgotten is the Polynesian culture present among the ethnic ingredients of the city in the 1930s, recalled here in Russ Garcia’s Lost Souls of Saturn. There is also a collaborative song by Josh and Kathleen, Run, which commemorates Mack Robinson (bother of Jackie) who won a silver medal to Jesse Owens’ gold in the 200 meters at the 1936 Olympic Games – surely a test of memory for even the most-devoted sports fan. Overall, the mood of this album is reflective – understandably so given the underlying concept – and it is a revealing picture of a city most of us think we know better than is actually so. Very effective playing by all enhances The Sky Remains, which is a rewarding musical experience.

For more on Josh Nelson, including booking, contact Mouthpiece Music.

John Daversa Wobbly Dance Flower (BFM Jazz 302 062 438 2)

Trumpeter John Daversa’s instrumental collaborators here are Bob Mintzer, tenor saxophone and bass clarinet, pianist and Hammond organist Joe Bagg, guitarist Zane Carney, bassist Jerry Watts Jr, and drummer Gene Coye. John and Bob are also heard on EVI (electronic valve instrument) and EWI (electric wind instrument) respectively. With the exception of Donna Lee all the titles played on this album are John’s compositions. Many of these are developed out of what might seem at first glance to be random thoughts. A reality check reveals that the thoughts of writers – of music or not – are seldom without some connection to the world around them. Put another way, the imagination is never completely turned off. For example, like all frequent fliers, John often has time to kill at airports and sometimes uses his cell phone to record melodies that come into his mind. John is a composer but that particular source of inspiration should ring bells with many writers of all kinds. (Digressing wildly, an idea for a short story came into my mind on a railway station in the North of England and by the time the train reached London the story was finished – and appears elsewhere on this site.)

wobblyBut getting back to John and the airport, the piece that resulted from this is Meet Me at the Airport, which effectively depicts the organized chaos of such places and has long solos from John, followed by Bob, then Joe on the Hammond B3, and Jerry and Zane. Ms. Turkey, a fast-paced work, has fleet soloing from John underpinned by Gene crackling drumming while Donna Lee here has a more relaxed treatment than this bop standard that it is usually given. The opening passage of Be Free, with its hints at a Latin feel, is a good opportunity to hear Joe’s skill on the Hammond B3, in the middle section Bob’s tenor takes an approach in keeping with the tune title, and John brings to an end with a crisp boppish solo. Brooklyn Still has John and Bob in an introspective frame of mind, soloing and effectively supporting one another. Wobbly Dance Flower, again featuring John and Bob who are punched along by Gene, is a lively jaunt that will certainly leave any dancers trying to keep up a little wobbly when it’s over. In contrast, Jazz Heads is a thoughtful piece with John and Bob (here on bass clarinet) underscored by Joe who is again on B3. On the energetic You Got a Puppy? Zane and Gene are heard after opening statements from the horns while the brief (less than a minute) closer, Extra Credit, is a quick word from all. And speaking of quick words, in his liner note fellow trumpeter Brian Lynch writes: “The through line for this project can be boiled down to one word: fun!” No arguments from me.

For more on John Daversa, including booking, contact Mouthpiece Music.

All albums available at Amazon.

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