Jazz CD Reviews – early March 2015

March 10, 2015

Joan Chamorro La Màgia De La Veu (CODA/Jazz To Jazz JJ014008)

Four or five years ago, a friend alerted me to the astonishingly talented Andrea Motis. I was impressed then, and I am even more impressed now with this new album. This came to me for review in Jazz Journal and since then I have returned again and again and enjoy it more and more every time I hear it.magia On this set, Andrea’s fine trumpet playing is complemented by her engaging singing. But there is even more than this, because also featured on this CD are three other young singing-instrumentalists all of whom, like Andrea, come from the Catalan region of Spain and have emerged thanks in large part to Joan Chamorro and the youth program that has produced these and many other young artists who play in the Sant Andreu Jazz Band. In the course of the past few years, Joan, who is himself a multi-instrumentalist of note, playing tenor and baritone saxophones as well as double bass, has released albums not only by the SAJB but also by each of the four singers who appear here: trumpeter Andrea Motis, trombonist Rita Payés, alto saxophonist Eva Fernández, and bassist Magalí Ditzira.

All four of these teenagers are gifted instrumentalists but on the new release their chosen repertoire pays tribute to singers who have inspired their vocal aspirations: Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald.AM catalanRP catalan But there is no slavish copying, instead these singers bring to songs including, Lady Sings The Blues, Mad About The Boy, East Of The Sun, Stars Fell On Alabama, Poor Butterfly, and How High The Moon, their own always interesting conceptions and all phrase ideally while interpreting the lyrics in delightfully-accented English (except Desafinado). These exceptional young musicians are backed by the fine rhythm section of pianist-organist Ignasi Terraz, guitarist Josep Taver, and drummer Esteve Pi. It is good to know that musicians like Andrea, Rita, Eva and Magalí are around and will carry the torch of jazz playing and singing on well into the mid-twenty-first century.EF catalanMD catalan

 

Oh, and by the way, there’s a film about Joan Chamorro and the SAJB: Kids and Music.

 

Steve Cromity All My Tomorrows (Cromcake Records)

Some very attractive readings of romantic songs presented here with respect and understanding by Steve Cromity, whose vocal sound, mature and confident, is always pleasing. Steve is backed on this, his second album, by the rhythm team of pianist Marcus Persiani, bassist Eric Lemon and drummer Darrell Green.SC CD Also present, and bringing a strong jazz feel to the proceedings are three guest horns: trumpeter Kenyetta Beasley (on five tracks), tenor saxophonist Eric Wyatt, and tenor saxophonist Patience Higgins (three tracks as well as one appearance each on soprano saxophone and flute). Among the familiar yet fresh sounding songs are Old Devil Moon, How Little We Know, Without A Song, and When Lights Are Low; less familiar but of similar quality are I Was Telling Her, My Little Boat, Duke Pearson and Oscar Brown Jr’s Jeannine, and Sugar, by Stanley Turrentine and Jon Hendricks. My loss, I know, but this is the first time I have encountered Steve; given the present-day market for the nostalgia implicit in much of his material he deserves to be much more widely heard.

For more on Steve go to Jim Eigo’s site.

Chris McNulty Eternal (Palmetto PM 2176)

This return to recording after a brief spell away is not only a delight to hear, it might also be the best thing that Chris McNulty has done. Back in 2011, Chris’s son, Sam McNulty (a.k.a. hip-hop artist/songwriter Chap One) died suddenly. While I would not normally venture to touch upon a tragic personal loss such as this, I do so here because there is a connection with this new album. The spirit of Sam is much in evidence in Chris’s choice of material, and is also audible in the often deeply moving interpretations of these songs.Eternal Among the songs selected are many that are familiar but Chris’s interpretations of the lyrics, her choice of tempos, and the subtle cushioning of her accompanying musicians all contribute toward making the listener hear these songs anew. The songs include A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing, Star Dust, Nature Boy, Boulevard Of Broken Dreams, What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life and Where Is Love. Two unfamiliar songs are Chris’s own You Are There and The Saga Of Harrison Crabfeathers by Steve Kuhn and Sherrill Craig. Despite its unpromising title, this last-named song has a striking lyric that relates closely to the feelings of anyone who has lost a loved one, especially in unexpected circumstances. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Chris’s rendition is deeply moving and her rich and full vocal sound is admirably suited for all that does here. The principal accompanists are pianist-arranger John Di Martino, bassist Ugonna Okegwo and drummer Gregory Hutchinson, while Steve Newcomb arranged and orchestrated for a small string and woodwind group.

For more information on Chris see either her website or contact Braithwaite & Katz (Ann@bkmusicpr.com).

To buy any of these albums, go to your favorite on-line supplier, among which is, of course, Amazon.

 

Jazz CD Reviews – early October 2014

September 30, 2014

Maria Jacobs Here Comes Winter (Iwarble Music)

This is Maria Jacobs’ fifth album and is a delightful memory jog that has sent me searching for the other four. Those previous albums were No Frills, Free As A Dove, Chasing Dreams and The Art of the Duo, the last-named with guitarist Bob Fraser whose eloquent accompaniment is also most prominent here. On this outing, Maria sings a pleasing selection of songs, five of which are her own work (two in collaboration). The other songs include standards and three by Joni Mitchell, a songwriter currently very much favored by young singers. After about a decade in Los Angeles, Maria has recently returned to the city where she was born, Cleveland, Ohio, and that is definitely a loss to the Pacific coast’s music scene and a considerable gain to the mid-west. Spreading her musical range, Maria has appeared regularly in Cleveland with her band, 4Get the Girl (whose debut album is in the works). Also appearing on Here Comes Winter are bassists Brian Wildman and Bob Curry, organist David Streiter, and synthesizer and keyboard player Cliff Habian, who is Maria’s co-composer on Til Forever Comes and Fall In Love Again. It is increasingly common for young singers to perform their own songs, which are rarely if ever picked up by their peers. It would be a shame of Maria’s songs are ignored; they are much too good for that. If you have yet to encounter Maria Jacobs, examples of her warm-toned vocal sound can be heard on her website and it is a sound that fits perfectly with the mood of romantic introspection that cloaks this very attractive release.

Rotem Sivan For Emotional Use Only (Fresh Sound New Talent FSNT 451)

A relative newcomer on the American jazz scene, Rotem Sivan is a strikingly gifted guitarist who intriguingly combines contemporary musical developments with traditional concepts. Since coming to New York in 2008 to study at the New School, Rotem has steadily built a following and this, his second album, makes clear the reasons for his popularity. rotem sivan cdAll but one of the tracks here are Rotem’s originals, and listeners will find much that is immediately appealing and melodically satisfying. Throughout this album, Rotem plays lines that at first hearing seem to be deceptively simple and it is this aspect that most readily brings to mind earlier jazz guitar stylists. On this set, Rotem is joined by bassist Haggai Cohen Milo and drummer Mark McLean, and although Rotem is center-stage his companions are much more than merely accompanists; this is very much a trio of like minds. This is a musician to look out for; through him it will be fascinating to follow the continuing story the guitar in jazz.

 

As always, these albums can be found at either the artists’ websites or at Amazon.

Information on booking etc can be found at Jim Eigo’s site.

And don’t forget that every issue of Jazz Journal contains dozens if record reviews, as well as articles and interviews, covering all aspects of this music, from then till now.

Jazz CD Reviews – March 2014

March 31, 2014

Kris Adams Longing (Jazzbird JB 003)

As a glance at the composers and lyricists whose work is presented here instantly conveys, Kris Adams draws her repertoire from a broad palette. There are songs by Joni Mitchell, songs with lyrics by Norma Winstone and Abbey Lincoln, songs from the pens of names as diverse as Mary Lou Williams and Cole Porter. There are also songs with lyrics by Kris herself, to music by Steve Swallow (Wrong Together), Joakim Breicha (When You Smile) and one, Pulled Pork, for which she also wrote the music, and there are also some Latin touches. Kris’s voice is light and tuneful, gently introspective, and admirably suits the contemporary jazz scene.krisadams Most of the arrangements here are by Greg Hopkins, who also plays trumpet and flügelhorn. Among other instrumentalists on this album are pianist Tim Ray, guitarist Eric Hofbauer, saxophonists Shannon LeClaire and Bob Patton and Rick DiMuzio. This album will prove especially attractive to those whose taste leans towards thoughtful and highly musical latterday concepts of jazz song.

Juhani Aaltonen To Future Memories (TUM Records TUM CD 036)

Hearing Juhani Aaltonen play, it is hard to believe that this questing, inventive and always forward-looking musician has been active in Finnish jazz circles since the end of the 1950s. Although he was an in-demand studio musician through the following decades, Juhani also played free jazz and jazz rock, worked with musicians such as Edward Vesala, Arild Andersen, Heikki Sarmanto, Helsinki’s New Music Orchestra, Peter Brötzmann and the UMO Jazz Orchestra, and he also led his own small groups.j-aaltonen

Now, many years later, Juhani is as adventurous as ever before, playing alto and tenor saxophones and flute and bass flute in intriguing explorations of music composed by Antti Hytti. The core group is Juhani’s quartet: pianist Iro Haaria, bassist Ulf Krofors, drummer Reino Laine; extended on this outing by bassist Ville Herraia and percussionist Tatu Rönkkö. The music is drawn mainly from Antti Hytti’s work in the motion picture industry, for which he composed during the 1980s and 90s. The composer’s themes are often pleasingly lyrical, a quality that is especially appropriate for an instrumentalist such as Juhani, who has always maintained lyricism in his playing.

 

Henrik Otto Donner & TUMO And It Happened . . . (TUM Records TUM CD 039)

Always melodic and intriguing, the music composed by Henrik Otto Donner is especially suited to the music played by TUMO. This is a large studio-assembled orchestra drawn from Finland’s notable and effective improvised music scene. On this occasion, TUMO is joined by alto and tenor saxophonist Juhani Aaltonen and vocalist Johanna Ilvanainen, both of whom provide thoughtful interpretations of the composer’s concepts. TUMO is a 33-piece orchestra, with brass, reeds and rhythm conducted by Mikko Hassinen, and strings conducted by the composer. This album was recorded late in 2012; sadly Henrik Otto Donner died the following year.And It Happened . . . is an eloquent memorial to a fine musician.h o donner

More information about Kris Adams can be found on her site (see above) and the Jazz Promo Services website; and there is also the TUM Records site. As always, Amazon is the place to go for these and other albums.

The Singer-Pianists – Take 3

March 23, 2014

In a musical world where originality is much rarer than publicists would have us believe, it is always a delight to hear a singer-pianist as gifted as Dena DeRose. Importantly, Dena is not simply a pianist who sings; neither is she a singer who happens to accompany herself from the piano. Rather, she is a hugely talented jazz pianist who could (and, indeed, has) made her name as such. She is also a distinctive and distinguished jazz singer, whose work in this form would be highly collectible regardless of how she was accompanied. That Dena can bring these two marvelous assets together with skill and flair puts her in a class of very special artists.another world

Some time ago, I was privileged to be invited to write the liner notes for Dena’s Another World (Sharp Nine CD 1016-2) in 1999, and there I drew attention to the aplomb with which she performed the difficult dual role. It is a role that she achieves with seemingly effortless ease, and if this were not enough, she is also a skilled arranger, creating spacious settings for the musical delights presented by herself and her accompanists who include Ingrid Jensen, Steve Wilson and Steve Davis. On a later album, 2000’s I Can See Clearly Now (Sharp Nine CD 1018-2), Dena is again surrounded by strikingly gifted fellow musicians, among them Jim Rotondi and Joe Locke. clearly nowAlso apparent here is how much Dena has grown between these albums, and it is a growth that continues with Love’s Holiday (Sharp Nine CD 1024-2), a lovely 2002 set mainly of standards, through which she demonstrates how far ahead she was then of her contemporaries in the over-populated world of jazz singing. Also here, Dena’s arranging talent is brought into the spotlight as she performs songs heard a thousand times before, letting her listeners hear Lover, I Thought About You, I Didn’t Know What Time It Was, and The Nearness Of You, as if they were fresh from their composers’ pens. On this CD, Dena is again aided by an outstanding instrumental team that includes Peter Washington, Matt Wilson, Tony Kadleck, and Sara Della Posta, while Rotondi, Locke and Davis all appear again.loves holiday

As is well known, Dena became a singer in an accidental way. As she was starting to make her mark as a pianist, illness prevented her from playing for a while and instead she began to sing. By the time she was able to resume playing, her qualities as a singer had been recognized by audiences. Importantly, she, too, had realized that this previously undeveloped talent was one of real merit. From that moment on she became one of the best singer-pianists in jazz today. Indeed, however far back one might care to spread the net, Dena DeRose is a major presence in that important field.

Two live sets very well worth the attention of music lovers are Live At The Jazz Standard Volumes 1 & 2 (MaxJazz Records MX1 504 & 505), recorded in 2007, and Travelin’ Light (MaxJazz Records MX1 507), recorded in 2012. On the date recorded at New York’s The Jazz Standard, Dena is joined by bassist Martin Wind and drummer Matt Wilson with saxophonist Joel Frahm sitting in on a few numbers. Among the songs performed are Speak Low, Alone Together, Green Dolphin Street, Lover and a marvelous interpretation of Laughing At Life. Surprisingly, Dena had not been recorded unaccompanied until Travelin’ Light, a set performed at Antwerp’s The Chromatic Attic. This album as much as any confirms that hearing Dena is an exceptional experience; her voice is warm and engaging, her interpretations, both vocally and instrumentally, are musically and emotionally satisfying.ddr-jazzstandard

In all of this delightful music making, Dena subtly underlines her respect for the intentions of the composer and lyricist, yet still makes the songs entirely her own in a way that is wholly charming. And all the while, she stamps her own jazz feeling firmly upon the material.trav-light

For more information, visit Dena’s website and/or those of Sharp Nine and MaxJazz. As always, CDs can be bought from various walk-in and on-line stores, including Amazon.

 

 

Betty Carter – Really a Jazz Singer

May 30, 2013

When Betty Carter died she left the world of jazz singing without a successor. At least that was her opinion.

After me there are no more jazz singers . . .

Betty Carter

In the years since she made this prediction, at least two things have happened that might well surprise her were she able to look down on the world she left behind in 1998. One of these is that the word ‘jazz’ itself is widely acceptable, unlike when she started out – then it was widely derogatory. The other thing is the astonishing proliferation of jazz singers. Whether Betty Carter would regard many, or even any, of these newcomers of the past couple of decades as real jazz singers is anyone’s guess. For what it’s worth, my guess is that she would seriously question pretty nearly all of them.

Betty Carter is a singer almost all jazz fans have heard about, yet few jazz fans of my acquaintance have many, if any, of her records in their collections. She was born Lillie Mae Jones on 16 May 1929 in Flint, Michigan, and briefly studied piano although not with much success. Singing in local clubs from age 16, she attracted favorable attention including positive reactions from visiting jazzmen, among whom was Dizzy Gillespie who was an important influence on her. Before she was 20, she had also been heard and was hired by Lionel Hampton. She learned all her musical lessons the hard way, on the road with Hampton even though his band’s style, late swing era, was not to her liking.

Columbia Records

Columbia Records

In 1951, she quit Hampton’s band, and following this came a period in New York performing as a solo artist. This meant night after night singing for audiences who might, as often as not, respond with indifference or who simply failed to understand what she was about. This was because, unlike almost all of her singing contemporaries, Carter was determined on a jazz path. Perhaps more importantly, and certainly making that path a hard one to follow, she chose not the expected route that owed its origins to jazz roots such as the blues and popular music of the day but rather the new jazz style of bebop. She did, though, edge into public awareness thanks to a three-year-spell with Ray Charles that began in 1960 and brought a minor chart hit with Baby, It’s Cold Outside.

ABC Records

ABC Records

 

During her career, Carter never adopted Ella Fitzgerald’s way with a ballad, a way that allowed her to reach far outside the jazz kernel to embrace a huge section of the non-jazz public. Carter never found the perfect balance between successfully singing jazz and ballads as did Carmen McRae. And in her sound there was none of the vocal glory that was Sarah Vaughan’s. Perhaps Anita O’Day’s way came close, but it is hard to think of many others. Nevertheless, Carter did attract fans, even if they were not in sufficient numbers to make her commercially successful.

Bet-Car/Verve Records

Bet-Car/Verve Records

These fans were, of course, fans of jazz of the bop and post-bop eras. What they liked in Carter’s work was that she possessed qualities that made many contemporary jazz instrumentalists admire her to a degree they did not grant to other, invariably more famous, artists. In this respect, the admiration of and acceptance by her instrumental peers, Carter most closely resembles Billie Holiday, although there were no discernible aural similarities.

Bet-Car/Verve Records

Bet-Car/Verve Records

As must be apparent to anyone who has paid even the most fleeting attention to Betty Carter, she never swam with the tide. She appeared to care nothing for fame or fortune, often making career decisions that appeared hellbent on taking her into unemployment if not downright poverty. Perhaps surprisingly, Carter actually did care about fame and fortune. She wanted both, but she wanted them on her own terms; not those imposed by those outside the jazz world. Not surprisingly, although unusual at the time, she formed her own company, Bet-Car Records so that only she had control over what was recorded by herself and the trio – of piano, bass and drums – that accompanied her for decades of touring. A skilled musician who knew exactly what she wanted from those who accompanied her, and from those who employed her, Betty Carter drove herself to achieve perfection, as she saw it. She also drove her accompanying musicians to achieve commensurate skills. In the process, she acquired a legendary reputation as a hard taskmaster. That said, almost everyone who played with her, many of them young musicians new to the jazz world – among them John Hicks, Cyrus Chestnut, Mulgrew Miller and Benny Green – emerged all the better for the experience. As for those who employed her, they quickly learned that in addition to being skilled at her trade, she was similarly skilful in business matters. Above all, she demanded of them something that many employers in the jazz world of her day seemed least able to offer: respect.

Bet-Car/Verve Records

Bet-Car/Verve Records

Her hard-nosed business attitude was something she had learned back in her days with Lionel Hampton’s band. Hampton’s wife, Gladys, a woman she clearly admired and emulated, inspired her to be not only a singer but also a businesswoman. In the course of a career lasting half a century, Betty Carter traveled many byways, faltered in numerous dead ends, and rolled smoothly along sadly few highways. Only in the final decade of her life, was she granted some of the recognition and admiration she deserved. Even at the end, the audience for Betty Carter never attained the magnitude of those that attended the careers of Fitzgerald and Vaughan, or even McRae. In this respect, Carter most resembles Holiday whose greatest fame came long after her death. Fortunately, during her last few years Carter benefited from far more attention outside of the jazz hardcore than was accorded Holiday. Carter lived to be a guest of presidents, to be welcomed at seats of learning, to be credited with many important actions that arose from her work as a musician. Partly as a result of this, Carter became a role model for black artists, and for black women in general, something that never happened for Holiday in her lifetime.

What did happen for Holiday is that after death she attracted adulation bordering on worship. This prompts a question: Fifty years from now, will Carter be accorded the kind of iconic status that is Holiday’s today? Somehow, I doubt it. Despite the years of struggle, Carter did not have those qualities of the tragic woman that have forever shrouded the real Holiday and helped create the legend. Carter was a tough, no-nonsense woman who knew what she wanted and damn well got it, even if she had to step on toes to achieve her ends. Not that those ends were in any way unreasonable. She wanted to be treated like the hardworking artist she was, someone who had thoroughly learned her trade, and could hold her own, musically, in any company. Surely, this was not too much to ask for; yet only rarely was it granted. A strong, determined and gifted woman, Carter would surely have been successful at whatever she did and we should consider ourselves fortunate that she chose to be a jazz singer. Chances are, in any other arena she would have been just as bloody-minded and outspoken. And it is that aspect of her complex character that might well have hindered her in any other profession, just as it clearly hindered her in the male-dominated world of jazz.

Betty Carter did, however, leave a valuable legacy, not just through her recordings, but also, and doubtless its most visible part, through Jazz Ahead!, an international jazz residency aimed at discovering and encouraging performing and composing artists, and which is linked with Washington DC’s John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Bet-Car/Verve Records

Bet-Car/Verve Records

 

 

As the earlier quotation shows, by her own lights, Carter really was the last of the great jazz singers. I don’t think she was right, but that said, it is hard to think of more than a tiny handful among today’s hundreds (or even thousands) of singers claiming to be jazz singers.

bc-bookThe foregoing thoughts owe their origins to my review of a biography of Betty Carter that appeared in Jazz Journal in November 2002. That biography is: Open The Door: The Life And Music Of Betty Carter by William R. Bauer. Published by University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbors. Michigan, USA. ISBN 0-472-09791-1. For more information on this remarkable woman, go to the official Bet-Car Production website.

 

 

The CDs and the book mentioned here are all available from Amazon.

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