August 20, 2013
Tom Kennedy Just Play! (Capri 74122-2)
Crisp, authoritative playing from a stellar group of post-bop musicians whose collaboration here demonstrates their mutual understanding. The members of the group, all with significant connections to leading names on today’s jazz and improvised music scenes, are frequently leaders of groups yet comfortably subordinate their skills to Tom Kennedy’s concept. Beside him in the rhythm section, Tom has pianist Renee Rosnes, guitarist Mike Stern, and drummer Dave Weckl, while the horns on hand are trumpeter Tom Hagans, trombonist John Allred, and tenor saxophonists George Garzone and Steve Wirts, as well as guest guitarist Lee Ritenour. The admirable choice of repertoire includes popular standards such as Victor Young’s The Night Has A Thousand Eyes, and Cole Porter’s What Is This Thing Called Love?, but mostly the music heard here is drawn from jazz standards by Duke Ellington, In A Sentimental Mood, Cedar Walton, Bolivia, Sonny Rollins, Airegin, Dave Brubeck, In Your Own Sweet Way, among others. Throughout, the album is filled with imaginative solos as one after another the individuals are encouraged by the musical thoughts of their fellows into potent forays through their own imaginative improvisations. Mostly, mid-tempo bouncy numbers are performed although there are one or two brisker moments and some mellow ballad moments although even here there is admirable heat. Fine contemporary jazz with wide appeal.
Mark Masters Everything You Did (Capri 74123-2)
For this engaging album, Mark Masters has gathered around him a large group of like-minded musicians to perform his arrangements of music composed by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen for Steely Dan. Although originally written for and performed by rock musicians, subtle hints of jazz potential were apparent and it is upon these that Mark has based his ideas, which he has developed under the auspices of the American Jazz Institute of which he is president. Mark has chosen his collaborators with care and the result is exceptional music expertly played. Assembled for the date are trumpeters Tim Hagans, Louis Fasman, Les Lovitt, French horn player Stephanie O’Keefe, trombonists Les Benedict, Dave Ryan, Ryan Dragon, reed players Billy Harper, Don Shelton, John Mitchell, Gene Cipriano, Gary Smulyan, Brian Williams, bassist Hamilton Price, drummer Peter Erskine, vibraphone player Brad Dutz. Also on hand, for one track each, are French horn player Sonny Simmons, trombonist Dave Woodley, and alto saxophonists Oliver Lake and Gary Foster, while vocalist Anna Mjöll is present on two tracks. There are many strong thoughtful solos that build upon the notable ensemble playing and throughout it is evident how much at ease are all the players in the expertly-crafted arrangements Mark Masters has provided for this date.
Lucy Smith Autumn In Augusta (LMS 1263)
This entertaining and all-too short sample of Lucy Smith’s work finds her digging deeply into the roots of black music. Chicago born and bred, Lucy’s repertoire of choice reflects her work as music director with her home town’s Fourth Presbyterian Church and in performance at theatrical ventures at Goodman, Park West and Steppenwolf. Drawing on gospel and regular church music as well as the blues, Lucy imbues her singing with a vital understanding of core elements of jazz. Singing with a strong, tough-edged vocal sound, Lucy presents Joyful, Joyful, We Adore You (and Ludwig Van B. never sounded groovier), Wayfaring Stranger, How Can I Keep From Singing, House Of The Rising Sun, and she closes with Leroy Carr’s How Long, How Long Blues. Accompanied here by pianist Marcin Fahmy, bassist Junius Paul, and drummer Michael Caskey, Lucy’s committed take on familiar songs refreshes the music and makes the listener long for more. I think that this may be Lucy’s first release since 2006’s Movin’ On; hopefully, there will not be another long wait before the next. Surely there is a label somewhere looking for someone with this kind of voice. And there is more to Lucy Smith than just singing; she also composes and has written and performed for the feature film Hannah Free and the documentary Wake Up Black.
Nicky Schrire Space and Time (NXS CD 10)
A new name to me is Nicky Schrire, a young singer-songwriter who is starting to make a name for herself internationally. Not really surprising, because her life so far takes in at least three continents. Nicky was born in London to South African parent and was raised from age 5 in the RSA. There, she studied music, playing saxophones in school big bands. But she was more interested in singing and composing and by the time that she uprooted (again) to live in New York, she was already developing a distinctive approach to the standards, and a decidedly personal style of songwriting. This is Nicky’s second album (her first had her singing with a large group) and she sings songs against the scaled-down background of a pianist. In this role she has cast three musicians: Fabian Almazan, Gerald Clayton and Gil Goldstein, each on four tracks. The standards here are You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You, Someone To Watch Over Me, Say It Isn’t So and I Wish You Love and she also draws from latterday pop (George Harrison’s Here Comes The Sun and Massive Attack’s Teardrop) and from South Africa (Victor Ntoni’s Sellyana). To all of these, Nicky brings an introspective feel, searching the lyrics for their underlying tales of melancholy and lost love. Her own compositions, of which there are five, are, if anything, even more melancholic. Nicky Schrire has a gentle vocal sound, the word ‘wistful’ is used a lot in publicity and it’s hard to argue with that choice.
These albums are available at most stores, including Amazon. More information can be found on the sites of each of these artists where linked; additionally look for Lucy Smith on Jim Eigo’s Jazz Promo Services website; more on Tom Kennedy, Mark Masters and Nicky Schrire can be found through Braithwaite & Katz Communications and also on the Capri Records site.
August 15, 2012
Ran Blake & Dominique Eade
Throughout his long career, jazz pianist Ran Blake has always pushed the boundaries, especially as a soloist. Through his teaching at the New England Conservatory of Music, where he has been since the late 1960s, Blake has gradually awakened many to his way of thinking about contemporary music. Alongside all of this, Blake has enjoyed highly successful working relationships with singers among whom is Dominique Eade, whose presence at NRC was partly prompted by her eagerness to work with Blake. Dominique has gained a comparable reputation to that of her mentor thanks to her similarly advanced approach to jazz. She has an engaging ability to prompt listeners to question established ways in which standards are sung and thus to discover, often to the listener’s surprise, thoroughly rewarding and hugely enjoyable variations on familiar themes. On this CD, Whirlpool (Jazz Project), Dominique and Ran demonstrate their love for good music as they explore previously hidden byways that are often barely hinted at in previous hearings of songs such as My Foolish Heart, Where Are You, The Thrill Is Gone and Dearly Beloved. Even a song from the end of the nineteenth century, After The Ball Is Over, is beautifully recreated; indeed, the duo succeed in turning it into a contemporary jazz classic.
For several years, Sandi Russell has successfully toured her one-woman show, Render Me My Song, a history of African American women writers in words and music. Her approach to jazz singing is inventive and engaging, finding songs little heard over the years, and delivering new and vibrant interpretations of familiar songs. These qualities are especially apparent on Sweet Thunder (33 Jazz) where she delivers the lyrical themes in the manner of a mature, worldly woman with ample experience of music and of life. She knows what to sing, how to sing the songs she chooses, and who to have by her side as she does it. This maturity and confidence is reflected in Sandi’s vocal sound and she brings to her material musical and textual undercurrents that make her interpretations even more than the entertainment that they clearly are. Sandi is accompanied here by some fine jazz musicians; the core trio is pianist Dave Newton, bassist Andy Clyndert, and drummer Steve Brown, while the stellar guest list includes Jim Mullen, Phil Todd, Guy Barker, David Murray and Alan Skidmore. These performances, rich in musical knowledge and lyrical subtexts, are a joy to hear. Sandi is in similarly excellent form on Incandescent (Freedom Song), where her commanding presence is once again underscored by superb backing from Dave Newton, Andy Clyndert, and Steve Brown. The result is an impressive experience, solid repertoire that mixes of popular and jazz songs, with one or two lesser known but attractive items, instrumental playing of a very high order, and exceptional jazz singing.
Long based in London, Australian-born jazz singer Trudy Kerr is an exceptionally talented artist. On My Old Flame (Jazzizit) she has conceived and beautifully executes a tribute to Chet Baker, which draws upon the arrangements of the Gerry Mulligan Quartet. Trudy and bass player Geoff Gascoyne have crafted intelligent, melodic and subtly swinging charts that recapture the grace of the originals while simultaneously making their own statements. Trudy’s singing voice, ringing and eloquent, is ideally suited to the atmosphere and she further displays her skills with the vocalese lyrics she has written for Bernie’s Tune and Look For The Silver Lining. Exemplary accompaniment comes from baritone saxophonist Derek Nash, pianists Phil Pesket and Steve Melling, and drummer Sebastiaan De Krom. Also on hand for two duets with Trudy is veteran singer Georgie Fame. Recently, Trudy has teamed up with an old friend from her Australian homeland, singer Ingrid James, and their work together can be heard on Reunion (Jazzizit). This is a fine selection of standards from the pop and jazz scenes and the two singers blend with subtle ease and considerable charm. Here again, Geoff Gascoyne is a key factor in supplying the framework for the graceful performances of the two singers.
Only a very tiny percentage of today’s jazz singers measure up to the giants of the past; René Marie is one of this distinguished minority. She always displays her credentials with seemingly effortless flair and poise; it is an inescapable fact that she is an artist to savor and admire. Central to the recent release of Voice Of My Beautiful Country (Motéma) is the similarly entitled suite, in which familiar songs central to American culture (and history and politics) are arranged by René Marie, sometimes moving far from the original melodies, into a telling whole. Pointed though the lyrics of some of her songs might be, they are always melodic and overflow with invention. Earlier CDs by René Marie include How Can I Keep From Singing?, Vertigo, and Live At Jazz Standard, (all MaxJazz), whereon she delivers a pleasing mix of standards with some of her own compositions. Her daring combining of Dixie and Strange Fruit on Vertigo borders on the miraculous. On the aptly titled Serene Renegade (MaxJazz), René gives full rein to her songwriting talent. All but two of the tracks are her original songs and very good they are too.
Most recently. this outstanding singer again presents an album mainly of her own compositions. This is Black Lace Freudian Slip (Motéma) on which she ranges from the blues through Latin tinge, hints of folk, and deep-seated jazz, all underpinned with echoes of today’s African music. In her lyrics, René Marie demonstrates her social commitment, her sense of humor and her unending joy in singing. Throughout all of her CDs, René Marie delivers striking lessons in the art of contemporary jazz singing that are thoroughly grounded in the best of the past. If you happen to have missed René Marie before now, these CDs offer many opportunities to join her ever-widening international audience, an opportunity that should be seized without hesitation. If you should be fortunate enough to be able to see and hear her perform live, then don’t walk, but run . . .
Drawing together some of the best of Now and the finest of Then, the latest album from Mark Masters sets out a selection of music that originated with members of the Duke Ellington organization. Although that last word implies a measure of rigidity, a quality never invoked by either the Maestro himself or the remarkable sidemen who graced his band. Here, on Ellington Saxophone Encounters (Capri), Mark has taken themes created by Ellington saxophonists Harry Carney, Paul Gonsalves, Jimmy Hamilton, Johnny Hodges, and Ben Webster, and arranged them as a tribute to these exceptional instrumentalists. Mark’s band features contemporary saxophone masters Pete Christlieb, Gene Cipriano, Gary Foster, Don Shelton, and Gary Smulyan, the latter being Mark’s key collaborator in this (and indeed other) fascinating jazz ventures. The saxophonists play with inventive flair, breathing into music fresh life – although it has never really died and neither has it aged in the slightest despite the fact that among the pieces are some originally created before some of today’s musicians were born. The saxophonists are backed by the subtly supportive trio of pianist Bill Cunliffe, bassist Tom Warrington and drummer Joe LaBarbera. Thanks to Capri Records and the American Jazz Institute, this album presents exceptional music that is played superbly. This melodic and always swinging set is a joy to hear.