Jazz CD Reviews – early May 2017

May 10, 2017

Mark Winkler The Company I Keep (Café Pacific CPCD 45135)

Sophisticated jazz singing by Mark Winkler who teams up here with fine instrumentalists and also in duet with five other singers. This album is Mark’s 15th, his career dating back to the 1970s. Singing throughout his career, he has also written the lyrics of some 250 songs. Added to all this, he is a music educator and has taught at UCLA and the LA School of Songwriting. In the songs chosen for this album, Mark reflects on the death of a loved one – something that has touched all of us all at some point. Although this might suggest gloom and darkness, instead Mark finds beauty and glimmers of hope.winkler Among these songs are six with his lyrics, while others include the work of Prince (Strollin’), George and Ira Gershwin (They Can’t Take That Away From Me), Oliver Nelson and Mark Murphy (Stolen Moments), and Leonard Bernstein with Betty Comden and Adolph Greene (Lucky To Be Me). While linking sophistication and jazz might suggest elevator music, there is nothing like that here; Mark’s interpretations have depth and understanding and his performance is enhanced by his mature vocal sound. Ensuring this album’s jazz credentials are the instrumentalists and vocalists who appear with him. Collectively, his instrumental collaborators are Ron Blake, Brian Swartz (trumpet); Bob McChesney (trombone); Don Shelton (clarinet), Bob Sheppard (tenor saxophone & clarinet); Jamieson Trotter, Rich Eames, Eric Reed, Josh Nelson, John Beasley, David Benoit (piano); Larry Koonse, Bob Mann (guitar); Lyman Medeiros, John Clayton (bass); Mike Shapiro, Jeff Hamilton, Kevin Winard (drums); Paul Cartwright (violin). The singers with whom Mark duets are Jackie Ryan (Walk Between The Raindrops), Cheryl Bentyne (Strollin’), Steve Tyrell (But It Still Ain’t So), Claire Martin (Stolen Moments), Sara Gazarek (Rainproof). These duets are especially attractive aspects of the many pleasures heard on The Company I Keep, an album that will undoubtedly appeal to many.

Tina Raymond Left Right Left (Orenda 0039)

A respected performer and teacher, drummer Tina Raymond has now made her album debut as leader. She is joined here by two instrumentalists who have graced the west coast music scene for many years: pianist Art Lande and bassist Putter Smith. Unusually for a jazz project, Left Right Left was prompted by recent political events in America and the sometimes stark issues that still divide the country. Unusual because although popular music has long touched upon politics, jazz has rarely stepped to the forefront, unlike the blues, a form that has consistently depicted division and outright discrimination. In the last hundred years folk musicians have confronted important issues with songs of protest, among themTina_Raymond_-_Left_Right_Left_Digital_Cover Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez. Songs by all of these appear here and despite their folk origins, Tina, Art and Putter deliver jazz interpretations with flair and skill (the bassist also contributing some original songs). It is self-evident that songs of protest achieve their aim through what the have to say, but no words are sung here. Thus listeners have the choice of listening to the music for its own sake, or bringing to the experience their own knowledge of the songs’ words, or at last their themes. Tina’s chosen repertoire includes songs that address respectively issues of gender discrimination and exploitation of migrant workers, Woody Guthrie’s Union Maid and Pastures Of Plenty (who could have imagined that these issues were still unresolved eighty years later); songs of protest against, and reflections on, war Joni Mitchell’s The Fiddle And The Drum and Joan Baez Saigon Bride, Putter Smith’s Xxmas In Baghdad; racial matters, Smith’s White Flight, which refers to deliberate avoidance of integration, and Jame Weldon Johnson’s Lift Every Voice And Sing, which for the second half of its one hundred-plus years of existence has been an anthem of hope for black Americans. There are also songs that center upon patriotism, something that all too readily in these trying times is taken to equate with nationalism, which is a very different matter. The songs played here are Samuel A. Ward’s America and Julia Ward Howe’s Battle Hymn Of The Republic, the latter played by Art Lande with a touch of dissonance that mirrors the America of today. Despite the long-ago origins of most of what is heard here, this interesting, thought-provoking and well played album is very much music of today.

Mari Nobre Live and Alive (Chrome)

Born and raised in Italy where she first sang professionally, Mari Nobre worked in Europe before settling in the USA where she met and married bassist Leo Nobre who at the time was with Sergio Mendes. Although now resident in Los Angeles, where she leads Nobresil, a Brazilian band, Mari tours internationally. Linguistically skilled, she sings in her native language and English as well as Spanish, Portuguese and French.Live_and_Alive_Cover-page-001 This album was recorded just three weeks after Mari had undergone surgery following treatment for cancer and the music heard is vibrant and often joyous, perhaps reflecting her feelings at this moment in time. The album’s full title is Live and Alive from Gershwin to Jobim … a Musical Journey, and it contains several well-known songs, among them Fascinating Rhythm, by George and Ira Gershwin, Corcovado, Retrato Em Branco E Prato and Chega de Saudade (No More Blues), all composed by Antonio Carlos Jobim, the last-named two with lyricists Chico Buarque and Vinicius de Moraes respectively. Also heard are a standard by Victor Young and Edward Heyman, When I Fall In Love, a song by Albert Domínguez, Frenesi, well known to all who remember Artie Shaw’s swing era hit, Leonard Cohen’s Dance Me To The End of Love, Benny Golson’s Whisper Not and an original written by Mari with Patrick Lockwood, Linda. On this live date at UCLA’s Jan Popper Theatre, Mari’s attractive, fluent vocal sound is supported by saxophonist/flautist Justo Almario, pianist Daniel Szabo, guitarist Angelo Metz, bassist Leo Nobre, and drummer Sandro Feliciano. Good songs attractively sung, this should have wide appeal. Worth noting is Mar’s comment: “Since music healed me I want to return the favor and donate part of the sales from the album to the children cancer research.”

For more on Mark Winkler, Tina Raymond and Mari Nobre, including booking details, contact Mouthpiece Music.

Available from walk-in and on-line retailers including Amazon.

Jazz CD Reviews – August 2015

August 10, 2015

Ellen Johnson Form & Formless (Vocal Visions VV 3000)

The title displays the musical thinking behind Ellen Johnson’s new album. Some of the songs, those with “form” are by jazz masters, among whom are John Coltrane, Naima, Thelonious Monk, Round Midnight, Charles Mingus, Weird Nightmare, and Sonny Rollins, St Thomas, the last named having lyrics by Ellen herself. On most of these “form” songs, Ellen is accompanied by guitarist Larry Koonse (with trumpeter Nolan Shaheed contributing an evocative solo on the Monk song).ellen j The “formless” songs draw their description from the work of poet Lao Tzu while their style is that of free improvisation created in the moment by Ellen who is mostly accompanied here by guitarist John Stowell. Speaking of the latter group of songs, Ellen has said, “I love the challenge of free improvisation, so having the opportunity to be supported by two amazing guitarists who are at home in this element made the project an absolute delight.” Throughout all these songs, form and formless, Ellen’s ability to explore the inner workings of mind and heart are vividly displayed. So too is her skill in bringing an almost visual quality to a song through her use of aural imagery. This particular skill is especially apparent here because most of these songs do not have lyrics. Rather, Ellen uses her captivating vocal sound – throughout clear, rich and emotion-filled – as a musical instrument. While Ellen’s interpretations provide guidance, the listener can bring to the occasion personal feelings and memories and the whole experience becomes thoroughly rewarding and one that must surely appeal to audiences from all walks of jazz and contemporary improvised music.

Ellen’s talent extends beyond singing and lyric writing, ranging widely to include education – she presents courses at the California Jazz Conservatory. She is also an accomplished author and in this latter capacity has recently published Jazz Child: Portrait of Sheila Jordan, reviewed here a little while ago.

All of Ellen’s albums, and her book can be found at Amazon.

Mark Winkler JAZZ and Other Four Letter Words (Café Pacific CPCD 45125)

Those who like jazz singing that is very much in the moment yet recalls the hip and cool elements of its splendid past will like Mark Winkler a lot. His tough-edged light baritone vocal sound brings to the lyrics he sings an air of urban sophistication and understanding. Some of these lyrics are from the Great American Songbook, others are drawn from Mark’s extensive list of compositions. Examples here include I Chose The Moon (music by Bill Cantos), Stay Hip (Rich Eames) and My Idea Of A Good Time (Greg Gordon Smith). winklerMark is accompanied here by some excellent instrumentalists, notably two trios. One of these has Jamieson Trotter, piano, Dan Lutz, Bass, and Mike Shapiro, drums, while the other has Jamieson with John Clayton, bass, and Jeff Hamilton, drums. Joining Mark on two songs, I’m Hip and I Wish I Were In Love Again, is Cheryl Bentyne, long a driving force in vocal group Manhattan Transfer. It is good to see that Mark is helping ensure the future of his craft through jazz education, especially at UCLA Extension and the LA School of Songwriting with his course, “Creating Great Lyrics: A Songwriters Workshop”. This always swinging selection of songs is Mark’s 14th album as leader and will surely appeal to many.

Mark Christian Miller Crazy Moon (Sliding Jazz Door)

For many years Mark Christian Miller has been deeply involved in many aspects of the music business. After learning piano and baritone horn while still in childhood, he sang with light opera companies while extending his musical studies in both piano and voice and also performed as a solo act on the Los Angeles supper club circuit. He made his first own-name album around the turn of the century but for many years worked mainly as artist manager and booker as well as on the production side of music festivals. Encouraged to return to performing, Mark teamed up with pianist Josh Nelson to plan this album. Backed by the core trio of Josh, bassist Dave Robaire and drummer Sammy Miller, Mark presents an interesting selection of songs. While a couple of these, Wrap Your In Dreams and Cheek To Cheek, are familiar, mostly songs heard here are lesser-known works by major songwriters.mc miller Among these are Second Chance, by Andre and Dorothy Langdon Previn, Oh, You Crazy Moon, by Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke, April Fooled Me, by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields, and Almost In Your Arms, by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans. Mark’s voice is clear, tuneful and mature, while his interpretations of lyrics are insightful. Also heard here are instrumentalists Ron Stout, trumpet, Bob Sheppard, bass clarinet, Larry Koonse, guitar, and Billy Hulting, percussion, all of whom bring excellent solo and supportive touches to the occasion. Arrangements are by Mark and Josh and Jamieson Trotter.

For more information on Mark Winkler and Mark Christian Miller see their websites and that of Mouthpiece Music. These albums can be found through these sites and at Amazon.

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