April 30, 2015
Allan Harris Black Bar Jukebox (Love Productions 233921)
Over the past few years, Allan Harris has built a reputation as a gifted and versatile singer. He has chosen to explore varied paths during his career, and has recorded tributes to Billy Strayhorn and Nat King Cole. Displaying an attractive approach to the classics of popular music, Allan also sings less familiar material and among examples of this heard here are Kenny Rankin’s Catfish and Haven’t We Met, and the Eddie Jefferson-James Moody jazz classic I’ve Got The Blues, based on Lester Leaps In. There are also fine versions of Daughters and Stranger On The Shore. The former is a composition by John Meyer and is especially attractive, a comment that might also be made about Acker Bilk’s wonderfully melodic instrumental hit for which a lyric was written by Robert Mellin. Although Andy Williams had a hit with this song back in the early 1960s, vocal versions are rare and it is nice to have it here. In addition to his singing gifts, Allan is also talented songwriter and there are four examples here: Miami, A Little Bit Scared, Love’s The Key and Can It Be This Is A Dream. Allan’s vocal sound is a rich baritone that he can lift into the tenor range and he presents his music with eloquent charm. Here, he is supported by pianist-organist Pascal Le Boeuf, guitarist Yotam Silberstein, bassist Leon Boykins, drummer Jake Goldbas and percussionist Samuel Torres. Altogether, this is a musical delight.
José James Yesterday I Had The Blues (Capitol/Blue Note 0000)
It is not only female singers who admire and learn from Billie Holiday, male singers do it, too, and here José James pays his tribute. Drawing upon the milestones of Holiday’s career, he presents the songs in his own way, thus allowing listeners to choose whether or not to evoke memories of that past troubled giant of song. On previous albums and live dates, José has appealed to a wide audience that encompasses lovers of contemporary R&B and soul and smooth jazz. The song choice here is from the core of jazz, but in his stylistic presentation he stays true to what he does best. José’s treatment of Good Morning, Heartache is surprisingly lively and he is energetically backed by pianist Jason Moran, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Eric Harland, who provide discreet yet telling support although they have their moments on the driving What A Little Moonlight Can Do. There is one song where the presentation is very different. This is Strange Fruit, a tragic lament only rarely performed by other singers. It was, of course, very different from everything else in Holiday’s repertoire, yet it is for many the song that marks how she is remembered today (in many ways this is regrettable, overshadowing as it does her often joyful take on music and life). For this performance, the instrumentalists lay out, leaving José to sing backed only by vocal humming. The growing numbers of fans of José James will like this a lot and it might well draw in those from the jazz core who have been waiting on the sidelines.
Tony Adamo And The New York Crew (Urbanzone Records)
Confronted with reviewing an album by Tony Adamo, it’s tempting to write in the style of Ken Kesey or early Tom Wolfe, but I know I can’t do that so I won’t try. This leaves me with the uneasy feeling that I won’t do this remarkable wordsmith justice, and that would be a shame. Tony is a storyteller, a teller of tales. He doesn’t sing his songs – he delivers his stories in what he describes as ‛HipSpokenWord’. These stories are set in the hip urban scene, mainly of New York, both now and then. The ‛then’ being pretty much any time you like through those decades when writers like Jack Kerouac and stand-ups like Lenny Bruce roamed the highways and alleys of America. Except, of course, there never really were people quite like Jack or Lenny no matter how many latterday hopefuls since their day might like to claim an imaginary inherited mantel. And neither is there anyone quite like Tony Adamo. Customarily when writing about jazz musicians, I avoid comparing them to other artists. Digressing for a moment: I know that some reviewers do this but I’m not at all sure that they do a musician service to say that someone is, or sounds like, another musician. Intended or not, there is a built-in implication that the performer under review is less than, if not a copyist of, a past artist. The problem is, how do I describe what he does without comparisons? And if I do try, who is there that would allow a comparison such as this to be made? I suppose I might risk suggesting Lord Buckley whose spoken work carried an implied and sometimes real rhythmic undertow. That said, in Tony Adamo’s case, the swing is on top and he blends fluidly with the musicians who surround him here. And they really are special. Teaming up here to work with Tony are The New York Crew, a group of musicians that might well be termed All Star: trumpeter Tim Ouimette, alto saxophonist Donald Harrison, pianist Michael Wolff, bassist Richie Goods, drummers Lenny White and Mike Clark, sharing duties, as well as spots for guitarist Jean C. Santalis and percussionist Bill Summers. All those interested in contemporary R&B and frontline post-bop jazz will recognize these names. For example, Tim played with and arranged for Ray Charles, Donald with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and his own Electric Band, Lenny with Chick Corea’s Return To Forever, and Mike with Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters. Most of those on hand had multiple roles as either engineers or producers or co-composers with Tony being the man behind the words. Let’s be clear about these words; they tell a story with wit and intelligence, using everyday language that has at times the dartlike precision of yesteryear’s writers of popular song lyrics. (Which is my way of trying to say, politely, that it is several steps up from the quasi-ghetto-speak used in rap and even on today’s television dramas – both real and fictitious.) I have just re-read the foregoing and I am bound to admit that I have failed to describe Tony Adamo’s work in a manner that it deserves. So I’ll have to do what I hoped I could avoid and simply urge you to buy this album.
And speaking of which, all the albums here can be found at Amazon.