|Updated: 7/02/14 | © 1999 - 2014 Cool Bunny Media | Da Cool Bunny sez 'Spank that Plank, Baby!'|
This is the debut album by vocalist Dorothy Leigh, and contains a collection of original songs by a team of songwriters who have supported Ms Leigh's breakthrough. While the album has a strong jazz vibe the overall sound is old school soul and pop in style. Ms Leigh is a singer in the Dionne Warwick style - smooth and sophisticated, literate and eschewing the current 'street style'. The ten songs are by Janice Robinson, Juanita Fleming and Alva Nelson, her musical director, duetist and a musician with an album previously reviewed on The Borderland. Ms Leigh has a pleasing voice, not dissimilar to the Motown or Philly sounds of Mary Wilson of the Supremes and Sheila Ferguson of the Three Degrees and the songs have a nostalgic 70s soul-pop feel to them. The songs are: Whenever We Touch, A Second Chance, Don't Hang Up, Home Again, Gone Away To Stay, I'm Gonna Love You Forever, Never Did I Ever Stop Loving You, Don't Call Me A Fool, Confession, Time To Go. Obviously the theme of the album is love and its after effects, but the persona in these songs doesn't seem to spend too long moping about, she gets over it and starts looking for love again. A Second Chance is an assured debut album and contains a selection of very good songs that are radio friendly to my ears [but then again, I dislike much of what passes for modern pop!]. Dorothy Leigh is undiscovered gold and should be big. One of the best debut albums I have heard in a long time and highly recommended.
For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.dorothyleigh.com
The Jazz musical genre has had its fair share of musical geniuses and musical explorers but few will disagree that sitting at the top of the mountain is Duke Ellington - a composer who was ranked as highly as any classical music composer and managed to keep both his feet in popular and experimental music throughout his life and career. Dan Block is a saxophonist and clarinettist who has brought together a number of like-minded musicians and recorded an album of Duke Ellington's lesser-known pieces performed in a variety of groupings. From trio to septet, Mr Block strips the big band orchestrations back to the basics and reveals the gold lying within. I'm no expert on Ellington's music but I suspect that the tempos have also been slowed down to enhance the original material. Along with Mr Block's breathy and late night sax and very buoyant clarinet, the most noticeable other instrument is Mark Sherman's vibraphone on a handful of tracks, but to be fair all of the supporting musicians have their chance to shine and they do so ably. The rest of the musicians are: Mike Kanan - piano, Lee Hudson - bass, James Chirillo - guitar, Brian Grice - drums, Pat O'Leary - cello, and Renato Thoms - percussion. Recorded during August 2009 across a variety of New York studios the album fairly exudes NY sass and soul. For the Ellingtonians out there here is the track listing: Kissing Bug, New York City Blues, Old King Dooji, Morning Glory, Are You Stickin'?, The Beautiful Indians, Suburbanite, All Heart/Change My Ways, Portrait of Bert Williams, Mt Harrissa, Creole Blues, Cotton Club Stomp, Rocks In My Bed and Second Line. While Ellington was born in Washington DC [I think], he was musically based in New York for much of his life [when not touring] and From His World To Mine acts as much as a tribute to New York as it does to the composer. Dan Block and musicians have done a fine job with this album - it is an uplifting and happy album, full of life and good humour and I think the Duke would love it madly!
For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.mileshighrecords.com
It is always sad news when a respected musician passes away, and that is what happened with Bud Shank who literally died the day after In Good Company's recording sessions were completed. It must have been a bittersweet moment for fellow bandleader Jake Fryer when he heard the news, and does imbue this album with a touch of sadness, and yet it also acts as a very fine memorial to a musician who devoted his life to jazz. The quintet are Jake Fryer and Bud Shank on alto saxes, Mike Wofford on piano, Bob Magnusson on bass and Joe La Barbera on drums. The album's nine tracks are a mixture of original compositions and covers of jazz classics like Caravan, Almost Like Being In Love, and Speak Low. I rather liked Bopping With Bud, an on-fire duel between the saxes against a rollicking rhythm. The album is full of bebop attitude and good vibes, and some lyrical playing on the ballads [such as Agnieszka]. It is also apparent in the performances that the musicians are having a blast and enjoying each other's company. The whole of the album was recorded in first takes, with little rehearsal, and that has kept the spontaneity at a very high level. I think this is a fitting tribute to the memory of Bud Shank, who has left a fitting audio memorial that will thrill his fans. And of course it also acts as a fine introduction to a new talented saxophonist, Jake Fryer. In Good Company should appeal to anyone who enjoys bop and a good vibe.
For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.jakefryer.com
Behind The Smile opens with a song written by vocalist Antoinette Montegue and it acts as an appropriate showcase for her distinctive vocals and the type of sassy jazz that rules on this new album. Looking like Dionne Warwick's younger and prettier sister, she also has a classy voice that sits well with the previous generation of jazz divas such as Ella, Sara Vaughan, Dinah Washington, and Peggy Lee. Utilising a very tight quartet of musicians the songbooks raided for this album span quite a few genres: Ray Noble [I Hadn't Anyone Till You], Bill Broonzy [Give Your Mama One Smile], Marvin Gaye [What's Going On], Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II [The Song Is You], Duke Ellington [Lost In Meditation and 23rd Psalm], Smokey Robinson [Get Ready] and many more in the 'baker's dozen' of tracks that make up Behind The Smile. It takes someone special to mix up jazz, soul and blues like this and Ms Montegue certainly has that X factor. Even great singers need a good band and the one on this album is exemplary - led by Mulgrew Miller on piano and with Bill Easley on sax, reeds and flute, Kenny Washington on drums and Peter Washington on bass, this is a very tight band who can turn their hand to everything demanded by the songs. For me Behind The Smile is the best type of jazz album - it has heart, melody and a huge investment of personality by Antoinette Montegue. Highly recommended.
For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.antoinettemontegue.com
I usually associate the clarinet with 'Dixieland' jazz from the early part of the last century. It seemed [to me] to have lost popularity over the last decade or so, so it was interesting to receive this new album by clarinettist Harry Skoler. Two Ones showcases the instrument in both quintet and duo settings, and does so without reviving that Dixieland styling, using the instrument in a more sophisticated and soulful way. All the music is by pianist/vibist Ed Saindon, with some of the duo tracks co-composed by Skoler and Saindon. The remaining musicians on the album are Matt Marvuglio on flute, Barry Smith on bass and Bob Tamagni on drums. The tunes here are very impressionistic, almost like mini tone poems, reduced down to the minimum instrumentation required. They certainly shun the usual exhortations of much overwrought modern jazz music, and concentrate on melody and poignancy. This is very emotional music and it will probably create mind pictures of a pastoral nature when you listen to it. The quintet tracks that most reflect this are Leaves of Autumn, Piazzolla and Georgio's Theme. The duo tracks, joined with Ed Saindon's limpid piano are almost pure in the 'classical music' sense, losing rhythmical jazz backing and becoming something much more like a classical recital. Sticking with the allusions to classical music, Two Ones is more like a recital in two halves and far away from the blues, yet it leaves you in a state of the blues that echoes in your head for many hours after.
For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.harryskoler.com
I'm not sure why but on listening to this album I was repeatedly reminded of Jimi Hendrix and his trio, where his wild guitar seemed so out of proportion to the rhythm section. And so it was with the opening track, Mossad of this album - David Alt's squalling saxophone free-forming all over the place. I have to be upfront and say that this really isn't my kind of jazz, and I didn't find much here to enjoy. I need melody and tunes, something with heart and rhythm. Open The Gates is just a cold artefact for me. But that is me, there are many people who do enjoy this type of jazz and I urge you to check out the website listed below for sample tracks. Alt Tal are David Alt on sax, Kenny Annis on bass guitar and Andrew Ryan on drums. Open The Gates contains eleven tracks, most of them with tight rhythmic foundations and the sax floating stratospherically high above. I'm sure there is a lot of musical merit in this album, but I can't find the key within me to unlock it, despite the commitment and sincerity of the musicians involved. Don't take my word on this one, go to the website and explore it for yourself and make up your own mind.
For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.alttal.com
The piano trio format has always been a very popular one throughout the history of jazz, and it has been the launchpad for many musical stars. And I think Red Goddess by the Jeff Presslaff Trio could be the calling card for potentially a new one. The album consists of ten Presslaff compositions, falling somewhere between mid-tempo, mellow and with a hint of urban blues in there too, so ideal for late night listening or perhaps the car stereo, or perhaps the iPod for more intimate listening. The music on this CD is certainly intimate, closely recorded and crystal clear so that you can study the playing, if inclined that way. Along with the pianist, Julian Bradford is on acoustic bass and Scott Senior on drums. The music on this album focuses on Presslaff's adulthood experiences and contains evocative titles such as: Summer Somewhere, Secrets, 2 Blue 2B, Having Met Ms Jones, Two Way Rays. Red Goddess is certainly a very listenable album and it should appeal to the piano fans.
For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.jeffpresslaff.com
Between Stops is a collaboration between three very different jazz musicians. Alex Clements is the pianist, John Abrahams the drummer and Zara Tellander the voice. All three are composers and come from different countries [Canada, USA, Sweden], so they bring together a whole variety of musical styles into what becomes a jazz fellowship. The opening track, We Are One Through The Music, is an explosive beginning, sassy and in your face, swinging hard and laying out the musical manifesto for the album, expressively fronted by the lovely vocals by Zara Tellander. Track 2, Never Crossed My Mind is more reflective, a lovely ballad, track 3, Silence Is Speaking, is even more solemn, a chamber piece. The moods and the tempi vary with each succeeding track, showcasing the compositional talents of all three. As you would expect there is quite a large band supporting these musicians, with a wide range of instrumental sounds to cover every mood on the album. Between Stops may be nominally jazz but there is a lot more going on, with some songs having a chamber quartet feel and others a pop feel, there's latin percussion, cellos - the soundscape is varied and adventurous. This album straddles many music definitions, which makes it continually interesting. Between Stops is a fine album, an interesting collection of moods which will need a discerning audience to appreciate its variety.
For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.myspace.com/betweenstops
The vocal jazz scene seems to be growing stronger all the time, and this new debut album by L'Tanya Mari' is a good example of this. A Teardrop of Sun seems to merge soulful jazz with a drop of bebop and some good old rhythm and blues, all mixed into a very commercial sounding miscellany which should please many listeners. The nine tracks include songs by Bill Evans [Very Early], Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer [That Old Black Magic], Chick Corea [Crystal Silence], Ira Gershwin and Kurt Weill [This Is New]. Ms Mari' offers magisterial performances on most of the tracks, her mellifluous voice reminiscent of Sarah Vaughan, Ella and Dinah - a continuation of the jazz diva line. As a music student Ms Mari' studied cello and piano, and while she doesn't play either on this record her voice certainly uses the cadences of the cello on some of the songs to add extra layers of interest. Of course it helps to have a good band backing the singer and there is a wonderfully simpatico one on this album: Harry Appelman on piano, David Jernigan, on bass, Tony Martucci on drums, Alejandro Lucini on percussion, Paul Wingo on guitar and Lyle Link on saxes. A Teardrop of Sun is a wonderfully exciting debut album which should launch L'Tanya Mari' onto the international jazz stage.
For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.ltanyamari.com
I have no idea what 'Modes of Limited Transcendence' actually means, but when the opening track, Ryo's First Flight, begins it soon become obvious that the album should have been called Big Sound From A Little Band. Guitarist Gene Ess leads a standard jazz quartet, though these guys have the chops to kick out little and large, as the tracks demand. With Ess on guitar, Tigran Hamasyan on keyboards, Harvey S on bass and Tyshawn Sorey on drums, this is a quartet who can cover all the musical tones that modern jazz demands. That means post-bop, post nostalgia trip, almost architectural and mathematical music where the musicians carve out their places from a monolith of notes. This isn't really my type of jazz, it's too cutting edge and modern for my old ears to enjoy. But that doesn't mean it isn't worthy of note and I'm sure that there will be many jazz fans who will find this album an exhilarating ride. So do go to the website, download the sample tracks there and find out if Gene Ess is the man for you.
For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.jazzgenemusic.com
For British ears tango music is a super smooth concoction produced by the easy listening orchestras of Victor Sylvester and Joe Loss, and gobbled up by ballroom dancers here in the UK. Play them Vayo's latest album Tango and I doubt if they would even recognise the style of music. The pure form of tango performed by Vayo is a stark sounding, almost chamber music, utilising a small group of seven musicians playing traditional acoustic instruments and is predominantly slow paced and deeply emotional. Vayo sings mostly in Spanish and has a deep pitched voice, which offers the songs lyrics imbued with a sonorous gravity. The musical pace may be stately on many of the tracks but some of them do speed up a bit, such as the English sung Three For Tango. The overall feel of the album is of dramatic passion which one can only guess at as there is no English translation of the lyrics included. Compared to the lush exotica of Brazilian music, the street sassiness of salsa, and the romanticism of Cuban music, true tango has a theatrical starkness to it that won't appeal to all latin music fans. But if anyone can convert you than I think it could be this album and Vayo's melodramatic vocal performances.
For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.vayoraimondo.com
Now, before I write about this album I should explain that I am not a Christmas person, I veer towards the Scrooge-like view that the holiday is vastly overrated. And I cringe at most of the festive season songs that regale us during December. So when a new album of original seasonal songs arrives here it didn't exactly set my pulse fluttering. But I have to admit that the opening track of composer/pianist Pamela Hines new album, New Christmas, piqued my interest. Custom Santa, sung by Patrice Williamson, is a rather upbeat bluesy number with some melodic scat singing. Indeed, along with Ms Williamson, this album is a showcase for several women vocalists - Monica Hatch and April Hall also provide the vocal cream on top of Pamela Hines' trio settings. Thankfully, the over-sentimental mulch that so often represents Christmas is thankfully missing from these songs, and it is a lovely collection of mostly romantic (sometimes bluesy) songs with Christmas as the theme, set to intimate jazz settings. Ideal for late nights in front of the log fire after the party guests have left. A refreshing change to what you would usually expect from a festive album and all the better for it.
For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.spicerackrecords.com
Put simply, this is a collection of jazz and Broadway songs sung in Sinatra style by vocalist Roger Cairns and a very good chamber jazz band. The ambience is direct and late night intimate and ideal for chilled wine and candlelight... Songs include Let's Fall In Love, Moonlight Becomes You, a vocal version of the Peter Gunn Theme, Stormy Monday, Get Set For The Blues amongst the sixteen tracks on this CD. Without meaning to be insulting, Peter Cairns has a standard ballad style voice, not exactly bland but lacking the tone and technique of Sinatra or say Nat King Cole. Mind you, I've heard a lot worse during Karaoke hour. Perhaps in the live ambience of a night club or bar these performances will become brighter and more intense but this album just registers as pleasant and doesn't offer any after memory. But as I always say, I'm me and you, dear reader, may find this album more impressive, so please check out the website listed below and try any sample tracks there and make up your own mind.
For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.rogercairns.com
Timothy Cooper's new album, East Wind, is subtitled 'New piano age music', which for many will mean they think of it as new age music. And they may be right, but on hearing this album they may change their tune [sorry, pun intended]. Over the twenty-nine tracks and new sixty minute duration of this CD you have a collection of sparse, almost experimental miniatures carved from the piano keyboard. Tracks last from half a minute to perhaps two minutes, the former being something of a surprise in these days of ten minute plus instrumental epics. There is something of the modern jazz music created by Keith Jarrett and pianists from the Nordic jazz school. You can imagine this music being created somewhere in the Arctic circle while watching icebergs with polar bears drift slowly by. I am obviously playing around with conceits here but this music is so spare, so condensed and impressionistic that I don't think there are even any double tracked pieces. East Wind certainly goes against the lush grain of the usual new age recordings to the point where one has almost to fill in the silent gaps. I think its beauty and relevance is only going to find a certain type of listener - it's definitely not the type of wallpaper music for use in whole food restaurants and organic juice bars. This is cerebral music and it requires time and space to be listened to properly.
For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.new-piano-age.com
The American native Indian flute has a haunting sound every bit as evocative as the South American pan pipes, and this emotive sound is everywhere on Randy Granger's latest album, A Place Called Peace. Usually, the sound of the flute is an ethereal sound bringing up otherworldly images of the wide expanse of the American great plains, ringed by high mountains and eagles flying overhead. And on many of the eight tracks that is the case, but the opening track, Za Zee Za Zu Zing, is a more upbeat one with a vocal that is a celebration of life, Mr Granger even has a decent voice. Track three, Chaco Moon Meditation, is one of the more meditative pieces, and yet it has an almost African-style rhythmic backing played on a steel drum, I think. Ghost Dancers has an Indian-based rhythm foundation upon which multi-tracked flutes duet/duel in a very exciting way. Randy Granger can certainly play his instruments and knows how to get the best out of them. As far as I can tell he is the only musician on the album, but through the magic of studio technology he has produced a magical album of lush imagery, a soundtrack for a mind movie set in the South Western region of America.
For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.randygranger.net
There is always something to be said about artists who reach back into their nostalgic memories and dig out great songs which have influenced them and have been long forgotten, or rather relegated to the dustier record shelves. Vocalist Karen Johns has done just this on her new album Peach - the more interesting thing about this album is that she and collaborator Kevin Sanders have also written a batch of songs that echo the best elements of the songs she is reviving. And that sound is the 40's and 50's swinging sound of the Andrews Sisters and the more silky crooning of Julie London. It all makes for a fun and interesting album, with some beautifully sung [several inventively multi-tracked] vocals by Ms Johns, and some extremely warm-hearted performances from her band. The musicians are: Karen Johns - vocals, Kevin Sanders - piano, James Johns - guitar/vocals, Jim Hoke - saxes/flute/clarinet, Chris Kozak - bass, Michael Glaser - drums, Ken Watters - trumpet, Gabriel Johns - vocals. Amongst the songwriters featured are Henry Mancini and Harry Warren - but I have say that the songs Ms Johns has written so fit their 40s and 50s swing and pop idioms that they sound like forgotten classics. Peach contains thirteen tracks and the titles are: Sugarboo, Meglio Stasero, Peach, I Speak Woman You Speak man, Chattanooga Choo Choo, Precious Find (Reprise), Sentimantale, I Love You Forever, Five O'Clock Shadow (Reprise), (You Don't Know) How Glad I Am, Must-Be-Seen, Rocket City, Red Bird. Peach is one of the most enjoyable and fun albums I have listened to in quite some time. The humour and inventiveness and sheer high quality musicality of the album and performances should bring a smile to many pop-jazz fans. Karen Johns has a voice full of light and shade and she makes these songs her own throughout. Highly recommended.
For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.karenjohns.com
One thing as an amateur music reviewer I have noticed is how music seems to periodically look back over its shoulder and remind itself that the past had its share of good tunes and great singers. It seems that vocalist Thea Neumann and her band, the Tramps, are just one of many artists to have been doing just that recently. Her new album Lady And The Tramps is a trawl through 40s and 50s swing alongside a selection of contemporary songs performed in the same style. Songwriters include: Cole Porter, Thelonius Monk, Gillian Welch, Thom Yorke of Radiohead, and Sammy Cahn. The Lady also writes a couple of pretty fine songs that fit the style just as easily. The Tramps are: Chris Andrews - piano, Kodi Hutchinson - bass, Sandro Dominelli - drums - there are also a number of guest musicians spread across the ten tracks, mostly providing a brass section. The Tramps plus guests and Thea Neumann's rather sexy and effortless voice are a fine match throughout the album. The ten tracks include: Convenience Store, I Love You, My Heart Belongs To Daddy, In Walked Bud, Vancouver, Dream A Little Dream, Makin' Whoopee, Dear Someone, How To Disappear Completely, Bei Mir Bist Du Schöen. Lady & The Tramps is an album full of easy on the ear arrangements, superb musicianship and the Lady has pipes to hunger after. As one of my favourite artists, Seasick Steve, would say - It's All Good! Highly recommended.
For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.theaneumann.com
Stuck here in the 'balmy' south-west of the UK, where summer consists mostly of rain, the plangent sounds of Brazil can stir the imagination greatly. I have always loved music from the Latin American diaspora, and Brazil especially. So when Receita de Samba arrived through the letter box my sense of expectation was quite high. And it wasn't disappointed when I played the CD - Anna Borge and Bill Ward have that Latin lilt and exoticism in spades. Ms Borge is from Recife and Mr Ward is from Boston, their mutual love of all things Latin brought together a very beneficial musical partnership, of which this album is their recording debut, I think. They have brought together a collection of eleven songs by Brazilian composers - I only recognise Caetano Veloso, but all the songs have 'that' Brazilian magic. Both artists share the vocals [but no duets, sadly] with Mr Ward also adding guitar and piano, but there is also a very fine small band in support who create the Latin rhythms. The musicians performing on this album are: Amir Milstein - flute, Fernando Saci - percussion, Jose Pienasola - bass, Vinicius Pienasola - drums. Receita de Samba captures that Latin feel so well - the music is slinky, smooth and very, very sexy. Ms Borge has a lovely voice, with that slightly laid back delivery that makes the Portuguese lyrics suggestive of so many things [sun, sea, sand and you add the fourth...]. The eleven tracks are: Vatapá, E Luxo Só, Aquele Frevo Axé, Brasil Pandeiro O Vendedor De Caraguejo, Preconceito, E Vamos Á Luta, Eu Samba Mesmo, Conselhos, Falsa Baiana, Curare. So, Receita de Samba is gold standard, one of the best Latin albums I have heard in some time, and extremely pleasing on the ear. The musicianship of all concerned is very high, and this is an album I shall be playing repeatedly for a long time to come. Highly recommended.
Forget-Me-Not is an album that straddles both improvisational jazz and contemporary classical music. The line is blurred most of the time as to exactly what genre of music you are listening to. Yelena Eckemoff is a Russian composer/pianist now living and working in the USA, but she has embraced the Russian ethic of pushing the musical barriers apart. Much of the music here has a dreamlike feel to it, sometimes veering into pure avant-garde and other times veering towards more traditional classical or jazz sounds. Ms Eckemoff is working within a trio framework, with Mats Eilertson on double-bass and Marylin Mazur on drums. There is much exploring of time signatures across the ten tracks, and I guess if you are a fan of Dave Brubeck then you may find Forget-Me-Not of interest. It also struck me that the material here is reminiscent of the sort of music that the celebrated ECM label release - but that may be enhanced by the album being recorded in Denmark and having a cover design of a similar milieu. The ten tracks are: Resurrection of a Dream, Forget-Me-Not, Maybe, Sand-Glass, Five, Schubert's Sonata, Quasi Sonata, Seven, Trapped in Time, Welcome To A New Day. I'm afraid that I didn't find much warmth in this music, it is very clinical and more inclined to technical performance. I didn't derive much pleasure from this. But that is me, my tastes aren't yours, and while it isn't an album for me I do recognise the high quality of performance and commitment all three musicians are giving throughout the album. I am sure that there will be an enthusiastic audience out there who will enjoy the music and performances of Ms Eckemoff and her colleagues.
For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.yelenamusic.com
One often forgets that jazz can be a romantic medium every much as it is an improvisational one. And in the case of this album, Summertime Jazz, I think the romance of love songs has been used to offer an insight into the lusher aspects of Jazz. Lisa Marie Barratta plays alto and soprano sax and flute and clarinet - a very versatile lady indeed. Most of this album is performed with a quartet but the final two tracks are live recordings of the CA Pops Orchestra, where Ms Barratta takes the lead solos and apparently fends off serial proposals of marriage from the audience! One can see why, as she has a engaging tone and performance style, seeking out the romantic nature of the melodies without going all saccharine. The very fine trio of musicians supporting her on this album are: Don Turney - Piano, John Hettel - bass and Andrew Eberhard - drums. Summertime Jazz is unashamedly a mainstream jazz album, the arrangements are deceptively simple sounding but quite intricate. And yet the sound is very easy on the ear and I can see this album becoming the soundtrack for car journeys and parties alike. The eleven tracks are: Unforgettable, Besame Mucho, Fly Me To The Moon, Summertime, Song For My Father, When I Fall In Love, Autumn Leaves, Black Orpheus, Just The Two Of Us, Let's Dance, Harlem Nocturne. Lisa Marie Barratta is a very impressive musician, leading this trio in this collection of jazz classics and still finding new insights into the music. Highly recommended.
For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: http://lisamarie.barratta.com
For me the ultimate expression of Jazz is the big band - it combines the power of the music, musicianship and complex interplay between a large number of musicians. And if they can swing as well, then that is as near to getting to Heaven as you can get in my book! Saxophonist and composer Eyal Vilner has brought together a group of superb musicians and thanks to his arrangements moulded them into an exciting new big band sound. The band signature sound is punchy but sprightly, nimble and not too heavy. However they can also do romantic, especially when accompanying the mellow voice of Yaala Ballin. The interaction of the fourteen musicians is joyful with everyone collaborating together. Mr Vilner contributes four original tunes and the rest are new arrangements of music by Irving Berlin, Dizzie Gillespie, Bud Powell and Hoagie Carmichael. The ten track titles are: Woody'N You, Your Eyes, Tonk, Isn't This A Lovely Day, Un Poco Loco, The Nearness Of You, New One, Night Flight, Remember, Epilogue. Sadly there isn't the space to list all the musicians, but their contribution to the album is every bit as vital as that of Mr Vilner and it makes for an extremely vibrant and exhilarating album. I also think that sound production and engineering also deserves a mention, this is the album to test out your new hi-fi - the clarity and punch of the sound is staggering. Highly recommended.
For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.eyalvilner.com
I can't think of a better album title to describe this upbeat and happy-go-lucky jazz album by vocalist Donna Singer. Ms Singer has one of those bright and breezy voices, nimble enough to glide over the music yet subtle enough to carry the emotional heft of the lyrics. I thought there was a touch of Lena Horne's vocal style too, not a bad thing, I reckon. Backed by a trio plus several guest musicians on various tracks, Take The Day Off: Escape With Jazz is a collection of fourteen love songs, some are covers but several are written by Ms Singer's husband Roy and also by bassist Doug Richards. The rest of the trio are: Billy Alfred - piano, and Mike Cervone - drums, while the guest musicians include: Jeff Otis - guitar, Larry Ballestra - percussion, Peter Kwon - alto sax, Warren Cahill - trumpet, Bill Fleck - trombone. Songwriters covered on the album include Sacha Distel, Rodgers & Hart, Harry Warren, and George and Ira Gershwin. The fourteen tracks are: Take The Day Off, The Sweetest Sound, I Have Gone, The More I See You, Reve Aver, The Good Life, I Could Write A Book, Paradise, Tread Easy, All right Okay You Win, And This Is Why, No One's To Blame, Felice, But Not For Me. Take The Day Off: Escape With Jazz is a smooth jazz album and will please the easiest of ears. The performances will light up any gloomy day and lighten any darkened soul. Ms Singer and her musicians are better than any amount of valium...
For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.donna-singer.com
I'm quite a fan of electronic music and review copies don't often come my way, so I was delighted to receive the latest album by Finnish band Nemesis. Gigaherz is something of a concept album, its music devoted to the theme of the evolution of life and our impact on Mother Nature. Global warming and the rise in world temperatures is also another theme. A heavy concept, as hippies were apt to say in the late 60s. I'm not sure, myself, whether you can wrap these concepts around the music on this CD, other than the fact that this is an engrossing album which is almost a masterclass on all the varieties of electronica available to the listener. If I say that fans of Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk, Jarre and ultimately Brian Eno's ambient music will all find something here to please them it may give you some idea of the sheer versatility of Nemesis. The first six tracks pretty much cover the more uptempo electro and ambient styles - Kopernikus definitely has a TD vibe while the title track has more in common with Kraftwerk. Both are great lengthy slices of prime electronic music. The final nine tracks are labelled The Evolution Suite, and tend to be more low key, tapping into that icy ambient style that Brian Eno created in the 70s. This suite is more abstract, mixing atmosphere and ambience with slowly evolving melodies. The core of the band are Ami Hassinen and Jyrki Kastman on a variety of keyboards, guitars, bass and synths, plus a few other musicians make guest appearances. I certainly like the sound of Nemesis, and Gigaherz is an excellent album, one that I shall be playing a lot in the coming months and possibly one of the albums of the year for me.
It's been a long time coming but here it is - the sequel to Irene Nachreiner's debut album, Summer Samba, A Song Of You. The new album continues in the same vein as before - a collection of fourteen convivial tracks, wonderfully sung and a sure-fired winning cure against the depression blues. Thanks to the super smooth backing by her band, Irene's entrancing voice makes every track a holiday pill with a dollop of sunshine in the core. Irene also shows herself to be a decent songwriter as well, co-writing three of the songs herself [listen to Dance With Me for a prime example], while Jobim [Triste], Gershwin [S'Wonderful], Sting [Fragililidad], the Bergmans [Like A Lover], Cole Porter [It's Too Darn Hot] and Joao Gilberto [Bim Bom] supply some of the others. The album's signature [title] track was written by Ken Morrison and Mark Reiman - they are a writing team who contacted Irene through My Space and she is the first artist to record this song. These sambas and rumbas are the ideal soundtrack for this summers' round of barbecues and garden parties, guaranteed to lift the gloomy mood set by the current recession. The album has been excellently recorded, it has a glowing warm-hearted sound that will shine on any type of sound system - of course, you could be greedy and hog it all for yourself on your iPod, but that would be just plain rude. A Song Of You is an album to be savoured by all and enjoyed all year around. Summer Samba was one of my albums of the year in 2008 and I think A Song Of You will replace it at the top of my list for 2009. You would really need to be a mean hearted curmudgeon to not like this album. Extremely highly recommended.
For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.irenesings.com
There's nothing so good as sitting out in the garden on a British sunny spring day [a rarity nowadays] listening to an album of latin/flamenco guitar. And I can verify that Russ Hewitt's debut album Bajo El Sol IS that album for this spring and summer! The only regret with this album is that it is too short and contains only ten tracks - the only answer is to pop it on replay mode. Joking aside, Bajo El Sol is a grand album, full of mellifluous and sinuous tunes, where the guitarist is supported by some of the best latin, rock and jazz musicians one can call on, musicians such as Rafael Padilla, Bob Part, and Walfriedo Reyes, who have played for Santana, Cher, Ricky Martin, Gloria Estevez, Shakira, amongst many others. And one mustn't forget fellow guitarist Alfredo Caceres who provides the rhythm and counterpoint guitar lines. As debut albums go this is a very assured one, Russ Hewitt has been honing those deft fingers for many years and countless gigs. I think all the tracks are self-composed, and showcase a collection of great tunes which are full of great melodies and arrangements that showcase the acoustic guitar to it best merits. Trying to select a few tracks above the rest is impossible for this album - but try Ojos Bonitos, Baja El Sol, and Lydia as showcase examples. I think every track is pure gold, indeed, I think this album could cheer up any manic depressive much more efficiently than a bottle of pills. There's sunshine coming out of the speakers with every track, and while that may be a corny thing to say it is true - I can't think of a more uplifting album to be heard this year. Everyone should have a copy of Bajo El Sol to lift their spirits on those wet Monday mornings we get so often here in the British summer. Highly recommended and one of my albums for 2009. Can't say more than that!
For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.russhewittmusic.com
Guitarist John Stein is no stranger to MusicWatch - he has at least three previous albums reviewed elsewhere here. On Raising The Roof he has retained the trio of musicians he used on Encounterpoint to create a set on nine [mostly] fast paced swinging jazz numbers. From Nica's Dream through to Falling In Love With Love Stein's guitar, backed by Koichi Sato's keyboards, John Lockwood's bass and Ze Eduardo Nazario's drums, kicks up a storm and provide a beefy selection of upbeat instrumentals. As before the selection of music is a mixture of original compositions [Elvin!, Wild Woods] and several classic jazz tunes from the Great American Jazz Songbook. These include: Moanin', A Child Is Born, Invitation, Vivo Sonhando, and Beautiful Love. A Child Is Born, in particular, is a wonderfully tender ballad with some very fine restrained playing, while Moanin' and Elvin! have great drum solos. I think Mr Stein uses one of those large semi-acoustic electric guitars which has a gorgeous tone throughout the album - gentle and extremely mellow - no shrieking hysterics or howling feedback here. Just very plangent vibes and an album that leaves you feeling happier when it finishes. There's not much more that can be added here, as before John Stein has produced another album worthy of consideration by any fan of the guitar - whatever genre you normally listen to! This is an album I shall be playing again for pleasure.
For more information about this artist and album and availability contact: www.johnstein.com
The NEC in the context of this CD is the New England Conservatory faculty where jazz composition and performance is taught, and where the bulk of this compilation album was recorded in studio and live environments. These fourteen recordings start in 1973 and conclude in 2008, covering the full spectrum of jazz sub genres. Of course the CD acts as a historical reference on the performers who have passed through the courses held there. The opening track, Cottontail by the Duke Ellington Repertory Orchestra, has a good solid jazz feel to it, impeccably performed. Another track that impressed was Zeibekiko by Joe Maneri on clarinet, Rebekah Zak on piano, Albin Zak on guitar and Sophia Bilides on Dumbek, which begins in traditional Greek style and veers off into very weird territory. Other headline names performing on the CD include Jaki Byard, Steve Lacy, George Russell, and Ran Blake amongst many others. To be honest most of these people are musicians I have never heard of before, but that is what makes this CD such fun to explore. The backbone to many of the tracks is the NEC Jazz Orchestra supporting well known musicians such as drummer Harvey Mason and trombonist Bob Bookmeyer. There is even one track credited tothe NEC Ragtime Ensemble - a fine version of Scot Joplin's Maple Leaf Rag. A compilation like this is never going to satisfy a listener 100% due to its sheer variety, but I enjoyed much more of it than I expected to, and any jazz buff will enjoy exploring the extremely rich bill of fare on offer here.
For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.necmusic.edu
I think this is pianist Ken Elkinson's fifth album of self compositions - certainly the second received here for review, after his last album Cue. It would be trite and unhelpful to simply just say more of the same, but the fact is that Mr Elkinson has a way with creating very listenable mini soundscapes with his piano that veer more towards the 'new age' spectrum rather than jazz. Link contains a dozen tracks, each one a near perfect capsulation of what melodic wonders can be achieved on the acoustic piano. In many ways I imagine this to be more like the classical music of Chopin or Debussy [and other piano-focused classical composers] in the sense that the music is not derived from blues or jazz influences. Try Dry Lake Bed to see what I mean. The music on this album also has a strong academic feel to it, created from strict thought processes rather than emotional ones. I could be wrong, of course, but the music does have a mathematical mood to it. While Link isn't that different to Cue, I'm not sure that is a bad thing as Mr Elkinson has a way with a tune that is attractive to the ear. I suggest you also try out Tide, 1:14 AM/Nothing, and several of the other tracks. Link is definitely an album to listen to and savour, rather like a glass of fine wine.
For more information about this artist, album and availability visit: www.kenelkinson.com
You may be expecting a full out rock guitar album if you go by the title of Torben Waldorff's new album, American Rock Beauty. However, you would be wrong, as this album is a rather smooth and slinky jazz-rock fusion affair, with some extremely mellifluent guitar and tenor sax leading the quintet-sized band. The band is Torben Waldorff on guitar, Donny McCaslin on tenor sax, Jon Cowherd on keyboards, Matt Clohesy on bass and Jon Wikan on drums. In terms of sound American Rock Beauty should appeal to fans of Pat Metheny, Lee Ritenour and Bob James' style of pop jazz. The album opens with Shark, a gently grooving track which introduces the talents of all the band, while Shining Through really shows off Donny McCaslin's skills with a honking sax. One of the joys of the album is the interplay between guitar and sax, it powers many of the tracks here and at times is a wondrous thing to hear. The overall vibe of the album is mellow and groovy. Indeed, the more I play American Rock Beauty the more I grow to love it - this is one of those albums that just leaves you feeling warm and cuddly all over. It wraps you in its magic and simply takes you away from the miseries of mundane life. Torben Waldorff is one of those understated guitarists, he eschews many of the effects pedals and keeps the volume low so that you can hear every note and timbre from his guitar. It is also interesting to note that this album was a fan-funded project under the ArtistShare scheme - haven't heard of this before but I applaud its way of funding non-commercial record label music. If you like your jazz a bit on the lighter and melodic side then I commend American Rock Beauty to you.
For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.waldorff.com
Sarah Brooks is a new singer to me, but on listening to her new album one can immediately tell where she's coming from: rootsy rock, blues and old school R 'n' B. Under The Bones Of The Great Whale is a live album recorded at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, and it certainly has that raw vibe of a live performance. Amazingly, Vocalist Brooks and the members of Graceful Soul only met for this recording date, so the performances are unpremeditated and improvised on the day. Which makes the simpatico backing all the more amazing - Graceful Soul are Jim Robitaille, guitar, Bob Schlink, guitar, Marcus Monteiro, alto sax, Bob Miele, bass and Ken Hadley on drums. Brooks is a raw-voiced singer, in the style of Stone The Crows' Maggie Bell, Janice Joplin, and Bonnie Raitt in her bluesier days. The eleven tracks include Bring It On Home To Me, Look Of Love, Chain Of Fools, You Can't Do That, two versions of Amazing Grace (one instrumental), Fragile, Baby I Love You and several others, all done in a groove-laden, bluesy style. In these days of homogenised and pre-packaged music, something recorded this spontaneously is a joy to listen to, and more musicians should aspire to do something similar to recharge the creative juices. If you like your rock on the bluesy side I can't recommend this album by Sarah Brooks enough. I assume it will be available via most big online music sellers so go and check it out.
For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.whalingcitysound.com
The press release states that this new album by The Conduit Trio contains many styles of jazz - you could equally say that it contains as many styles of rock too, because Beyond Liquid Glass rocks out like Jeff Beck, Jan Akkerman or even Joe Satriani as well. There is power riffing galore on this album, plus lightning fast fretboard work too. I suggest doubters try track one, Smelling Salt, for an example of this, while track two, The Conversation Has Ended, has a mellower but no less exciting vibe. The Conduit Trio are Robert Branch on all guitars and keyboards, David Furnas on bass and Josh English on drums. For a trio they make quite a racket and sound like a much bigger band... The fifteen tracks here cover many moods and pack a hell of a punch, this trio may be improvising this music in the jazz tradition but I believe that a lot of rock guitar fans will equally enjoy this album, Robert Branch is a very powerful and evocative player who transcends simple genre categorisations and certainly takes the music to places beyond simple jazz noodlings. His musical colleagues are also impressive, providing a beefy sounding backdrop for his guitars, or offering sympathetic soundscape on the mellower, sometimes bluesy numbers. A couple of tracks, Faulty Wiring and Pavanne For Mom even slip into the ambient electronics stylings of Brian Eno, which makes for an interesting contrast to the rest of the album. Beyond Liquid Glass truly defies simple classification and crosses over into so many styles of instrumental music that it deserves to be heard as widely as possible by listeners with unblinkered preconceptions.
For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.conduittrio.com
There are two ways to approach this album, the first as simply a music lover and the second as a scientist. Composer/guitarist Lawrence Blatt is fascinated by the relationships between colours, sounds and moods, and on his latest album The Colour Of Sunshine he explores these ideas track by track on the album, which are presented in the order of colours found in the light spectrum. You might expect this to be an exercise in arty farty nonsense, rather like the stuff one sees winning the London Turner Prize for what is laughably called modern art these days. But this CD contains fourteen gently melodic guitar instrumentals, most of them lightly washed with other acoustic instruments, synths and backing vocals. The album is produced by William Akkerman [of Windham Hill Records fame], so the music is as low key melodious as you would expect, and ideal for listening outdoors while admiring the colours of nature in your garden. I think that if the opening diptych of tunes, Look To The Sun, and The Colour of Sunshine, don't grab your ears then this album isn't for you. For me though it is a sublimely pretty album, reasonably upbeat and optimistic for these recessionary times and ideal for communing with nature. Mr Blatt is an exceedingly fine musician, with genuinely gifted fingers and a sharp mind for creating interesting and tuneful soundscapes. Call this album new age, easy listening or whatever other marketing term that is currently fashionable, The Colour Of Sunshine is an exceptionally well crafted album of finely wrought melodies and worthy of a place in any guitar aficionados CD collection.
For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.lawrenceblatt.com
Of all the small jazz band combinations I've always found the guitar led ones to be the most intimate type when listening to them on home audio. And that is reinforced by this new album by guitarist Mike Clinco. Neon showcases the guitar, both acoustic and electric, in that intimate way, with a series of nine tracks which expertly highlight what can be done with a guitar in a variety of settings. It isn't all about raw volume and effects peddles, the subtle approach is much more rewarding. The album starts with Bookends, a swingy number which certainly acts as a great intro to this musician and his band. The other musicians involved are Bob Shepherd - reeds, Walt Fowler - flugelhorn, Darek Oleszkiewicz - acoustic bass, Jimmy Johnson - electric bass and Jimmy Branly on drums. All the tracks except for Henry Mancini's Charade were written by Mike Clinco, and they all share the knack of drawing you into what can be a lengthy soundscape. I suggest trying the title track, Neon, as an example of this. On many of the tracks there is a dual dialogue between the guitar and saxophone which is very attractive sonically, and for some reason I keep flashing onto old TV detective shows that used a jazz soundtrack!?!. Apart from that, this is an album of many moods and sounds and is an excellent showcase for those musicians. I also suggest that guitar novices listen to this album before they pick up any bad habits... In many ways Neon is an impeccable jazz album - restrained and packed with musicality.
For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.whalingcitysound.com
The jazz songbook is deep and varied, which is relief as this new album by Leslie Lewis cherry pick some of the greatest tunes from that hallowed songbook. Ms Lewis has one of those slightly husky and deep voices, giving these songs extra resonance and bounce. The Gerard Hagen Trio (Hagen on piano, Domenic Genova on bass and Jerry Kalaf on drums) support with panache while four other guest musicians (Rob Lockheart on tenor sax, Gay Foster on alto sax and flute, Ron Stout on trumpet and Larry Koonse on guitar), take solo slots on many of the tracks. Amongst the classic tunes on this album are In Walked Bud, Nature Boy, Honeysuckle Rose, Round Midnight, Hello Young Lovers and I Got It Bad And That Ain't Good. All performed in a late night intimate style where you can savour the groove of every word and note. If you are a devotee of the grand divas of the classic era of jazz (Ella, Sarah and Dinah) then I think you will find Of Two Minds of great interest, it is a confident album that won't fail to please and deserves wider exposure.
For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.surfcovejazz.com
Jazz vocalists come in all styles: the soulful balladeer, the blues shouter, the inventive interpreter, and the scat singer. Dennis Day is something of an all rounder, opening his new album, All Things In Time, with a forceful version of Caravan, liberally spiced with some energetic scatting. Mr Day has something of the great Lou Rawls about his voice - deep and ringing, and very musical. Check out African Musing for an example of this. This album has a dozen tracks, most of them covers from the classic jazz and Broadway songbooks. A singer is always helped by a simpatico band, and that is the case here, using settings from quartet to a large swinging big band, Mr Day's voice soars and dips amongst some robust and delicate settings that certainly showcase his voice to perfection. The album is also well recorded and will sound great on any really good audio system. Unlike many jazz vocalists who tend to make the song serve their voice, Mr Day does the reverse, making his voice serve the song, with very listenable results. All Things In Time is a very listenable album, with a strong measure of musicality and is becoming a regular visitor to my CD player. Highly recommended.
For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.ddaymedia.com
Subtitled "Progressive and Classic Rock as Jazz", this album may seem to be groundbreaking stuff, but the use of a jazz big band playing rock has been done before, most notably by a British studio band called CCS with Alexis Korner on vocals back in the late 70s and early 80s, and currently here in the UK by the Jools Holland Rhythm and Blues Orchestra. But I have never heard an American jazz band do something similar. That aside, this is quite a strong collection of prog and classic rock tracks given a big band treatment. Based around the core of vocalist Lydia McAdams and musicians Ryan Fraley and Ralph Johnson, alongside a very large band providing lush and very polished support. There are eleven tracks taken from the songbooks of The Who [Won't Get Fooled Again], Queen [Killer Queen], Led Zep [The Rain Song], Pink Floyd [Great Gig In The Sky], Rush [Available Light], The Police and Sting [De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da Da and Why Should I Cry For You], Beatles [Eleanor Rigby], King Crimson [Elephant Talk], plus a couple of original songs. Most of the overblown pomp and bombast on the original tracks have been rejected and replaced by a late night smoothness. And in turn this has actually revealed the true musicality of the originals, often hidden away behind the pretentiousness of the original musicians. The treatments here are certainly glossy and late night radio friendly, and this is a very enjoyable and listenable album, well worth seeking out if you like the sound of a big band.
For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.progjazz.com
Coming of Age is, I think, the debut album by the Zen Zadravec Quartet, four very committed young musicians playing a hard hitting form of modern jazz. The ten tracks are all self-penned by Mr Zadravec except for Polka Dots and Moonbeams [Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen] and Have You Seen Miss Jones [Rodgers & Hart], and while they mostly have a forceful swinging edge to them, several tracks are evocative ballads. The quartet consists of Zen Zadravec on piano, Todd Bashore on alto and soprano sax, Alex Hernandez on bass and Chris Brown on drums, plus a number of guest musicians on various tracks. Thanks to the solo trumpet work of Derrick Gardner some of the tracks have a classic era Miles Davis vibe to them, check out Coming Of Age and Song For Christine for this. In Memoriam, dedicated to Mr Zadravec's mother, is a much more wistful and sad track, slow and full of impressionistic playing, with the piano and soprano sax at the forefront throughout. Coming Of Age certainly seems to be an apposite title for a debut album for this quartet, and I suggest you give it a listen.
For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.zenzadravec.com
Stress, as one is always told, is a killer, and there is a whole genre of music out there aiming to relieve that pressure on one's body and mind. Watching For Rain, Anne Trenning's' latest album is designed to ease that stress and aims to put you in a mood where one can ease the tension off of life and to even think of healing the world of its ills. That is a mighty high concept for one album to achieve, I must say, and a wiser man than me will have to tell you if it works out that way. What I can tell you is that this album contains a total of fifteen tracks of melodic, piano-led instrumentals which should at the least chill you out after a day of harassment. Watching For Rain is mostly Anne Trenning's' own compositions but there are some covers, like Dylan's I Shall Be Released, the country classic When You Say Nothing At All, the Welsh folk song The Ash Grove and the spiritual I Want To Be Ready. Trenning's' own music is a hybrid light classical/folk vibe that is very easy on the ear but contains considerable depth of emotion. I refrain from using that rather queasy term New Age to describe this album, it has much more weight to it than that wretched form of muzak. The orchestration at times may be that of a piano-led quartet/quintet but the music itself has strong inflections of traditional folk music which lift it well above the norm for this type of music. For me, a middle-aged Brit, the musical style here evokes genteel tea dances in 1950s English hotels, where everything is in black and white and pre-rock and roll colours. It's a lovely album and you really should try it.
For more information about this artist and album and availability visit: www.annetrenning.com