Sunday, January 22, 2012

1 Sem 2012 - Part Six

Amanda Carr and The Kenny Hadley Big Band
Common Thread

Cover (Common Thread:Kenny Hadley Big Band)

By Nicholas F. Mondello
If vocalist Amanda Carr were a place, she would probably be Rodeo Drive, Chicago's Magnificent Mile, or New York's elegant 57th Street. With Common Thread, she validates the fact that she has the vocal elegance, phrasing sophistication, premier jazz chops, and the sheer class to back up that hypothesis.
Complemented beautifully here by Kenny Hadley's cooking Big Band (comprised of some of Boston's finest "beans"), Carr embarks on a savvy, swinging tour of some of the better and not-so-well-known tunes from the Great American Songbook. The result is simply classic.
What is interesting is that absolutely every element of this CD is superb, from the vocals and charts to the solos, ensembles and production. Not only does Carr mesh incredibly well with the big band behind her, but, the wonderful, intelligent arrangements from Bob Freedman, Adi Yeshaya, trumpeter Rick Hammett, and Rich Lowell provide a well-balanced landscape for Carr and the band to absolutely sparkle. Drummer Hadley drives and leads the effort throughout with taste and power.
The CD offers 15 selections, including two instrumentals which showcase Hadley and his crew—"Broadway," and the tasty "I Waited for You," featuring Hammett. There seems to be a very Frank Sinatra/Nelson Riddle/Billy May classic feel to this session from the get-go ("It's A Big Wide Wonderful World," "They All Laughed") and throughout. Vocalist and ensemble work perfectly together over appropriately inventive charts ("The Song Is Ended," "There's a Small Hotel") that add new flavors to these stellar standards. Everyone seems to get into the swinging act here, soloing impressively. Carr and Hadley give generously so everyone involved has a chance to shine. And shine they do as there is certainly enough talent to go around.
Carr's vocal chops run the gamut from silky seductive smooth ("Don'tcha Go 'Way Mad," "I Could Have Told You," "Time on My Hands"), to big band powerhouse ("No Moon At All" "There's a Small Hotel"). Her phrasing is pure jazz and her sense of pitch is perfect. She is well-balanced with her outstanding supporting cast here from both a musical and a pure recording session standpoint
Amanda Carr and Kenny Hadley deserve significant credit for pulling together a truly successful vocal-big band effort in the classic manner. There's nothing bland or boring here, only a chanteuse and a big band and absolutely first class musicianship.
A swinging, superb effort.
Track Listing:
It's a Big Wide Wonderful World; They All Laughed; Something Wonderful Happens in Summer; Don'tcha Go 'Way Mad; Time on My Hands; Broadway; I Understand; There's a Small Hotel; Just You, Just Me; I Could Have Told You; The Song is Ended; I Waited for You; How Am I to Know; No Moon at All; The End of a Love Affair.
Amanda Carr: vocals; Dave Chapman: soprano, alto sax, clarinet; Mark Pinto: alto sax, flute, clarinet (1, 3-5, 8-14); Jerry Vejmola: tenor sax, flute, clarinet; Arnie Krakowsky: tenor sax, clarinet; Ken Reid: baritone sax, bass clarinet; Jeff Galindo: trombone; Jon Garniss: trombone; George Murphy: trombone; Tim Kelly: trombone; Rick Hammett: trumpet and flugelhorn; Lin Biviano: trumpet and flugelhorn; Scott Degburn: trumpet and flugelhorn; Pat Stout: trumpet and flugelhorn; John Wilkins: guitar; Bronek Suchanek: bass; Kenny Hadley: drums.

Sophie Milman
In The Moonlight

by Jon O'Brien
Widely regarded as one of Canada's best jazz singers, Russian-born, Toronto-based vocalist Sophie Milman changes tact slightly for her fourth studio album, In the Moonlight. The twinkling piano chords, shuffling, brushed stroke rhythms, and gentle brass instrumentation which defined her previous output are still very much in evidence, but having traveled to New York to record with producer Matt Pierson (Jane Monheit, Michael Franks), the Juno Award winner has capitalized on the opportunity to expand her sound by inviting a string ensemble on board for the first time in her career. However, avoiding the temptation to smother the timeless, smoky, jazz bar arrangements in layers of bombastic layers of strings, the pair only use their newly recruited musicians sparingly and when needed, with only the Duke Ellington standards "Prelude to a Kiss" and "Day Dream," and the Umbrellas of Cherbourg number "Watch What Happens" offering anything more than the occasional orchestral flourish. It's an approach which entirely befits Milman's intimate and understated cabaret tones, whose seductive French-language delivery of Serge Gainsbourg's "Ces Petits Riens" and expressive, timeless performance of the Gershwin classic "Do It Again," belie her twenty-something years. The constant low-key, candlelight vibes inevitably begin to wear a little thin, but luckily, Milman occasionally shakes things up a little bit, whether it's the sensuous bossa nova reworking of the Billie Holiday favorite "Speak Low," the toe-tapping swing jazz rendition of Jon Hendricks' "No More Blues" or, in a rare concession to the modern music scene, the yearning and heartfelt torch song treatment of Feist's folk-pop album track "So Sorry." Indeed, it's the latter's convincing transition which makes you wish that Milman would tackle more contemporary material more often. Nevertheless, In the Moonlight is still a beautifully arranged selection of songs which, while nothing particularly revolutionary, unarguably provides one of the classiest Sunday morning soundtracks of the year.

Amy Cervini
Love Fool

Cover (Lovefool:Amy Cervini)

by Michael G. Nastos
Canadian-born jazz vocalist Amy Cervini shows her youthful innocence or experience in love and regret on this set of tunes that displays a balance of wisdom and naïveté. She possesses a strong, girlish, fluid, and distinctive voice, avoiding the hazard of overemphasizing lyrics or acting far too cute. Attractive, bordering on a temptress, and open to new possibilities, Cervini sings songs on this, her second album, that are set apart from the traditional American popular stage show style, using source material from a variety of pop and rock songwriters, retaining a playful yet winsome emotional content. There are also times when she fully adopts the barroom chanteuse image effectively without the sleaze or loungey, loose-gal trappings. Her trio, led by keyboardist Michael Cabe and complemented by bassist Mark Lau and brother/drummer Ernesto Cervini, navigates these original tunes faithfully with nary a hint of pompousness or forced servitude. The opening song penned by Blossom Dearie, "Bye Bye Country Boy," depicts the end of a warm rural fling -- sweet, memorable, and as nice as an amicable waltz can be, with help from guest tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm. Where title track -- borrowed from the Cardigans -- takes this convoluted sentiment internally as a tango with the quartet String Nucleus and the rounded bass clarinet of Marty Ehrlich, vocalist Cervini's take on the standard "Comes Love" waits with quiet anticipation in typical come-hither fashion. Nellie McKay's "I Wanna Get Married" concludes the group of committal/noncommittal songs, sporting bluesy lyrics referring to domesticated references of Leave It to Beaver, a golden retriever, a white house, and packing lunches for my Brady bunches. "Good Riddance" is a modification of the familiar tune done by Green Day, flooded in a cascading 7/8 piano waterfall spirit song; "Quand Je Marche" is an older-sounding French number from the songbook of Camille Dalmais, updated with accordion by Ernesto Cervini and the deft bass of Lau; and Amy's demure singing on Depeche Mode's "Enjoy the Silence" is contrasted by energetic handclaps and the grooving Fender Rhodes electric piano of Cabe. Furthering the diversity of this set is the African drumming cum funk and joy heard on rocker Jack Johnson's "Upside Down," with some carefree scat and "la la las"; Ehrlich's deep bass clarinet signifying the ominous mood of the Cervini siblings' original "Lonely Highway" in tandem with Lau; and the cheating-heart cowboy blues three-step of Willie Nelson's "Sad Songs and Waltzes." As attractive as her voice is, Amy Cervini avoids all self-indulgences that more experienced vocalists tend to use as crutches. There's an honest, self-assured, and honey-dripping presence clearly heard, one that should bode well on her future projects -- and this is a good entry point for sure.

Kenny Werner With The Brussels Jazz Orchestra
Institute Of Higher Learning

Cover (Institute of Higher Learning:Brussels Jazz Orchestra) 

By Thom Jurek
Kenny Werner is simply prolific. After releasing the stellar live Balloons set earlier this year, he's back in a studio setting, leading the Brussels Jazz Orchestra in a recording of four new compositions and a wonderfully inventive reading of a traditional number. In typical Werner fashion, Institute of Higher Learning is as diverse a big-band outing as you're likely to find. He had a great mentor: during his more formative years, Werner played piano with the Mel Lewis Orchestra, a progressive big-band powerhouse. Combine that experience with his compositional development, and his unusual manner of combining the strengths of individuals inside any size ensemble, and you have the makings for an album full of welcome surprises. The three-movement "Cantabilie" begins with a lithe, swinging groove played by reeds and brass in a breezy but restrained form, highlighting Werner's innovative sense of harmony and rhythm. It gets a bit knottier a few moments later when Peter Hertmans' electric guitar just slices his way in -- while introducing Werner -- for a tough solo accented by the pianist's contrapuntal chord voicings and shifting time signatures. The second movement is a sparse, melodic ballad with a trumpet solo by Pierre Drevet. The piano is the only instrument we hear in the intro. As the band enters, carefully, slowly, things become more spacious and slightly dissonant but that taut harmonic sense never ceases, uniting all the disparate elements seamlessly. The final movement is a post-bop, modern jazz tune that swings like mad with hot soloing from Werner followed by trumpeter Nico Schepers. In the backdrop, gorgeous colors and tones take shape, filling the space with an expansive, joyous delight by brass, reeds, and rhythm section. "Second Love Song" is a balladic, restrained, but texturally brilliant tribute to Bob Brookmeyer's "First Love Song," with a wonderful 'bone solo by Marc Godfroid. Werner's arrangement of "House of the Rising Sun" is utterly unique, bold, and challenging; always propulsive, always swinging, no matter how far the melodic frame gets pushed. "Compensation" begins as a midtempo ballad introduced by Werner's tender engagement with melody that gives way to a fingerpopping groove in the orchestral section. The title track closes a moodier, more speculative piece with fine work by Werner, bassist Jos Machtel, and drummer Martijn Vink. The orchestra doesn't enter until midway, elaborating on the two prevalent lyric themes presented by the trio. Institute of Higher Learning is a thoroughly satisfying -- and in places visionary -- big-band date, offering a fine showcase for Werner's seemingly limitless gifts as a pianist, bandleader, and a composer who is now in a league of his own.

Silvano Monasterios

by Alex Henderson
Although Miami attracts an abundance of Latino musicians and has long had a huge Latin music scene, the South Florida city is hardly the first place one thinks of upon hearing the phrase "Latin jazz." Miami, for all its salsa/Afro-Cuban and Latin pop action, has never been identified with Latin jazz the way that New York City and San Francisco have. But Miami does, in fact, have some Latino musicians who play jazz, and one of them is Venezuela native Silvano Monasterios. Unconditional is not Latin jazz in the familiar Tito Puente/Poncho Sanchez/Mongo Santamaria sense; acoustic pianist/electric keyboardist Monasterios isn't taking hard bop standards by Sonny Rollins or Clifford Brown and adding Afro-Cuban rhythms. Rather, Unconditional is a post-bop album that sometimes hints at Venezuelan rhythms, but Monasterios (who is joined by saxman Troy Roberts, bassist Jon Dadurka, drummer Rodolfo Zuñiga, and percussionist José Gregorio Hernández) incorporates them in such a subtle fashion that listeners may not think of this 2010 recording as especially Latin-flavored. Listening to "Farmacia del Angel," "Forgotten Gods," and other Monasterios originals, one can easily hear the influence of Herbie Hancock, Bill Evans, and Keith Jarrett; the influences jump right out at the listener. But the South American element is so understated that one has to be listening closely and attentively in order to notice it; nonetheless, it's there. Unconditional is, for the most part, an acoustic recording. The acoustic piano is Monasterios' main instrument on this 46-minute CD, and he pretty much keeps things straight-ahead. However, the venezolano does play electric keyboards on the mildly funky "Black Saint," which might frustrate post-bop purists, but is nonetheless an enjoyable demonstration of what he has to offer on that instrument. If anything, Monasterios should play electric keyboards more often. But the acoustic piano definitely serves him well on the pleasing Unconditional.

Deborah Winters
Lovers After All

Cover (Lovers After All:Deborah Winters)

By Dan Bilawsky
Placing vocalists under a specific, descriptive heading can be limiting in some ways, but it also shines a light on their greatest strengths. Singer Joe Williams—of Count Basie fame—resented being labeled as a "blues singer," since he possessed great range and felt that this tag had suggestions of racism behind it; few would argue, however, that his strongest body of work falls into that category.
Vocalist Deborah Winters—like Williams and any singer worth their weight in sound—is no one-trick pony, but she also has one special talent that overshadows her other gifts. On Lovers After All, the Bay Area-based vocalist establishes herself as a ballad singer with which to be reckoned. She can sing over swing with confidence ("Get Out Of Town") and sway to the subtle sounds of the bossa nova ("Haunted Heart"), but her ballad work eclipses all else. Her voice has depth and warmth that instantly soothes and seduces; her use of vibrato is rare and judicious, and her pacing, clarity and diction are perfectly suited to this particular style of song.
While plenty of singers that thrive in softer environments perform romantic fare with minimalistic backing, Winters' winning performances are a bit more dressed up. TrumpeterPeter Welker provides the band arrangements on this project, and his ability to cushion Winters' voice, while still creating music of interest, is key to the album's success. He fleshes out some rich chords with five horns ("Lovers After All"), paints silken saxophone sounds into the body of a classic ("Body And Soul"), and steps into the spotlight with horn-in-hand on an intimate vocal-piano-flugelhorn take on "I'll Close My Eyes." Notable instrumental solos from the likes of trombonist Scott Whitfield, tenor saxophonist Rob Roth, and several others adds weight to these performances, and several tracks also benefit from the addition of Pete Levin's synthesized string work, which sounds remarkably real, adding substance in subtle ways.
The Achilles heel on this album comes in the form of a blues-leaning take on "I Love Being Here With You"—with a less-than-comfortable Winters working over a stiff and mechanical-sounding band that includes an organ which doesn't blend well—but the other ten tracks suffer no such weaknesses. On Lovers After All, Deborah Winters proves to be an adept singer of songs, teller of timeless tales, and craftswoman of classy musical concoctions.
Track Listing:
Lovers After All; How Am I To Know; Get Out Of Town; Body And Soul; i Love Being Here With You; For All We Know; Haunted Heart; The End Of A Love Affair; Come Sunday; How Deep Is The Ocean; I'll Close My Eyes.
Deborah Winters: vocals; Doug Morton: trumpet (1-5, 9, 10); Peter Welker: trumpet (1-5, 9, 10), flugelhorn (11); Charlie McCarthy: alto saxophone (1, 4, 7, 9, 10); Rob Roth: tenor saxophone (1-5, 8-10); Scott Petersen: baritone saxophone (1-5, 9, 10); Mark Levine: piano (1, 4, 8, 9, 10); Chris Amberger: bass (1-4, 6-10); Kevin Dillon: drums (1, 4, 8-10); Andrew Speight: alto saxophone (2, 3, 5); Fred Lipsius: alto saxophone (2, 6); Scott Whitfield: trombone (2, 3, 6, 7); Dave Mathews: pianos (2, 3, 6, 11), Hammond B3 organ (5); Celso Alberti: drums (2, 7); Randy Vincent: guitar (2, 3, 7); Pete Levin: string synth (2, 4, 6); Kendrick Freeman: drums (3, 6); Garth Webber: guitar (5); Tim Haggerty: bass (5); James Preston: drums (5).

Lauren Sevian

Cover (Blueprint:Lauren Sevian)

By Jeff Stockton
In 2009 there aren't too many jobs that can't be held down by a woman. One that comes to mind might be the baritone saxophone chair in the Mingus Big Band. But that's exactly where Lauren Sevian cut her teeth and earned the accolades that led to Blueprint, her debut recording on Greg Osby's label. Sevian's tone is full and authoritative on the big horn. Her straight-ahead compositions (ten originals; one co-written with guest altoist Mike DiRubbo) are rendered with graceful precision by her working quartet (particularly pianist George Colligan). Sevian's long, fluid lines run counter to most contemporary baritone styles, which tend to lean toward the avant-garde, supplementing and sometimes replacing lyricism with overblowing or other flashy effects. On Blueprint Sevian is no-nonsense and establishes herself as a fresh and important new voice on an underappreciated often intimidating instrument.
Blueprint; Elusive Illusion; Not So Softly; One for C. Payne; Gesture of No Fear; True; For Mr. Stubb; Outline; Intrepid Traveler; The Free Effect.
Lauren Sevian: baritone saxophone; George Colligan: piano; Boris Kozlov: bass; Johnathan Blake: drums; Mike DiRubbo: alto saxophone.

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