Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Four Vast, Unhurried, Profoundly Relevant Minimalist Symphonies From Wadada Leo Smith

Trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith‘s music exists in a universe of due process for important ideas. In the past couple of decades, he’s focused on vast expanses: Great Lakes, decades of history and eternal philosophical questions. He explores them as if time stands still: everything is considered, judiciously, with plenty of room for individual contributions from a cast of like-minded improvisers. One of his most epic recent projects – his music may be on the slow side, but he works very fast – is the box set of his four Chicago Symphonies, They’re major works in a career full of them. He’s named them for precious metals and stones: in order, Gold. Diamond, Pearl and Sapphire (click each title for Spotify streams).

Smith was one of the prime movers of the AACM movement in the 60s, and he salutes many of the important figures from that era here throughout the first three symphonies. The fourth, dedicated to Presidents Lincoln and Obama, is the most upbeat and invites some controversy (full disclosure: this blog’s owner voted for Obama twice and is now considering how serious a mistake that might have been).

Smith cites Don Cherry’s landmark 1966 Symphony For Improvisers as a precursor. Each symphony features his Great Lakes Quartet: the first three including Henry Threadgill on alto sax and flutes alongside bassist John Lindberg and drummer Jack DeJohnette. Jonathon Haffner takes over the sax chair on alto and soprano on the final symphony. All of this is profound, unhurried, conversational music.

Although each symphony is a stand-alone work, the four share many consistent tropes. Smith and Threadgill frequently exchange resonant, tectonic sheets of sound rather than riff battles. Lindberg’s bass work is exquisite: for those who love low-register sonics. this melodic feast lasts for literally hours, through sepulchral, shivery cello-like lines, insistent, rhythmic hooks and variations, to looming chords. The muted mystery in the second movement of Symphony No. 2 and stark oldtime gospel allusions in the fourth movement of Symphony No. 3 are among the many, many highlights here.

Haffner is a good choice of foil for Smith throughout Symphony No. 4. As the Obama campaign becomes an unstoppable machine, his energetic flurries are the closest thing to straight-ahead postbop soloing here, and seem to drive Smith to some of his most high-voltage work in recent memory.

Likewise, DeJohnette’s sparkle, flash, mist and frequent rumble here are as purposeful as his steady forward drive is distinctive. There’s nobody who tunes his kit quite like he does, resulting in both an extra layer of melody, as well as colorful evocations of Asian temple mystery in Symphony No. 1 and a frequent devious employment of hardware and rattles, as if to say, “Let’s not get too full of ourselves.”

Threadgill seems to be in a particularly good mood here on alto sax, his gentle, often tender lines that once in awhile veering completely off course into surreal microtones or flickers of other extended technique. His flute is generally limited to wafting long-tone phrases.

For Smith, this is one of his most dynamic releases in recent years, and there are a handful of irresistibly funny quotes (one which he loops over and over) and a couple of unexpected wack-a-mole moments with Threadgill. Whether soberly constructing a valley of kings with immutable boulders of sound, alluding to or full-on embracing the deep blues which remains at the root of his entire career, or firing off rambunctiously optimistic flurries as he does repeatedly in Symphony No. 4, he’s at the top of his game. It’s astonishing that he’s now in his eighties and if anything, more vital than ever.

Whether creating Twin Peaks blues in the opening movement of Symphony No. 2, expanding on what seems to be a cynical O’Jays reference in the second movement of Symphony No. 1 or the dichotomy between Smith’s variations on a popular, celebratory theme and Lindberg’s obsidian chordal solo in the fourth movement of Symphony No, 3, this is a classic example of what four hall of famers can conjure when left to their own devices. Or enough for a close listener to come up with two pages of notes in ten-point type. Rather than making it an all-night listening party, you will enjoy these best at a leisurely pace across a few evenings.

January 26, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Colorfully Melodic Big Band Debut by the Sam Pilnick Nonet

If you want to make a big splash with your debut album, you put as many players on it as you can. Maybe you leave no doubt about where the record is going by opening with a nine-minute song which starts with the big riff from Also Sprach Zarathustra.

That’s what saxophonist Sam Pilnick did on the first album by his nonet, The Adler Suite, streaming at Bandcamp. It was not easy to resist being snarky about the album’s central concept: the mysteries of deep space (Pilnick came up with it on his first trip to Chicago’s Adler Planetarium). In all seriousness, Pilnick’s compositions are refreshingly uncluttered, tuneful and on the upbeat side: he and his formidable group managed to wrap up recording under the wire in February 2020, just ahead of the plandemic lockdowns.

The title of the opening number, Squawk Box refers to the NASA communication device which seems positively quaint after all these years. That famous Space Odyssey riff becomes a cheery march over an increasingly bustling rhythm, then suddenly the band drop out for a fleetingly sober break by pianist Meghan Stagl. She returns to deliver a longer, loungey twinkle. On bass clarinet, Ted Hogarth adds comfortable nocturnal ambience beneath growing lustre as the group wind their way out with an unhurried optimism. The far reaches of the galaxy have seldom been more inviting.

The album’s second tune, Star Launch opens with an attractively bustling theme, an intertwine between altoist Max Bessesen, trumpeter Emily Kuhn, trombonist Euan Edmonds, and Hogarth on baritone sax alongside guitarist Ben Cruz, bassist Ben Dillinger and drummer Matthew Smalligan. The bandleader races steadily through the song’s first solo, Bessesen raising the intensity to a genial 50s Basie-esque series of flurries which the ensemble ride out on.

Stagl switches to electric piano for extra starriness in Revolving Twins, a series of variations on a gentle, steadily circling riff, Cruz playing Luke S. to Smalligan’s Darth V. for a bit. Dillinger artfully shadows Pilnick’s deliberately paced upward trajectory to a febrile peak.

Kuhn does her best Venus impression in the tenderly resonant ballad Silver Light, and she’s got it, wafting over ambered horns and Stagl’s spacious chords. The moody duo number Constant Companion makes a good segue, the bandleader taking his time closing in on Stagl’s simple, loopy descending progression.

The album’s most epic track is House of the Massive (Pismis-24), inspired by a star system 6500 light years from home. With its hypnotically funky pulse, echoey electric piano, buoyant horns and shreddy guitar solo, it brings to mind late-period Steely Dan. Pilnick returns to spacious ambience with A Light Year, a contented canon for the horns and then takes that theme more bracingly and warily upward in Expanding Universe.

The group conclude with Falling Backwards, inspired by the return of the Gemini 12 expedition. Pilnick chooses his spots over a staggered, energetically syncopated drive and massed brassy atmosphere, Edmonds’ clusters and sailing phrases leading the group to the edge of night. Pilnick’s translucent compositions are a breath of fresh air: let’s hope we get to hear more from this purposeful crew.

January 25, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Vivid, Lush, Cinematic Big Band Jazz From Lawrence Sieberth

Pianist Lawrence Sieberth‘s big band album Musique Visuelle – which hasn’t hit the web yet – is aptly titled. There’s a cinematic sweep and an abundance of vivid narrative in his majestic compositions and arrangements. Sieberth likes to take brightly expressive neoromantic themes to unexpected places, has a refised sense of texture and doesn’t shy away from darkness. He recorded the basic tracks in New York with a couple of trios which include bassists Yasushi Nakamura and Ricky Rodriguez, and drummers Jamison Ross and Henry Cole. The symphonic orchestral arrangements were recorded in New Orleans. Much of the album is just piano and orchestra, or the orchestra themselves; when all the musicians are in the mix, the interweave is seamless.

The album’s first number, Sus OAjos Espanoles is a fond ballad that soars on the wings of the strings, Sieberth’s piano coalescing out of starry runs to a tersely chromatic, flamenco-inflected waltz. The brass rises, then recedes for a minimalist, suspenseful piano solo. When the whole orchestra bursts in, the effect is breathtaking. Ernesto Lecuona is a reference point.

The second track is titled Twitter. Is this a snarky commentary on social media? Maybe. Sudden, suspiciously dramatic flares and droll, unfinished piano phrases alternate over rhythms that begin as oldschool 70s disco and shift to a jaunty, brassy, New Orleans-flavored shuffle.

Thorns & Roses is brooding and gorgeous: a bracing, neoromantic orchestral theme gives way to a spare, moody solo piano interlude, the strings adding haunted lustre. Percussionists Danny Sadownic and Pedro Segundo team up to open El Gringo de Fuego, which comes across as a mashup of Balkan brass music and an oldschool charanga, Sieberth building bluesy sagacity into his rhythmic, strutting lines. A tasty. gusty, brass-fueled arrangement fuels the flames on the way out.

Communion, an imperturbable, folksy gospel stroll, has gorgeously accordionsque, reedy textures as the orchestra bounces and sways along. Sieberth opens Threads of the Weaver solo with a baroque solemnity, then Erik Gratton’s flute and the rest of the orchestra come sweeping in. But this concerto for piano and strings follows a considerably darker, more complex thread as it winds out.

Titus Underwood’s oboe floats amiably over the orchestra as Suenos de Amor gets underway, rising to a lush, purposefully syncopated pulse, Sieberth choosing his spots in a spare solo. Once again, the ambiguity and complexity return to destabilize any potential drift into predictable comfort.

Sieberth reaches for Ellingtonian gravitas as Blue gets underway, the subtle counterrythms of the strings fueling a distant unease, the brass capping off a long, elegaic crescendo that the composer eventually brings full circle. The somber mood lifts in Brazilia, but not necessarily the suspense, in this balmy, catchy orchestral samba. McCoy Tyner’s Fly With the Wind comes to mind.

Waltz for the Forgotten begins with a wistful oboe solo over the strings and grows more nocturnal as it moves along: it has the feel of a closing credits theme. Cat & Mouse gives the ensemble a chance to have fun with wry cartoonish flourishes, but those quickly give way to an understatedly disquieted, syncopated sway. They take it out on a jaunty note.

The closing number is Paysage Africain, a briskly pulsing, gusty number spiced with trumpet and vibraphone. The modally tinged oboe solo on the way out is tantalizingly brief. What a gorgeous record, one of the most memorable releases of the past few months.

January 22, 2022 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Epically Genre-Smashing, Deliciously Unpredictable Album From Charlotte Greve

Over the years there have been a ton of jazz records made with a string section, or even an orchestra. But jazz with a choir? Has anyone ever made a jazz album with a choir? Saxophonist/singer Charlotte Greve has. Her latest release Sediments We Move – where she bolsters her quartet of guitarist Keisuke Matsuno, bassist Simon Jermyn and drummer Jim Black with adventurous, endlessly shapeshifting choir Cantus Domus – is streaming at Bandcamp.

This seven-part suite is like nothing you’ve ever heard before. Sometimes Caroline Shaw‘s new classical work comes to mind when the phrasing gets particularly cellular. Some of the most rhythmically straightforward interludes evoke bands like Wye Oak and My Brightest Diamond, when they straddle the line between artsy indie rock and modern classical music. There’s so much going on in this catchy but endlessly permutating album that what you see here is just the highlights. Conductor Ralf Sochaczewsky does Herculean work keeping the choir on the rails through Greve’s endlessly kaleidoscopic twists and turns.

The first interlude begins with a series of airy loops intertwining at glacial tempos. A delicate guitar figure enters and enlaces the choir’s stately vocals . Bass and drums become more prominent as the choir’s highs and lows coalesce into a quasi-canon. Greve moves to the mic with a stately, gracefully leaping melody over terse, steadily rhythmic bass and guitar, the men of the choir answering. The rainy-day feel warms as Black picks up the energy again. That’s just the first eight minutes of the record.

The second segment has a determined, emphatic sway, Greve’s unaffected, clear voice giving way to uneasy close harmonies from the choir and a simmering distorted guitar solo. From there she takes a carefree sax solo over subtly contrapuntal, looped choral parts, Matsuno finally kicking in toward the end.

A dancing bassline and incisive guitar lead to an unselfconsciously joyous crescendo of voices, then the sound grows more stark as the voices back brief sax and bass solos. Press repeat for extra joy…and whisper en masse when it’s almost over.

The deep-space interlude midway through comes as a complete shock, first with starry guitar, then pensive sax and ambience disappearing into the ether, followed by agitation and roar. Greve’s sax pulls the melody together tersely over Black’s steady tumbles before the nebula sonics return.

Part four opens with a couple of slow, lingering choral themes. There’s extra reverb on Greve’s judicious sax spirals and warmly conversational counterpoint from there, winding down to the most minimalist point here. But Black gets restless…he doesn’t want to let the pull of deep space get the best of everybody a second time around.

Guitar jangle and clang careens over calm resonance as the fifth segment kicks in and motors along: the point where the choir pick on the punk rhythm is irresistibly funny. Likewise, this is probably the first album to feature a sputtering bass solo backed by a towering choir in insistent 4/4 time. Scrambling guitar over an enveloping atmosphere evaporates for a funkier sway, the choir at the center.

Calmly and hypnotically, band and ensemble segue into the concluding portion, the bandleader’s sailing solo introducing a funky/stately dichotomy and hints of circling Afrobeat. Greve’s sax leads a reprise of the lush opening interweave. After a couple of triumphant, well-deserved crescendos, the choir take over with a carefree but unwavering rhythm. At this point, there’s no sense in giving away the ending: it’s not what anyone would expect. Maybe, ultimately, it’s not even an ending.

January 20, 2022 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mafalda Minnozzi Reinvents Classic Italian Film Music on Her New Album

Singer Mafalda Minnozzi‘s career spans the worlds of jazz, tropicalia and Mediterranean balladry. Her new album Cinema City: Jazz Scenes From Italian Film – streaming at Bandcamp – is a perfect vehicle for her since the collection underscores the close affinity between Italian film music from the 50s onward, and bossa nova. With her expressive high soprano, Minnozzi brings a cinematic swath of emotions to life: she also has a puckish sense of humor. Although she sings most of these tracks in the original Italian, she also shows off a strong command of English.

Skip the opening number, a playful and coyly amusing take of La Dolce Vita ruined by a break for whistling. Track two, Loss of Love is an aptly muted, poignant, steady theme lowlit by Tiago Costa’s piano and Paul Ricci’s guitar over bassist Sidiel Vieira and drummer Ricardo Mosca’s slow, sotto-voce swing.

Minnozzi and the band bring a gentle, velvety approach to the tiptoeing bossa Metti una Cera a Cena. Special guest Dave Liebman’s soprano sax spirals joyously in Nino Rota’s Cinema Paradiso love theme over glittering piano clusters and a tight triplet groove.

Art Hirahara takes a rare turn on organ, flickering throughout a hazy, delicately swinging reinvention of the thinly veiled druggy cha-cha Amapola. The pensive, tango-inflected Amici Mei title theme is a feature for Graham Haynes, who takes an understatedly gritty turn on flugelhorn.

Hirahara returns for a bittersweetly shuffling take of Anonino Veneziano and then a more immersive, expansive version of Bruno Martino’s E La Chiamano Estate, a prime example of the Italian/Brazilian connection.

Luca Aquino guests on flugelhorn, intertwining with Ricci’s intricate picking in a raptly emotive performance of Nella Fantasia, which has special resonance for Minnozzi considering that it was her wedding song. Lingering guitar over flickering organ and a steady backbeat make Cappuntamento (from the film A Beiro do Caminho) one of the album’s most memorable moments.

She rescues Arrivederci Roma from Rat Pack cheesiness, imbuing it with gravitas but also defiant energy, grounded by trombonist Jorginho Neto. Se, from the Cinema Paradiso soundtrack, gets a spare, tender interpretation, followed by a soaring, organ-and-vocalese-fueled Deborah’s Theme. Minnozzi winds up the album with a final Cinema Paradiso number, Maturity, evoking a visceral sense of longing amid Costa’s turbulent phrasing. Count this as one of the most strikingly original releases of 2021.

December 27, 2021 Posted by | jazz, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Strong Tunesmithing and Inspired Playing on Drummer Mareike Wiening’s New Album

Mareike Wiening is the latest to validate the argument that good drummers always get the best bands because everybody wants to work with them. Wiening has an added advantage in that she writes bright, invitingly translucent material that makes a great springboard for improvisation. Her new album Future Memories – streaming at Spotify – is a strong, playfully rhythmic collection of tunes. The title reflects the composer’s resolute hope for a world where we’ve returned to normal, people can travel and freely associate, and she can pull her band together again.

She and the quintet – Rich Perry on tenor sax, Alex Goodman on guitar, Glenn Zaleski on piano and Johannes Felscher on bass – open with Northern Sail, inspired by the Norwegian coast where Wiening grew up. Goodman’s sharp incisions and Perry’s crystalline lines sail over Zaleski’s catchy, acerbically circling riffage. Out on the open water, the sense of adventure grows as the waves get choppier, Goodman and then Felscher bounding energetically as Wiening dips to a tiptoe pulse on her hardware.

She explores Spanish beats in El Escorial, Goodman riding her first tangent with an echoey flair, then Zaleski and Perry get into the gritty rhythm, building a distant nocturnal suspense as Wiening bounds and crashes, down to a lull where Felscher keeps the tricky dance going.

Zaleski and Goodman’s chiming ratchets introduce An Idea Is Unpredictable, Perry floating enigmatically before joining the lattice and then leading the band away as the sound expands. Zaleski adds amiable wee-hours saloon spirals; the concept seems to be that it’s not such a bad thing when entropy inevitably intrudes.

RiChanges begins as a hard-charging straight-ahead postbop swing tune in disguise, Perry’s steady eight notes pulling the bass and drums into the racewalk before Zaleski contributes a romping solo. Perry takes a sad solo to open the album’s title track over the band’s reflective resonance, then brightens the mood a little: this is what happens when musicians are deprived of their livelihood!

The album’s best track, The Other Soul gets a brooding, echoing intro from Goodman and Zaleski, Perry adding a moody solo over biting chordal work, Zaleski’s unsettled modalities rippling above the bandleader’s understated gravitas.

Goodman draws the band into Seesaw March with his catchy, optimistic riffs, then simmers and drives it as Wiening adds judicious background color, Zaleski fueling the triumphant upward drive. They close the record with Dance Into July, one of many prime examples where Wiening pairs sax and piano for vibraphone-like voicings. Zaleski gets to leap and ripple through the first solo, Goodman firing off unpredictable cascades of chords and flurries. We finally get a precise Wiening solo: if anything, it would be good to hear more of her. She’s the rare uncluttered drummer.

December 24, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Vijay Iyer Pushes Some Hot Buttons on His Latest Album

“With this collection of uneasy pieces, composed over a span of twenty years, we pay tribute to both the loud and the soft, the quick flurry and the slow rise, the hurricane and its eye, the uprising and its steady dream of abolition,” Vijay Iyer explains in the liner notes to his latest album Uneasy, streaming at Spotify. The guy who’s arguably this era’s foremost jazz pianist doesn’t specify what needs to be abolished, but it’s a fair bet that like a growing majority of us, he sees a window of opportunity to put an end to a multitude of evils.

And those evils go back millennia. One relatively recent one is memorialized in the understated power and portents of the opening number, Children of Flint, where Iyer begins by setting playfully cascading figures within a much more somber context. Bassist Linda May Han Oh takes a dancing turn as the piano takes the melody to the glimmering upper registers, drummer Tyshawn Sorey moving from a lithe understatement to aggressively embracing the rhythm as Iyer romps over stern modalities. But pointillistic insistence soon enough evaporates into the gloom.

There’s a somber oldtime gospel melody lurking close to the surface in Combat Breathing, Iyer’s clenched-teeth opening scrambles over hard-hitting pedalpoint recalling McCoy Tyner. It takes a glissando and a random crash or two to momentarily throw off the shackles, but even as the music calms and then the dance begins, the claustrophobia remains. There’s an even more persistent, brooding modal sensibility in the methodically swaying Touba, a little later on.

There are two covers here. The offbeat syncopation of Night and Day is clever: it quickly becomes more of a vampy launching pad for Iyer’s emphatic chords and Oh’s contrastingly effervescent solo. The circularities of Drummer’s Song, by Geri Allen shift from twinkling to jaunty and then just short of a piledriver assault as Sorey prowls the perimeter, Oh again in the good-cop role. Iyer has seldom hit harder than he does throughout most of this album.

Augury, a grimly hammering solo Iyer tone poem of sorts, is the album’s creepiest track: if anything here was written after the lockdown, this has to be it. Rivulets flow from the highs over Iyer’s hard-hitting lefthand in Configurations, as Oh dances in between the hailstones, finally embracing the darkness.

Likewise, her tantalizingly furtive, tiptoeing solo after Iyer and Sorey set the stage with ominous modes and roundhouse cymbal crashes in the album’s title track, Iyer interrupting his bounding attack momentarily to let a devious, flickering poltergeist in. It doesn’t end as you might expect.

Sorey holds a casual, steady clave even while the beats stagger around him as Retrofit gathers steam, then it’s Oh’s turn to hold the center. Iyer’s disquietingly strobing riffage is catchy despite the lack of solid ground underneath. The trio close the album with the saturnine, distantly raga-flavored Entrustment, pulling away and then back toward a turbulent but guardedly hopeful center.

Iyer has made a lot of good records but this is one of his best, and darkest. And for those wondering why on earth this blog would wait until now to give it a spin, after pretty much everybody else has, the answer is simple. The year-end jazz polls are going up right now, and it would be pretty ignorant to leave this one off the best-of-2021 list!

December 18, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Electrifying Album by Two of the Most Distinctive Players in Jazz

Soprano saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom is the rare improviser who can pull a complete song out of thin air. As one of the world’s most electrifying and distinctive drummers, Allison Miller always has a gig – even when live music is criminalized. Together the two conjure up one of the year’s most entertaining albums, Tues Days, streaming at Bandcamp. The sound is much fuller than you would expect from just two instruments. Hubristic as this is to say, the absence of a bass isn’t an issue (although this is a great album to play along to on just about any instrument). Most of these numbers are completely improvised, although Bloom brings along a handful of her compositions. It’s full of humor, and depth, and inspiring interplay.

Miller begins with romping rudiments, then some flurries and her signature color from every surface on the kit as Bloom plays a jaunty, bouncy theme followed by some wry quotes in the album’s title track. She launches into cheery latin phrasing as Miller ranges from New Orleans to Wipeout rumbles in the second number, Technicolor.

Bloom’s spacious, desolate phrasing over Miller’s understatedly funky drive in Rowing in the Dark is one of the album’s most gripping interludes. This Is It is Bloom at her playful, deviously entertaining best, choosing her spots and airing out her riffbag as Miller holds the center with an effortlessly churning drive.

The two play hide-and-seek in a Shinto temple in Five Bells, one of the funniest and most evocative tunes here. The most expansive, subtly conversational improvisation here, The Wild Frontier pairs Bloom’s airy, pensive sustain with Miller’s restless rustling. Miller’s bottomless toybox of textures finally lures Bloom spiraling out of the clouds.

Bloom wafts in with some of her most subtly vivid, wistful playing in Light Years Away, with a similar dynamic between the two musicians, although this time Miller is more minimalistically steady. A & J’s Test Kitchen – which is what this album is, essentially – is a more lively study in spacious sax versus busier drums. The ending is pricelessly funny.

There’s some Mexican jumping beans, some sagacious retro balladry and also a lot of carnaval in Crayola. The album’s final two tracks are Bloom compositions. Maybe ironically, On Seeing JP is where drums and sax diverge most widely, Bloom’s alternately spare and amiable splashes over Miller’s clever implied swing. The two close with Walk Alone, Bloom spare and guardedly hopeful while Miller whispers with her hardware and rims.

December 14, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Magical Mystery Album From Jazz Legend Sheila Jordan

Crate diggers know that “previously unreleased” is usually code for “caveat emptor.” Most recordings from the radio-and-records era that ended up on the shelf instead of in the stores have been gathering dust for a good reason. Happily, Sheila Jordan‘s Comes Love: Lost Session 1960- streaming at Spotify – is not one of them.

On face value, the performances are solid, notwithstanding the demo-like brevity of a handful of tracks. The iconic singer sounds younger than she was at the time – she was already 31 when she put these songs in the can. The intrigue here is who was in the band: Jordan can’t recall! The pianist knows his or her blues, has a Romantic side and seems well-versed in working with singers. Bass tends to be low in the mix, and the drums are often barely present, which might account for why this never saw the light of day until now. Be that what it may, the digitization is excellent, leaving no doubt that the source is analog.

Although a lot of the songs here are standards, there’s some lesser-known material here as well. Jordan leads her mystery quartet in a stately, expressive, understatedly bittersweet take of James Shelton’s I’m the Girl, supremely confident in being a guy’s plan B. A tantalizing single verse and chorus of It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing is 180 degrees from that, a lickety-split vehicle for the hard-bop gymnastics and daunting range she’d show off on her 1963 bass-and-vocal debut, Portrait of Sheila with Steve Swallow.

She takes her time, empathetically, with a glittery Ballad of the Sad Young Men – there’s more Dinah Washington than Sarah Vaughan in her delivery. The same applies to her versions of Don’t Explain and Glad to Be Happy a little later on.

Jordan hangs coyly behind the beat in a brief, ripe. no-nonsense bluesy take of the klezmer-jazz standard Comes Love and reprises that approach in They Can’t Take That Away From Me, which if you listen closely could be a soundcheck. There’s more than a hint of the sassiness that she’d bring front and center throughout her career in a low-key, swinging Sleeping Bee and also a circumspect, saturnine piano-and-vocal interpretation of When the World Was Young.

Her approach to a tantalizing verse of I’ll Take Romance is more brassy, and less distinguished, even as the band scramble and hint at latin noir. The most fully realized of all the full-band songs here is These Foolish Things, Jordan rising to subtle angst as the group hint at a bouncy triumph before returning to wistful wee-hours gleam.

December 11, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Singer June Bisantz Resurrects an Unlikely Holiday Rarity

In 1961, cult heroine June Christy – who was Lynchian decades before the term existed -put out a holiday-themed album of songs by assembly-line songsmiths Connie Pearce and Arnold Miller. In an unusual stroke of serendipity, another singer named June has resurrected this unusual concept album, 7 Shades of Snow, streaming at Bandcamp.

Brightly lit by trumpeter Brandon Lee and saxophonist Marc Pfaneuf, the opening number, The Merriest is bright, brassy and ambitiously syncopated. June Bisantz‘s alto voice is a tad lower than Christy’s, and in general, she swings a whole lot harder.

Ring a Merry Bell seems like a tailor-made Christy vehicle: there’s a dark undercurrent, and that resonates here in the steady, muted guitar of James Chirillo and Mike Eckroth’s piano, rising briefly with bandleader John Burr’s woody bass solo. Likewise, with wistful harmonies from flute and muted trumpet wafting above Bisantz’s unselfconscious resignation, the album’s title track fits that esthetic.

How’s this for a holiday theme: Hang Them on the Tree! But this isn’t a 1961 indictment of, say, Chairman Mao, or KKK lynching posses. Instead, it’s a tightly strolling number pushed along by drummer Alvester Garnett, the horns punching in and out.

Sorry to See You Go is not a lost-love lament but a farewell to Christmas (something an awful lot of people can relate to!) – it’s more than a little Broadway, and not the strongest track here. The album closes with Winter’s Got Spring up Its Sleeve. Again, the trumpet/flute textures nail the subdued mood. Notwithstanding its origins sixty years ago, it’s a guardedly hopeful, apt way to close a record released at this grimly pivotal moment in world history.

December 8, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment