Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Smart, Sassy, Soulful Retro Sounds from Roberta Donnay

Chanteuse Roberta Donnay’s album A Little Sugar Music, a salute to some of her favorite Prohibition-era singers, is just out from Motema. Donnay is one of Dan Hicks’ Lickettes, and it shows on this album – her affinity and aptitude for oldtime blues and swing matches the verve and sassiness of the originals, while she puts her own stamp on them. Behind her, the Prohibition Mob Band – pianist John R. Burr, bassist Sam Bevan, trumpeter Rich Armstrong, multi-reedman Sheldon Brown, drummer Michael Barsimanto and tuba player Ed Ivey – rise to the occasion.

Donnay is a sophisticated singer. Her nuanced, uncluttered vocals remind a lot of Chris Connor or Bliss Blood. Unlike much of the current crop of moldy fig swing sisters, Donnay gets inside the lyrics and draws them out: she’s interpreting rather than just trying to be brassy. Every song is different; every line resonates. To kick off the album, Oh Papa reaches all the way back to Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Donnay really digging in when she hits the line “you’ll regret the day you ever quit me” as Burr goes for terse James P. Johnson inflections. A late 30s Ida Cox jump blues, Swing and Sway, provides a blithe contrast.

Fats Waller’s I’ve Got a Feeling I’m Falling benefits from understatement everywhere: Burr’s moody piano, Wayne Wallace’s trombone and some wry vaudevillian flourishes from the drums. You Go to My Head is even more intense and pensive, from Burr’s brooding introduction through Donnay’s resigned, practically clenched-teeth interpretation. And Donnay outdoes Sippie Wallace at coyly nuanced signification with Mama’s Gone Goodbye, making it equal parts escape anthem and kiss-off ballad.

While the slyly theatrical One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show has the feel of a Mae West tune, it’s actually from the 50s; Donnay channels her inner flapper up to a nimble handoff from Armstrong’s trumpet to Brown’s tenor sax. The most sophisticated yet most terse number here is Irving Berlin’s Say It Isn’t So, Donnay’s low-key melismatics over allusive piano and a similarly minimalist but impactful bass solo.

Donnay’s jaunty, horn-fueled cover of Sugar Blues draws on Ella Fitzgerald, while the take of Tropical Heatwave here owes more to Ethel Waters than the infamous Marilyn Monroe version. Rocking Chair, which Donnay picked up from Hicks, gets an unexpectedly whispery, absolutely chilling arrangement, a vivid portrait of dissolution and despair. Her take on Sugar in My Bowl is more sultry come-on than risque party anthem, the balminess of Brown’s tenor matching the vocals. Of all the songs, the most interesting one here is You’ve Been a Gold Ol’ Wagon, an innunedo-packed, proto hokum blues song from the 1890s that brings to mind the Moonlighters. Donnay covers a lot of ground here and never once lapses into cliche, a feat more impressive than it sounds considering how many people have sung these songs over the decades. Fans of jazz, blues and steampunk sounds have a lot to enjoy here.

December 10, 2012 Posted by | blues music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quintet – Bien Bien!

How can you tell if a latin jazz album’s any good? Well, for one, if you can dance to it. For the new one by trombonist Wayne Wallace‘s Latin Jazz Quintet, the answer is a joyous si! Over the course of two deliriously good Ellington covers, an imaginative rearrangement of a Coltrane classic and some rambunctious originals, they cover a variety of styles perfect for swinging or snuggling across the floor. In the spirit of the great latin bands of the 40s and 50s, there are as many as four trombonists on the album, including Ellington Orchestra vets Julian Priester and Dave Martell along with Murray Low on piano, David Belove on bass and percussionists Michael Spiro and Paul van Wageningen on trap drums. Obviously, with all the trombones, they go for a big sound, but there’s plenty of space for the rest of the band as well.

Of the originals, the best is the album’s title track, a rousing guaguanco. Eddie Harris’ Freedom Jazz Dance gets a slinky bomba treatment; another original, Mojito Cafe sets an expansive Low piano solo over some tricky changes and eventually a crescendoing call-and-response between the vocals and Wallace’s trombone. Memo Acevedo’s Building Bridges is inspiring and optimistic, with a sweet ensemble horn chart. The deceptively simple cha-cha Playa Negra – another original – is bouncy and even seductive. And the Duke would be proud of how Wallace works In a Sentimental Mood as wee-hours theme music, along with the group’s strikingly dark, intense version of Going Up (Subete).

The album wraps up with two innovative covers. Sonny Rollins’ Solid is basically a blues with a latin groove, transformed into a showcase in subtlety as the group brings it down to just Low and the percussion before soaring up again. And Coltrane’s Africa is brought vividly into focus, straight up and accelerated considerably over an unstoppable groove. It’s quite a change from the original but it works because it’s so different, and embraces the melody so strongly. This works equally well as dance music, as party music and just for listening. Wallace is a California native with an exhaustive gigging schedule: his next one with this crew is as part of the San Ramon Jazz Series at the San Ramon Library, 100 Montgomery St. in San Ramon, CA on November 20 at 8 PM.

October 30, 2009 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment