Real music lovers can find the melody in everything. From the park to the concert hall, our friend Nelson Brill is always on the hunt for great sound. In this blog, Nelson looks at different ways that music lovers can support artists during this difficult time, from virtual concerts, to support funds, to listening at home.
NEW JAZZ RECORDINGS TO SAVOR- PART 1: WOMEN VOCALISTS TAKE CENTER STAGE
By Nelson Brill March 26, 2020
Best wishes to all friends and musical companions around the world (wherever bostonconcertreviews reaches!) for good health, strength and restorative power in these challenging times with the coronavirus. The support of the Arts will go on and people are finding creative ways to make that happen. I encourage checking in with your favorite artists’ websites about their online concerts. For instance, jazz pianist Fred Hersch will be offering a daily dose of joyful music from his piano in his online mini-concert series (see his Facebook site) and the rocking Tedeschi Trucks Band will be offering broadcasts of their recent live performances (see their Twitter feed). Just announced is an online festival of 28 performances by artists including Chick Corea, Joe Lovano, Bill Frisell, Becca Stevens and many more. The official website for the online festival is: www.livefromourlivingrooms.com.
Many online concerts will have virtual “tip jars” (through Paypal and other services) to support the performers. Here in Boston, music schools like New England Conservatory (www.necmusic.edu) and Berklee College of Music (www.berklee.edu) are establishing online funds to support their students and local music venues, such as the legendary Club Passim in Cambridge, MA. (www.passim.org/pearfund/) have established funds to support local musicians in need. If you are able to give, I urge you to support these funds and online concerts to support the music and the artists in these tough times.
Listening at home to recordings on a quality audio system is another great way to support the artists (and your independent audio dealers!) and get lost in the positive vibes of music. With this in mind, I’ll offer reviews of some new audiophile quality recordings that have been in heavy rotation here in the listening room for your exploration and pleasure. We start with a roundup of new women jazz vocalists whose music is sure to bring spiritual uplift!
At a concert held in Boston on March 6th at the Berklee Performance Center (“BPC”), presented by treasured local non-profit arts organization, GlobalArtsLive (support at: www.globalartslive.org), I heard an astonishing young Cuban vocalist, Yilian Canizares, in her first American concert tour. Canizares performed alongside her two stellar countrymen: the sparkling pianist, Omar Sosa, and the feisty percussionist, Gustavo Ovalles.
Their spectacular GlobalArtsLive concert teemed with boundless playfulness and spirit. Canizares presided over the band’s enveloping musical drama with her joyful dancing presence and her stunning vocals elegant and lithe as a warm breeze. Her voice was a rich vessel of expression that leapt from her soft pitter-patter of percussive scat (in dashing duet with Sosa’s piano banter) and her easy-flowing soars, supple and air-born. Her dramatic violin was a perfect foil for her vocal splendor. She produced delectable airy plucks on her instrument (to accompany her light scatting) or deeply bowed her strings to propel the regal glow of her lowest vocals, poignant and powerful. Her moving tribute to the Yoruba goddess, Oshun, (protector of women and water) was an inspired example of how she completely inhabited the world of her songs. This particular tribute ended dramatically with Canizares sitting on the floor of the stage, with head bowed, in a meditative moment that combined her whispered vocals with the lightest of violin quivers – culminating in a wisp of gentle sounds into silence.
Canizares and her sparkling partners focused their performance on songs taken from their new recording, Aguas [OTA Records], a beautiful recording that captures the tensile strength and playful spirit of these consummate musicians in flight. Joining Canizares’ irresistible vocal and string inventions on Aguas is Sosa’s ever-adventurous spirit on his piano and electric keyboard.
Sosa has this magnetic gift where he can combine effortless dance and swing on his keyboards and electronics in astonishing variety (global rhythms just seem to flow through his blood!) with the ability to interweave those rich rhythms and patterns into buoyant melodies that he unspools within his dramatic flourishes and velvety runs. He can pounce on a Cuban danzon with a blast of gleeful chords (rising from his piano chair in delight) or he can transfix with a quiet unfurl of twinkling high piano notes that arch upwards in glittering, animated spirit.
Ovalles’ tangy inventiveness on his drum kit (including his thunderous Bata drums) is also a beauty to behold, both on Aguas as well as in live performance. Towards the end of their GlobalArtsLive concert at the BPC, Ovalles launched into an extended musical dialogue with Sosa. He first played a kinetic maracas solo (in which he shook every limb to wring out his bursts of crackling sounds) and then sat down on the stage floor to play a group of large wooden pipes, coaxing the most unusual resonant sounds and thrums in his call-and-response with Sosa’s light bursts of piano notes (with Sosa grinning in delight). Canizares’ regal voice floated effortlessly above all this delectable musical action. She channeled the fresh sounds of her partners into her dancing violin and sweet vocal frolic –all with effortless grace, freedom and open-mindedness.
Another luminous singer is Brazilian vocalist Luciana Souza, who appeared in a rare recital on November 7th at New England Conservatory (“NEC”), joined by students in the NEC Jazz Studies and Jazz Orchestra programs. Standing in front of her microphone in intimate Brown Hall (with a capacity audience leaning- in to catch every vocal caress), Souza sang with sparkling brio. Her dulcet vocals cascaded with creative runs and fluid soars. Guitarist Andres Orco-Zerpa, pianist Moshe Elmakias and bassist Andrew Schiller were her perfect partners as they nestled Souza’s vocals in a quiet swirl of bright colors and punctual rhythms. On Maria Schneider’s fanciful creation “Choro Dancado” (taken from Schneider’s Grammy awarded 2004 album, Concert In The Garden [Artistshare], (an album also recently inducted into the National Recording Registry with Schneider now the first female jazz composer to have a record in the Registry), Souza and the NEC Jazz Orchestra delivered all the buoyant dance of Schneider’s sunny piece with Souza soaring in light word-play above the Orchestra’s tight grooves and bright solos.
Another highlight from this recital was Souza’s elegant duet with guitarist Orco-Zerpa on Marco Pereira’s “Dona Lu”. Pereira is an esteemed Brazilian guitarist and composer who also appears on Souza’s recording, Brazilian Duos [Sunnyside Records]. On this gem, Pereira, along with two other gifted guitarists – Romero Lubamba and Walter Santos (Souza’s father) – take turns in joining Souza in duets of zestful concoctions. The superb recording captures Souza’s vocal beauty in crisp and tactile presence lighting up a warm, airy acoustic. Her great feel for rhythm and swing (finding those interstitial pauses at just the right moments in her songs) is jubilant as her voice dances in and around the nimble strings of her three spirited partners. For instance, on her duet with Lubambo on their sassy version of “Pra Que Discutir Con Madame”, Souza’s swooping vocals nestle perfectly within the embrace of Lubambo’s warm, playful strings.
Also, do try and catch Souza’e ethereal vocals on another audiophile gem, the magnetic recording by saxophonist Tim Reis and his marvelous cast of performers on his The Rolling Stones Project [Concord Records]. Souza joins in a Latin-tinged version of the Stones’ “Street Fighting Man” that is as fresh as it is boldly adventurous. The dynamic presence of this entire recording is not to be missed.
Another vocalist who effortlessly combines vocal beauty, power and sass into an irresistible toe-tapping stew is vocalist Catherine Russell. On her new recording, Alone Together [Dot Time Records], she and her tight band romp through an inspired set of early twentieth century classic tunes with panache and impeccable chops.
Russell’s voice is a splendid instrument of soulful invention. She moves elegantly from deep burnished tones (on her slow-brewing, grooving blues) to sassy raw vitality on her up-tempo, big band thrillers. She forms her words with gracious warmth and flow and always looks to capture the radiance or untapped kernel of emotion in every song. Take a listen to the opening title track (with its carousing vocals, brass and piano soloing) or Russell’s take on Louis Jordan’s classic tune, “Early In The Morning”, a greasy slow turn of blues heaven in her assured vocal grasp. The recording quality is superb with Russell and her band’s images natural and crisply defined in a layered soundstage (with only a touch of artificiality to their compartmentalized spacing). The music breathes carefree and flowing as Russell commands the stage with her striking vocal charisma partnered with her band’s glittering swagger and swing.
For more joyful vocals brimming with tight band marvels, look no further than the new audiophile gem from ebullient vocalist, Lyn Stanley, and her band, the Jazz Mavericks, on their direct-to-disc London With A Twist – Live At Bernie’s [www.lynstanley.com]. This tribute to the legendary singer Julie London is a gem of musical inventiveness and recording prowess. It is one of the best recordings of a jazz group that you can hear: a group of stellar musicians communing on great material and channeling their keen synergy into a live session recorded without any edits or electronic alterations. The session, (done without any pre-conceived arrangements, just chord charts to guide the band in their creative adventures) is available on a hybrid SACD (containing DSD layers from a “needle drop” of the direct-to-disc test; a DSD layer from the reel-to-reel of the live recording and a standard CD layer) and on a gorgeously presented LP. The live recording was made at legendary Bernie Grundman’s studio with engineer Allen Sides and his expert team at the controls (with Grundman doing the disc mastering). A music lover’s dream, the recording (in each of its formats) delivers a reach-out-and-touch tactile presence that is astounding. Here also is the airy presence of the recording space, the natural images of the band and a dynamic aliveness that is captivating in such details as the resonant punch of congas; the metallic shimmer of light cymbals; the full harmonic body of a piano and those lingering smokey last whispers of “Bye-Bye!” to end Stanley’s grooving version of “Bye Bye Blackbird”.
Each tune on this remarkable album is mined by the spontaneous energy and vocal caresses of Stanley. Her vocal styling embraces a natural pacing and unforced swing that warmly invites a listen into every creative swoop and turn of her creative phrasing. Stanley completely inhabits a slow rumba with her breathy fluidity (“I’ve Got You Under My Skin”); takes a wistful ballad into her supple meanders (“Body and Soul”) or ratchets-up the groove on her sassy frolics (“Route 66” and “Goody Goody”). Her tight band is always in stride with her sense of adventure. Guitarist John Chiodini’s golden hues (firing away on up-tempo arrangements like “In The Still Of The Night” or softly caressing on “Blue Moon”) are beautiful to follow while pianists Otmaro Ruiz and Mike Lang’s soft twinkles of chords are perfect colors for Stanley’s vocals to linger in. The rhythm section of bassist Chuck Berghofer, drummer Aaron Serfaty and percussionist Luis Conte stay solidly in the pocket all session long. Check out their zestful flow on “Let There Be You”- a toe-tapping joy ride pungently rendered on this stunningly present recording completed in one delectable take.
And speaking of zest and creative flights of fancy, I leave this installment of women jazz vocalist recordings with mention of a brilliant musical partnership now revealed for the first time on disc: the legendary pianist Ran Blake and his phenomenal vocal partner Jeanne Lee [1939-2000] on their duet recordings from 1966 and 1967 now released on The Newest Sound You Never Heard [A-Side Records; ranblake.com; necmusic.edu].
This beautiful recording documents this special moment in music history when the inventive Blake, (prickly and penetrating on his keys), found a partner of similar venturesome spirit in Lee whose voice is a vehicle of luminous beauty and questing spirit. It is a joy to sit down and listen to this disc (delivering a front row seat to this intimate, airy session) and be invited into the fresh musical world of these two eloquent artists. They take inspiration from an eclectic source of songs from Cole Porter, Leonard Bernstein, the Beatles, Bob Dylan, amongst many others. Their inventions are whimsical creations: tart and sweet or gospel rich or soulfully tender. Lee’s vocal quality is poignant and playful. Her tone flutters in light, dewy beauty or in deep bluesy purples. Their magical synergy and music-making is just what we need in these times: restoration of our spirit through the glory of free-flowing musical dialogue that is energizing, boundless and healing.
You can read more of Nelson’s concert reviews at www.bostonconcertreviews.com.