Various Artists: From California With Love (2011)
How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
From California With Love is one shining example of how tragedy can bring out the best in people. When Japan was devastated by a massive earthquake (and subsequent tsunami) on March 11, 2011, it caused a chain reaction of destruction and death throughout the region. In an effort to help raise money for relief efforts, a whole host of artists and musical professionals volunteered their time and talents to help put this package together.
From California With Love contains some stellar performances from a variety of artists, including vocalist Tierney Sutton with pianist Christian Jacob, the late Chris Connor, and pianist Alan Broadbentbut it does come with a small caveat. Compilations, in general, often fall prey to consistency issues, and this collection is no exception. It's nearly impossible to take disparate musical productions, like a '50s-style vocal number with a licensed, prerecorded orchestra track backing the singer (Dick Noel's "Dream"), a solo piano piece recorded in 2011, and a sub-minute-and-a-half live quartet track from 1987 (Chris Connor's "I Feel A Song Coming On"), and create a flowing program. While that small issue might be a deal-breaker for some music fans, they would, ultimately, be missing out on some noteworthy performances.
The most enjoyable numbers on this album are usually the most intimate, allowing for one, two, or a few musicians to let their emotions flow into the music. Vocalist Sue Raney's medley of "Blue Skies" and "On A Clear Day" starts things off on a positive note, and her accompanist on this recording, pianist Alan Broadbent, follows her with his own pleasing solo performance of "Sweet And Lovely." A less-is-more approach to standards serves singers well, as vocalist Leslie Lewis joins with pianist Gerard Hagen for a quietly classy "Skylark," followed by an equally sublime "Here's To Life" from singer Kurt Reichenbach.
Pianist Christian Jacob, like Broadbent before him, serves as an ace accompanist, for Sutton's haunting take on "Beautiful Love," and solo pianist on a charming "Ue Wo Muite Arukou (Sukiyaki)," but neither of them hold the distinction of "busiest man on this album." Pianist Jim Cox pulls triple duty, as he accompanies Reichenbach, tackles John Lennon and Paul McCartney's "We Can Work It Out" as a solo act, and backs singer Pinky Winters on the album-closing "You'll Never Walk Alone."
While most of this music is a joy to hear, a few misses make it into the mix. Singer Frankie Randall's sappy, touchy-feely tune ("The Wave"), and an uninspired take on "Strike Up The Band," don't measure up to the standards set elsewhere on the album, but the majority of the performances are keepers.
On the whole, From California With Love is a sterling example of the giving nature of the jazz community, as artistry and charity meet in an effort to help those in need.
Track Listing: Blue Skies/On A Clear Day; Sweet And Lovely; Strike Up The Band; Skylark; Here's To Life; Sweet Happy Life (Samba de Orfeu); Ue Wo Muite Arukou (Sukiyaki); Beautiful Love; We Can Work It Out; Dream ; I Feel A Song Coming On; The Wave; You'll Never Walk Alone.
Personnel: Sue Raney: vocals (1); Alan Broadbent: piano (1, 2); Johnny Holiday: vocals (3); Sam Most: saxophone (3); Leslie Lewis: vocals (4); Gerard Hagen: piano (4); Domenic Genova: bass (4); Jerry Kalaf: drums (4); Kurt Reichenbach: vocals (5); Jim Cox: piano (5, 9, 13); Tom Warrington: bass (5, 13); Diane Hubka: vocals (6); Dan Sawyer: ukulele (6); Kendall Kaye: percussion (6); Christian Jacob: piano (7, 8); Tierney Sutton: vocals (8); Dick Noel: vocals (10); Chris Connor: vocals (11); Lee Musiker: piano (11); Jim Coleman: bass (11); Warren Odze: drums (11); Frankie Randall: vocals (12); Pinky Waters: vocals (13)
Record Label: SSJ-USA Records