The music industry has been struggling to adapt to the death of brick-and-mortar outlets, the increasing independence of prominent artists, and the practice of downloading just one or two songs from an album, and not buying the rest. Each year more jazz labels shrink, dissolve into non-musical corporations or disappear altogether, inspiring some that remain to resort to gimmickry or musical dilution to hang onto their customers.
In the midst of all this mutation and compromise comes the steady and selective output of Palmetto Records, the 18-year-old indie that does most of its recording at an 18th century stone barn in Pennsylvania. Their exceptional roster includes the elegant pianist Fred Hersch, the adventurous reed player Ted Nash, and the extraordinary vocalist Kate McGarry, all of whom have released a CD in the summer of 2008. Although they are very different from each other, they each reflect the Palmetto tradition of crisp recording and eclectic excellence.
If Less Is More, Then Nothing Is Everything
Saying more with less is the signature approach of singer/songwriter Kate McGarry, who delivers her songs straight from the heart in a sweet, pitch-perfect voice that has few parallels in any genre. In fact, although her previous album, The Target(Palmetto, 2007), reached #1 on some jazz charts, McGarry is virtually her own category, applying her unique sensibility to old and new jazz, pop, folk, Latin, and rock n' roll. Less Is More... covers Cole Porter as well as Bob Dylan and The Cars; high points include the swinging "Let's Face The Music," the sexy "You're My Thrill," and the joyful boomer sing-a-long, "You Don't Have To Cry." McGarry's special flair for Brazilian language and music is obvious on Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Caminos Cruzados" and Djavan Caetano Viana's "Flor-de-Lis," while her writing and arranging talents shine on several tracks, particularly "I Carry Your Heart," the e.e.cummings poem McGarry set to music.
Happily, each band mate has that same rare gift of communicating without clutter; Gary Versace is equally expressive on piano, organ, and accordion, masterful drummer and bassist (Clarence Penn and Reuben Rogers) supply the ideal framework and propulsion, and guitarist Keith Ganz provides the perfect commentary with his spare, eloquent lines. It's a richly varied sampler, and pure McGarry.
Michael Moore and Fred Hersch
This We Know
The sixth Palmetto release for the great pianist/composer Fred Hersch, This We Know is a duet with alto saxophone/clarinetist Michael Moore, available only as a digital download. The two have been friends for more than thirty years, ever since they both studied with pianist Jaki Byard at the New England Conservatory, but this is their first duo project. You can hear their longstanding affection and ease with each other from the opening track, an appealing take on "Green Eyes" that sets the relaxed and playful mood of the CD. Moore has a lower public profile than Hersch, having moved to the Netherlands in 1982, but here they are well-matched, as they enhance and expand each other's ideas. Highlights include two very different classics: Thelonious Monk's "Four In One" and the Brazilian choro, "Doce De Coco."
The session is rounded out by five Moore originals, including the excellent title track, and three relatively rare compositions by Hersch. "Canzona" is typically Hersch-ian in its poignant grace, while "Lee's Dream" reflects his special admiration for Monk. The atmospheric high point of the CD is "The Sad Bird," where Moore speaks for the bird; only the most accomplished artists could make this notion not only convincing, but moving as well. Terrific.
The Mancini Project
Ted Nash, a versatile and accomplished reed player, is probably best known for his participation in the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and his own band, Odeon. Nash also has an impressive musical pedigree: in the 1960s and 1970s, father Dick and Uncle Ted were first-call studio musicians on the West Coast, playing on "just about every" film score and recording of Henry Mancini, the prolific pop composer who was nominated for an unprecedented 72 Grammys, winning 20. In his fourth Palmetto outing, Nash honors this legacy with fourteen of Mancini's compositions, proving that Henry was much hipper than his easy listening, "Moon River"-reputation would suggest.
Nash's top-drawer quartet offers splendid interpretations of the themes from "Breakfast At Tiffany's," "Night Visitor," and "Experiment In Terror," as well as the gorgeous "Lujon" (first popularized by Sergio Mendes and Brazil 66 as a vocal called "Slow Hot Wind"), and "Two For The Road," which is the favorite Mancini tune of many jazz musicians. Also included are less-familiar gems like "Dreamsville," from the Peter Gunn TV series (the first show with a jazz underscore), and "The Party" where everyone has audible fun over Rufus Reid's funky bass lines. It's a thoughtfully conceived and consistently well-played collection.
Tracks and Personnel
If Less Is More, Nothing Is Everything
Tracks: Let's Face The Music; You're My Thrill; Just What I Needed; The Times They Are A-Changin; Caminos Cruzados; You Don't Have To Cry; The Priest; Flor De Lis; I Carry Your Heart; Man Of God.
Personnel: Kate McGarry: vocals; Keith Ganz: guitars; Gary Versace: organ, accordion, piano; Reuben Rogers: bass; Clarence Penn: drums, percussion; Donny McCaslin, tenor saxophone (1, 8); Jo Lawry: vocals (6, 9); Peter Eldridge: vocals (4, 6); James Shipp: percussion (4, 6).
This We Know
Tracks: Aquellos Ojos Verdes (Green Eyes); Bedtime Story; The Sad Bird; Four In One; Spirit of '76; Doce De Coco; This We Know; Lee's Dream; Sandwiches & Brandy; Langrage; Canzona.
Personnel: Michael Moore: clarinet, alto saxophone; Fred Hersch, piano.
The Mancini Project
Tracks: Theme From Night Visitor; Dreamsville; Something For Nash; Shot In The Dark; Lujon (Slow Hot Wind); Breakfast At Tiffany's; Cheryl's Theme; Mr. Yunioshi; Soldier In The Rain; The Party; A Quiet Happening; Two For Rhe Road; Experiment In Terror; Baby Elephant Walk.
Personnel: Ted Nash: reeds; Frank Kimbrough: piano; Rufus Reid: bass; Matt Wilson: drums.
Visit Kate McGarry, Fred Hersch and Ted Nash on the web.