The Ladies of IAJE: Libby York, Michele Mele & Sally Stark
In my travels through the blur of IAJE, I was given three idie CDs from friendly lady vocalists of different styles and at various stages of their careers. What they have in common is good, honest, gimmick-free music. All are worth noting.
Sunday in New York
New York resident York has assembled quite a band for this collection of her favorite tunes, and they have much to do with the cool and classy feel of this CD. It also helps that there are no pyrotechnics or grandstanding here. York is relaxed and subtle, but infinitely tender, especially on "Waltz for Debby" and the ballads; on the title track, you can hear the smile in her voice. There are some superb solos, like the great Frank Wess on tenor ("Midnight Sun") and the reliably excellent Renee Rosnes in "New York on Sunday." Drummer Billy Drummond is elegant, as always, and bassist Todd Coolman provides just the right amount of understated propulsion. York's sexiness on "Gee Baby.." is refreshingly relaxed, rather than predatory, and she swings her tush off on "Someone in Love." There's also a gentle take on Michael Frank's "Down in Brazil." The liners compare York to June Christy and the "cool girls" who fronted Kenton's bands. Seems fair. Very nice stuff.
Personnel: Libby York (vocals), Frank Wess (tenor sax), Renee Rosnes (piano), Todd Coolman (bass), Billy Drummond (drums)
Track listing: Midnight Sun, Sunday in New York, Waltz for Debby, Gee Baby, Ain't I Good to You, Down in Brazil, I Go for That, All My Tomorrows, In the Wee Small hours, Like Someone in Love, That's All
And speaking of Michael Franks...he's clearly an inspiration for many of the 12 originals on Canadian Mele's light and lovely Laugh, starting with the first winsome track, "Cabana Boy." Her supple voice and approach sound like his, crossed with Blossom Dearie's soprano sweetness and Astrud Gilberto's almost childlike purity. Clearly a personal journey, the lyrics are about the joys and disappointments of love, and if they occasionally veer into the land of moon/June/spoon, the music is so pleasant that it doesn't matter. While on the pop side of jazz and occasionally rather 70s (as in Perry White's "Classics Four"-type solo on "Tick Tock"), the arrangements are tight and nicely done (those are real strings on "Doucement," not synths), and the Toronto-based players are excellent, especially Bill McBirnie's floating flute solos. Heartfelt and dreamy, this CD is not for the jazz purist, but it surely brings warm sunshine into a winter's day. Especially that Cabana Boy...hmmm...
Personnel: Michele Mele (vocals), Don Breithaupt (piano, keyboards, production), Lew Mele (bass), Tony Zorzi (guitar), John Mele (drums, percussion), Perry White (saxophones). Bill McBirnie (flute), Rikki Rumball (background vocals), Jeften Kortenaar, Stephen Starski (violins), David Wadley (viola), Maurizio Baccante (cello).
Track listing: Cabana Boy, Laugh, Tree Frogs, Trying, Tick Tock, Why Go There, I Choose, Play with Me, Flats & Sharps, Doucement, Cynthia, Try to Imagine
Sings Maxine Sullivan
Sal Marg Records
As Monty Python would say, "and now for something completely different." This is Sally Stark's first CD, although she's had a long and successful career in supper clubs, musical theater, and even soap operas, and puts her worldly understanding into every song. This is tasty, old-fashioned jazz, served straight up, with a terrific band that includes Warren Vaché's expressive trumpet, Chip Jackson's sly bass, and Mike Abene's special way with the ivories. A tribute to Maxine Sullivan, it features a number of rarely-heard gems that Stark delivers with great poise and a twinkle in her eye; there's an intriguing ballad "Spring Isn't Everything," sung with only guitarist James Chirillo's sensitive meditation, and a beautiful "Loch Lomond" to close. Stark also swings like mad on "Massachusetts." This CD reminds me of the excellent traditional music that comes from Arbors Records, except with vocals added. Crisp and very enjoyable.
Personnel: Sally Stark (vocals), Mike Abene (piano, arrangements), Chip Jackson (bass), Dennis Mackrel (drums), James Chirillo (guitar), Michael Hashim (saxophone), Warren Vaché (trumpet)
Track listing: Someday Sweetheart, I'm Crazy 'Bout My Baby, Restless, Spring Isn't Everything, Massachusetts, Keepin' Out of Mischief Now, Harlem Butterfly, It's Crazy, A Hundred Years from Today, Loch Lomand