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From the Inside Out

Voices of Summer 2005

By Published: August 11, 2005

Somehow Wright's luminous voice bridges the gap between the secular blues confessionals of Tracy Chapman or Joan Armatrading and the spiritual gospel confessionals of Anita Baker.

Singers come in all styles and sounds. Not everyone thinks they have the dexterity to master a saxophone, guitar or drums. But almost everyone has a voice; and almost everyone thinks that they can musically use it. Some people, of course, use it musically better than others. For example:

Paul Anka
Rock Swings
Verve
2005

Pop music sure has changed since Paul Anka last helped rule the airways (as composer or performer) with such mainstays as "My Way, "Diana, "She's A Lady and "Puppy Love.

Decades later, Anka's own notes explain the Rock Swings! concept: "We all embraced the idea: to find songs from a diverse group of musicians, from Nirvana and Van Halen, to Lionel Richie and The Pet Shop Boys, and reinvent them in an entirely unique way: Swing! The result, a unique sound with great musical content.

Rock Swings! indeed, when cast in these orchestral overviews anchored by rhythm session aces Vinnie Colaiuta (drums) and Mike Valerio (bass) and earnestly fronted by an experienced, genuine singer who helped rule one of pop music's golden eras. When the brass section introduces the opening "It's My Life (Bon Jovi) by quoting "The Best is Yet to Come, it foreshadows the fun that Anka and musicians have tumbling through this survey of two pop decades.

This singer has rarely sounded better, soaring through the love note to Ella Fitzgerald nestled in "True (Spandau Ballet) and pouring himself into the climaxes of "Wonderwall (Oasis) and "Eye of the Tiger (Survivor), where he exchanges hot wallops from the brass. Cool as Fred Astaire, Anka magically glides — no bootstomps or stumbles — through the grunge swamps of "Blackhole Sun (Soundgarden) and "Smells Like Teen Spirit (Nirvana).

Anka may be the star singing up in front of the orchestra, but arrangers Randy Kerber, Patrick Williams and John Clayton contribute powerfully swinging, warm and good-humored charts that hoist and keep him there. In total, Rock Swings! becomes far more than Anka breathing new life into old songs - these "old songs seem to breath new life into the singer, too. As an album, this is good. As a career move, this is great.

Ithamara Koorax
Autumn in New York
JSP/Huks Music
2004

Spilling over with jazz and pop classics, this new set is probably the best program yet from this blossoming Brazilian vocalist.

Like almost every other female vocalist from Brazil, Koorax sounds influenced by Flora Purim - heard, for example, in Koorax' fearless hopscotch jumps across the endpoints of her entire vocal range. Also like Purim, Koorax has been tinted by classic jazz harmonies and phrasings - and not just by vocalists (though Ella Fitzgerald and Shirley Horn are obvious influences) but particularly by horn players and pianists too.

Koorax' impending greatness is evident from the very first cut, "I Fall in Love Too Easily, which she dedicates to Miles Davis, who famously interpreted this ballad, and to Keith Jarrett. She radiates her "ooo vocal sound to resound then fade like a trumpet (which happens again later in her dedication of "She Was Too Good To Me to Don Sebesky and Chet Baker, perhaps the song's most famous interpreter). Its closing is stunning and stratospheric; it dawns on you afterwards that you simply cannot sing "I Fall in Love Too Easily, at least its last line, any better than this.

Koorax also revisits two classics from Brazil's legendary composer Antonio Carlos Jobim: Two versions of "You Were Born to Be Mine (Absolut Lee) , unfurling its introduction as long and elegant as a gown for a royal ball, then swimming in the liquid pools of Jobim's soft, almost hidden rhythms ( "dedicated to Jobim, of course! ); and a dramatic "How Insensitive dedicated to Purim.

Koorax fronts a piano trio led by Jurgen Friedrich with bassist Sergio Barroso and drummer Cesar Machado. They stretch out in the up-tempo numbers, particularly the middle passages of "Walking Down the Street and "Absolute Lee, and shift rhythms into a churning undertow beneath "How Insenstive, but for the most part their instrumental support is dedicated entirely to the vocalist.

Ken Saydak
It's My Soul
Evidence
2005

Born in one of the blues' most essential cities, this Chicago native learned from some of the Windy City's best by playing piano and keyboards on tours by Mighty Joe Young and Lonnie Brooks. In the 1980s, Saydak played an essential part in Texas blues guitar legend Johnny Winter's renaissance as pianist on several tours and albums, including Winter's justly famous, Grammy-nominated Guitar Slinger album.

This solo album, his third, would certainly be catalogued under "blues. But listened to closely, it reaches back through labels and categories to clutch the still-pumping heart of the simple and glorious music that became rock n' roll - the seminal, simmering soul stew bursting with different but related flavors: the twangs of country music, the tangs of New Orleans R&B, the heart pangs of gospel and the ka-bang! of the blues.



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