In a way, A Missing Shade Of Blue
is a throwback to an earlier era, when Grant Green
, "Brother" Jack McDuff
, Wes Montgomery
and Jimmy Smith
, and numerous others were bringing the guitar and organ together to create beautiful music for the people. Yet this record doesn't necessarily fit with the work of those artists. Why, you ask? Well, for one, we live in a different time. But the era isn't necessarily the crux of the matter. The scope of this work is really what puts it in another category altogether, for this isn't some good-time session sold primarily with a mixture of groove and virtuosity. This, in a broader sense, is a look at the totality of the blues, both in form and spirit.
Blues music has long been the common denominator for jazz, country, soul, folk, and gospel music(s), yet few artists have made a real effort to show that. The difficulty inherent in tying together so many ostensibly dissimilar ideals under the banner of the blues has likely been a deterrent for many, but the artist under discussion here wasn't scared off. With A Missing Shade Of Blue
, Dida Pelled
has gifted us a work that speaks both to the unifying force of the blues and her unassuming brilliance as a performer, arranger, and harvester of songs. As with Pelled's debut albumPlays And Sings
(Red Records, 2010)the genesis for this project is connected to an encounter she had with label head Fabio Morgera
. While helping Pelled with her artist visa, Morgera pitched her on the idea of an organ trio album. She eagerly accepted the offer, as it provided an opportunity to move in a different direction after having worked extensively on the vocal-centric Modern Love Songs
(Self Produced, 2015), and the planning instantly started to take shape. The music had yet to be made, but the seeds for the project were sown right then and there.
Fast-forward to today, and we have the fantastic finished product in our hands. On A Missing Shade Of Blue
, Pelled teams up with organist Luke Carlos O'Reilly
and drummer Rodney Green
, two players that fit the project perfectly, because, as she notes, "they come from a jazz background but they're deeply rooted in the blues." Together they take a meaningful journey through thirteen songsmany old, some new, most borrowed, all blueand provide a greater depth of understanding about the many hues of the titular color. The entire album was cut in a single session without a safety net, hearkening back to the way records were made in the good old days. There were no overdubs, no edits, and no attempts to alter the magic that came and went in the course of a take. The music made of such circumstances speaks volumes about Pelled's artistry and the strong chemistry at play in this trio.
The album opens with a nod to Montgomery via his "Sundown." This performance's essence is tied to the tried-and-truea twelve bar framework, head-solos-head with a tag outbut it's not so simple. Hear the way the band connects on the hits, observe the way Green moves from sloshing hi-hat to solo-supporting ride, and note the way Pelled's clean single-note lines lead to fluid chording. These are the kinds of little things that add up to greatness.
With that opening number Pelled makes it clear that she speaks fluent blues, and with the remainder of the album she demonstrates that she speaks more dialects of that language than most. Following the brush with Wes, the trio delivers a backbeat-driven "I Don't Need No Doctor" before heading out toward the country for "When I Grow Too Old To Dream." That latter numbera Romburg/Hammerstein classiccame to the attention of Pelled through one of the first jazz albums she ever owned: Nat King Cole
's After Midnight: The Complete Session
(Capitol Records, 1957). On that record the song glides along with a casual swing feel, but Pelled has her own ideas about how best to shape the piece. She reworks it with a 12/8 country vibe, expanding the color scheme with the addition of Morgera's muted trumpet and Itai Kriss' scene-stealing flute. Pelled then continues down the country road, both with "Take These Chains From My Heart," a Hank Williams vehicle that presents as a hybridized work with hints of everything from the music of its author to the Hawaiian breeze in its carriage, and "Folsom Prison Blues," the Johnny Cash classic presented with a pointed guitar delivery and underscored with the expected train beat from Green.
From there, Pelled starts to toy even more with the meaning of the blues. The trioaugmented again by Morgera and Krissshifts into ballad territory with "It's A Sin To Tell A Lie," a gentle vision ushered out by Pelled's dreamy vocal work; the core group gets its groove on with "Glide On," a piece often associated with McDuff and Bill Jennings; a pair of Pelled originalsthe heartfelt "A Little Walk On Jane Street" and the salt-of-the-earth, laidback title trackserve as indications of her strong writing skills; and the eternal "Blue Moon" appears in the sky, floating along atop a tom-centric groove. Those first ten numbers provide a thorough overview of the blues in various guises, but for a more complete survey the listener needs to see things through. With the arrival of "500 Miles," a song that Pelled discovered through the Coen Brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis
, folk-informed sounds come to the surface and O'Reilly brings the church into view. Then there's Morgera's "Ultramarine," an up-tempo blowing tune that invites the two guests back, and the lullabye-like "I'II See You In My Dreams," the brief closer that links this record to both of Pelled's previous releases. "Each album," she points out, "ends with a solo guitar-and-voice number'That's All' on Plays And Sings
, 'Losing You' on Modern Love Songs
, and 'I'II See You In My Dreams' on A Missing Shade Of Blue
On the surface this may seem like an eclectic assortment of songs, but the similarities between these pieces are more important than their differences. In discussing this collection, Pelled wholeheartedly echoes that sentiment: "I feel that the songs I chose, although taken from different genres, are all coming from the same place," she remarks. In other words, the tints may differ, but they're all blue to the bone.
Liner Notes copyright © 2023 Dan Bilawsky.
A Missing Shade of Blue can be purchased here.
Contact Dan Bilawsky at All About Jazz.
Dan is a jazz journalist, jazz advocate, music educator, and lover of sounds.
Sundown; I Don’t Need No Doctor; When I Grow Too Old to Dream; Take
These Chains from My Heart; Folsom Prison Blues; It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie;
Glide On; A Little Walk on Jane Street; A Missing Shade of Blue; Blue Moon;
Five Hundred Miles; Ultramarine; I’ll See you in My Dreams.