In the Fifties and Sixties it was very common to have jazz recordings that would feature a vocal or instrumental soloist like Ella Fitzgerald or Stan Getz in front of a full orchestra. That still happens today but nowhere as frequently as it once did. Bassist and composer Steve Haines revives that tradition with an amazing session that sets vocalist Becca Stevens, saxophonist Chad Eby and pianist Joey Calderazzo against the warm, surging sounds of a string-laden full orchestra.
The material played here covers a broad range: a folk song, a Chopin mazurka, songs by prominent Canadian singer-songwriters and even a few self- penned numbers by both Haines and Stevens. The initial impression is of a classical recital that features Stevens' strong soprano voice floating over waives of strings, particularly on "Come All You Fair And Tender Ladies" and "What "I've Seen." However looser rhythms and spots for improvisation also pop up throughout the set, helping bring it to full-bodied life. Haines' song, "You," carries a poppy propulsion as acoustic guitar accompanies Stevens' singing over the orchestra and Calderazzo takes a bright solo. On Stevens' own "Canyon Dust," her voice dances wildly over a bright babble of flute, handclaps and violins which morphs into Eby's soprano sax slow-rolling over a languid funk-laced groove laid down by Haines and drummer Kobie Watkins. Stevens is not present on the Chopin piece. There Calderazzo and Eby slowly revolve over a slightly tipsy orchestration of the melody and stretch into serpentine bits of improvisation with the rhythm section when not merging into the orchestra's flowing lines.
The songs by Canadian musicians help to vary the project's overall sound. Kim Mitchell's "Patio Lanterns," a popular song in Canada, has an arrangement that combines Aaron Copland's folk-derived works with jazzy swagger and country pop. Stevens sings over piano and rising strings and brass with a Joni Mitchell-like lilt while Eby plays piping fills beside her. Neil Young's "Harvest Moon" breaks from the formality of the rest of the set. Haines' arrangement, with vibraphone prominent, has the gentle dancing bounce of some of Nelson Riddle's writing for Frank Sinatra. There's also a Riddle influence in the sound of Gordon Lightfoot's "If You Could Read My Mind," but this time through an intricate web of sawing strings that support muted trumpet, eloquent soprano sax and Stevens' yearning vocal. There is also a grandiose version of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" that is impressive in its own right but sounds pretty ordinary compared to the hundreds of other versions of the song available.
This is an ambitious and remarkable project. Steve Haines' orchestral writing has dramatic sweep and force but still leaves room for his soloists to shine. Becca Stevens has shown an endearing voice in her own hybrid folk-jazz projects but she outdoes herself with the formal maturity and power of her singing here. She sounds perfectly matched to the majesty of Haines' music. This kind of orchestral classical-jazz recording is a rare thing today, especially when it's this well-executed. This is gorgeous work.
Here Are Our Hearts; No More; Come All You Fair and Tender Ladies; You; Harvest Moon; Mazurka Opus 17 No. 4; Patio Lanterns; What I’ve Seen; Hallelujah; Canyon Dust; If You Could Read My Mind.
Steve Haines: leader, bass; Kevin Geraldi: conductor; Rusty Smith: trumpet; Brandon Lee: trumpet; Chad Eby: soprano sax; Seth Frack: trombone; Cameron Macmanus: trombone; Cameron Luke: bass trombone; Justin Worley: tuba; Carmen Eby: clarinet; Anthony Taylor: clarinet; Ron Rudkin: bass clarinet; Rebecca Libera: bassoon; Abigail Pack: French horn; Tanner West: French horn; Erika Boysen: piccolo, flute; Megan Makeever: flute; Ashley Barret: oboe; Anna Lampidis: English horn; Joey Calderazzo: piano; Greg Hyslop: guitar; Andrew Beach: bass; Kobie Watkins: drums; Eric Willie: percussion; Adam Snow: percussion; Marjorie Bagley: violin; Hannah Spear: violin; Abigail Bracewell: violin; Quashawn Chadwick: violin; Tracy Viator: violin; Madeleine Klee: violin; Dwyla Pearson: violin; Wenyin Deng: violin; Scott Rawls: viola; Claire Fowler: viola; Katie Bracewell: viola; Dave Phillips: viola; Alex Ezerman: cello; Brianna Tam: cello; Bethany Uhler: cello; Miguel Zaparolli: cello; Becca Stevens: voice; Mira Eby: background voice (5).
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