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April 2022: Get Out Of Town


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Kristina Koller
Get Out Of Town
Self Produced

Youthful, vibrant, and musically precocious, vocalist / composer Kristina Koller answers her two previous recordings: the gracefully insurgent Perception (Self Produced, 2018) and frankly anarchic Stronger (Self Produced, 2019) with the intensely focused Get Out Of Town, devoted to a dramatic reconsideration of the music of Cole Porter. Koller favors humid and moody arrangements that are the sonic equivalent of chiaroscuro in the visual arts. Her traditional piano trio provides her both expansive, orchestral support (as on "Greek to You" and "It's Alright With Me") and a certain sparsely ornamented environment (as on a swinging "Why Don't We Stay At Home" and a quietly profound "In The Still of the Night"). Not yet thirty years old, Koller projects herself as a most accomplished artist, continuing to grow.

Key Selection: "Every Time We Say Goodbye."

Kellye Gray
Purple Gray
Lucy Anderson

Not a universal name, Kellye Gray? The Houston vocalist, who abruptly passed away in 2019, was universally admired, no, loved, by her contemporary vocalists. Gray possessed a talent and presence as big as her native Texas, an observation readily detected on her 2017 recording Rendering (Grr8 Records) which serves as an appropriate introduction and career summation. In Rendering Gray used the release to reissue her first recording, Standards in Gray, alongside a gorgeous new set of songs. This could have been the end of the story, but, gladly proves otherwise. Gray had been working on a project featuring Prince covers that, through the dogged efforts of Lucy Anderson, was released on what would have been the singer's 68th birthday. Included are eight selections ranging from the deep recovery (a frantically sardonic "All The Critics Love You in New York") to the most commercially popular (a breezy Latin "I Would Die 4 U"). Gray chose a traditional jazz piano trio for support, supplemented by Russell Haight's emotive tenor saxophone. Gray's vocals are unrestrained, showing the singer's unrepressed fearlessness in performance. Gray treats "Kiss" orchestrally, using Kyle Thompson's extroverted cymbals as sound expansion coupled with Eddie Hobitzal's larger-than-large piano sound. Gray was the most complete jazz singer and deserved much, much more attention than she received.

Key Selection: "Gotta A Broken Heart Again."

Jenna Mammina & Matt Rollings
Blue Coast Records

It's in the voice, after all—that essence inviting the listener to collude in matters of intimacy and the heart. Jenna Mammina's voice is a suspended fragrance, delicate, playfully coquettish, elusive. The singer's repertoire is equally slippery, erring as much in the pop arena as in jazz. On Mutineer, Mammina is joined by pianist Matt Rollings who provides inventive and lyrical accompaniment. Mammina continues her survey of James Taylor that began on Moodlight Ladies (Blue Coast Records, 2019) with readings of "Another Gray Morning," "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight," and "You Can Close Your Eyes," all performed with her trademark sweetness and reverence. But it Mammina's vision of Warren Zevon on "Mutineer" and "Keep Me In Your Heart" that is most arresting, only, then, to be bettered by Leonard Cohen's "Alexandra Leaving," casting in sharp relief that composer's genius. Her two jazz standards, "Dream" and "Gee Baby Ain't I Good To You?" are playful and warmly expressive. Mammina emotes a certain hard honesty, softly. The singer hosts a twice-daily vodcast on Facebook, "11:11 with Jenna" at 11:11 AM and PM, where music is often the topic.

Key Selection: "Dream."

Gary Brumburgh
Cafe Pacific Records

Between 2012 and 2016, vocalist Gary Brumburgh was occupied with fighting head and neck cancer, achieving remission, only to relapse, requiring further treatment. Once a death sentence, today such cancers are successfully treated, but often not without consequences, The treatment damaged Brumburgh's vocal cords, sending the singer into the woodshed to relearn and reclaim his craft. Once healthy and practiced, Brumburgh appeared at Vitello's in Studio City, where producer Barbara Brighton heard him and offered her service resulting in the 2018 recording Moonlight (Cafe Pacific Records, label of the notable Mark Winkler). Brumburgh has had a complete show business life in musical theatre leading up to Moonlight. Full Circle acknowledges that experience and reprises the singer's contributions to the genre. Using material from Cabaret, Company, South Pacific, and Oklahoma, Brumhugh turns on the relaxed-cool (as on "Why Should I Wake Up" from Cabaret) or bebop hot (as on "Happy Talk" from South Pacific) seemingly at will. Brumburgh welcomes back from Moonlight pianist Jamieson Trotter, guitarist Larry Koonse, and bassist Gabe Davis to contribute to this quietly intense and heartfelt personal project, while trombonist Scott Whitfield and harmonica player Ross Garen add smooth slow-burn. Brumburgh is hitting his stride in the recording studio with just the right support and production.

Key Selection: You've Got To Be Taught."

Spin Cycle
Spin Cycle III
Sound Fooling Records

Spin Cycle is a band led by saxophonist Tom Christensen and drummer Scott Neuman. They have released two previous recordings, Spin Cycle (Sound Footing Records, 2016)) and Assorted Colors (Sound Footing Records, 2018). The group's moniker reflects the catholic tastes of the leaders who have never met a subgenre of jazz they did not like nor a series of them to mix and mash up. This is well illustrated when comparing the plush ballad "Trust" with the gutbucket breakdown of "Drain The Swamp," with Pete McCann's filthy R.L. Burnside-inspired guitar. The band melds seamlessly tight orchestration with rollicking improvisation. The interior duo of Christiansen and McCann provides melodic and harmonic cover to the solid rhythm section of Newman and bassist Phil Palomb, who, between them can raise a ruckus. Free wheeling and inspired, Spin Cycle III reveals Spin Cycle's continuing evolution toward the perfect groove.

Key Selection: "Drain The Swamp."

Norm Stockton
Grooves & Sushi with Norm Stockton
Stocktone Records

Bassist Norm Stockton is best known for his considerable work in Christian music. He has stepped out of that light into that of solo instrumentalist on two previous recordings, Pondering The Sushi (Self Produced, 2004) and Tea In The Typhoon (Self Produced, 2009). Stockton offers us his third instrumental outing, Grooves & Sushi... a project where the bassist plucks musical elements from late 20th and early 21st Century jazz, squeezing them into a thoroughly contemporary amalgam that shoot off sparks from Jeff Beck's Blow By Blow (Epic. 1975) and Wired (Epic, 1976) and Miles Davis's Tutu (Warner Bros, 1986) periods, with a smattering of Jonas Hellborg / Shawn Lane 2000's recordings. The title of the release says it all: this is music that is almost tactile with a unique terrain and topography. Stockton's approach is less about melody and more about dynamics: soft / loud, fast / slow, time shifting. When there is a melody, it is simple and serves the harmonic and groove catalysis. Stockton is a benevolent leader, soloing less than his accompaniment. When he does solo, his playing is smoothly fluid with an occasional thrown elbow, dispatched as necessary for accent.

Key Selection: "Only When I Exist."

Mark Winkler
Late Bloomin' Jazzman
Cafe Pacific Records

Benevolent Godfather of the Los Angeles Jazz Mafia, Mark Winkler is well known as a jazz lyricist and for the past several years, vocalist. Winker's voice has always been that of a broadway book composer: not perfect but always sincere and distinctive...until his 20th release, Late Bloomin' Jazzman, where Winkler stretches, singing with a robust and virile confidence. While focusing mostly on standards and select repertoires, Winkler pens lyrics to eight of the twelve selections featured. Here, the recording turns personal when Winkler addresses the loss of his husband ("In Another Way") and a friend to Alzheimer's disease ("Marlena's Memories") and tackles growing older ("Old Enough"). The singer employs his favorite pianists Jameison Trotter, David Benoit, Rich Eames, and John Mayer, each to his strengths. Also present is tenor saxophonist Bob Sheppard, whose presence always elevates any musical event. Winker swings with an easy grace, making the art of jazz sound easy to achieve when it is one of the hardest things.

Key Selection: "It Ain't Necessarily So."

Tigran Hamasyan

Following a string of recordings ranging from purely classical to the improvised edge of his native Armenia's folk music, pianist and composer Tigran Hamasyan slips in with a recording of jazz standards on StandArt. Working with a core trio including bassist Matt Brewer and drummer Justin Brown, Hamasyan augments his performances with tenor saxophonists, Mark Turner on the smooth edges of "All The Things You Are" and Joshua Redman on an angular reading of Charlie Parker's "Big Foot." Trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire joins Hamasyan on "I Should Care'' while contributing his own "Invasion During An Operetta." The two songs serve as the soulful center of the recording, capturing the spirit of the ECM Records' vibe while not replicating it. The two songs illustrate both ends of the Hamasyan spectrum, the former a plaintive ballad with acres of room and the latter, a barely contained morsel of the avant-garde. If there is a cardiac event performance here, it is angular and outspoken, "Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise." Hamasyan concentrates his considerable abilities to produce a true post-modern gem.

Key Selection: "Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise."

Noël Akchoté
Jammin' Jubilate Deo (1565) (Renaissance For Steel Guitar)
Self Produced

Just a taste. French guitarist Noël Akchoté undertook to transcribe and perform the whole of Renaissance music for guitar and dobro. Ambitious, to be sure, but he has given it the old heave-ho. Akchoté recently announced that this project was necessarily coming to an end. But not before he produced upwards of 50 recordings ranging from the well-known Palestrina Masses to the present liturgical music of Claude Goudimel (1514 -1572). Akchoté has several different performance moods, some lyrically tuneful, others, hostile and fractured. He illustrates both on this three-selection release by presenting his original conception of Goudimel's "Jubilate Deo Omnis Terra" and his elaborately over- the-top "Jammin' Jubilate Deo." Akchoté has an expansive knowledge of music and a keen sense of humor showing it off. The guitarist separates the two versions of "Jubilate Deo" by an improvisation on Goudimel's "Domine, Refugium Factus Es." This is a nice, if too short, an introduction to Akchoté's vision of Goudimel's work.

Key Selection: "Domine, Refugium Factus Es."

Noël Akchoté
Claude Goudimel—Les Cent Cinquante Psaumes De David (Genevan Psalter For 4 Voices, Selected) (1565) (Renaissance For Steel Guitar)
Self Produced

With Jammin' Jubilate Deo as our anteroom, Noël Akchoté expands on the music of The High Renaissance composer, Claude Goudimel. Goudimel is most famous for his four-part settings of the psalms of the Genevan Psalter from which selections are addressed by Akchoté. The guitarist's mood for these performances is one of pensive anticipation. Thematically, he performs the pieces using the essence of the melody embedded in his thoughtful chording. Injected into this are solo parts: astringent and often dissonant as in his reprise of the straight title piece of the previous review. Here, Akchoté is wordy and cockeyed in the harmonic-melodic interplay beneath his playing. The experience would be disconcerting were it not begging so hard to be understood. In this way, Akchoté's repertoire choice and performance are like reading James Joyce's Ulysses: the listener knows there is more to the music and performance than is apparent and further study would enhance both the pleasure and understanding of the music. This is music to make you think while enjoying it.

Key Selection: "Verba Mea Auribus Percipe."



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