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5

C. Michael Bailey's Best Releases of 2015

C. Michael Bailey By

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It is easy this year, only vocal music...twelve months, twelve releases.

Lyn Stanley
Potions: From the '50s

We Baby Boomers are a persnickety bunch. We revel in our nostalgia while keeping a jaundiced eye on current trends and how derivative they are compared with those we experienced when they were really new. Critics dismiss this nostalgia as wasted pathos, pining away for what can never be again. That is missing the point. Memory and reminiscence are powerful comforts much like a cat's purr. They help us recall and allow us to put the past into perspective in the relative safety of our own minds and time...continue.

Angelica Matveeva
Vocalese

"Vocalese" is defined as, "a style or musical genre of jazz singing wherein words are sung to melodies that were originally part of an all-instrumental composition or improvisation." The grand purveyors of this jazz vocals offshoot include King Pleasure, Eddie Jefferson, Jon Hendricks and Bob Dorough. It is the most "jazzy" of jazz idioms. A grand introduction exists in the aforementioned Eddie Jefferson's Letter From Home (Riverside, 1961)...continue.

Henry Darragh
Too Much Monday

My introduction to Houston Jazz came with the receipt of Jacqui Sutton's Billie & Dolly (Toy Blue Typewriter Productions, 2010). A few short months later, I received Henry Darragh's Tell Her for Me (Self Produced, 2009). When I compared the musical personnel for each of these recordings, a light came on in my pea brain alerting me to the fact that Houston may not be so big after all. There was quite the overlap in musicians between the two releases. Happily, I have become acquainted with what I call the "Houston Jazz Mafia," a group that includes, but is certainly not limited to: Sutton, Darragh, saxophonists Alisha Pattillo and Woody Witt, guitarists Paul Douglas Chester and Chris Cortez, trumpeters Dennis Dotson and Carol Morgan, singers Tianna Hall, Danielle Reich, and Raquel Cepeda, and drummer Tim Solook . This is the rich bedrock of the Houston music establishment....continue.

Cassandra Wilson
Coming Forth By Day

After an impressive jazz debut with Point of View (JMT, 1985), Wilson would release seven more well-received, if not underrated, recordings before she changed the entire jazz vocals setting with Blue Light 'til Dawn (Blue Note, 1993). Wilson's singing and instrumentation had evolved into an expansive and spacious sonic landscape modeled after Miles Davis' earthy and provocative reading of the DuBose Heyward / George Gershwin song, "My Man's Gone Now" from We Want Miles (Columbia, 1982). This sound was an aurally golden fleece that Davis chased through five jazz genres and over fifty years. It was Wilson who perfected it...continue.

Tianna Hall
Hit Me with a Hot Note

With Texas Troubadour Jacqui Sutton splitting her time between Texas and parts West and taking on roll of Houston Jazz Mafia consigliere and Aussie reeds-mistress capo regime Alisha Pattillo staking out the Gulf, vocalist Tianna Hall remains as the undisputed Godmother of this Houston Jazz family. Hall has decided, in the hellish climes of the Texas summer, to release her finest recording to date, Hit Me with a High Note. A collection of standards that any lesser artist should take great care in covering, Hall throws these tunes off like Lord Byron did poetry on a bender. Addressing all of the high points of recording: song selection, musician selection and programming, Hall comes fully into her own...continue.

Sasha Masakowski & The Sidewalk Strutters
Old Green River

There is a rare musical triple point where talent, vision, and a wicked sense-of-humor meet. Damn few artists ever make it there. I believe that it must be the address of one Sasha Hildegard Masakowski. NOLA's own has recently relocated to the cultural hub of the universe, New York City, but not before navigating the choppy and often decadent waters of this past Carnival and Mardi Gras season to record a throwback to not the '30s and '40s but the '10s and '20s and earlier called Old Green River. That alone would be more than enough to make this recording something special. Listening to it, side-by-side with Masakowski's last project, Hildegard (Self Produced, 2015) is downright mind bending...continue.

Elisabeth Lohninger & Walter Fischbacher
Ballads in Blue

Often art results from the most difficult of circumstances. I suppose it has something to do with that cliché, "when life gives one lemons...make lemonade." It would be naïve to believe that just anyone could make lemonade. It takes guts, talent, thought, and often, not just a little luck. Such are the conditions surrounding the recording of Ballads in Blue by the wife and husband team of Elisabeth Lohninger and Walter Fischbacher. Lohninger had been considering a ballads recording for some time, but never fully committed herself to it as she was busy, with Fischbacher, in running their Lofish Recording Studios in New York City for the past 15 years. Lofish were the studios where Lohninger recorded the lion's share of her own recordings as well as recordings by Beat Kaestli and Jose James... continue.

Connie Evingson & The John Jorgenson Quintet
All The Cats Join In

Minneapolis-native Connie Evingson is one of the most durable and reliable jazz singers performing. She has had a spate of fine recordings in the last decade, including: Let it Be Jazz: Connie Evingson Sings the Beatles (Minnehaha, 2003), Gypsy in My Soul (Minnehaha, 2005), Stockholm Sweetnin' (Minnehaha, 2006), Little Did I Dream: Songs By Dave Frishberg (Minnehaha, 2008), and Sweet Happy Life (Minnehaha, 2012). Presently, Evingson continues her trend of exceptional recordings with All the Cats Join In...continue.

Alyssa Allgood
Lady Bird

After two very promising vocalese offerings: Dorian Devin's The Procrastinator (Self Produced, 2013) and Angelica Matveeva's Vocalese (Self Produced, 2015), yet another traditional vocalese presents itself as an extended-play recording of what may be the most refined offering in the genre yet. Allgood's approach is superbly considered and delivered. Her command of the material has no peer...continue.

Karrin Allyson
Many A New Day: Karrin Allyson Sings Rodgers And Hammerstein

Karrin Allyson projects always have all five points of the creative star pinned down: theme, repertoire, arrangement, sequencing, and support. Her recordings Ballads: Remembering John Coltrane (Concord, 2001), In Blue (Concord, 2002), Footprints (Concord, 2006), and 'Round Midnight (Concord, 2011) are all evidence of her unsurpassed musicianship and creative heart. Karrin Allyson's worst recording is still outstanding...continue.

Halie Loren
Butterfly Blue

All About Jazz collegue R.J. Deluke published a lengthy piece on Alaska-now-Oregon native vocalist Halie Loren. In that piece, DeLuke concludes: "Loren is also in a place vocally where her sound has moved away from influence and is her own. Emulating her favorites, and learning from that in years, are behind. Her phrasing and her presentation are seasoned. They move to unexpected places. It is Halie Loren's voice...."continue.

Lyn Stanley
Interludes

Vocalist/producer Lyn Stanley has established herself as a foremost stylist of the Great American Songbook. That is no mean feat. The sheer amount of vocal music made each year around the Songbook is impressive. It is too bad that the quality of a great many of those recordings is not equally impressive. Stanley's two previous recordings, Lost in Romance (Self Produced, 2013) and Potions: From the '50s (Self Produced, 2014), have been an evolving prelude to the present. "How Long has This Been Going On," the opener for Interludes demonstrates Stanley's command of the standard... continue.

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