2008 is shaping up to be a stellar year of stripped-down jazz vocal recitals. Witness Long Beach native Melody Breyer-Grell's collection of Gershwin standards, Fascinatin' Rhythms; Breyer-Grell is supported by the basic jazz piano trio, with the intelligently applied supplementation of solo instruments. Breyer-Grell's voice is front and center in this recording, never obscured by the instrumentation. The singer's approach to this canonical material is reverent, but not so as to make it boring.
"Somebody Loves Me and "Nice Work if You Can Get It open the disc on a conservative note, allowing the listener to understand all of the Gershwin Brothers' intentions in their composition of the pieces. Breyer-Grell spars with Don Braden's tenor saxophone for a chorus to introduce the former song, while guitarist John Hart appears on the latter. Gloria Cooper imparts a straight-ahead comping approach to Gershwin on her piano, playing block chords reminiscent of Red Garland's support for Miles Davis.
Breyer-Grell's durable alto is well-suited to the Gershwin ballads like "Someone to Watch Over Me. She sings the introduction very effectively over Hart's delicate chording. The remainder of the band dissolves, with Jim Rotundi's round open-bell trumpet. The title piece begins to throw the listener a bit of a curve, with an unexpected and intricate delivery on the part of the singer and group. Gershwin intended this song to almost jerk in its propulsion forward, and Breyer-Grell captures this perfectly.
I've Got a Crush on You is delivered with an insistent momentum not usually applied to this ballad. John Hart and bassist Dan Johnson squarely ground the piece rhythmically, giving the longing ballad a playful bite. "But Not for Me is not that of Chet Baker. Don Braden gives an extroverted yet constrained introduction into Breyer-Grell's extremely slow-paced delivery. The vocalist staggers the verses of "Embraceable You and "Our Love is Here to Stay in one of the more inventive performances of either standard this writer has ever heard. It is a perfect ending to a near-perfect recording.
Track Listing: Somebody Loves Me; Nice Work If You Can Get It; Someone to Watch Over Me; Fascinating Rhythm; I've Got a Crush on You; Who Cares?; But Not for Me; I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise; Love Walked In; How Long Has This Been Going On; Let's Call the Whole Thing Off; They All Laughed; Embraceable You/Our Love Is Here To Stay.
Personnel: Melody Breyer-Grell: vocals; Gloria Cooper: piano; Dean Johnson: bass; Matt Wilson: drums; Bon Braden: saxophone; Jim Rotundi: trumpet; John Hart: guitar; Kahlil Kwame Bell: percussion.
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.