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February 2022: While I'm Still Here

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Bob Levy
While I'm Still Here
SRM Records
2021

Bob Levy is the Lord Byron of songwriters: he has the ability to throw off verse and melodies at will. His contribution to the COVID pandemic is the aptly named, While I'm Still Here. Levy has a stable of talent singing his songs, including Nicolas King, Nicole Zuraitis, and Benny Benack III, as well as Jennifer Roberts, Marcus Simeone, and Dane Vannatter. His instrumental support is not too shabby, either. Benack sings the best of the lot with "Twenty-Two" and "Tell Her Now," while Roberts makes a close second with "Someone Falls in Love With You" and the seasonal "Christmas Eve Is Here Again." While prolific, Levy's work is always top notch and ear worthy. Clean, clear, inventive, and thoughtful.

Key Selection: Nicole Zuraitis -"Don't Follow Me."


Eugenie Jones
Players
Self Produced
2021

Taut and muscular with toned and controlled sonics, Eugenie Jones' third release, Players, is her most complete musical statement, following her previous releases, Black Lace Blue Tears (Self Produced, 2013) and Come Out Swinging (Self Produced, 2015). Jones performs an assertive contemporary jazz that has teeth (where none usually are). It is the old songs that are transformed: "I Got Rhythm" and "Blue Skies" receive updated arrangements that flatter them. Notable is the presence of a fully organic bass presence in the person of Lonnie Plaxico. Players is a satisfying listen all around.

Key Selection: "Red Dress."
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Irene Jalenti
Dawn
Antidote Sounds
2021

Baltimore-based Italian singer Irene Jalenti arrives with her debut recording, Dawn, as a fully developed artist with complete command of her art. Vocalist, composer, and arranger, Jalenti possesses an embarrassment of talent, her greatest being her crepuscular alto voice. Deep and complex, her instrument is well suited to ballads with which she populates Dawn. Particularly fine are Jalenti's performances of the non-English pieces: the Jalenti composition "Alma Desnuda'' (set from a poem by Alfonsina Storni) and the older and more inspired "Carinhoso." Both exude the humid mood of more southern climes, languid and easy. "You, The Night, and The Music" is given an intense samba treatment, propelled by pianist Alan Blackman. Using an acoustic rhythm section augmented with guitar, trumpet/flugelhorn, and vibraphone, Jalenti positions herself in the center of the music, creating sonics that engulf the listener in warmth and rhythm.

Key Selection: "Carinhoso."


Nicole Henry
Time To Love Again
Banister Records
2021

Sleek and stylish, Nicole Henry's eighth release, Time To Love Again, moves the singer squarely into that place where contemporary jazz and popular music successfully meet and mingle. Frequently compared to Natalie Cole and Whitney Houston, Henry is probably closer to Anita Baker, while sounding strictly as herself: vibrant, muscular, and commanding. Best presented are Maria Muldaur's "Midnight At The Oasis" and James Taylor's "Your Smiling Face" where Henry's musical support is punctiliously produced and engineered to be tactically smooth and completely ready for popular consumption and consideration. Henry does step out with a beautifully churchy and consonant "Love And Affection" where every American music is distilled to its most refined essence, mixing delicately with one another. The production is solid, imparting a plush base to the sharp instrumentation. This is a completely enjoyable collection well sung by and artist who obviously cares for the music.

Key Selection: "Love And Affection."


Bidi Dworkin
Beautiful Souvenirs
Twenty Two Productions
2021

Vocalist Bidi Dworkin anticipates and responds to the COVID-19 pandemic with a muted collection of "standards" and social ephemera, starkly affected with the bare bones support of her piano trio. Beautiful Souvenirs is a late start debut for an artist already developed and settled. Dworkin mashes together "You'd Be So NIce To Come Home To," "Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise," "Brother, Can You Spare Me A Dime," and Joni Mitchell's "Morning Morgantown" supported with stripped down stock arrangements against the challenge and soul grind of the past two years. "How My Heart Sings" sounds like wishful thinking in the shadow of something else altogether. Dworkin is not a perfect vocalist, but she is an honest one. In light of the vast majority of music released, Dworkin's heart stands well above the rest.

Key Selection: "Morning Morgantown."


Judith Nijland
Carmina Latina
Off The Records
2021

In praise of Classical Education. Before Judith Nijland became a singer, she completed studies in Latin and Greek, later matriculating to the Royal Conservatory in the Hague for her jazz studies. Since 2003, she has released six recordings, the last being her most ambitious, Carmina Latina ("Sung In Latin"). A novel approach that begs the question, "why?" First, dispense with your Latin prejudice. It is the mother of Romance Languages. As such, sung, it resembles Italian. Nijland's voice and performance are joined in a most intimate tone. Nijland uses a simple acoustic jazz trio supplemented with trumpet and flugelhorn, a format enhancing her striking arrangements that approximate a theoretical math equation run amok and fully realized. Hear "Puella Ipanema" ("Girl From Ipanema") and "Basia Mille" ("Besame Mucho") for Nijland's new rhythmic grammar.

Key Selection: "Limes."


Roswell Rudd & Duck Baker
Live
Dot Time Records
2021

Duck Baker made his name playing jazz guitar in a distinctive, fingerpicking style. The late Roswell Rudd played a genre polyglot trombone that mostly orbited free jazz. Rudd passed away in 2017 after a lifetime of turning music on its ear. The two had previously recorded Confabulations with the present live recording being assembled from two performances, one at the Outpost in Albuquerque, NM in 2004 and the other at Tonic in New York City in 2002. Contained herein is a collection of duets concentrating on the compositions of Thelonious Monk and Herbie Nichols. As expected, the results are often rollicking and freewheeling. That said, the pair dig deep into the tradition while having fun doing so. "Well, You Needn't" and "Bemsha Swing" are well turned out, but it is "Buddy Bolden's Blues" that both surprises and delights.

Key Selection: "Buddy Bolden's Blues."


Atsushi Kumagai
8.5
Self Produced
2021

For his debut recording, New York City-based vocalist Atsushi Kumagai assembles an impressive band to support his efforts led by pianist Ben Paterson, who was notable on his own Live At Van Gelder's (Cellar Live, 2018). Kumagai releases 8.5, a collection of one original coupled with nine standards, all arranged by the singer, that reveal a young and fertile musical mind with ambitious future plans. Notable are two vocalese selections included: Charlie Parker's "Confirmation" using the lyrics by Sheila Jordan and George Shearing's "Conception" using the lyrics of Faye Claassen. Kumagai, who is also a certified vocal/English pronunciation coach, navigates these craggy melodies with studied skill. Not perfect, but impressive. We are at the front end of a promising career. We owe it to Kumagai to expect more from him. Let's hear it!

Key Selection: "Confirmation."


Dom Minasi
Me, Myself, and I
UR
2022

New York guitarist Dom Minasi began a project in 2000 to record a collection of his songs. He entered the Musecat Recording Studios with his 6-and 12-string Takamine guitars and recorded nine compositions with studio owner, Marty Dunayer, manning the soundboards. The recordings then went on the shelf for the next 22 years, waiting on an occasion like the COVID pandemic to make their release possible. For the better part of the recording , Minasi uses his 12-string as the harmonic underpinning of his 6-string excursions. His compositions range from the lightly Latin "Samba De Domingo" to the folk-laden "The Color of Her Eyes is Grey." "Be Op Be Op Be Ah" is fine, straight-ahead jazz, that is a slight turn from the reminder of the recording. This is meditative music, requiring close listening.

Key Selection: "Be Op Be Op Be Ah."


Jane Monheit
Come What May
Club44 Records
2021

Like an occupying army, Jane Monheit enters with Come What May, taking confident control of standard warhorses, "Lush Life" and "My Funny Valentine," the latter which should be shelved by moratorium...except when Monheit decides to resurrect it. Fully mature, confident, and smart, Monheit, backed by a solid quintet, strolls through ten compositions representing the best of standards song writing. On the Strayhorn chestnut, Monheit captures with desperate clarity a narrator on the edge of delusional psychosis, temporally vacant while casually embracing her own slow doom. On the moribund "Valentine," the singer cleverly rearranges the lyrics to catch the listener off guard just enough to surprise and delight. "Let's Face The Music," "The Nearness Of You," and "On The Sunny Side Of The Street," are all dispatched with the same intelligent aplomb. While her support is notable, this recording is about Monheit and her certain and firm grasp of her art.

Key Selection: "Lush Life"

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