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Female Vocals 2017 I – Cynthia Hilts, Judith Nijland, Andrea Claburn, Sandy Cressman, Lisa Biales

C. Michael Bailey By

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Take a day off and the recordings pile up and bury you. Female jazz vocals continue to dominate recordings with no indication on letting up. Most these recordings are very good and deserve recognition. So here is my picayune effort to address a few of them.

Cynthia Hilts
Lyric Fury
Blonde Coyote
2016

"Twenty years ago, Brooklyn-based pianist/composer Cynthia Hilts was seeking to form a band 'that sounds like a celestial collusion of Mingus and Debussy.'" If Lyric Fury is any indication, Hilts got the Charles Mingus part dead on. I suspect that Mingus would have like Debussy just fine and maybe would have gotten along with him. That we will never know. However, Hilts' compositions for her present octet make for provocative listening. Her composition is full of the rich dirt that Mingus mixed into his music, but Hilts adds a light lyricism, which can be heard in "Teacher," readily showing her departure from Mingus into the more introspective climes.

But just when you think you are safe, Hilts hits with her romping "Blues for the Bronchs" extending Mingus' sublime language into higher realms. Lily White's alto saxophone is slippery and aggressive. "Teacher" shows what happens to the Dixieland free-for-all when it grows up. Hilts compositions are of intermediate length, all greater than five minutes. Hilts makes the best of this time with finely crafted songs., singing on "Peace Now" and "Please, Mercy." "Please, Mercy" is a broody walk, favoring low brass in the same way that Carla Bley does, as evidenced by Deborah Weisz's mournful trombone. This is strangely like Blind Willie Johnson's "Dark was the Night, Cold Was the Ground." Lyric Fury is a bold and creative project deserving as much exposure as possible. Mingus is not dead...he is still teaching.

Judith Nijland
A Jazz Tribute to Abba
Off The Record
2016

It has taken me 40 years to appreciate ABBA. Coming of age in the 1970s, I was opposed to Disco and Disco-related music. The music, of course, didn't give the least damn what I though and still permeated my delicate musical psyche to the point that it became an integral part of my young adulthood. How ABBA would translate into the language of jazz might be best not considered. However, Dutch vocalist Judith Nijland had no such compunction, arranging a dozen of ABBAs songs into this tidy, well-programmed package. Using a standard acoustic jazz ensemble, Nijland ably transforms the ABBA songbook. This could have been one of those ambitious projects that so often go so wrong. But Nijland pulls it off, making "Waterloo," "Head Over Heels," and "Dancing Queen" sound fresh and new. Danny van Kessel proves the ideal catalyst to Nijland overt musicality. His playing is sparkling and sharp, directing the course for Nijland. Those of you, who are of a "certain age" enjoy thisl

Andrea Claburn
Nightshade
Lot 49 Labs
2016

Andrea Claburn's debut recording, Nightshade is a sleek and effective vehicle to announce the arrival of a dynamic new jazz vocalists. Almost evenly split between carefully chosen standards and bright and bold original compositions, Nightshade trumpets a fully-formed talent that has no question what direction in which to go. Claburn is fully confident and sings with a certainty that is at once sexy and smart. She has absolutely no doubt what she is doing. Claburn's vocalese triumph of Pat Metheny's "Bird on a Wire" is a testament to a dead-serious artist's intention of preserving what is a fading art in jazz. Originals "Lionheart" and "My Favorite Color" sparkle while august standards like Duke Ellington's "Echos of Harlem" recast with Claburn lyrics, "Infinite Wisdom" crackle with cool electricity. Claburn's support is top-notch as heard with Terrance Brewer's guitar playing throughout. Claburn resurrects Bill Evans' "Turn Out The Stars" (with Gene Lees lyrics) and even tackles the bloody warhorse, "Skylark," a classic that might be best left alone if it were not for Claburn's scrubbed approach. Claburn joins Alyssa Allgood and Dorian Devins as new and bright voices in jazz vocals and vocalese.

Sandy Cressman
Entre Amigos
Cressman Music
2016

West Coast vocalist-educator Sandy Cressman is not the first Cressman to come my way. That would be daughter Natalie Cressman, a trombonist/vocalist/composer/arranger of rare distinction as such a young age. Jeff Cressman, paterfamilias of the talented Cressman clan was the long-time trombonist for Santana and a noted recording engineer. That is an embarrassment of riches for any family. How lucky that makes us. Now, Sandy Cressman follows up her 2005 Brazil—Sempre no Ciracao with Entre Amigos. Cressman is the founder and leader of the San Francisco-based group Homenagem Brasileira and over the past 20 years of performing recording and teaching, she has had to opportunity to make a lot of friends in the musical area of Brazilian music. It shows. Jazz vocal releases caressing the tired Bossa Nova songbook are a dime a dozen. Those recordings with historic depth and superb craftsmanship are nearly nonexistent, save for any Portuguese phrase whispered from Sandy Cressman's lips.

Because she is who she is, Cressman takes advantage of collaborations on Entre Amigos with exceptional talent like guitarist Ian Faquini, pianist Jovino Santos Neto and the wonderful Antonio Adolpho, with whom Cressman works with on the elegant "Eu Vou Lembrar." Sandy Cressman's Entre Amigos is a touchstone among modern recordings of what dedication, love, and even obsession for a certain genre can result in. A beautiful collection in every way.

Lisa Biales
The Beat of My Heart
Big Song Music
2016

And now, a little break...down. Blues vocalist Lisa Biales fronts a full band with horns and romps through a dozen jump-blues, funk, and near-rock & roll. She covers, Dave Crawford's "What a Man," infusing it with grit and life. Her excellent treatment of Nina Simone's "Be My Husband" makes me think of Synia Carroll's blushingly carnal take from her Here's to You (Self Produced, 2016). The treat of the entire recording is Biales' performance of her mother's "Crying Over You." Her story has it that Biales discovered a 78-rpm of her mother's performance. Biales reproduces it here features a tart Lee Thornberg trumpet solo. This is full-bore music from a certain, simpler period worth resurrecting here.

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