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Five Artists: February 2020

C. Michael Bailey By

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Andrea Brachfeld
Brazilian Whispers
Origin Records
2020

The flute as the lead instrument in any jazz combo relies on an empathic and sensitive rhythm section that will not overpower the wind instrument's delicate voice (Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson notwithstanding). Flautist Andrea Brachfeld happens upon a dandy rhythm section in pianist Bill O'Connell, bassist Harvie S and drummers Jason Tiemann and T Portinho. That said, Brachfeld is more than able to kick out the jams, evidenced by her barnburning solo on Jobim's "Waters of March." The flautist is perfectly capable of cooking things off, as she does with Jobim's lithesome "Amparo." "Never Let Me Go" is given careful consideration, O'Connell introducing the song quietly. allowing Brachfeld to switch to alto flute, summoning those dark colors that pitch provides.

Brachfeld's "Girl from Ipanema" is performed at a brisk and precise pace, with velocity great enough to evaporate the humidity of the original Brachfeld's soloing is robust and forward-thinking. Guitarist Roni Ben-Hur sands the edges from the rush. The flautist's original compositions with pianist O'Connell, meld seamlessly with the Brazilian fare. "Triste E Solitaria" and "Espaço Aberto" reveal the balladic and heated command of composition possessed by Brachfeld. Brazilian Whispers is an exceptional Bossa Nova instrumental recording, well conceived and executed.

Cecilia Bartoli, Il Giardino Armonico, Giovanni Antonini
Farinelli
Decca
2020

There is an historic gravity to mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli's Farinelli. The release gives opportunity to educate on several different topics: 17th Century opera, castrati, composers Nicola Propora, Johann Adolph Hasse, Riccardo Broschi, Geminiano Giacomielli, and Antonio Caldara. What? No Handel or Vivaldi? No. The repertoire chosen for this recording concentrates on those composers most closely associated with Carlo Maria Michelangelo Nicola Broschi (1705 -1782), AKA Farinelli. Yes, the Riccardo Broschi mentioned above is Farinelli's brother. These men, with whom the singer collaborated closely, composed music specifically for Farinelli, the more scintillating, the better. This was music to show off the exceptional voice of an adult male castrated pre-puberty, who could sing with greater control and more power than mere, intact mortals.

Enter the mezzo-soprano of my lifetime, Cecilia Bartoli. Mezzos and male countertenors are the closest modern equivalent to the castrati tonal pitch. In the movie Farinelli, Farinelli's singing voice was created by the Polish soprano Ewa Malas-Godlewska and countertenor Derek Lee Ragin, recording separately and then digitally merging their performances to recreate the sound of a castrato: an effective bit of trickery that provides an other-worldly vocal tone that piques the modern imagination. Bartoli throws herself head first into this repertoire, showing off her considerable breath control. At 53-years old, the singer is at the pinnacle of her vocal abilities and not afraid to show them off. She also possessed the carefree marketing acumen to populate the CD with gender-bending pictures of her fully bearded (something for which she has been roundly criticized by the humorless print press). Bravo, I say! Any recording by Bartoli is to be celebrated.

Ann Hallenberg, Stile Galante, Stefano Aresi
The Farinelli Manuscript
Glossa
2019

Not allowing Bartoli the singular Farinelli spotlight, mezzo-soprano Ann Hallenberg offers her own vision of the great castrato, this one with a backstory. Farinelli, retired, living in Madrid, collects these arias, many of which he sang to King Philip V, during a depressive period, as a gift to Empress Maria Theresa, in an elaborate, handwritten volume. Hallenberg's performances are buoyed by their excellent support by Stile Galante, who provide brisk and full-bodied accompaniment to the singer. This music was composed for singer's to show off. Well, at least one in particular.

Hallenberg's age is in the same vicinity as Bartoli's and her tone relaxed and well-centered. Her coloratura fireworks show greater control than Bartoli's (which costs her in the change-taking department). Hallenberg stands and delivers marching through 'Son qual nave,' standing astride a two-and-a-half octave tonal range while navigating the seemingly impossible timbre-wise. Hallenberg is not better than Bartoli, just beautifully different. We should be grateful for both.

Mick Kolassa
Blind Lemon Sessions
Endless Blues Records
2020

Bluesman Mississippi Mick Kolassa calls Taylor, MS home. Taylor is located southwest of Oxford, it is spit on a dirt road, famous for the Taylor Grocery and Restaurant, haunt of many an Ole Miss student. Kolassa has been a fixture on the Mississippi and international blues scene for the last number of years with CD Baby showing eight recordings released. Kolassa is a blues stylist with a rough-hewn unique approach to his performances. He has written scores of songs, has an encyclopedic blues knowledge, and sense-of-humor enough to cover non-blues material with a blues flair (like the laconic "Help!" he has included on The Blind Lemon Sessions.

Recorded at the behest of Thomas Schleiken of Blind Lemon Records in Germany and Tennessee, The Blind Lemon Sessions is a collection of blues standards (Lonnie Johnson's "Jelly Roll Baker," Blind Blake's "Ditty Wah Ditty"), New Orleans fare ("St. James Infirmary," sounding suspiciously like Willie McTell's "Dyin' Crapshooter Blues) and the Beatles ("Help" Kolassa and Mark Telesca having recorded an entire album of Beatles's covers on You Can't Do That! -Acoustic Beatles Blues (Swing Suit Records, 2017)). Kolassa's guitar style is informed and humble as is his singing. His original compositions, "Text Me Baby" and "Mr. Right" are homespun and, at the same time, contemporary. He obviously enjoys what he is doing and is intent to keep on doing it.

Sinne Eeg & the Danish Radio Big Band
We've Just Begun
BFM Jazz
2020

Danish singer and composer Sinne Eeg has had a good stretch. Her previous recordings Dreams (Artist Share, 2017) and Eeg-Fonnesbæk (Stunt Records/Sundance Music, 2016) were very well received, making several year's end lists. On We've Just Begun, Eeg pairs with the Danish Radio Big Band for a ten-song recital that swings with excitement and joy. The title track Eeg shares with Mark Winkler composing, setting the stage for the remainder of the program featuring the bright brass and woody reeds of the DRBB.

Big band arrangements are shared between Jesper Riis, Peter Jensen , and Roger Neumann with the DRBB conducted by Nikolai Bøgelund. Eeg's own compositions: the title piece, "Like a Song," and "Samba Em Comun" all are delivered with a large ensemble brightness that helps showcase Eeg's superb delivery. Her treatment of "Detour Ahead" rates a revelation of what that warhorse still has to offer. Eeg has evolved into first a regional, then national, then international musical force just when we needed her.

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