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Jazz Quanta April – Five Women I: Lina Orfanos, Wendy Pedersen, Joyce Moreno, Letizia Gambi, and Mala Waldron

C. Michael Bailey By

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April Showers Bring May Flowers and it's raining.... Women singers...yes it is.

Lina Orfanos
Essentially Ella
Babinis Productions
2016

Ella Fitzgerald is HOT, HOT HOT!. And if Jane Monheit's The Songbook Sessions: Ella Fitzgerald (Emerald City Records, 2016) was just the beginning, then Lina Orfanos' Essentially Ella indicated the start of a trend. Orfanos' approach differs from that of Monheit's in that she sticks strictly to the middle-of-the-road, giving perfectly mainstream performances from the heart of the Ella songbook. And you know what? That is just fine. Peachy, in fact. The First Lady of Song was exactly that and Orfanos captures the invention and sheer power of Fitzgerald in this well-crafted baker's dozen from Ella's songbook, which is America's songbook. Filled out with a functional band that includes bassist John Benitez and pianist Charles Blenzig, Orfanos even does "My Funny Valentine" proud, having the guts to provide us with one more performance. Good show and good luck, Lina Orfanos.

Wendy Pedersen
Wendy Pedersen & Jim Gasior: We Two
Self Produced
2015

Sporting an impressive resume of artists worked with and academic positions held, South Florida mainstays Wendy Pedersen and Jim Gasior team up to deftly survey the Great American Songbook in the friendly and intimate confines of the jazz duo. Pedersen's well-balanced and broad vocal range is more than a match for the material while Gasior is perfect accompanist: chops galore and the sense to know when to use them. The pair's simpatico is readily evident on this collection of a baker's dozen (plus one two-song medley) of time-tested songs. Spanning the spectrum of ballads, burners, and swinging for the fences, Pedersen and Gasior hit perfect pitch on a medley of "If I Should Lose You/ If Ever I Would Leave You," a pairing that boasts an obvious intelligence and creative vision. Add a sweet "Besame Much" and a smoky "'Round Midnight" and the ballads are well covered. The pair approach a coda on a progressively upbeat note, using "My Favorite Things," "Oh, What A Beautiful Morning," and n "Exactly Like You" to remind us what is great about American Songcraft.

Joyce Moreno
Joyce Moreno & Kenny Werner: Poesia
Pirouet Records
2015

This quiet an elegant recording was mostly overlooked last year for reasons well beyond me. Vocalist Joyce Moreno is no stranger to the international music community and pianist Kenny Werner is in a class by himself. Poesia is a collection of 13 ballads more carefully selected that any ballad collection of the past several years. Charlie Chaplin's deceptively warm "Smile" and Bruno Martino's shimmering "Estate" are the best known here. Leonard Bernstein's "Some Other Time" and Jobim's "Olha Maria" pit Moreno and Werner's sharp lyricism against one another, creating a quiet heat beneath a cool exterior. Abbey Lincoln's "Throw it Away" juxtaposes against Noel Coward's "Mad about the Boy" slyly, this the well developed sense of humor and song that is Moreno's modus operandi. Poesia is a soft, reflective survey of some of the politer and discreet corner of the international Songbook.

Letizia Gambi
Blue Monday
Artist Share
2016

Italy produces brilliant and edgy musicians who stretch and break the boundaries of musical genre with an uncommon ease. Who first comes to mind is Laura Furci, whose provocative musicality may be heard on her releases: Think Con La Tua Cabeza (Self Produced, 2013) and PaCiencia (Self Produced, 2015). Pushing the envelope in a slightly different direction is Naples-native Letizia Gambi, who brands her musical approach as "Cultural Fusion." That it is, from the urban grind of a transformed "Sweet Georgia Brown" (think Anita O'Day's performance at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival to the power of infinity) to the traditional "Perche Domani." In between are written by Letizia and Lenny White, new arrangements of Jazz standards like Joe Henderson's "Recordame" with White and Gambi lyrics, retitled "True Love, Remember Me," "But Not for me," inspired by Ahmad Jamal's brilliant 1958 performance from At the Pershing: But Not for me (Chess, 1958) Most inspired is the pairing of Amy Winehouse ("Back to Black") and Doris Day ("Que Sera Sera"). This disc brims with surprises and delights, sure to satisfy the fussiest of listeners.

Mala Waldron
Deep Resonance
Soulful Sound Music
2016

New York City vocalist/pianist/composer Mala Waldron is who you might think, daughter of Mal Waldron. She is also an internationally-known artist and educator whose bright life experiences are generously sifted into this brief collection of mostly original compositions, save for somber and reflective "Jericho." Waldron is supported by an assortment of rhythm and melody formats, ranging from the pastoral "Free as the Wind (Margot's Song)" featuring Allen Won's bass flute and Jonathan Peretz 's percussion to Waldron's duet with bassist Maurizio Rolli's elastic, fretless electric bass on the searching "I know." Richly crepuscular and emotive, Deep Resonance frames Waldron in full possession of her composing and performance facilities ready to take on the world.

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