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Jazz Quanta April – Five Women II: Sarah Vaughan, Barb Jungr, marty Elkins, Phyllis Blanford, and Tina Phillips

C. Michael Bailey By

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There is never too much of a good thing...

Sarah Vaughan
Live at Rosy's
Resonance Records
2016

The most important and popular female jazz vocalists all had nick names. Lady Day, The First Lady of Song, The Devine One..."The President" Lester Young gave Billie Holiday her nom de plume, while Ella Fitzgerald was dubbed the First Lady early on. Chris Becker, in his book Freedom of Expression: Interviews with Women in Jazz (Beckeresque, 2015) gave a brief history of female jazz vocalists, introducing the section as, "Lady Day, Ella, and Others..."

I suspect that the first name in the list of "others" has to be "The Divine One," Sarah Vaughan. Vaughan made her bones in the f1940s, singing for Earl Hines' and Billy Eckstein's bands, the latter including Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker before they departed to change all of jazz history. She recorded steadily until 1987. Vaughan experienced her greatest success while at Columbia in the 1950s, and by that time had established herself in the upper echelon of jazz singers. Resonance Records guru Zev Feldman unearthed this performance at New Orlean's short-lived Rosy's finding Vaughan at the pinnacle of her considerable powers. Supported by longtime musical director pianist Carl Schroeder in the company of bassist Walter Booker and drummer Jimmy Cobb, Vaughan scats her way through 70 years of song writing, riding the recklessly creative edge of the moment. When requested to sing "A Tisket, A Tasket," contemporary Ella Fitzgerald's song, Vaughan reveals bother her good nature and generous spirit. How we are blessed this this release.

Barb Jungr
Barb Jungr: Shelter from the Storm—Songs of Hope for Troubled Times
Linn Records
2016

Barb Jungr's art makes a grand argument for her being the most innovative singer in jazz since Cassandra Wilson. She has single-handedly emerged as the principle momentum behind expanding the "Standards Songbook" forward in time to include the Beatles, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, and David Bowie. Her previous recording, Hard Rain (Linn, 2014) was a revelation in the music of Dylan and Cohen, released after her very well received Every Grain of Dand (Linn, 2002). She has shown herself a smart collector of her repertoire and instrumental in the unique arrangements she employs. On Barb Jungr: Shelter from the Storm—Songs of Hope for Troubled Times, Jungr taps the resources of pianist (and Kurt Elling accompanist) Laurence Hobgood, in a simple jazz piano trio format to address another batch of Dylan and Cohen songs with David Bowie, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Bernstein and Sondheim, and Joni Mitchell thrown in. Hobgood does the arranging duties, imbuing the music with a certain dramatic pathos that drives like some divine momentum as a remnant through the collection. The title piece is presented as a complex tone poem that evolves from a simple presentation to a complex and demanding ending. The mashup of "All Along the Watchtower" with Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes" is inspired and intelligent. A fine effort by all.

Marty Elkins
Walkin' By The River
Nagel Heyer
2016

Nagel Heyer is the German Arbors Jazz with a twist. Both are dedicated to "traditional" jazz (whatever that may be) and where Arbors Jazz can always be depended on to produce a solid, durable brand of New Orleans-cum-Chicago jazz, Nagel Heyer will do the same with a sense of adventure and wonder...wonder of what is next. It is with that spirit that one hears vocalist Marty Elkins' Walkin' By The River. That said, both labels serve their purpose, which is to offer a red-meat brand of jazz running counter to the airy, ethereal sound made famous by ECM and made radioactive by Winter & Winter...and there is nothing wrong with any of 'em, because jazz is that gift, the only decent one, given by America to the World. I hope that makes up for the rest. Marty Elkins gives a fresh and welcome new voice to this earlier jazz singer, that coming out of the 1920s. Trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso blows a tart and pinched period tone over Howard Alden's deft chording. Elkins slays Louis Jordan's "Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby" and Harold Arlen's "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea." There remains very much a place for this music.

Phyllis Blanford
Edgewalker
Self Produced
2016

Vocalist/composer Phyllis Blanford has a broad vision for her music. She lushly fills the corners of her art is color and edges with her band including multireedist Don Braden, guitarist Vic Juris, and drummer Winard Harper and vibraphonist Stefon Harris. These are percussion-rich songs softened with delicate horn arrangements, all increasing the buoyancy of Blanfords assertive vocals. Blanford favors Carmen Lundy covering her "Blue Woman" and "Good Morning Kiss" giving them both a piquant Latin flavor. She addresses Abbey Lincoln's "Throw It Away" is a straightforward manner that runs interestingly counter to the arrangement. This trend infuses "Night and Day" and "Speak Low." The two highlights of the recording are a breezy "Come Rain of Come Shine" and a thoroughly transformed "You Don't Know What Love Is" that demonstrates the adult contemporary jazz can be a suitable vehicle for standards.

Tina Phillips
So Heavenly
Self Produced
2016

Denver-native vocalist Tina Phillips puts together an even decat of original compositions with the backing of either a full piano jazz rhythm section or in the more intimate duo confines. Her music has a bubbly, confident quality that is immediately accessible by listeners. 'Fly, Snow, Time, Sigh" is a swinging introduction that juxtaposes favorably with the ballad character of the title piece. Phillips' two duo pieces, "Each Day" and "It" display her sure vocal control and capability as a composer and lyricist. In an environment clotted with "standards" recordings, Philips' So Heavenly offers the provocative and welcome alternative of newly minted music well written and performed. Pianists Eric Gunnison and Art Lande provide plush and precise direction to the singer with both sensitive and informed comping and soloing. A pleasure to hear.

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