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Jazz Quanta Vocals: Carol Bach-y-Rita, Sara Serpa, Alyssa Allgood, Gina Sicilia, Ilse Huizinga

C. Michael Bailey By

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Carol Bach-y-Rita
minha casa / my house
Self Produced
2016

Polyglot exotic Carol Bach-y-Rita released her conspicuous debut, What Love Is in 2009. Since then, she has kept busy performing, taking her sweet time in developing her new project, the self-produced Minha Casa / My House. Her selected repertoire bursts with originality and invention, manifesting in orchestration, arrangement, and composition. Regarding orchestration, Bach-y-Rita mixes and matches instruments with a carefree whim that never fails to please. Whether the multi-textured "Morning Coffee," a full-bodied romp composed by pianist Bill Cantos or the Samba-infusion of "Night in Tunisia," the singer mixes well with her capable and understated support. Bach-y-Rita sings "Nature Boy" with only percussion to considerable effect. Guitarist Larry Koonse arranges "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home to" as a 6/8 meditation of the standard that transforms the piece into a beautifully strange ballad, like transplanting Don Ameche and Janet Blair into a Tim Burton film. Bach-y-Rita reveals her wicked sense-of-humor with her original, "Gardening with No Pants," where she has paired herself in another voice/percussion duet with percussionist Dudu Fuentes. It is a breezy island sway that is beautifully dry in a humid place.

Sara Serpa & Andre Matos
All the Dreams
Sunnyside
2016

Natalie Cressman and Mike Bono's recent Etchings in Amber (Self Produced, 2016) brings Sara Serpa and Andre Matos' similar duet efforts into a stark relief. While both recordings boast harmonically complex paradigms, Cressman and Bono effect a completely organic reading of their original material, as real as breath and tactile warm skin. Serpa and Matos opt for a more highly stylized (and engineered) recital, one here the studio is as much a musician as the principals are. All the Dreams is the follow-up to the duo's 2014 release, Primavera (Inner Circle Music), an equally ethereal outing filled with wordless vocals and higher harmonies. This is highly stylized music, finely engineered to have a pristine sonic spectrum. It is great mood music requiring just enough of the listener's attention to recognize its capable conception.

Alyssa Allgood
Out of the Blue
Jeru Jazz Records
2016

Hard bop vocalese diva Alyssa Allgood picks up with Out of the Blue where she left off with 2015's Ladybird, that is, expanding her retro-organ combo into a fully realized concept recording paying tribute to the golden age of Blue Note Records, the 1950s and '60s. The band that backed Allgood on Ladybird remains intact save for saxophonist Chris Madsen replacing Alex Beltran from the previous recording. Allgood's approach remains the same, fresh-scrubbed versions, many with her penned lyrics, of hard bop standards. The singer recasts Hank Mobley's "Dig Dis" as "Watch Me Walk Away" and Lee Morgan's "Ceora" as "Only a Memory." Allgood swings relentlessly on her lyric-penned rendition of Wayne Shorter's "Speak No Evil," featuring spirited solos by Madsen and organist Dan Chase. The coup de grace is the samba treatment of Bobby Timmons' "Moanin" (lyrics by Jon Hendricks). Forget that churchy gospel hard bop jazz. Allgood and Chase turn this into a nuclear burner. Another best-of-the-year release from one Alyssa Allgood.

Gina Sicilia
Sunset Avenue
Bluelan Records
2016

I know what you're thinking: another sultry Italian singer, maybe another Roberta Gambarini... Well no. Philadelphia-native Gina Sicilia combines the Southern fried character of Memphis Soul with refined Philly version of the same by way of Muscle Shoals, all smacking of a brilliantly updated, 21st Century sound. Sunset Avenue is an EP that is represents Sicilia's sixth studio offering. I was unfamiliar with her before now, but this small taste of her music has left me wanting much more. Four of the five present sides were penned by Sicilia. "Abandoned" is "Ode to Billie Joe" with brass balls, propelled by the acoustic-electric guitar front of Ron Jennings and producer Glenn Barrett. It is deep-fried ragtime, this. "Never Gonna End" is blue-eyed soul that would have sounded perfectly at home on Elvis Presley's monumental From Elvis in Memphis (RCA Records, 1969). The lone "standard" on the EB is Bert Berns' "Tell Him," first released in 1962 by the Exciters, among others. In Scilia's hand, this '60s girl-group confections is rendered molten fun, gilded on the edges. If Gina Sicilia has not arrived before now, she has now in grand fashion.

Ilse Huizinga
Here's to Maya Angelou
Day Break Records
2016

Did you hear the one about the Dutch singer and poet Maya Angelou walking into a recording studio? It's no joke; it really happened. Amsterdam siren Ilse Huizinga sings the poetry of Dr. Angelou set to music by pianist Erik Van Der Luijt, who casts these words against the Broadway stage ("A Caged Bird Sings"), contemporary balladry ("Turned to Blue") and a dirge update of "Strange Fruit" ("The Old Ones"). Huizinga addresses a dozen Angelou verses against a standard jazz piano trio format. Unadorned, with just the right amount of support, Huizinga's lightly accent patois perfectly seasons the sentiment and gravity of these rare songs, well arranged and sung. Huizinga's band of pianist Van Der Luijt, bassist Erik Robaard, and drummer Joost Kesselaar is a clinic example of singer support. Abundant chops with a tasteful governor controlling all of the virtuosity that brims from this recording.

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