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Jazz Vocals April

Writer's note: Music writing is an avocation. It is not what I do for a living. It exists as that undertaking I do for the satisfaction of possibly educating others about this single essential art. But the reality is I have less and less time to write. As a result, I am limiting my writing to two "Bailey's Bundles" submitted monthly: my current "Jazz Quanta" addressing instrumental music and now my "Jazz Vocals" capturing my thoughts on vocal jazz. These will serve as my main outlets for writing. I will continue to write full reviews, particularly of music related books, but they will be necessarily less than in the past. I have proudly and happily written for All About Jazz since almost the beginning. I want to be able to continue to do so.

Viper Mad Trio
Buddy Bolden's Blues
Sound of New Orleans

Before Pops, there was the mighty Buddy Bolden. A myth, really, Bolden (1877—1931) is thought to be one of the principle musical shapers of what would be called jazz even in the shadow of Jelly Roll Morton's claim for the same. The closest thing we have to Bolden on record is the title cut. "Buddy Bolden's Blues" comes to us like the legend of Elijah from the same Jelly Roll Morton claiming to be the creator of jazz. The Viper Mad Trio is a brilliant throwback to another time, a New Orleans equivalent to New York City's Red Hot Sardines, only more serious. This slip of a band is made up of vocalist/guitarist Molly Reeves, bassist/vocalist Kellen Garcia and trumpeter/vocalist Ryan Robertson. Reprised by the band are the traditional standards "8, 9 &10" and "Bucket's Got A Hole In It." This is a band travelin' light for certain and their distilled approach to this old music is as sharp as bathtub gin and twice as intoxicating. Reeves is sharp on the ballads, "Just Squeeze Me" and Billy Strayhorn's "Lotus Blossom," with Garcia spicing the latter with a Caribbean breeze. Fun are "Shorty's Got To Go" (.."don't let the door hit cha where the dog bit cha") and the hymns to hemp, "Sweet Marijuana Brown" (an early "Down To Stems And Seeds Again Blues") and "Viper Mad," Sidney Bechet's love song to the tea of happiness. This music is pure fun and low in calories.

Lara Iacovini
Right Together
A Beat for Jazz

Italian vocalist lara Iacovini joins the considerable force of bassist Steve Swallow for a collection of mostly original compositions showcasing Iacovini's fluid vocals and Swallow's electric bass taking on a guitarist's melodic roll in the presence of acoustic bassist Paulino Dalla Porta. Iacovini shares composing duties with Swallow on the opening ballad "Carnation" and the kinetic "Bug in a Rug" and Swallow's significant other, Carla Bley on the plaintive "Lawns." Swallow solos lyrically on all, casting his bass as a front-ensemble instrument. Andrea Dulbecco vibraphone adds extra depth where applied. "Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans" is about the most unlikely standard to be covered here, but it is covered with grace and tact, turning as the center point of the release. Billy Strayhorn is well represented with "Isfahan" and "My Little Brown Book" included. The former sports Iacovini's lyrics while the latter uses trumpeter Terell Stafford's lyrics. Trumpeter tom Harrell's "Sail Away" has become the vocal vehicle and Iacovini makes it her own with her clever lyrics and playful delivery.

Libby York
Libby York Music

Maturity and confidence trump youthful enthusiasm every time. Experience and self-assurance are both sexy and smart when in the hands and voice of Chicago-native Libby York, who has that rare ability to take use- worn standards, strip out the sentimentality and present the piece as originally intended. On Memoir, York boldly grasps pieces like, "Thanks for the Memory," "On a Slow Boat to China" and "How Long Has This Been Going On," shakes off the dust of nostalgia, recreating them as first intended. It takes a recording like this to demonstrate how a patina of nostalgia can tarnish the surface of a great song. Pianist John J. DiMartino and guitarist Russell Malone melodically soften these arrangements, while cornetist Warren Vache plays and sings (on "Put It There" and "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off"). The duets are playful and vibrant with Vache providing a bit of sepia tone with his cornet. York achieves a certain relaxed perfection in her singing, one that can only have come from a love of the repertoire and its performance.

Nicky Schrire
To The Spring
Self Produced

South African vocalist and composer Nicky Schrire has an idea about singing and song writing and it is well off the beaten path because the idea entertains doing something new and, at the same time, accessible and melodic. Forget genre labels; they quite meaning anything in the 1940s. Schrire is intent on making music. Her debut, Space and Time (Magenta Label Group, 2013) arrived fully formed, informed by but rote imitating the titans of contemporary jazz vocals like Kate McGarry and Norma Winstone. Schrire sets out on her own, creating a new universe of creativity. Using only the most intimate of formats, Schrire releases a six-song "EP" as a follow- up to Space and Time, retaining the talents of pianist Fabian Almazan from her debut and adding bassist Desmond White. Schrire's ear for melody is results in a pastoral setting for the opening "Traveler" and the on- the- road feel of "Your Love." The title piece is the most introspective and peaceful, played with an edge of dissonance disallowing complete comfort. EPs are beginning to gain traction as digital collection vehicles. As a release format, they retain the thread of theme often lost with digital singles. Schrire demonstrates the importance and usefulness of the EP with these six excellent songs.

Kat Gang
Dream Your Troubles Away
Arbors Jazz

Could a jazz singer have a cooler name than Kat Gang? It is doubtful. Kat Gang is not only a singer, though. She is also a noted actor also, an embarrassment of talent riches. But Kat is short for Katherine and Gang is short of absolutely nothing when considering her refined vocals and keen take on the less- travelled streets of the Great American Songbook. Dream Your Troubles Away is Gang's second full-length album after 2013's Kat Gang (Self Produced) and features an elegant throwback to a simpler and more erudite brand of singing and songwriting. Gang alines her stars with a septet of keepers of the flame that includes guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, saxophonist Harry Allen and trumpeter Warren Vache. Gang obviously has fun with Bobby Troupe's "Baby, Baby All The Time" which features the walking bass of Jay Leonhart and piquant blues voicings of pianist Mike Renzi. Sexy and confident, Gang sings playfully and with purpose. "I Didn't Know About You" boasts the same charms, while "Bye Bye Blackbird" is refreshed by Gang's coquettish approach. This quiet and incredibly refined recording demonstrates the riches of a great voice coupled with exceptional material.

Karen Taborn
Singin' A Sonny Song
Animal Music

Karen Faye Taborn is adjunct professor at York College/CUNY in history and Philosophy. But that is just one of her jobs. In 2013, Taborn released Singin' A Sonny Song, a collection of seven selections recorded over the past twenty years. Taborn has an affinity with all things Brazil and Bossa and claims influences of Billie Holiday and Nina Simon, but her evenly- distributed vocal tone betrays neither. Her phrasing is as even as her tone and is pleasing to the ear. The humid climes of the Southern Hemisphere permeate all of the singer's work here in a very homogenous and appealing way. The songs range from the tropical "Meu Bem Meu Mal" to the whiplash swing of the title cut to Taborn's superb duet with bassist Avishai Cohen, Yesterdays. Taborn's voice is evenly balanced with rounded edges and a predilection for scat singing, which the singer proves very capable. The "Sonny" in the title is hard bop pianist Sonny Clark and Taborn pays him proper tribute with Singin' A Sonny Song.

Kendra Shank & John Stowell
New York Conversations

New York Conversations is a hallucination shown through a beautifully schizophrenic prism. Vocalist Kendra Shank shows no tendency toward creative deceleration. On the contrary, Shank is stepping out on the total improvisation gangplank with nothing but a similarly-minded John Stowell supporting her on guitar. The collection of original compositions and standards is a barometric low bottoming out in a place that is both anxious and unstable, just where these two want it. This is a hire-wire act and if it didn't make one a bit watery behind the knees, it would not be doing its job. Consider the standards: "Blue Skies" is anything but. Shank may be putting on a good face, but there is a wall cloud on the horizon. Woody Guthrie's "Hard Travelin" coupled with the traditional "Motherless Children" is fraught with fear and danger, augmented my Stowell's probing and daring guitar. "My Romance" is bouncy in a 12 Monkeys sort of way. No Lyrics are sung, Shank opting for completely improvised scat until the end when Shank takes control of the words, reforming their intent. "Like Someone in Love" encompasses this improvisatory verve and creativity.

Barb Jungr
Hard Rain: The Songs of Bob Dylan & Leonard Cohen
Krystalyn Records

British vocalist Barb Jungr has never been known to play it safe. Her previous recordings have revealed an iconoclastic singer with little fear of any material. She has an affinity for Bob Dylan as seen in her two previous collections of Dylan songs, Every Grain of Sand (Linn, 2002) and Man in the Long Black Coat (Linn, 2011). On Hard Rain Jungr adds Leonard Cohen to her Dylan oeuvre, a pairing that contrasts the two different song writers, while, at the same time, demonstrating the social source of their music. Jungr covers the more defiant and angry songs of Dylan: a stomping take on the title cut, a muted "Masters of War, a frenetic "It's Alright Ma." Jungr singlehandedly rescues "Blowin' in the Wind" from becoming a left-wing "Kumbya." She contrasts Dylan's molten rage with Cohen's more introspective pieces: "Who by Fire," "1000 Kisses Deep" and "Land of Plenty." This is assertive material programming. Jungr shares arrangement duties with Simon Wallace who also provides keyboards. A musical vision this refined and challenging comes rarely. Barb Jungr has been and will continue to be a creative force to reckon with, and aren't we fortunate for it.

Beat Kaestli
Happy, Sad and Satisfied
B&B Productions

Slipping in an older release here. Swiss-American vocalist/composer Beat Kaestli most recent recordings: Collage (B&B Productions, 2013) and Invitation (Chesky, 2010) reveal a refined and inventive ear for arrangement and a voice so pretty one does not know whether to blush or remove his or her clothes. Before Invitation there was Happy, Sad and Satisfied, which would have made a handy brother release with Invitation. Both recordings feature Kaestli's quicksilver grasp of transforming even the most worn material, recasting it freshly. A densely humid "Summertime," cracking with Ben Stiver's electric Rhodes and slightly dissonant Latin coda makes this old song not only interesting, but essential as a new way of looking at Gershwin. Included is also the Death knell ballad, "My Funny Valentine." Yikes! But, wait, Kaestli pulls it off with the pinched power of Kenny Rampton's muted trumpet and Stiver's full- bore organ. Kaestli is a master arranger and producer, favoring sparse, bass-centered instrumentation with clever filigree. An eye-opening "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To" is decorated with horn figures that change the piece from an often sleepy ballad to a virile statement of want. Kaestli is the ballad master of the Y chromosome.

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