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June 2022: Constellations


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ChimyTina is a collision moniker for the duo of bassist Dan "Chimy" Chmeilinski and vocalist Martina DaSilva. They are part of a daring group of singers/bassists perfecting the most musically intimate of performance formats. With the bass as the "harmony" instrument supporting a vocalist, there is an added tension in performance brought on by the absence of chords, relying instead on single-note disposition. It takes an exceptional bassist and vocalist to pull this off. ChimyTina's debut recording, A Very ChimyTina Christmas (Outside In Music, 2019), easily demonstrated they were up to the chore of making more from less.

Constellations is the duo's first full-length, non-seasonal offering, comprised of two Dasilva originals ("Twin Flames" and "My Universe") and 10 standards (if one can consider lounge versions of "Cold, Cold Heart" and "Trouble In Mind" "standards"). The duo is thoughtfully augmented by brass and strings on "Smile" and "Nice Work If You Can Get It," in each case challenging Dasilva and Chmielinski to up their game. The album highlight closes the disc with a shattering aplomb; the performance of Billy Strayhorn's "Lush Life" is a Salvador Dalí surrealistically realized descent into the lonely madness and delusion summoned in Days of Wine And Roses (Jalem Productions, 1962) and The Lost Weekend (Paramount, 1945). The starkness of the performance, and the entire collection, is as bracing as cold air.

Key Selection: "Lush Life."

John Minnock
Dot Time Records

As quietly as one throwing elbows can be, John Minnock entered the recording fray with his debut, Right Around The Corner (Self Produced, 2018). Introversion is not in Minnock's vocabulary or character as his presentation and performance are refreshingly assertive and commanding. With this debut, Minnock began a fruitful collaboration with saxophonist Dave Liebman, who remained on hand for Minnock's next recording Herring Cove (Dot Time Records, 2020) and, now, Simplicity, where the two show an evolutionary and dramatic deepening in their collaboration. Minnock and Liebman achieve an uncommon artistic synergy approaching a creative singularity.

Minnock continues his mixing of original compositions with deliberately selected standards, using "Angel Eyes" as the tonal and emotive center. It also introduces a trend of songs with extended instrumental introductions featuring Liebman that include darkly introspective readings of "Maiden Voyage" and "You Don't Know What Love Is." Minnock's voice has muscular confidence capable of both biting regret and tender affection which he infuses original compositions "Simplicity," a sexy "He Was Brazilian" and the collection's surprise stand-out, a blues-tinged "Cape's End," which becomes an extension of Herring Cove, continuing Minnock's emerging creative story. Minnock is passionately committed to his equal loves of music and the LGBTQ community, both celebrated robustly on this release.

Key Selection: "Angel Eyes."

Ester Wiesnerova
Blue Journal
Self Produced

Eastern Europe is a culturally diverse region possessing an ancient, often conflicted, history. Tucked into the central part, pressing against Ukraine to the east is what has been known as The Slovak Republic since the "Velvet Revolution" (and fall of Russian Communism) in 1989. A victim of the vicinity, The Slovak Republic has been a part of every consequential historical event in the region, remaining home to an array of divergent cultural influences. In spite of such an anxious history, Slovakia is home to a proud, determined, and creative people. From this heritage singer/composer Ester Wiesnerova emerges with her provocative and ambitious debut, Blue Journal. Wiesnerova combines a pleasing and inventive product packaging with a very clear and intelligible artistic direction, manifesting itself quietly and with great gravity.

Wiesnerova's central influence is that of Joni Mitchell, which is expressed more in her composed lyric phrasing than her delivery. This is best revealed in the stunning "Burrito" which is introduced with multiple speaking voices emanating from the left and right stereo channels, before dissolving into a light samba rhythm by way of Bratislava, addressing lovers on either side of a wall, separated by politics. Her orchestration is spare and well applied. Singing with lightly-accented English (save for "Citlivi" where she sings in her native language against a delicately applied swing that follows a lengthy and atonal introduction), Wiesnerova evinces a wholesomely pure alto that is not intent on starting fires, but rather, it provides a bracing and sharply clear tonality that is both assured, informed and vulnerable. This is a debut? Well, watch out then.

Key Selection: "Buritto."

Sylvia Brooks
Rhombus Records

"Authority" is a word that comes to mind when hearing Sylvia Brooks' Signature. Over three recordings released since 2009, the singer has established herself as a master stylist capable of addressing the broad palette of songs used as vehicles for jazz vocals. She has an affinity for bold, assertive arrangements to support her vocal style of the same. Brooks' previous recording, 2017's The Arrangment (SBM Music) provided ample evidence that the singer could deftly choose arrangers, arrangements, and side personnel, all to cover a disparate repertoire of music. Brooks' logical evolutionary destination now would be original composition.

On Signature Brooks provides seven original compositions that vary from smart to very smart, each surrounded with arrangements by West Coast pianists Tom Ranier, Jeff Colella, and Christian Jacob. The blues dominate "Your Heart Is Black As Night," while there is a gospel shade to "The Boy That Lived There." "Catch 22" demonstrates Brooks' way with a lyric while Leonard Cohen's "Boogie Street" (the rare "standard" here) brings together voice, arrangement, and performance in a finely-tuned collection coda. Signature is an ambitious offering by Brooks. It is finely produced and sonically stable at a high level. The recording fills the artistic niche of smooth vocal jazz-cum-popular music.

Key Selection: "Catch 22."

Angela Davis
Suite For Max
ABC Music

Australian alto saxophonist Angela Davis has provided three solid mainstream releases in Little Did They Know (Self Produced, 2013); Lady Luck (Self Produced, 2015); and The Art Of The Melody (ABC Jazz, 2019). The saxophonist changes direction with her new Maximillian Quartet, featuring guitarist Stephen Magnusson, bassist Sam Anning and drummer Patrick Danao, presenting a collection of all-original music from an ABC Fresh Start Commission on Suite for Max. The new release was inspired by the work of Bill Frisell and Jakob Bro, whose most recent creative focus has relied on texture and mood as much as it has on melody and harmony.

Davis translates this Frisell/Bro influence into an integrated, five-part suite concerned with melodic beauty presented in spatially organic abundance. The music is quiet and thoughtful as the suite unfolds into a tonal whole devoid of overt displays of technical ability. Rather, the emphasis is on note-against-note, with "Movement 3" being the balance point of the suite. Here Davis envisions a playful, yet fully realized piece that stands very well on its own. Magnusson's interplay with Davis produces a rare genre-breaking moment that sounds like something new and fresh.

Key Selection: "Movement 3."

Susan Hodgdon
So In Love With Cole
Self Produced.

Cabaret singer Susan Hodgdon joins Kristina Koller (Get Out Of Town (Self Produced, 2022)) in releasing an homage to Cole Porter. Where Koller concentrates on digging deeply into the Porter corpus to find previously unrevealed facets, Hodgdon prefers to inhabit the stately arrangements built by her musical director/producer/pianist Daryl Kojak to reveal the songs' special attributes. Where Koller's interpretations are thoroughly contemporary, Hodgdon, no surprise at all, approaches the same material from the cabaret and stage side of things. Her vocals style possesses a 78-rpm vintage-1930s phrasing that would be sepia-tinged if in a photograph.

Hodgdon displays multiple shades of the singer's craft. Certain and brisk is her interpretation of "You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To," while her "Get Out Of Town" receives a sprawling, sultry treatment (a comparison with Koller's performance is enlightening). The outstanding ballad performance is "From This Moment On." On the uber-standard "Night And Day," Hodgdon goes full-blown medium-tempo cabaret, buoyed by Sean Conly's elastic acoustic bass, sparring with tenor saxophonist Steven Frieder. Increasing the tempo and heat the singer delivers a most swinging "All of You." A quaint "Let's Do It (Let's Fall In Love)," a bluesy "What Is This Thing Called Love," and a shimmering "In The Still Of The Night" pay proper tribute not only to Porter but to Hodgdon and, by extension, Kojak. This is a well-balanced, completely enjoyable collection of the Great American Songbook, rendered with a sincere authenticity.

Key Selection: "Get Out Of Town."

The Rolling Stones
Live At The El Macambo 1977

It was a curious thing. Inconspicuously tucked into side three of the band's third commercially-released live recording Love You Live (Rolling Stones/Atlantic, 1977) was a small-venue performance of four early Rolling Stones covers at Toronto's El Macambo Tavern. These songs represented a refreshing and bright interlude in an otherwise muddy and marginal release. This was a trying period for the band, with Keith Richards having recently been arrested for heroin possession and the presence of general personality-driven angst within the band. This was also the first tour with Ron Wood, having replaced Mick Taylor, and still, before the new lineup's sound was to gel into the gritty yet fluid perfection of Some Girls (the sound being vintage and transitory Black and Blue (Rolling Stones/Atlantic, 1976)). In spite of this, the band briefly returned to their glory days at the Crawdaddy Club, circa 1963, playing the likes of "Mannish Boy" "Crackin' Up," and "Little Red Rooster."

These performances are best heard as a period snapshot of the band in transition: from Taylor to Wood, rock to disco, precocious youth to "elegantly wasted." The concert programming plays like a tour intended to support a recent release, here Black And Blue, which contributed, "Hand of Fate," "Fool To Cry," "Crazy Mama," "Hot Stuff," and "Melody." Ostensibly, because of the small venue, the band did not employ a horn section. All of the performances were tight, lacking the mud and muck of Love You Live. "Honky Tonk Women" proved again a uniquely qualified show-opener ("Brown Sugar" had been the popular go-to previously). Ron Wood brought a skill set closer to that of Keith Richards than Mick Taylor, giving the band yet another soundscape very different from those of Brian Jones and Taylor. Where Richards controlled Sticky Fingers and Exile On Main St., with Black And Blue, Jagger began his dominance of the band's sound through his masterpiece, Some Girls (Rolling Stones/Atlantic, 1978). This is the band uncertainly approaching its zenith.

Key Selection: "Cracking Up."

Zlata Chochieva
!Naive Classiques

Imaginative content has changed the profile of solo piano recording. From the beginning of time through the end of the last century, pianists like Murray Perahia, Andras Schiff, and Krystian Zimerman have churned out complete repertoires, performed and recorded in punctilious chronological order with expertly curated liner notes. These are great history lessons, providing ample background about the music, while providing hours of didactic listening. The 2000s brought an embarrassment of wealth in the persons of Lang Lang, Hélène Grimaud, Leif Ove Andsnes, Alexandre Tharaud, and Víkingur Ólafsson, all very capable of programming thoughtful and provocative recitals (from the same or from different composers) intended to spark thought, relaxation, and, in the best case scenario, further investigation. Notable are Ólafsson's evolutionary and revolutionary J.S. Bach -Works & Reworks (Deutsche Grammophon, 2019) and Alexandre Tharaud's expansive French review Versailles (Erato, 2019). Ólafsson recorded a mash-up of Debussy and Rameau (Debussy * Rameau (Deutsche Grammophon, 2020) that provided an educational juxtaposition of the Baroque and the Late Romantic (or Impressionistic, if one prefers) and a precedent from which Russian pianist Zlata Chochieva draws.

Chochieva assembles a similar recording pitting Mozart against Scriabin in an intellectually heady combination. The release title Chiaroscuro is a smart one with Chochieva reasoning that, "one of the ideas of theosophy is that light and darkness, while in one sense are polar opposites, are also unified; they cannot exist without each other. There is a saying by Robert Fludd: 'Darkness adopted illumination in order to make itself visible.'" That is a blade that cuts both ways. There is a shifting (relativistic?) perspective created with these Mozart variations in close proximity to Scriabin's miniatures. Light, shadow, and their respective sources change position depending on the notes (or lack thereof) surrounding them and how the pieces follow one another on the disc. Chochieva provides the listener with an architecture from which to hear what these two disparate composers have—and don't have—in common.

Key Selection: Mozart: "10 variations in g major on 'unser dummer pöbel meint' by c. w. gluck k455: Variation X." Scriabin: "Prelude no.1 in B major. Andante":

Concerto Italiano, Rinaldo Alessandrini
Vivaldi Bach
Naive Classiques

Fresh, robust, and sumptuous, simple in the genius of his sum-of-parts production, Rinaldo Alessandrini's pairing of Vivaldi's Concertos, Op. 3, "L'estro Armonico" with Bach's keyboard arrangements of six of the same is purely inspired. Alessandrini's band, Concerto Italiano, specializes in crisp, historically-informed performances focusing on Monteverdi, Vivaldi, and Bach, sewing up two of the three in this thoughtfully imagined and rendered recording. This simple programming device alone would make Alessandrini's offering superior to the staid Vivaldi presentations of Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music (L'Oiseau-Lyre, 1986) and, more recently, Rachel Podger with Brecon Baroque (Channel Classics, 2015); but the combination of precision-driven conducting and the superb sonics of label Naive engineers breaks this recording into a class by itself.

The Bach arrangements are each presented following the Vivaldi performances with Alessandrini handling the harpsichord duties on those four pieces (RV 230/BWV 972; RV 265/BWV 976; RV 310/BWV 978; RV 580/BWV 1065); while Lorenzo Ghielmi plays organ on the remaining two (RV 522/BWV 593; RV 565/BWB 596). The close listening proximity enhances both the educational and musical experiences. Regarding the former, it is surprising as well as refreshing to hear Vivaldi's Baroque approach juxtaposed with Bach's high brand of the same. As music and its composition and performance become ever so atomized by a culture with an Adderal-riddled attention span, it is nice to have such well-presented music to remind us of the charms of thoughtful consideration in the arts, in general, and music, specifically.

Key Selection: "RV 230/BWV 972."

Noël Akchoté
Charles Koechlin—Précis Des Règles Du Contrepoint (1926) (Music Theory For Steel Guitar)

French guitarist Noël Akchoté continues his march through every piece of sheet music printed with a collection of counterpoint exercises composed by French composer and teacher Charles Koechlin (1867 -1950). Politically radical, creatively and culturally omnivorous, Koechlin was prominent as an educator and author, having taught counterpoint and fugue with Gabriel Fauré while a student and then acting as a teacher to Francis Poulenc, Henri Sauguet, and Cole Porter. What this translates to though Noël Akchoté is a very precise and pointillistic tonal exposition of contrapuntal thought and kinetic energy in performance. There is not a single dropped Thelonious Monk note to be found. Akchoté takes full advantage of the bell-like, ringing quality of his Martin HD-28.

Akchoté executes the exercises with exacting care, not unlike Bach modulating his way through the same. The pieces are simply composed and inherently tuneful is as expressed in the minor-major expressions of "Deux Notes Contre Une à Deux Parties (Mineurs)" and "Quatre Notes Contre Une à Deux Parties (Majeurs)." Akchoté has done a significant service covering this music. One can find his entire discography here.

Key Selection: "Fleuri Dans Une Partie, à Quatre Parties (Majeurs)."

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