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Leonisa Ardizzone: A Constellation in the East

C. Michael Bailey By

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"For unto whomsoever much is given, of her shall be much required..."

Renaissance men and women still exist. For example, the intrepid Dr. Leonisa Ardizzone is the executive director of The Salvadore Center, a non-profit educational organization centered in New York city dedicated to educating young students and their teachers about architecture, structural engineering and urban design. In addition to her scholarly and philanthropic pursuits, Ardizonne is a wife, mother and...jazz musician. That is an embarrassment of riches.

Ardizzone has self-produced and released two recordings since 2007, Afraid of the Heights in that year and the recently offered The Scent of Bitter Almonds.

The Leonisa Ardizzone Quartet

Afraid of the Heights

Ardizzone Music

2006

On Afraid of the Heights, the Leonisa Ardizzone Quartet is a tight little unit nominally lead by Ardizzone and guitarist Chris Jennings (who also produces). The two leap out of the chute with Charlie Parker's "Anthropology," Ardizzone in manic vocalese and Jennings' guitar note perfect. This is not a piece of the faint of heart—be they singer or listener. Ardizzone has a very facile vocalese ability, something not common among jazz singers. Jazz vocalists, even good ones are a dime a dozen. But good vocalese and scat singers, that is something else altogether.

"Afraid of the Heights" is a clever original composition (by drummer Justin Hines) with lyrics delivered via a 1920s vaudeville harmonic progression. Ardizzone is deliciously cheeky in singing, "You may think it's Albany...You may be surprised to see, that we've got electricity" and "If you want the clean air and the flowers, be prepared to ride for hours." Now that is smackingly funny lyric writing.

Ardizzone and Jennings are adept at putting a new spin on old standards. They do so successfully to close the disc with "Nature Boy" and "You Go to My Head," both which are arranged uniquely enough to separate them from the millions of other interpretations but not different enough to wreck the original intention. Ardizzone sings with assertive conviction, demonstrating that the corners of her voice are as well saturated as her midrange and upper register. Her scat singing and vocalese are without current peer.

The Leonisa Ardizzone Quintet

The Scent of Bitter Almonds

Ardizzone Music

2009

Like Norah Jones between her first and second recordings. Leonisa Ardizzone relaxes on The Scent of Bitter Almonds. Throughout the disc's twelve songs, Ardizzone explores the breathier elements of her voice, almost crooning the opening "My Romance." She does this with the addition of pianist Jess Jurkovic, who makes her previous quartet a quintet. Jurkovic's presence frees guitarist Jennings to pursue more melodic goals, like his fine filigree playing on the exceptional "Midnight Sun."

But it is Ardizzone who shows the most growth since her previous Afraid of the Heights. Her scat and vocalese are more controlled, particularly on Clifford Brown's "Joy Spring" (scat) and McCoy Tyner's "Blues on the Corner." While confident on Afraid of the Heights, Ardizzone reaches a sensual critical mass on The Scent of Bitter Almonds. "Willow Weep for Me" and "Take the A Train" both exude pheromones that increase the humidity of the music substantially.

Jennings provides Ardizzone with several original compositions, including the clever-sexy "Falling Down" and "Queen of the Universe." Ardizzone penned "The Architect's Lament," a tome honoring the object of her vocation, and Hines followed up his funny "Afraid of the Heights" with "Scary Face," a cross between "Hit The Road Jack" and a Berlin cabaret song gone horribly right. Jurkovic's meandering piano is a joy, infusing the song with rich amounts of whimsy and fun. Ardizzone and company take themselves just seriously enough to make some seriously great music that amply entertains.


Tracks and Personnel

Afraid of the Heights

Tracks: Anthropology; Afraid of the Heights; Autumn Leaves; Triste; I'm Not The Same; Goodbye Pork Pie Hat; I Got Lucky; Alone Together; Nature Boy; You Go To My Head.

Personnel: Leonisa Ardizzone: vocals; Chris Jennings: guitar; Bob Sabin: bass; Justin Hines: drums, percussion.

The Scent of Bitter Almonds

Tracks: My Romance; Falling Down; Midnight Sun; Joy Spring; Take the A Train; Blues on the Corner; On the Ropes; Willow Weep for Me; Queen of the Universe; Scary Face; The Architect's Lament; Well You Needn't.

Personnel: Leonisa Ardizzone: vocals; Chris Jennings: guitar; Jess Jurkovic: piano; Bob Sabin, Bob Bowen: bass; Justin Hines: drums, percussion.


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