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Jazz fiddlers are not exactly household renowned. Joe Venuti, Ray Nance, Stephane Grappelli, Michal Urbaniak, Svend Asmussen, Jean-Luc Ponty and Regina Carter pop to the forefront, but then the list falls off quickly. Presently there emerges one Nora Germain (a name made to be in lights if there ever was one) who not only fiddles but also sings. She might be considered a more mainstream jazz Natalie Cressman, a singer/composer who doubles on trombone. Her voice is all jaunty NYC (perhaps due to time she spent at the New School) despite her originating on the Left Coast.
For her recording Little Dipper, Germain opts for a sturdy piano trio rhythm section led by pianist Ed Kornhauser. Germain's arrangements are straight-ahead mainstream right out of the chute with the original "Swing is Fun," based on the sacred "I Got Rhythm" changes. Her tone and articulation are a beautiful throwback to when tone and articulation were valued along with improvisatory aplomb. Germain is superb on ballads: "Someone to Watch Over Me" shimmers from the beginning obbligato to the falling water coda.
Germain provides two performances of "How About You:" one vocal and one instrumental. They sit well in the programming. She sings again on a strutting "Salty Dogs," the song propelled by bassist Will Pierce and gingerly accented by drummer Ryan Shaw. By the time the brief piece reaches a breakneck 4/4, the temperature has risen markedly. Germain adds another original, "Violin is Now" to "A Flower is a Lovesome Thing" and "Thou Swell." Her big surprise is the hoedown "Tommy," demonstrating that she is not only a prim jazz flower but also a rough-and-tumble country girl. A fine recording by a fine musician.
Track Listing: Swing is Fun; How About You; Someone to Watch Over Me; How About You (Instrumental);
Little Girl Blue; Salty Dogs; Violin is Now; A Flower is a Lovesome Thing; Thou Swell; Tommy.
Personnel: Nora Germain: violin, vocals; Ed Kornhauser: piano; Will Pierce: bass; Ryan Shaw: drums.
As a songwriter and vocalist, I love jazz for the experience of being in the center of intense creativity. It is the most potent form of music for keeping the artist and the audience in the 'now. Being in the moment is essential for humans, and we need help in learning how to do that. As a songwriter, I need the depth of musicality that jazz voicings can give my stories. My songs seem light and whimsical, but the message is not.
I met my main collaborator, Mark Fitzgibbon, at one of his gigs. I needed to do my first original album, and his playing was masterful, robust, and beautiful. At the time, I didn't realize how suited we were as a team. We're onto our 4rth album together.
My advice to new listeners is to listen to a really clear and simple version of a song so you can then hear what the musicians are doing and enjoy their creativity and musicality. Also, you have to see jazz live to appreciate it fully. You'll never feel it the same way listening to a CD or online. You need the vibration to go through your body to really get it!
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