Vermont possessed a vibrant music scene long before it nurtured Phish, and the state's musical community continues to thrive in the wake of the definitive jamband's demise. Recent releases from the Green Mountains document how the jazz and blues roots of American music extend even to the far Northeast corner of the US.
Reflections Of Monk
Reflections Of Monk is an independently produced live recording by vocalist Matt Wright, taken from a 2007 concert tribute to the iconographic pianist and composer Thelonious Monk. Courageous in its concept, on the disc Wright nevertheless remains unintimidated by either Monk's compositions"š including the tricky likes of "Bemsha Swing" and "Rhythm-a-ning," or his formidable accompanists.
Supported by the veritable cream of the Vermont Queen city's jazz corps, including guitarist Nick Cassarino and pianist Joe Davidian, the Burlington vocalist's phrasing and timing is as impeccable as his instrumentalists: there is no discernible loss of momentum in the transitions to and from singing, soloing and ensemble playing.
The exquisite clarity of sound, as befits the best jazz, brings greater focus to the group chemistry. This collective empathy isn't tested too much during the course of the disc, but the tracks have been excerpted from longer performances and the choice to maintain a consistent momentum leaves room for Wright to extend himself and his accompanists on future endeavors.
Vermont native singer and trumpeter Jennifer Hartwick's debut disc is as unified a piece of work as the one from Matt Wright. With a pedigree going back to her schooldays, and extending through stints in local units as well as Trey Anastasio's solo projects (the Phishman afforded the facilities of his studio at The Barn for recording this disc as well as issuing it on his independent Rubber Jungle imprint), Hartswick has distinguished herself as both as a trumpeter and as a versatile vocalist.
Concentrating on torch songs for True, the mellow mood is rarely interrupted, apart from Hartswick belting out her vocal on "That's All." But her horn solo on "The Nearness of You" is a fitting change of pace on its own terms that, combined with the nuance of a singing style ever-so-slightly reminiscent of Flora Purim and Astrud Gilberto, ultimately renders the seamless quality of the album its greatest virtue.
Play For Love
Guitarist/vocalist/songwriter and bandleader Dave Keller once headquartered himself in Burlington, but over the years migrated to the central section of Vermont. His musical concepts have likewise relocated somewhat, and he has forsaken the big band on which he once concentrated in favor of a compact blues trio, which is at the core of Play For Love.
The stability of drummer Brett Hoffman and bassist Jan Schultz's rhythm section is nearly as prominent as Keller's vocals and guitar and rightly so: the surety with which the duo function allows Keller to take flight on guitar as the inspiration hits him, which is fairly regularly throughout this, his first recording in six years.
The enlistment of Ira Friedman on keyboards adds further color to the arrangements and should hold the interest of the listener as clearly as it does the band. "Only Place I'm Going Is Down" and "To The City," however, betray a certain derivative slant (of early Dire Straits).
The likes of "All Souls Are Built For Flying" find Keller reaching in this subdued style where he otherwise sounds perfectly natural in the blues milieu. It's a wise move, therefore, to open with "Here I Am" and close with the instrumental "Gabriella." The sequencing provides continuity with Dave Keller's past, even as the bulk of this unassuming CD expands his reach.
As with the recordings of Matt Wright and Jennifer Hartswick, hearing Dave Keller and his group here should make any music lover eager to see what comes next with these artists, whether on the stage or in the studio.
Tracks and Personnel
Reflections Of Monk
Tracks: In Walked Bud; Bemsha Swing; Monk's Mood; I Mean You; Straight No Chaser; Rhythm-a-ning; Blue Monk.
Personnel: Matt Wright: vocals; Nicholas Cassarino: guitar; Joe Davidian: piano; Bryan McNamara: alto saxophone; John Rivers: bass; Geza Carr: drums.
Tracks: Gentle Rain; With Every Breath I Take; That's All; You Own Me; Lover Man; The Nearness Of You; Nature Boy; When I fall In Love.
Personnel: Jennifer Hartswick: vocals and trumpet; Joe Davidian: piano; Nicholas Cassarino: guitar; John Rivers: bass; Geza Carr: drums; Andrew Breskin: tenor saxophone.
Play For Love
Tracks: Here I Am; Give It A Rest; Take Your Time; Play For Love; Something's Gotta Give; Only Place I'm Going (Is Down); I Was No Angel; The Golden Bird; It's Only Human; To The City; With God On My Side; All Souls Are Built For Flying; Gabriella.
Personnel: Dave Keller: vocals and guitar; Jan Schultz: Fender bass: Brett Hoffman: drums; Ira Friedman: Hammond organ, Wurlitzer electric piano.