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May 2022: Music In The Air


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Mark Christian MIller
Music In The Air
Sliding Jazz Door

Southern California has an embarrassment of jazz vocal riches, of which Mark Christian Miller is a considerable part. A welcome fixture in the Los Angeles area, Miller has released two previous recordings in 2004's Dreamer With A Penney (Sliding Glass Door) and Crazy Moon (Sliding Glass Door, 2015). The singer returns with Music In The Air, a collection of love-inspired compositions shot through with the warmth and newness of springtime generously peppered with a history of vocalese. Acquainted with West Coast piano talent like Page Cavanaugh and Joyce Collins, who performed on his previous recordings, Miller enlists the Mark Winkler mainstay Jamieson Trotter who deftly arranged the session. Bassist Mike Gurrola and drummer Kevin Winard round out a rhythm section supplemented by alto saxophonist Danny Janklow.

Miller opens his recording with an upbeat vocalese treatment of the Sam Jones composition "Del Sasser" re-entitled, "If You Never Fall in Love with Me," punctuated by alto saxophonist Janklow's tart and windy soloing. Trotter composes a "vocalese" section for Miller to navigate on an intimate "Lullaby Of The Leaves." Miller stays with the vocalese vibe in the title track, a Jon Hendricks conception, set to Gigi Gryce's "Wildwood." A breezy samba "If You Could See Me Now" dissolves into a humid and shimmering "Too Darn Hot," demonstrating Miller's exceptional programming ability. With crack liner notes by the inestimable James Gavin, Music In The Air is a complete jazz package.

Key Selection: "Mutineer."

Jo Harrop
The Heart Wants
Lateralize Records

British singer/composer Jo Harrop is making her break into the American music market with her second recording, The Heart Wants. This recording follows Harrop's commercial debut with guitarist Jamie McCredie, Weathering the Storm (Lateralize Records, 2020), a superb collection of standards where Harrop shows off fully her considerable talent (she dispatches Randy Newman's "Guilty" in one of the best covers on record. The alchemy is great here). The Heart Wants returns McCredie to the fray while placing the singer in a small combo format with appearances by bassist Christian McBride, pianists Hannah Vasanth, Jason Rebello and Troy Miller.

Harrop selects and narrow and well-considered repertoire for the recording, one emphasizing the bluesy organic nature of jazz as translated into popular music. The original "The Heart Wants What The Heart Wants" (not the Selena Gomez song) bears this out, while Harrop solidifies the sound on the voice/bass duet (with McBride) "All Too Soon." Harrop's voice reveals it deep in the alto range with an even distribution across all output measures. Just when the listener gets used to the earthy, Harrop sings the contemporary "Everything's Changing" before moving on to the Etta James-inspired "I Think You Better Go," on her way to the Broadway of "Red Mary Janes & A Brand New Hat." On the standard ballad, "If Ever I Would Leave You" Harrop shakes the lyrics with a solid vibrato betraying a loving sadness. We need to hear more from Jo Harrop...much, much more.

Key Selection: "Rainbow Sleeves."

Peter Flaire
Sounds Like Jazz
Self Produced

Coming from seemingly out of nowhere, guitarist and composer Peter Flaire makes a case for exposing a larger audience to jazz. His Website features a blog where Flaire discusses this overall vision. . His musical answer is Sounds Like Jazz, a collection of nine compositions that fall squarely in the smooth jazz -popular realm. The release is a response to the past two years of pandemic cloistering and our responses to it, particularly regarding the song, "I Want To Be Free," where Flaire notes, "The sentiment behind this song grew from lockdowns and restrictions and mandates that were imposed during the pandemic, as one might imagine. It borrows a retro style reminiscent of jazz artists like Django Reinhard, but with added vocal addressing a contemporary theme."

Indeed, this is exactly what he accomplishes across the entire album. All songs are briskly paced, each with its own unique character. The opening "Change" is a contemporary take on love in the 21st century. "Trouble Time" is a slinky walk through fear and paranoia, coming out in a positive light. "New Wheels" is a sharp funk update of a late 1970s sound without actually sounding so. "Leaving Home" is the closest thing to a traditional ballad that captures the essence of Flaire's artistry. Flaire is a capable singer with an immediately identifiable timbre. His guitar playing is solely for the support of the words and music. He does not indulge in showing off his chops. This music is immediately accessible and appealing, going a long way toward Flaire's goal of making jazz more visible (and audible)

Key Selection: "Average Guy."

Angela Verbrugge
Love For Connoisseurs
Gut Strings Records

Canadian jazz vocalist Angela Verbrugge favors a whiplash swing propelled by a solid walking bass with percussive accents. She established this on her debut recording, The Night We Couldn't Say Goodnight (Gut String, 2019), deepening her momentum on Love For Connoisseurs a collection of an even dozen original compositions, written with Ray Gallon, Ken Fowser, Neal Miner, Saul Berson, Nick Hempton and Miles Black, each with its own easy swing. Joining Verbrugge are noted Vancouver musicians Dave Say on saxophones, Miles Black on piano, Jodi Proznick on bass, and Joel Fountain on drums, creating a bright, innovative, and capable quintet able to address all flavor of jazz.

Clever and inventive lyrics are Verbrugge's forte, bursting out of the sly "Jive Turkey," featuring some tasty scat singing that trades eights with Say's tenor saxophone. "Maybe Now's The Time" is a coy extrapolation of the Charlie Parker tune written with Black and performed predominantly as a duet with bassist Proznick. Verbrugge's vocal tone is an even and accurate alto, evenly distributed over her comfortable range. The singer is easily heard in control of the material, all of which is original. Love For Connoisseurs is a sophomore effort hinting at a bright and productive future.

Key Selection: "Jive Turkey."

Soprano Meets Bass (Ana María Ruimonte & Alan Lewine)
Sephardic Treasures
Owlsong Records

There exists a rich loam of music defying categorization, risking neglect for that reason. Sephardic Treasures need not be one of these. Soprano Meets Bass is a duo consisting of vocalist Ana María Ruimonte and bassist Alan Lewine. Nothing unusual about that. But the repertoire consists of traditional medieval Sephardic songs composed by Spanish Jews, who were expelled from Spain in the 15th Century. This diaspora spread throughout the world, where their Sephardic musical traditions could rub up against local musical customs. The result is a cultural amalgam orbiting a European Sephardic center.

While Ruimonte and Lewine are prominently featured here, the duo employs a full band with an emphasis on percussion, resulting in a warm and arid musical foundation made emotive by Ruimonte's dense tone and robust vocals. These ancient compositions were transcribed by ethnomusicologists, with World elements informing the arrangements, all prepared by the duo. The result is a dry-heat mix of melodies, occasionally relieved by a humid wind blowing through the music. "Cido Venir Tres a Caballo" and "Tres Morillas de Jaen" have a spacious, sumptuous sound that summons the romantic from then to now, like being able to listen while looking backward through a cultural telescope to the origin of sound. This is stunning and informative music deserving to be heard.

Key Selection: "Señor Don Gato."

Ashley Myles
Stocktone Records

At first glance, Tides is a bit thin, even for an EP -four brief songs. But when played, Long Island native Ashley Myles makes the very most of her few performances. Globally, these are large, anthemic songs infectiously arranged and produced with the intention that the music be widely heard. Topically, the songs included on Tides orbit the evolutionary nature of relationships. "Bricks" is the acknowledgment that the things that matter can either protect or destroy us.

"Fire" is a relentless march with the insistent momentum of moving forward from a bad situation to a hopeful, better one. "The Storm" focuses on the tension that would eventually lead to "Fire," and would have been better served if programmed so. Myles girds her creative loins in preparation for the title piece, where she realizes and resigns herself to the change necessary in everything. The sound here is large and orchestral, providing Myles with a large sonic environment to present her confident and certain voice.

Key Selection: "Tides."

Holly Cole Trio
Montreal (LIve)
Rumpus Room

Always durable and reliable, Holly Cole can be counted on to make music that entertains with its quirky originality. Montreal (LIve) is such a recording. Captured live from an extended stay at the Lion d'Or during the 2019 Festival International de Jazz, the recital is whittled down to a respectable six tracks, making more of an EP than an LP (in the parlance of the 1970s). The smaller offering is appealing as it does not overwhelm the listener's aural palate. It is a collection of short stories rather than a novel, a piece of art easily consumed and considered in a single sitting.

To be sure, Cole has a sense of humor infused into her singing. She has no fear of elasticizing phrases as Betty Carter did, nor structuring her vocal delivery to change hues multiple times in the same piece, all to wonderful effect. The opening "Whatever Lola Wants" illustrates this. In less talented hands, the song is a playful, sexy tango; Cole transforms this into a conquering statement on the edge of harboring menace. One could imagine this delivery in a 1920s Berlin or Paris cabaret. John Johnson's woody clarinet adds period bona fides and David Piltch's arco base provides an orchestral backdrop. "Little Boy Blue" is a duo romp between Cole and Piltch where the singer effects voices like Tom Waits crossed with the love child of Shirley Horne and Rebecca Parris. The whole performance is a slapping good time.

Key Selection: "Girl Talk" where Cole summons a Randy Newman vibe.

Art Pepper
Ancona 1981
Widow's Taste

Ther intrepid Laurie Pepper rescues yet another previously unreleased live set (according to the Jazz Discography Project) from her late husband, Art Pepper. Recorded during the same European tour that afforded arguably the best Pepper recorded live performances, Unreleased Art, Vol. III; The Croydon Concert, May 14, 1981, Ancona 1981, recorded May 27, boasts equally exceptional sonics, possibly having been captured by a radio station in Ancona Italy. Ms. Pepper believes the set was secretly and illegally taped by a promoter the pair knew, Alberto Alberti. Ms. Pepper saw this recording advertised on a Japanese site for $65 and purchased it, re-releasing it, properly, here. The backstory makes the listening that much more enjoyable

Ancona 1981 consists of five original compositions, captured sans audience noise, featuring Pepper's best quartet: pianist Milcho Leviev, bassist Bob Magnussen, and drummer Carl Burnett. Outstanding on this tour was Magnussen, whose elastic bass defies natural law in shaping the harmonic underpinning of the performances. He is fully in charge from the introduction of "Red Car" through the hard bop orgy of "Blues for Heard." These performances lack the highwire-without-a-net character of The Complete Village Vanguard Sessions (Contemporary, 1995) while anticipating the supremely confident Pepper that emerges to be recorded live a few months later during his residency at the Maiden Voyage club. This is the prime Pepper, all blues and ballads, mere months short of his death. This is Art Pepper in unrealized twilight.

Key Selection: "Red Car."

The Fabian Willmann Trio, featuring Asger Nissen
Clap Your Hands

Tenor saxophonist Fabian Willmann and his trio, including bassist Arne Huber and drummer Jeff Ballard inaugurate the new progressive label, Clap Your Hands, with the help of alto saxophonist Asger Nissen on the release Balance. They do so with a slim collection of seven introspective compositions constructed to afford the greatest latitude to the soloist without breaking the harmonic tethers that ground the music theoretically. Spaciously presented, the trio pieces, resemble the groundbreaking trio work of Sonny Rollins in the '50s and Ornette Coleman in the '60s (favoring the latter more than the former.

Balance is a moody, often anxious suite resembling stream-of-consciousness translated into music. The brief "Intro" illustrates this with all parties contributing. A fractured ballad, it is an imagined conversation between four headstrong visions, colliding and combining in curious synergy. Willmann favors a dry, high tenor sound, kind of like if Stan Getz and Lee Konitz mixed, resulting in a laboratory prepared Lester Young. The measured freedom expressed in this recording is refreshing and robust.

Key Selection: "Last Song."

Noël Akchoté
Nadia Boulanger—Cadences (Classical for Steel Guitar)
Self Produced

French guitarist Noël Akchoté pays hommage to French music teacher and conductor Nadia Boulanger (1887 -1979). Boulanger is credited with having taught many of the 20th century's prominent musicians and composers, including Burt Bacharach; Donald Byrd, Elliott Carter, Aaron Copland, David Diamond, Philip Glass, Gigi Gryce, and Quincy Jones, to name just a few. Boulanger composed a series of Cadences as practice exercises in basic harmonic progressions.

Akchoté approaches these pieces as he has much of his classical releases. The guitarist gently strums the basic chord progressions while peppering the harmonic base with precise, if not often craggy single-note eruptions that impart an avant-garde sound to the recital. This is quiet, thoughtful music that is easy on the ear. The guitarist uses a Martin HD-28, possessing a ring-like tone with a spacious presence. Thought-provoking and considered, Cadences continues Akchoté's march through the Medieval and Classical periods, a series slated to end this fall.

Key Selection: "Cantique (1909)."

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