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September 2022: Jazz Child


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Sheila Jordan
Live At Mezzrow's
Cellar Music

Nonagenarian Sheila Jordan is a jazz singer enjoying an incandescent twilight. In late 2021, Jordan appeared on Roseanna Vitro's Sing A Song of Bird (Skyline Records, 2021) singing a song contra-composed in her honor from Charlie Parker's "Cheryl," -"Sheila, Jazz Child." Jordan, along with drummer Roy Haynes, remains the last living connection to the famous alto saxophonist, who is generously represented on Jordan's Live at Mezzrow. "Bird Alone," "What Is This Thing Called Love," and "The Bird and Confirmation" all telegraph Parker's still potent spirit. Jordan still navigates "Confirmation" with confidence and a grand sense of humor. She as easily banters with the audience as she does with her support, pianist Alan Broadbent and bassist Harvie S, both of whom have accompanied Jordan often. Highlights include "The Touch of your Lips," "Silver Lining," and " Lucky To Be Me." To be sure, Jordan has the voice of her age, but that does not lessen her emotional impact, only quickening it. This release is to be celebrated and not judged.

Key Selection: "Silver Lining."

Jackie Allen & Hans Sturm
The Nebraska Project: Bass Meets Voice
Avant Bass

The husband and wife team of bassist Hans Sturm and vocalist Jackie Allen make a potent combination of music educators, with Sturm serving as a professor of double bass and jazz studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Allen who has taught voice at Doane College and the University of Nebraska. Out of their teaching dedication, Sturm and Allen developed a program for young audiences entitled Bass Meets Voice. This program proved well received and after moving to Nebraska and being accepted into the Nebraska Arts community, the pair considered creating a similar program, resulting in deep research of Nebraska musical artists. This led to The Nebraska Project featuring stylistically wide-ranging compositions inspired by eight Nebraska artists including Fred Astaire, Ruth Etting, Julie Wilson, Neal Hefti, Joe Feeny, Thurl Ravenscroft, Ann Ronell, and Jeri Southern. Allen and Sturm share an obvious and expected intense empathy that translates into a complete success for this most difficult of duets: voice and bass.

Key Selection: "Hipster Be Cool (Neil Hefti)."

J. Peter Schwalm & Stephan Thelen
Transneptunian Planets
RareNoise Records

The masters of refined noise at RareNoiseRecords have teamed up again with German composer J. Peter Schwalm (The Beauty Of Disaster (RareNoise, 2016)), himself teamed up with guitarist Stephan Thelen ( Vortex (RareNoise, 2018)) for the eight-selection Transneptunian Planets. Each of the pieces is densely produced and busily ambient, with an established musical core centered on a simple harmonic and tempo structure. This enables the musicians to bring three-dimensional existence to the more tactile elements of the compositions. Layered and consolidated, the music is given tactile character with a combination of loops, synthesized electronics, a drum machine, and highly synthesized vocal additions. The music's sound is heavily industrial with a utilitarian collective of sounds presented. A futuristic vibe permeates the performances with different sound images, containing notes of dub, reggae, and ska. "Haumea," the most accessible piece in the collection is a study on the construction of the tangible topography in sound. An apparent soundtrack quality to Schwalm's composition makes this music both listenable and enjoyable.

Key Selection: "GongGong."

Ada Bird Wolfe
Odd Bird
Self Produced

Ada Bird Wolfe orbits in a vocal universe inhabited by other deep alto singers like, Shirley Horn, Rebecca Parris, Mary Stallings and Patti Wicks. Her voice possesses that casual, conversational quality lesser singers wish to affect but often fail. During the recent Covid interruption, Wolfe collaborated with her long-time musical director Jamieson Trotter, composing ten original compositions that now represent Odd Bird, her third recording following her well-received debut Birdie (Self Produced, 2018) and her sophomore effort, He & Me (Self Produced, 2020). "Odd Bird Bop" and "Lover's Leap" effectively approximate the vocalese of King Pleasure and Eddie Jefferson. Supported by Trotter, bassist Dan Lutz and drummer Peter Buck, with reed seasoning by saxophonist Scott Mayo, Wolfe maintains a sepia canvas of sound as if heard through the hum of an air-conditioned West Coast bar on a humid day. Hear "In The Shade" to realize that aural image. Wolfe (and Trotter) prove exceptional composers and lyricists.

Key Selection: "In The Shade."

OWL Trio With Special Guest Kurt Elling
Life Of The Party
Newvelle Records

The OWL Trio consists of bassist Orlando le Fleming, alto saxophonist Will Vinson, and guitarist Lage Lund. The group recasts the traditional jazz piano trio with one that relies heavily on Fleming, who creates the harmonic skeleton of the nine pieces making up Life Of The Party. Joining the trio is vocalist Kurt Elling, contributing to the title track and "Perfectly Out Of Place." His baritone voice is angular with the empathic quality of a vocalist resonating at the same musical frequency as the trio. Elling meets the challenge of these original compositions, singing in his trademark sardonic tone that contains a bit of mystery and reflects impressive mastery. The trio alone performs music that is tuneful and progressively free. The duet language existing between Fleming and Lund is densely precise, making pieces like "French Song" and "Time On My Hands" operate at a ground level, richly organic and swinging. Intimate and intellectual, Life Of The Party offers a different spin on the small jazz combo, one built for speed yet retaining the weight necessary to be taken seriously.

Key Selection: "Perfectly Out Of Place."

Lauren Henderson
La Burja
Brontosaurus Records

Massachusetts-born, New York City-based vocalist Lauren Henderson is a solid jazz talent capable of addressing all jazz genres. Because of education and life experiences, Henderson's art reflects a sharpened affinity for Afro-Latinx influences in her music.On her ninth recording, La Burja. Having studied in Mexico, Henderson was exposed to a rich sampling of music that would inform her artistry. Dissolving mysticism and melody into one another, La Bruja is a celebration of Black American Music, illuminating the Afro-Latinx experience with a collection of seamlessly composed originals and thoughtfully chosen Latin jazz standards. Henderson's voice is the central element of this release, breathy and robust, sensual and commanding. Henderson could sing anything she wants, but this music is her soul specialty. The singer was once praised for the "surprise" that she could sing standards (The Songbook Sessions (Brontosaurus Records, 2020)). Those singers are a dime-a-dozen. Those that can produce La Bruja, are not.

Key Selection: "Perfidia."

Sally Terrell
Feel Alive
Sally Terrell Music

Professor Sally Terrell (professional focus: literature, writing, communications) has been known as such for the past 32 years. In 2019, the professor turned jazz vocalist with her debut, Just In Time (CD Baby), a durable collection of jazz standards well turned out. Terrell's post-COVID lockdown response, Feel Alive, finds the singer, for the first time, peppering her program with as many original compositions as there are escapees from the Great American Songbook. Terrell attempts a theme in the recording, one made in response to the COVID pandemic, capturing close spaces, missed loved ones and opportunities. Terrell manages to touch several significant jazz sub-genres in the course of a dozen selections, alternating the originals with standards, keeping the mix dramatic and rich. Terrell and her musical director, John di Martino lend an adult contemporary vibe to the title song while casting Irving Berlin's "Blue Skys" sparely—and lightly— supported with drums, bass and piano and featuring Aaron Heick's slippery soprano saxophone. The original "Choose" bears a gospel disposition just ahead of an intimate treatment of "Almost Like Being In Love." The centerpiece of the recital is a warm reading of "Spring Can Hang You Up The Most," supported by guitarist Wesley Amorim and Heick, again on soprano saxophone. The takeaway is that Terrell is as accomplished a songwriter as a vocalist. Could there be a collection of originals in the future?

Key Selection: "Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most."

Eliza Neals
Badder To The Bone
E-H Records

In the clotted field of female blues/rock vocalists (where everyone believes she is a blues/rock singer) those that can distance themselves from Janis Joplin while infusing a bit of originality into their art prove the most interesting and entertaining. Sass Jordin has recently risen from an interim pool of mediocrity to provide solid blues statements with (Bitch's Blues (Stoney Plains, 2022) and Rebel Moon Blues (Stony Plains, 2020). Detroit-native Eliza Neals has done nothing but establish herself as a unique voice in blues/rock over, now, ten releases. On Badder To The Bone Neals surrounds herself with an exceptional band that includes, Peter Keys from Lynyrd Skynyrd and John Galvin from Molly Hatchet among several other notables.

Key Selection: Can't Find My Way Home."

MaryLynn Gillaspie
Secret Language
Self Produced

Jazz vocals are full of second-acts. MaryLynn Gillaspie performed with the vocal ensemble, Rare Silk, a Boulder-founded jazz vocal group, for a decade, garnering positive attention, until the group disbanded in 1988. Gillaspie took off the next 25 years. She did what many do, raised a family, and once that family was raised, looked for her way back to music. That comes with the release of Secret Language, a collection of 14 songs that have been in preparation for the past 2 years. The style exposed is a slippery mix of adult contemporary jazz and pop but raised to a level beyond mere musical confection. The jazz she sings is not that of the "Great American Songbook" but that of the late age of the jazz standard. Her performances of Herbie Hancock's "Dolphin Dance and Pat Metheny's "It's Just Talk" (with lyrics written by Gillaspie) are an indication of her progressive and inclusive creative spirit. The recording is well produced and engineered to present a well-balanced soundscape spread across songs long and short, never losing sight of the music she is successfully developing. This is a certain future for music, jazz, and otherwise.

Key Selection: "Dolphin Dance."

Noël Akchoté
Anton Webern—String Quartet Op. 28 (1936-38) (Early 20th Classical For Steel Guitar)

Noël Akchoté completes his abbreviated survey of music from the Second Viennese School, having previously reimagined Alban Berg's Klavierstücke (Bandcamp, 2022) and Arnold Schoenberg's String Quartet in D Major (Bandcamp, 2022) with a guitar treatment of Anton Webern's String Quartet Op. 28. Webern's quartet is brief (under 10 minutes) and as craggy as one would expect of atonal composition. Akchoté takes the composition head-on, staying between the lines while navigating the circuitous nature of the piece. The guitarist's treatment of the opening "I. Mäßig (Op. 28) (Variatio)" is considerably longer than the original (based on the Emerson String Quartet's performance on Webern: Works for String Quartet; String Trio Op 20 (Deutsche Grammophon, 1995) as it includes variations by the guitarist. Akchoté is more sparing of his Martin HD-28's ringing tone, dampening notes to better approximate Webern's spacious tangle of notes and rests. Akchoté captures the atonal experience well on the guitar in this provocative performance.

Key Selection: ""I. Mäßig (Op. 28) (Variatio)."



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