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Seven Women 2018 – Part II

C. Michael Bailey By

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Nina Simone
Mood Indigo: The Complete Bethlehem Singles
Bethlehem Records
2018

Mood Indigo: The Complete Bethlehem Singles is a tidy summation of the first recordings made by vocalist/pianist Nina Simone. According to the liner notes, these selections, the singles releases from the Bethlehem catalog, were recorded in a single session with bassist Jimmy Bond and drummer Albert "Tootie" Heath in December 1958 (the exact date of the session is unknown, other sources indicate that these sides were recorded in July 1956). Eleven of the fourteen selections contained here were release on Simone's Little Girl Blue (Bethlehem, 1958, released June 24th, further muddying the chronology). All that said, these represent Simone's first recordings at 25-years old and they have much to say about the artist in ascent.

The disc is introduced with the song that put Simone on the map, that of the Gershwin Brothers' "I Loves You, Porgy." To be sure, this is not the artist Simone was to become in the 1960s, but all of the mechanics were present, ready for incorporation into what became an inimitable personal style. Simone's musicianship is stunning with her incorporation of "Good King Wenceslas" into another Simone touchstone, "Little Girl Blue" and her interpolation of a Bachian keyboard counterpoint figure into "Love Me or Leave me." Simone's original "African Mailman," signals a singular voice and her ballad work is comparable only to that of Shirley Horn. Bond and Heath provide solid support making this debut a very special one. Having the entire recording session on one release is a great plus for the great music produced.

Kristina Koller
Perception
Self Produced
2017

Youthful enthusiasm characterizes New York state-native Kristina Koller's debut recording Perception. The specs for this auspicious debut include an even dozen selections: eight standards and four originals. This far, Perception begins like a legion of well-intentioned releases by young artists. But, Koller's offering takes a hard turn from the conventional wisdom in her brave and bold arrangements that turn the Great American Songbook on its ear. In doing this, Koller, smooths the surface of the project to perfectly integrate her own originals. Koller compares favorably with New York City cum NOLA vocalist/composer Sasha Masakowski in the respect that both young artists are firebrand re-framers of the standard jazz repertoire.

Koller, with the informed support of pianists Fima Chupakhin and Jan Michael Looking Wolf, recast in a very contemporary fashion Tin Pan Alley classics: "You Go to My Head," "I'll Remember April," and "Nice Work if You Can Get It." The project couples two songs that are stylistic soulmates, Oscar Levant's "Blame It on My Youth," and Bob Dorough's "Devil May Care" both expanded by Koller's present-day vision. Koller's original composition, "Utopia" featuring the singer playing ukulele and singing in a style of Hudson/Mills/DeLange's 1933 classic "Moonglow." This is as sunny a song experienced as Jason Mraz's infectious "I'm Yours," only better. Behold the arrival of a great new talent.

Kathy Kosins
Uncovered Soul
Membran Records
2017

Detroit singer Kathy Kosins come full circle home with her sixths recording, Uncovered Soul, produced by Kamau Kenyatta, who has been most closely associated with Gregory Porter (Take Me to the Alley (Blue Note, 2016) and Nat King Cole & Me (Blue Note, 2017)). Kenyatta's presence is best experienced in the lush instrumental grooves he conjures while directing things from the piano. It can also be detected in the assembly of the repertoire for the project, an assembly that focuses on the music of Detroit, circa 1970. The recital includes songs by the Neville Brothers, Curtis Mayfield, Bill Withers, and Burt Bacharach, as well as originals penned by Kosins and associates. The disc is an infusion of well-chosen material from the past and present.

Uncovered Soulbears all of the production elements one would expect of Kenyatta. A lush, echoing, and subtle groove that melds synergistically with Kosins' confident and sensual delivery (check out "Voodoo" for this turned up to 10). Kosins' performance of Curtis Mayfield's "Ms. Martha" (from Mayfield's New World Order (Warner Bros, 1996)) is a silky, wah-wah throwback to the 1970s with 21st Century sonic technology. Kosins injects the Bill Withers vehicle, "Can We Pretend" with a smooth, soothing contemporary jazz touch. Kenyatta's sumptuous production pulls Kosins sophisticated deliver to the forefront. The most organic offering on Uncovered Soul is Burt Bacharach's "Any Day Now." It comes closest to escaping the consistent production of the rest of the recording.

Kelly Green
Life Rearranged
Self Produced
2017

Do you remember when writers would refer to the composers of Broadway show tunes as singing with a "lyricist's voice," meaning don't expect too much from the quality of the singing? Well, that does not apply to Florida-borne, New York City native Kelly Green. From the first song presented on her debut recording, Life Rearranged Green establishes that she is no mere songwriter, but an artist and performer in toto. The title song begins with New York City street sounds that give way to an expansive and orchestral piano introduction that goes well beyond simple accompaniment. Green's sure command of the piano and her well-trained voice ensures that she can plumb the depths of even the craggy time signature changes found in her performance of Frank Loesser's "Never Will I Marry." Green's voice is deceptively youthful, but not so much that the song sound contrived. She extrapolates this same element into another Loesser classic, "I'll Know."

Green favors solid and simple accompaniment that includes bassist Christian McBride on four pieces and vibraphonist Steve Nelson, including Green's own "Little Daffodil," where he spreads metallic notes like the wind spreading spring seeds. Freshly close and yet, wide open, the song possesses a funky, descending vibe that reminds one of a morphine dream. Josh Evans muted trumpet adds to the noir here and wherever he shows up. Green's "If you thought to Ask Me" possesses and 1930s personality, something like a cross between Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman. Green's composing skills are more than impressive, making this first recording that much more appealing. Many are the charms of this first try.

Lisa B
I Get A Kick: Cole Porter Reimagined
Jazzed Media
2018

Cole Porter has long been a bottomless loam of material for jazz musicians. On her sixth release as a leader Lisa B (Lisa Bernstein) turns her attention to the Porter songbook. Bernstein's five previous releases were of originally composed music including Free Me For the Joy (Piece of Pie, 1999). A published poet, Bernstein perused the Porter catalog and selected ten songs to reinterpret with the intention of spinning them on their ear. This is often a dicey approach when not well considered, but this is not a problem for Bernstein, who lacks no confidence in taking these sacred songs on.

Bernstein reinterprets the Porter Songbook in such a way to magnify the American Treasure that is these songs. The vocalist shows an acute attention to rhythm, tempo, and time. The result is "I Get a Kick Out of You" that sounds as if arranged by Ornette Coleman at the height of his powers. In trio performance with bass and drums, Bernstein displays her total command of the material. "In the Still of the night" is cast as a brooding and dark ballad, characterized by low piano notes mixed with a nervous saxophone played by Michael Zilber. "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye" is the lengthiest song, and is given a sultry treatment that is both sexy and sad. Again Bernstein takes full advantage of Fred Randolph's solid bass chops. The rocking center of the disc is a percolating "All of You," shimmering in all of its finery.

Larkin Poe
Peach
Tricki-Woo Records
2017

Well, they started out as a trio, the Lovell Sisters: Megan, Jessica, and Rebecca. This version of the band was devoted to progressive acoustic music melding bluegrass and classical elements not unlike Nickle Creek. In 2009, Jessica got married and went to college and the group went through a brief evolution ending with Megan Lovell trading in her dobro for a 1940s-era lap steel guitar and Rebecca Lovell opting for a Fender Jazzmaster and Stratocaster under the new moniker Larkin Poe. As one should expect, the music underwent an electric transmogrification into a slide guitar extravaganza, dirty and loud and in your face. Larkin Poe is young, but that does not mean they are not seasoned.

Peach is an EP that joins their previously released Reskinned (RH Music, 2016), Kin (RH Music, 2014) and Fall (RH Music, 2010). This recording proves the ladies blues bona fides by including searing performances of Robert Johnson's "Come on in My Kitchen," and Son House's "Preachin' Blues" and "John the Revelator." These almost ancient songs are performed with youthful exuberance by Larkin Poe, who breathe new life into the old repertoire, reminding us all of how important, fundamental, and seminal this music is. The pair perform a rollicking cover of the Ram Jam one-hit-wonder "Black Betty, a mainstay of their live performances. Another provocative cover is that of AC/DC's "Wanted Woman," made completely authentic by the sisters. Larkin Poe bears watching and I cannot wait to hear what is next. Porter's finest ballad "You'd be So Nice to Come Home To," floats above an understated Bossa rhythm. Bernstein does not simply purr these lyrics, she roars. Heat that!

Ghalia & Mama's Boys
Let the Demon's Out
Ruf Records
2017

Okay, there is absolutely nothing about this disc that is jazz, unless you equate the subatomic particle of the blues with jazz. Then we are okay. First, there is the exotic name, Ghalia Vauthier from an exotic clime, her native Brussels (her accent just enough to season her vocals). Second, there is a mythic location of the music: NOLA. Third, there is the title: Let the Demons Out. After that, there is the harmonica of one Johnny Mastro, a name all by his lonesome. The music that Ghalia and her Mama's Boys makes is basic as the dirt on the Lower Ninth Ward, full of earth, fecund hoodoo and gris-gris all mixed with the Mississippi Delta mud tracked into the Chicago Union Train Station. This disc opens with a barrelhouse romp that might waft from an open door on a sweaty evening at the corner of Toulouse and Dauphine.

Vauthier plays a brutal guitar to accompany her assertive vocals, deftly navigating both standard tuned and cross-tuned varieties. Vauthier's slide guitar can be precise and surgical as on her original "Addiction" or as slashing and corrosive as on Johnny Mastrogiovanni's "Waiting," two very different visions of the blues. As a composer, Vauthier proves that the blues are a long way from being depleted as a font of musical creativity. Mastro provides a fat, over-driven harmonica a la the love child of Water Jacobs and Magic Dick. Let the Demons Out is one long and glorious stomp session that does not permit the listener to sit still. This is kinetic music in the extreme.

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