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Seven woMEN 2018 – Part III

C. Michael Bailey By

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Look what creeped into my monthly column... and herein exist end-of-the-year-recordings...(you decide which ones).

Ben Paterson
That Old Feeling
Cellar Live Records

Everything about pianist/vocalist Ben Paterson's Cellar Live release, That Old Feeling is delightful. This recording is a beautiful throwback, with just a touch of sepia: not enough to induce pedestrian nostalgia, but plenty to remind us of the considerable charms of straight-ahead jazz well performed. Paterson claims the drummerless piano-guitar-bass trios of Nat "King" Cole and Oscar Peterson as inspirations and those inspirations permeate into and emanate from Paterson's performance of the eleven mostly standards that make up the release. These presentations swing with a rare grace borne out from love, practice, and playing of a body of compositions that have come to occupy the musical alleles that have insinuated themselves into the collective unconscious of our understanding of music.

Joined in concert with guitarist Chris Flory and bassist George Delancey. Paterson plays and sings his way capable through songs as disparate as the Kern/Mercer chestnut, "I'm Old Fashioned" and Stevie Wonder's "Isn't She Lovely." Paterson is a more than capable pianist, betraying the influence of his inspirations on piano. As a singer, he has a pleasant, distinctive voice that is not perfect and that is what makes it perfect. Paterson's vocal stylings are unique and readily identifiable, as familiar as a warm coat and close as a cherished family member. High points include a Frank Sinatra-styled saloon version of Bob Dylan's "Make You Feel My Love," a lovely instrumental "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," and a church-ridden interpretation of David "Fathead" Newman's superb "Hard Time." Music this good needs no explanation.

Mark Murphy
Midnight Mood
MPS Records

With the resurrection of the 1970s German jazz record label MPS comes the re-release of Mark Murphy's Midnight Mood, joining that of the recently released Monty Alexander reissue of Here Comes the Sun (MPS, 2018/1971). Murphy's reissue is notable because it is both a transitional recording and one of his best received releases. Originally released on the SABA label (that was to become MPS), Midnight Mood is a stylistic bridge between Murphy as a Frank Sinatra song stylist and Murphy as the leading jazz vocalist of his era. The Mark Murphy appearing here is in fully developed form ready to change everything understood about the vocal house Louis Armstrong built.

The 10 tracks (equal parts originals and standards feature period MPS house artists: drummer Kenny Clarke, pianist Francy Boland, and bassist Jimmy Woode, with the addition of brass and reeds, Jimmy Deuchar on trumpet and Ronnie Scott on tenor saxophone. Murphy indelibly changes the terrain of "Alone Together," "My Ship," "Jump for Joy," "You Fascinate Me So." Murphy and Boland's funereal/dirge treatment "I Get Along Without You Very Well" redefines the warhorse. Frosty is Murphy's "Hopeless," demonstrationg the singer's superior prowess as a composer. Murphy's discography is large. Midnight Mood provides a good starting place from which to look forward and backward.

Professor Cunningham and his Old School
Swing it Out!
Arbors Jazz Records

Arbors Jazz can always be counted on to capture and promote those keepers of the swing flame. Australian-born vocalist and multi-winds player Adrian Cunningham takes his place in this stalwart group of keepers very seriously, but not so much so that he does not have fun. Billing himself and his band as "Professor Cunningham and his Old School," Cunningham devotes the present recording Swing it Out to sixteen standards and originals that range from lofty Ellingtonia ("Caravan") to the sizzling jump blues of Louis Jordan ("Caldonia"). Cunningham's group is a septet that includes trumpet (John Challoner) and trombone (Dani Alonso in the front horns and guitar (John Merrill) joining the rhythm section of pianist Alberto Pibiri, bassist Jim Robertson and drummer Paul Wells. I believe that this is the smallest big band one can have and still deliver a full body of sound. Cunningham uses these relatively small forces the pack a big rhythmic and swinging punch.

Spending most of his time playing tenor saxophone, it is when Cunningham plays clarinet that he shines most brightly. "That Da Da Strain" and "Dinah" reek of New Orleans Dixieland, while "Stompy Jones" is all Benny Goodman. "Bechet's Fantasy" is necessarily pious and reverent. Cunningham pulls out his flute for a steamy performance of Caravan. As a vocalist, Cunningham is pleasant, obviously enjoying himself. He completely reaches his tipple point on the Aussie traditional "Waltzing Matilda." Swing it Out is sure to satisfy all of the die-hard traditional jazz fans and stands to bring new fans into this durable and enduring genre.

Andrew Distel
It Only Takes Time
JeNu Jazz

Chicago has its own inimitable jazz community that includes the likes of: Paul Marinaro, Elaine Dame, Alyssa Allgood, and Rose Colella (among many more). Add to this list vocalist/trumpeter Andrew Distel who goes a long way toward redefining ballad singing on his sophomore release, It Only Takes Time. The first thing to notice on this recording is the innate sweetness of Distal's voice. It is readily comparable to that of John Proulx. While the lazy comparison may be made to Chet Baker, Distel's singing has greater dimensional depth and breadth—more hope, more life. Distel's repertoire choices as telling as he definitely favors the ballads that perfectly flatter his voice.

Distel has assembled a beautifully eclectic and esoteric collection of eleven selections. These, with the exception of "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," are not-so-standard-standards. The disc begins with a light and breezy "Speak Low," where Distel's voice is buoyed above a carefully-crafted accompaniment featuring guitarist Dave Onderdonk and bassist Carlos Henriquez. This breezy approach continues through a definitive reading of "Alfie" and "One Morning Star Away. Distel shows off his Portuguiese on Ivan Lins's "Amor." The singer and band take things up-tempo with the Distal original "Wait for Me" and the Gershwin Brothers' "Who Cares," on which the singer scat sings his heart out. There is a return to breeziness on "Too Soon to Tell" that spills over into "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," on which Distel introduces a gentle bounce into the performance. Of keen interest here is Distel's and writing partner J. Adams Oaks's lyrics written to trumpeter Kenny Dorham's blues "Blue Spring Shuffle" (originally from Dorham's Quiet Kenny (New Jazz, 1960)). This music of a different level, something rarified and fine: hip and swinging.

Mark Murphy
Pocketful of Rainbows
Self Produced

Mark Murphy again? No. This is a different Mark Murphy, one who is trying to approximate more closely the folksy Eva Cassidy than the hip and urbane same name. Pocketful of Rainbows follows 2016's Slip Away (the latter being considered one of Downbeat Magazine's recordings of that year. Rainbows is a continuation and evolution of Murphy's debut, both possibly redefining what "easy listening" is. Organic in its folksiness, improvisatory in its instrumentation and approach, Murphy's vision for the music he chooses to make is fully formed and informed by his crack intellect and sense of humor. Murphy answers Bob Dylan's "Boot of Spanish Leather" from Slip Away with the more familiar "Lay Lady Lay," presented with a slight reharmonization and rhythmic translation that puts a spit-shine on the old song. Hank Williams' "Hey Good Lookin'" is given a slick, romping reading, seasoned with Gilad Kekselman's crisp country guitar. Murphy's own compositions like the title piece and current and contemporary fare, fitting in well with the surrounding masterpieces he performs. Murphy closes the disc with an arid and breezy rendition of "Come Fly With Me" that can only be described as delightful. "If music has an IQ, then Murphy's Rainbows raises it to genius level.

E.J. Decker
Bluer than Velvet: The Prysock Project
Candela Records

First, Arthur Prysock. Arthur Prysock was one of those artists who straddled the jazz and R&B genres who, while gaining attention, never became a household word except to those listening closely, like vocalist E.J. Decker, who effectively pays homage to this unsung hero on Bluer than Velvet: The Prysock Project. Prysock began his career in 1944 with the Buddy Johnson Band, and then, going solo in 1952, after initially signing with Decca Records as a younger version of Billy Eckstein or a more R&B version of Johnny Hartman with whom he is most closely compared. Prysock was noted for his deep and quietly virile baritone voice and unique vocal delivery. So, perfect is E.J. Decker s voice for this project. Decker had been encouraged by the late Mark Murphy (yes, THAT one) to pursue this project.
Bluer than Velvet: The Prysock Project is a generously appointed release consisting of 14 songs associated with Prysock. Decker's vocal delivery here is so unique and idiosyncratic that its immediate identifiably emerges as its most potent charm. Decker croons these songs over a piano-guitar quartet augmented by the superb baritone saxophone of the most sublime Claire Daly and the trombone of Elizabeth Frascoia: low reeds and brass to complement the low register of Decker's delivery. "What a Difference a Day Makes," "When I Fall in Love," and "On the Street Where You Live" all bare the marks of a carefully-developed voice. The title song is sung such that it will take you far away from the mental images evoked by the David Lynch movie of the same title (De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, 1986) with the song lip-synced by a deliciously creepy Dean Stockwell, channeling Bobby Vinton. An excellent recording by any measure.

Kurt Elling
The Questions
Sony Masterworks

Vocalist Kurt Elling is the most logical and deserving artist to accept the heavy creative mantle from the late Mark Murphy. Among male jazz singers, Murphy and Elling stand head and shoulders above a sea of otherwise very fine and accomplished singers. The Questions, Elling's solid follow-up to his well-received seasonal release, The Beautiful Day: Kurt Elling Sings Christmas . From that bastion of hope and security, Elling, with the help of co-producer/tenor saxophonist Branford Marsalis crafted a repertoire to ask the big questions about life, being, suffering, and wisdom. The Questions is ambitious project that came together naturally, as all great art does: with all and none of the intention.
Powerful is Elling's performances on this recording.

Bob Dylan's "It's a Hard Rain A'gonna Fall" is a tour-de-force introduced a cappella, with Elling in full command of his instrument, dispensing the prophetic words of the American Bard. He continues with this same authority with Paul Simon's anthemic "An American Tune," that tome of resignation that rebounds into the prevailing of Man. That is followed by Peter Gabriel's excellent gospel-infuse "The Washing of the Water." Elling finds his perfect element in these disparate pieces of music. Elling redefines Carla Bley's "Lawns" as "Endless Lawns" with lyrics by Elling with an interpolation of Sara Teasdale poem. Closing the disc with a "Skylark" full of mystery, Elling once again demonstrates why he has no living peer.


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