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Seven Women 2018 – Part IV


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Proceeding unabated is women's conquering of jazz...

As Is: Alan & Stacey Schulman
Here's to Life
Self Produced

This husband-and-wife, full-ensemble recording, Here's to Life, is the sophomore effort following Alan and Stacey Schulman's duet debut, A Love Like Ours (Night, Night The Elephant Productions, 2015). The Schulman full band is recording under the moniker "AS IS," which is pretty clever. The instrumental harmonic center of the recording remains the soft, round tone of Alan Schulman's guitar. Schulman favors a warm and clean guitar sound easy achieved with both plectrum and fingers. The vocal part of the equation is the durable soprano of Stacey Schulman, who can summons delicate lace on one song ("La Belle Dame Sans Regrets") and a bouncy jam on another ("Willow Weep for Me").

The most interesting tunes occur early in the recording. The pair retool "Night In Tunisia" interpolating a humid "Caravan" into the fabric. The song is accented by the harmonica of Gregoire Maret and the jazz vocal ensemble skills of Christie Dashiell, James McKinney, and Carl Walker. Alan Schulman paces the piece to the greatest effect, picking at a leisurely romp. His single string obbligatos provide exciting fills. "It Ain't Necessarily Too Late of Love" is a sweet little mashup of three songs each separated by a generation: The Gershwin's "It Ain't Necessarily So," Burt Bacharach's "The Look of Love," and Carole King's "It's Too Late." This is a keen six minutes of music. The most fully realized piece instrumentally is a quietly torrid "Save You Love for Me" featuring David Binney in a subdued standards mood. This recording is a sweet bit of mainstream.

Sunny Wilkinson
Into The Light
Sunchance Records

Wanderlust vocalist Sunny Wilkinson has been recording since 1993, bragging five recordings to her credit. In round numbers, that is a recording every five years, a healthy incubation period even by modern jazz standards. It is a bit of a quandary that Wilkinson has not garnered any electronic ink within our friendly confines of AAJ before now. Well, better late than never, as Wilkinson releases Into The Light. Using a simple instrumental concept in a standard piano trio consisting of pianist (and husband) Ron Newman, bassist Ed Fedewa and drummer Larry Ochiltree , Wilkinson accomplishes what would take lesser talents much larger ensembles to achieve. A big sound comes from these modest forces, one that matches the big sound that comes from Wilkinson herself.

The disc opens with a thundering trio waltz, the kind of thing that introduced those marathon John Coltrane tenor convulsions after the initial release of My Favorite Things(Atlantic, 1961). Wilkinson sings a solo line composed by Newman, making those pieces employing soli lines sound like the hardest vocalese one has heard. Wilkinson's command of this type of singing is certain. Her control of her instrument is impressive and complete, as are her scat chops. She is in no way overbearing in her scatting, but it is solid and definitive. Wilkinson transforms Chick Corea's "Crystal Silence" into a sonic cathedral, while injecting Bob Berg's 'Friday Night at the Cadillac Club" with a swagger and swing to induce apoplexy. What happens to Bobbie Gentry's "Ode to Billie Joe" is downright summer dusty, with Newman's low register piano dissonance injecting menace into a song that is jettisoned by Wilkinson's sweaty deliver into a beautiful sonic nightmare...as the song should be.

Madeleine & Salomon
A Woman's Journey
Tzig'Art Promiseland Records

Madeleine and Salomon's A Woman's Journey is about layering in art. What kind of layering? All layering. First there is the name: Madeleine and Salomon is the moniker for French vocalist/flautist Clotilde Rullaud and pianist Alexandre Saada. The enigmatic single-named artist, Clotilde, was originally known as Élisabeth Beauvais. A Woman's Journey is a debut recording that beneath the surface benefits from a shared artistic vision, one that is at once fearless and delicate. The program for this recording is layered in the respect that it is as close to being performance art as one can get with only the aural component intact. The performances are like impressionistic poetry with its layers of meaning, suggestion, and environment. Roundly speaking A Woman's Journey is exactly that, a highly stylized tour through a Great American Women's Songbook and more specifically from the American Feminist perspective. The notes to the disc describe these songs as, ..."free improvisations inspired by screened, dreamlike short films."

This is a smart collection of original and standard compositions presented in disparately ingenious ways. The opener, "Image" sounds like an updated Hildegard von Bingen 12th-Century plainchant, delivered almost in a whisper. "No Government/High School Drag" is a multimedia affair with Saada playing prepared piano insistently with Clotilde alternately "rapping" and singing. A protest song to be sure. A nervous and foreboding "At Seventeen" begins straight enough until Saada enters and begins to allow the wheels to come off dissonantly. This presentation may be the most honest exposition of this Janis Ian song ever. "Strange Fruit" is delivered in a honey-and-morphine sotto voce that is absolutely terrifying while "Little Girl Blue" interpolates "Good King Wenceslas" into an otherwise mainstream performance, effecting a strange, child-like. "The End of Silence/Mercedes Benz" is an exhilarating juxtaposition of two very different songs in one. "Le Fleurs" features Saada playing electric piano, circa 1970 and Clotilde tripling her voice. This is the piece I was looking for. Which one are you?

Amy London
Self Produced

Vocalist Amy London demonstrates on Bridges a keen and sharp sense of humor while at the same time showing off why she is a popular singer in both the jazz and Broadway realms. She has a superbly controlled mezzo voice that can be effectively pushed beyond the contemporary mezzo range in both directions. The origins of this recording are 30 years old. In the late '80s London was determined to produce a solo recording, having recorded all of the selections, 14 standards and one original composition, with pianist Fred Hersch in his home studio. After a less than pleasant meeting this a major record label, London put the project on hold in deference to ensemble work that eventually led to two solo recordings for Motema Records, When I Look in Your Eyes (2007) and Let's Fly (2010). As with Laurie Antonioli's delayed collaboration with muse Richie Beirach, Varuna (Origin Records, 2015), Bridges offers a telescopic view back in time, when the artist was just emerging.

The recording begins with Hersch's arrangement of title track on which he also contributes background vocals. Add to Hersch, drummer Victor Lewis, bassist Harvie S, Bob Mintzer on tenor sax, and Cyro Baptista on percussion and you bring up to speed the ensemble that propels London as she strolls through the next seven songs, all from that original late '80s session, including Cole Porter's "Love for Sale," and Oscar Brown's "Strong Man." Amy's own composition, "This Time" concludes this part of the recording dityptic. In 1990, London recruited pianist Peter Madsen, bassist Dean Johnson, drummer Eliot Zigmund, and trumpeter Byron Stripling to join her and Darmon Meader (New York Voices), on the next five tracks, that include a reading or f Langston Hughes' poetry on Madsen's "Dream," and Amy's vocalese translation of Gigi Gryce's solo from Oscar Pettiford's "Bohemia After Dark." The disc closes with the 1984 recordings with Dr. Lonnie Smith and band on "You've Changed" and John Coltrane's "Naima." While a retrospective, Bridges remains a global maxima in a career what shows no evidence of slowing down. These performances are fresh and solid bearing the solid musical grasp of their leader.

Lex Grey and the Urban Pioneers
Usual Suspects
Self Produced

While not an unhinged blues singer in the vein of Mandy Lemons Nikides or Eliza Neals, Lex Grey nevertheless plows a long hard row with her band, The Urban Pioneers, playing a brand of Blues and R&B that is just over the line of refinement while still having a mouthful of delta dust. If you are expecting a collection of the same old 12-bars, you will be disappointed. Grey wants to present these blues framed differently than the typical fare. "Usual Suspects" contains West Texas desert guitar courtesy of Vic Mix who digs as deep as Grey while the pair bounce between Bonnie Raitt and Black Sabbath. "Chow Down" is as close to a floor rocker as can be found on the disc, while Grey spits the lyrics of "Dirty Secret" out like it is whiskey laced with lighter fluid. She is absolutely done.

"Cheap Thrills" is another West Texas run featuring some of that classic two-step drumming by John Holland. "My Jellyroll" celebrates that most celebrated of blues subjects with a crunching electric guitar and harmonica. Grey reaches deep in her voice to find her place in this song, summoning Muddy Waters and Steve Marriott at the same time. Grey is rolling on this song, rolling with a relentless momentum that will not be stopped. The closing "Renegade Heart" features some fancy border guitar playing to descends into a humid midday fever dream. This recording is not at all what I was expecting. It has a buffed shine on an old hood that hold up very well beneath the power of Lex Grey's vocals.

Joanne Tatham
The Rings of Saturn
Café Pacific Records

West Coast jazz singer Joanne Tatham is no stranger to recording, having previously released Out of My Dreams (Café Pacific Records, 2015) and Making Light (UE3 Records, 2014). The Café Pacific connection should give a hint for the company that Tatham keeps, that with producer Mark Winkler godfather of the original LA jazz gangsters. The two join forces for Tatham's The Rings of Saturn, a collection for more contemporary jazz fare with a couple of old standards ("Love Me or Leave Me" "It Could Happen to You") bookending the recital just for good measure. Global observations identify pianist Max Haymer is the principal arranger, who, with producer Winkler, favor overt, two-fisted piano accompaniment lending a greater complexity to these performances. This is notable in Tatham's treatment of Michael Franks's "Summer in New York," featuring guitarist Larry Koonse on two solos over Haymer's carefully constructed harmonic lines doubled by bassist Lyman Medeiros.

Tatham covers capably Winkler's "Catch Me If You Can" while putting a creatively understated spin on Phoebe Snow's "Poetry Man." Tatham turns Todd Rungren's "Can We Still Be Friends" into a certifiable jazz standard, sporting some crack horn charts that feature tenor saxophonist Bob Sheppard, the best mainstream saxophonist blowing air through a horn today. Featured are two Jobim pieces, "If You Never Come to Me" and "Jazz n' Samba" are piquant with Brazilian humidity and sensuousness. The Rings of Saturn is yet another fine recording from the Café Pacific Stables. I hope to hear more from Joanne Tatham.

Sharel Cassity and Elektra
Self Produced

Multireedist Sharel Cassity and her Elektra project step away from her previous standards and straight jazz projects ( Just for You (DW Records, 2009); Relentless (DW Records, 2012); Manhattan Romance (Venus Records, 2014)) in the same way that Nora Germain did with her recently released Nora (Self Produced, 2017). She steps away in a big way taking several of her contemporaries with her, including: guitarist Mark Whitfield, trumpeters Marcus Printup and Ingrid Jensen and vocalist Christie Dashiell.

The music contained herein is sharply contemporary with a solid rock/jazz foundation. I continue to believe that the best jazz-rock fusion music is yet to be made and Cassity's Elektra is definitely heading in the right direction. From the solid pop of "New Day" propelled by Whitfield's insistent guitar and Dashiell's sharp vocals and featuring Cassity's crack horn charts to the leader's own solo parts in the beautifully funky title piece, something new is emerging from this young New York crowd of musicians. "Be The Change" and its introduction meld words and music into all that is positive. Cassity's alto saxophone is beautifully balanced, almost vibratoless. She plays with intention and purpose. Gratefully, here is a superb contemporary jazz recording.

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