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Seven Women (Plus Three) 2018 – Part VIII

C. Michael Bailey By

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Cheryl Bentyne (and Mark Winkler)
Eastern Standard Time
Café Pacific Records

After celebrating the "Left Coast" with West Coast Cool (Summitt Records, 2013), singers Cheryl Bentyne and Mark Winkler return with another collection of duets on Eastern Standard Time, properly celebrating New York City in the late '50s and early '60s with songs one might have heard in some small, but celebrated dive. The pair return several musicians from the earlier recording: pianist Rich Eames, drummer Dave Tull, reedsman Bob Sheppard with largely the same excellent results. A big sound is what characterizes Eastern Standard Time, starting with the bold and brash Latin take on Bob Dorough's "Devil May Care." Pianist Eames' arrangements add a bigger than reality sound. the singers take solo bows, Winkler covering the Dietz/schwartz "Rhode Island is Famous for You," while Bentyne resurrected a rarely heard Rodgers and Hammerstein song, "The Gentleman is a Dope" from Allegro (1947). The pair took collaboration to a new height by employing Michael J. Hurzon to draft the song sequence, making Eastern Standard Time one of the most intelligently programmed recordings of the year.

Claudia Döffinger
Monochrome: Graz Composers Orchestra meet Claudia Döffinger
QFTF
2018

Contemporary big band music is often a crap shoot. There exist those composers who write impossible charts for academic ears only and those who skirt neo-swing. Why not find something that is a mixture of the two: music that is smart and accessible. German big band composer and arranger Claudia Döffinger is emerging as a potent force in contemporary large ensemble composition with her debut recording, Monochrome. The disc title is a is intentionally ironic as the music presented is anything but monochromatic. Döffinger deftly manages her tonal colors with the facility of the impressionistic masters. She equally as deftly incorporates and integrates the rhythmic and harmonic elements of her composition into a seamless and readily accessible 4-dimensional whole. The disc kicks off with "White Note Excorcist" which earned the composer the Downbeat Student Award for Original Composition for Large Ensemble in 2017. Justly so, Döffinger favors no single section of the band, in this case the Graz Composers Orchestra, using and exposing them all equally. The piece features Patrick Dunst's soprano saxophone, from which the soloist draws slick and smooth tones in an angular fashion. The title piece, a carefully paced ballad, offers guitarist Manuel Schuster ample room and harmonic cushion for an extended consideration of his instrument (making me think of Wishbone Ash's Argus (MCA, 1972)). Döffinger, herself, is featured on "The Elephant," displaying a sensitive and insightful piano style that is neither too flashy or technical For an in-depth consideration of this recording, please see Hrayr Attarian in his excellent review of Monochrome.

Estrella Acosta
Mujeres De Luna: Songs by Cuban Women Composers
EStar
2018

Cuban singer Estrella Acosta digs deep into the rich soil of Cubano music, specifically that composed by women of the island. Mujeres de Luna (Women of the Moon) is a beautifully conceived and executed collection of 11 selections, all composed my Cuban women whose careers encompassed all of the 20th Century and what has been consumed of the 21st. What this music is not (for the broadest of listeners) is a female Buena Vista Club. While both musical styles are fundamentally organic, the music on Mujeres de Luna has smooth, rounded edges and an almost tactile suppleness. Included here are compositions by Maria Teresa Vera, Yaima Orozco, Maria Cervantes, and Marta Valdes. Acosta proves an exceptional interpreter of this music with her quartet supported by strings and a host of percussive delights. This music, as evidenced by Elda Carrillo's "As Suerte," is hooked-filled. Worry not if you can't understand the lyrics. The language is music and it speaks to everyone. That is how to best approach a wonderful recording one might otherwise not address.

Deborah Swiney
I Remember Rio
Self Produced
2018

Memphis, Tennessee is the ground zero for so much of America's music that it should be no surprise that it is also the home of vocalist Deborah Swiney. The gravitational pull of the region is such that it colors intensely Swiney's treatment of the music of Brazil on her debut I Remember Rio. This Memphis-Soul seasoning is what places this recording apart from the myriad of other recordings devoted to Brazilian music (reflecting Swiney's time spent as a background singer for Al Green). Whether Swiney sings tried-and-true Bossa Nova like "Dindi" and "Girl from Ipanema" or her original (and humorous) "Bossa Nova Casanova," Swiney makes this long-popular style of music with her deep Memphis roots. Guitarist Ed Finney plays a large part in the recording, featured prominently on "How Insensitive." Jobim looms necessarily large on this recording. Were this simple one more Bossa Nova recording, it would be a bore. But Swiney's voice, full of its deep southern soul adds an interesting dimension to these songs. "Dindi," "Girl from Ipanema" (song in the original by Swiney capably) and "No More Blues" is the tryptic that holds down the entire release. Swiney's accompaniment is full-bodied and densely humid with the Sothern climes. Lannie McMillian's tenor obbligato and solo on "Ipanema" is top-notch and not the least bit Stan Getz. This disc was a pleasant surprise and a very welcome one.

Kate Reid
The Heart Already Knows
Self Produced
2018

When the jazz stars align, as they do for vocalist Kate Reid on The Heart Already Knows, we can be confident that goodness and grace exist. On a series of eleven duo performances, Reid is accompanied by either piano or guitar. That said, they are not just any pianists or guitarists lending a hand. Paul Meyers, Larry Koonse and Romero Lubambo each contribute to two of the recording's 11 selections. Pianists Fred Hersch and Taylor Eigsti contribute on the remain five selections. All of the accompanists bring their own unique identities to the pieces on which they provide support. Hersch is deeply introspective on the Billie Holiday-associated ballad "No More" and tentatively swinging on "If I Should Lose You." These two characteristics coalesce on Hersch's "Lazin' Around." Eigsti is more experimental on "Busy Being Blue" and "Secret o' Life." Lubambo provides the Latin humidity on "Endless Stars" and "Minds of Their Own." Meyers and Koonse keeps it all between the ditches on this more than satisfying vocal release.

Jennifer Lee
My Shining Hour
SBE Records
2018

Who ever said the only thing good to come out of Oakland was The Tower of Power? What about vocalist/composer/multi-instrumentalist Jennifer Lee? Her previous recordings, Jaywalkin' (2003) and Quiet Joy (2009), both on producer/arranger Peter Sprague's SBE Records established Lee as authority on the American and Brazilian Songbooks. My Shining Hour frames Lee as a composer who, in the nine years since her last release, has cultivated a rich and original repertoire addressing what it is to be human in all of its glory. Lee's ensemble, the Ever-Expanding Universe, is a collective of musicians that includes trumpeter Randy Brecker, violinist Mads Tolling, keyboardist Adam Schulman and bassist Bob Magnusson among many others. Only two of the baker's dozen songs are standards, the title track and Abel Zarate's "Song of Happy," both melding well with Lee's original compositions. Lee shares production and arranging duties with Sprague, the results being a plush and multi-layered sound that captures well the tonal complexities of these performances. Lee exhibits a great stage presence in composition and performance on the-made-for-Broadway "Crammin' Crepes with Cathi at the Cock-a-Doodle Café" and an even more accomplished ballad composing style. Coupled with her ensemble, My Shining Hour is a full-figured jazz release beckoning a listen.

Johnaye Kendrick
Flying
Johnygirl
2018

I make it a point to read the criticism of my colleagues at AAJ. I was interested, and then, inspired by Paul Rauch's lengthy article " Johnaye Kendrick: In the Deepest Way Possible" and Rauch's review of the present Flying. This is no faint praise. Flying is a vocal game-changer just as Cassandra Wilson's Blue Light 'til Dawn (Blue Note, 1993) was. Where Wilson's contribution was a performance shift into the ultra-organic with an inspired repertoire, Kendrick provides a new repertoire, her own superb contributions, and those rare standards here she stamps hard. In charge of both production and arrangements, Kendrick infuses her music with complex and circuitous piano lines by pianist Dawn Clement that properly reflect the progressive keyboard language of Jamieson Trotter, a pianist with whom Clement shares her piano philosophy. Her voice is solidly balanced and her ear for melody and mind for lyrics are an order-of-magnitude above everything released around her. Kendrick delivers the best scat singing recently heard on "It Could Happen to You" and delivers the contemporary goods on John Mayer's "3X5." With her smooth, accomplished band and engineering that accentuates the positive, this is a recording-of-the-year.

Adison Evans
Meridian
Aditone Music
2018

Taking a slight turn from vocalists into reeds and winds, Adison Evans planted a flag in the ground with her solidly bop-directed Heros (Self Produced, 2016). The saxophonist has had a busy two years, touring with Beyonce and Jay Z up to 2014 when she retreated to the county (in Tuscany, no less) in deference to NYC. She turned her attention backwards to the earthier climes of Heros. Evans now returns with a collection of mostly original compositions on Meridian. Using an international cast of musicians, Evans extends her organic nature with carefully wrought compositions. Of note is her bass clarinet played against the clarinet of Vasko Dukovski on "Prelude and Fugue in Dm The Plunge." This is a strangely swinging piece that shows a very different use of the bass clarinet than is traditionally heard. Evan's baritone is baroquely melodic on Henry Mancini's "Two for the Road" in space she shares with tenor saxophonist and arranger Troy Roberts. Evans' triumph is saved for last, an almost-big-band arrangement of Miles Davis' "Serpent's Tooth," music this writer hopes to hear more of from Adison Evans.

Yelena Eckemoff
Better Than gold and Silver
L&H Production
2018

Sacred music comes in many forms and from many inspirations. Historically, it has always been a cornerstone of our shared musical story. Regardless of one's conviction, this tradition is a part of us and will continue to be. Russian composer and pianist Yelena Eckemoff was an atheist in the former Soviet Union before coming to the United States seeking material, cultural, and spiritual freedom. The latter she found in Christianity, first through the Russian Orthodox text and then the King James Bible, from where she takes her settings of selected Psalms. Eckemoff breaks up the lengthy Psalm 119, dispersing it among Psalms 58, 110, 126, 131, and 147. The composer has divided her project over two CDs, one with vocals, and the second, instrumental only. She employs the tenor voice of Tomas Cruz and mezzo soprano Kim Mayo, who solo and duet throughout. Her band is stellar, including: trumpeter Ralph Alessi, guitarist Ben Monder, violinist Christian Howes, bassist Drew Gress and drummer Joey Baron. The music is sublimely introspective with an angular trajectory and evolution. Quietly contemplative and deeply moving.

Sasha Masakowski
Art Market
Ropeadope
2018

The Family Masakowski has powerful gris gris. Sasha Masakowski, daughter of noted guitarist Steve Masakowski (who has as a protégé guitarist Ted Ludwig) has consolidated the family talent into an accomplished vocalist/composer. Her most recent recordings, N.O. Escape (Self Produced, 2017—as part of the Masakowski Family), Sasha Masakowski & the Sidewalk Strutters Old Green River (Louisiana Music Factory, 2015); Hildegard (Self Produced, 2015); and Wishes (Hypersoul, 2011). This brief discography shows Masakowski as a fearless seeker of sound: updating the old ("Iko Iko" and Bill Evans' "Interplay") and the new ("Sister" and "entropy"). She closes things with a transmogrified "Struttin' With Some Barbecue." There is no telling what this young lady will do next, but I do know it will be fun.

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