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Seven Women (Plus Three) 2018 – Part X

C. Michael Bailey By

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Lucia Jackson
You and the Night and the Music
Roni Music
2018

To a precious few, much talent is given, particularly the young of age, like New York City —native Lucia Jackson, who, at the age of 26 has already distinguished herself as an accomplished dancer and model. Now Jackson emerges as a singer, capitalizing on her voice and piano training at the prestigious Escuela de Musica Creativa in Madrid, Spain, where she attended on scholarship. You and the Night and the Music is Ms. Jackson's debut recording, a debut made more precise and auspicious by producer, arranger, and guitarist Ron Jackson, Ms. Jackson's father, who, together with his daughter craft a finely-tuned collection of standards that includes a quietly inviting Beatles' "And I love Him" and decidedly not one more "My Funny Valentine." That said, there are two pieces from this excellent collection that shine. "I'm a Fool to Want you" immediately makes me think of Billie Holiday's heartbreaking performance on Lady in Satin (Columbia, 1958). Not because of the ruined, decayed beauty of Holiday's performance, but because of her use of accordion and violin in a perfectly nostalgic missile aimed at the heart of every romantic that breaths. the second diamond is "I Fall in Love to Easily" recalling Chet Baker but with greater honesty. Youth is wasted on the young and is that not what is best?

Alyssa Allgood
Exactly Like You
Celler Music
2018

How does one cut the grease that a jazz guitar-organ trio garnered from the '50s and '60s in the 2010s? You put Chicago vocalese master Alyssa Allgood in front of the matter and all of that organic matter is assimilated into a wholesome whole that swings, swings, swings. We will never have the '50s and '60s back, but we may sure as hell enjoy that memory and Allgood provides that. The singer's previous recordings have presented on every end-of-year-lists that matter. Allgood's debut, Ladybird (Self Produced, 2015) proved her a superlative vocalese interpreter with a densely creative "Yardbird Suite" honoring Arkansas' own Bob Dorough. This was followed by 2016's Out of the Blue (Jeru Jazz, 2016). Allgoood is beautifully, "Taht Girl Next Door" with the chops of Eddie Henderson. On her Exactly Like You she shows invention and creativity well beyond what one would expect. Rocking with an organ-guitar jazz trio, Allgood slays Stevie Wonder's "If It's Magic" and Michael Jackson's "Rock with You" in something well beyond a lounge performance of the piece. Progressive interpretations of Lee Morgan's "Hocus Pocus" and the standard "Darn that Dream" and her reprise of "Yardbird Suite" make Allgood's new recording a gem.

Tessa Souter
Picture in Black and White
NOA
2018

The exotic product of English and Trinidadian parents, present New Yorker Tessa Souter has been no stranger to these electronic pages. She has distinguished herself a jazz pioneer exploring the nether corners of the genre, often smashing preconceptions and expectations on recordings like her well-received classical music mashup Beyond the Blue (Motema Records, 2012). If anything, the singer's penchant for upending the status quo has only accelerated on Picture in Black and White. Fronting an unusual sextet that includes a cello (Dana Leong and percussionist Keita Ogawa) Souter divides her time between her own compositions and some carefully selected not-so-standard standards. Souter's original triptych: "Picture in Black and White," "You Don't Have to Believe," and the traditional "Reynardine" arranged by the singer, reveals an all-inclusive message that prominently features pianist Adam Platt, bassist Yasushi Nakamura and guitarist Yotam Silberstein. Of the "standards," it is not merely enough for Souter to rearrange the guts of U2's "Where the Streets Have No Name." Souter takes the 1960s confection "A Taste of Honey" and nakedly accompanied only by Leong's searching cello, turns the piece into a dangerously sensual siren song. Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman" is powerfully transformed into a similarly spacious duet with bassist Nakamura, marking Souter as one of the most inventive musicians singing. Bravo!

Gina Sicilia
Heard the Lie
Bluelab Records
2018

Following up her 2016 Sunset Avenue (Bluelan), Philadelphia-forged soul/blues singer Gina Sicilia extends her vision of American with the smoldering Heard the Lie, making this writer wonder why talent like this does not receive more universal recognition. Her eighth recording, the music is from a by-gone period, but the production and sonics of this disc are so superior to the time form where this music comes, that what is production reveals should be enough to highlight Sicilia scintillating talent. It is easy to hear the Philadelphia soul here, and Sicilia brings that same informed sensibility to her views of the blues, country, and even rock, her cover of Bad Company's "Ready for Love" being one of the most inspired and spot-on covers this writer has recently heard. Similarly, the singer's original material, comprising most of this release is infused with a singular vision, regardless of the genre. The title cut is a clever take on a lover's doubt and angst with that doubt. "Sugar" is a romping hillbilly tome for love. On the other side, Sicilia, proves gleefully reckless in "I Do Bad Things." This is music not far from the spirit of Elvis Presley. Backed by a crack band and engineered by a hyperattentive producer, Heard the Lie is a solid listen, over and over again.

Sarah Borges & the Broken Singles
Love's Middle Name
Blue Corn Music
2018

A sea of ink has been spilled telling us that singer/composer Sarah Borges defies categorization. So much so, that it has become an overstatement. "The [music media} doth protest too much, methinks." Borges is not unlike the late 1960s Rolling Stones in that she has drawn from her surrounding stimuli, which includes rock, soul, country, blues, and, I suppose the nearest sub-atomic genre we can cite. Her music is organic, authentic, road-honed, and stage perfected. Love's Middle Name is her seventh release, and, perhaps, her most fully realized. Since 2014's Radio Sweetheart (Self Produced), Borges has become a mother, turned the new 20, and got sober. On Love's Middle Name she is not about suffering fools and not slowing down. She provides 10 hook-filled, lyrically-clever, rock-solid songs, "Lucky Rocks" being a grand example. Borges is not beyond a ballad, "Oh Victoria" and "Grow Wings" employing all of Borges' talent as a songwriter. Her band, the Broken Singles, bassist Binky, guitarist Eric Ambel, and drummers Phil Cimino and Ed Arnold provide Borges a tube amp-warm wall-of-sound that fills every corner of her compositions. Borges and her band inject plenty of two-step like "Get as Gone as You Can Get" lending some credence to her ability to be pigeon-holed as a musician.

Maria Muldaur
Don't You Feel My Leg: The Naughty Bawdy Blues Of Blue Lu Barker
The Last Music Company
2018

Blue Lu Barker (1913—1998) was a temporal and artistic product of New Orleans, a beloved fixture in the area, garnering much local and a little national attention in the 1930s and '40s, her most popular (and risqué) song, "Don't You Feel My Leg." Music critics, on one hand, decried her limited vocal range, while, on the other hand, Billie Holiday called the singer ..."my biggest influence." She performed with Cab Calloway," Jelly Roll Morton, and Sidney Bechet, among many others. Singer Maria Muldaur covered "Don't You Feel My Leg" on her 1973 debut recording (the same spawning her biggest hit record, "Midnight at the Oasis") at the suggestion of Dr. John, Mac Rebennack. This 45-year old suggestion has now blossomed into a full-blown album by Muldaur, honoring Barker, with whom Muldaur was friends, featuring a dozen bawdy blues popularized by Barker. Muldaur's focused collection follows closely Rory Block's recent masterpiece, Rory Block: A Woman's Soul: A Tribute To Bessie Smith (Stoney Plain Records, 2018). At 75-years old, Muldaur no longer has that "Midnight at the Oasis" voice. What she has is a seasoned, road-wary voice perfect for the oeuvre of Blue Lu Barker. Accompanying Muldaur back to the 1930s are David Torkanowsky on Piano, Herlin Riley on drums, Chris Adkins on guitar, Roland Guerin on bass, Kevin Louis & Duke Heitger on trumpet, Roderick Paulin & Tom Fischer on saxophone and clarinet, and Eric Trolsen and Charlie O'Halloran on trombone. This is that great old timey music rendered with 21st Century sonics.

The Kelly Green Trio
Kelly Green Trio, Volume One
Self Produced
2018

Pianist/composer/vocalist Kelly Green released her debut recording, Life Rearranged (Self Produced, 2017) not so long ago by today's output standards. On that recording she revealed herself capable of performing in a variety of formats, with a variety of accompanists. Presently, Green provides us the hopefully-entitled Kelly Green Trio, Volume One, tacitly promising more volumes to come. This is a good thing, because I just figured out the really great thing about Green...well, everything. Mostly, though, Greens voice and singing style are a fortuitous package deal providing beautifully conversational singing with a solid range and certain expression. Volume One is a seven-song collection with six standards and a single, clever original "Daily Lies." The disc opens with a lengthy consideration (9-minutes plus) that is a revelation. Revealed are all of the charms of Green's voice and her orchestral piano style. Bassist Alex Tremblay provides a reliable pulse and excellent solos, as does drummer Evan Hyde . The three easily navigate the Charles Mingus/Joni Mitchell mashup of "The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines" and the deft be bop of Charlie Parker's "Marmaduke" coupled with Fats Waller's "Honeysuckle Rose," appropriate as both are contrafacts of "I Got Rhythm," but it is Green and her wonderfully sardonic, casual and amiable deliver that makes the day. I am so glad there will be a Volume Two.

Lisa Hilton
Oasis
Ruby Slippers Production
2018

Reliably exceptional. That is how I would describe pianist/composer Lisa Hilton. We are almost guaranteed to be blessed with a release from her every year. Her last two offerings, Escapism (Ruby Slipper Productions, 2017) and Day and Night (Ruby Slipper Productions, 2017) were well received and showed Hilton's dependable composing continuing to evolve. Hilton's composing and performance could be describe as existing at the fulcrum of impressionism and expressionism. The one thing all of her performances have is a heartbeat. There is no amorphous meandering in her recordings and Oasis is no exception. Hilton, when employing the standard rhythm section, as she does here with bassist Luques Curtis and drummer Mark Whitfield Jr., relies heavily on the bassist's time and the drummer's touch. The lone standard here, George Gershwin's "Fascinating Rhythm," illustrates this. Hilton is not above whimsy, allowing the trio broad latitude. Her compositions, "Twist of Fate," "Oasis," and "Just for Fun" are swinging-ly grounded in the beat she establishes. This is where Hilton's charm shines brightest, making music that is original, but sounds so familiar that one could swear to have heard it before. Hilton shows no signs of slowing down or devolving in any way. And, that is a good thing.

Rachell Caswell
We're All in the Dance
Turtle Ridge Records
2018

Singer Rachel Caswell releases her third recording as a leader with We're All in the Dance. She has previously provided her vocal skills for recordings by younger sister, violinist Sara Caswell, and drummer Chris Parker, and in a short time has accumulated an impressive discography in a relatively short time. She is a vocalist of keen refinement and expression. Her recordings are characterized by studied song choice, musical accompaniment, and judicious use of her considerable vocal capabilities. She has the chops, particularly scat and vocalese, but does not show off. She is a master at singing off-time, lending her overall performances an added tension and drama. This is well presented on Bob Dorough's "Devil May Care" and Sting's "Fragile." Caswell is joined by guitarist Dave Stryker who also produces and arranges on the recording. Stryker evokes a lush and rich sonic ambiance well suited for Caswell's superb alto voice. Stryker's guitar presence is well noted, particularly his blues choruses on "Drown in My Own Tears: and slick be pop sensibility on Charlie Parker's "Dexterity." Sara Caswell fiddles capably on "Two for the Road" and bassist Linda May Han Ho tears things up throughout. We're All in the Dance is an exciting addition to Caswell's musical story, one proving to be bold and creative.

The Pagsberg BigBand & The Vocals, featuring Sasha Masakowski
BigBand Surprises
Getaway Music
2018

It's the Masakowskis. Yes, the New Orleans Masakowskis. Except we are just talking about one of them here, Sasha Masakowski. Unless you want to include her bassist brother Martin, who co-produces the singer's big band recording BigBand Surprises. Her dad, guitarist and educator Steve Masakowski sits this one out except in spirit. Sasha Masakowski joins forces with bandleader Mads Jacob Pagsberg for a live recital of nine original compositions. In keeping with her previous recordings, Sasha Masakowski & the Sidewalk Strutters, Old Green River (Louisiana Music Factory, 2015); Hildegard (Self Produced, 2015); and Wishes (Hypersoul, 2011), BigBand Suprises is a progressive and forward-thinking look at big band and big band vocals. Off the beaten path while still sounding familiar. What more can one ask?

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