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Seven Women (Plus Three) 2018 – Part VII


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Well, that didn't take long. What started as "Five Women" quickly grew into the present "Seven Women" and will continue to the end of this year as "Seven Women (Plus Three) as a continuing reflection of the state of female vocalists and instrumentalists. We are blessed with an abundance of musical riches.

Adi Meyerson
Where We Stand
AM Records

There is something to be said, 60 years on, about the durability and staying power of the hard bop subgenre of jazz. The jazz subtype forged in the early 1950s by Art Blakey, Horace Silver, and Miles Davis could still be considered "mainstream jazz" today considering bassist Adi Meyerson's potent and swinging contribution to the catalog, Where We Stand. Customary hard bop quintet core? Check. Complex, often angular heads? Check. Earthy blues and gospel accents? Check. Traditional soloing? Check. Drumming freedom anticipating post-bop? Check. Compositional emphasis? Check. Yes, Meyerson provides them all and more on her debut recording. Auspicious? You bet!
Meyerson has assembled an impressive band that sports saxophonist Joel Frahm and trumpeter Freddy Hendrix, plus guitarist/vocalists Camila Meza who sings on the two Meyerson-penned vocal offerings. "Little Firefly" and the title cut. Frahm's muscular tenor and lithe soprano saxophones make themselves right at home with Hendrix's tart open-bell trumpeting. Meyerson's excellent rhythm section mates, pianist Mike King and drummer Kush Abadey get feature standing on the jaunty "TNT." Meyerson displays her ballad wares on the beautifully-paced "Holes" that features King's introspective pianism. Where We Stand is an excellent debut that promises more to come. Let's welcome it!

Leni Stern
Leni Stern:3 with Mamadou Ba and Alioune Faye
Self Produced

Traditionally, the most percussion-rich jazz music has been that infused with Caribbean and Latin influences. Guitarist Leni Stern has been studying West Africa as an alternate source of percussion driven music ever since having made the acquaintance of Massekou Kouyate and his wife Ami Sacko at the Festival au Desert in Timbuktu, Mali almost 15 years ago. That meeting led to Stern's swan dive into the culture, language, and music of West Africa and the intervening years of study have led to 3 with Mamadou Ba and Alione Faye. While Stern is the ostensible leader of this date, the recording is very much rooted in the percussion of Alioune Faye. To be sure, there is American (or better German-American) jazz here, but it is woven deeply into to the fecund rhythms of West Africa, her two musical partners coming from Senegal. Stern plays with a graceful restraint that augments and enhances the percussive elements of the performance. Integral to this percussive approach is the rhythmic anchor provided by bassist Mamadou Ba, whose Sympatico with Stern is palpable throughout. Stern's singing offers an interesting seasoning to the project, both in English and Senegalese. This recording is something larger than mere "World Music." It has a savory depth that is purely spiritual.

Deanne Matley
Because I Loved
Factor Music

With four previous recordings to her credit, Alberta-native vocalist Deanne Matley has been woefully under-represented within our humble electronic pages. Well known and received in her Canadian home, Matley properly elbows her way south with her release Because I Loved. There exists a technical diptych comprised of arrangement and vocal approach and musical arrangement. Regarding the latter, Matley shares the arrangement duties with pianist Paul Shrofer. The arrangements facilitate the integral rolls of drummer (and date producer) Jim Doxas and percussionist Kiko, who can provide a sound wall of shimmering percussion has they do behind Shofer's solo on the opening "The Moon is Made of Gold." The arrangement/vocal triple point is achieved on Matley's imagining of Stanley Turrentine's "Sugar" where Matley turns up both the tempo and sensual, singing Ted Daryll's clever lyrics. Tenor saxophonist Al McLean shaves off Turrentine's brusqueness while injecting some attenuated Coltrane to temper the song's innate sexiness.

Matley and Shrofer pair off for Vince Jones' "The After Thought" to show off their ballad capabilities. Then, things turn contemporary on "Catching Up to Do" featuring the precise electric undulation of bassist Adrian Vedady as well as a ragged, angular guitar solo by Steve Raegele. Matley's "Not My Only One" is Latin colored with Kiko's firm percussion grounding everything. Matley shows considerable talent in her lyric writing: clever, smart, inventive. Originals "My Favorite Distraction" and "Pieces" are piquant adult contemporary pieces, plush with fertile ground arrangements from out of and over which Matley can sing. Matley displays great courage and foresight in both her original compositions and those covers carefully chosen. Hers is a solid vocal and compositional talent deserving of much more attention.

Cathy Segal-Garcia
The Jazz Chamber
Dash Hoffman Records

Last year, Cathy Segal-Garcia released her 10th recording, the duo recording In2uition (Dash Hoffman Records, 2017) made with a several duo partners including pianists John Beasley and Gary Fukshima. Back with her 11th recording, Segal-Garcia expands things to the level of a Jazz Chamber Orchestra, not simply determined by number of orchestra members but also by vocal forces mobilized.

Segal-Garcia's conception is very much in keeping with an integrated tone poem, touching on matters of the heart, mind, and ideological. The music Segal- Garcia surrounds these touchstones of life and thought is equal to the task of expressing them artfully. She starts her recital almost predictably, with the standard, "Star Eyes." Segal-Garcia sings the piece with a noted sardonic tenderness against a panoramically orchestral arrangement. The effect is expansive like a movie soundtrack backing a particularly anxious scene. Lolly Allen's light, bright vibes add just the otherworldly element needed for this ecstasy-ridden dream. Allen's vibes plays a more unifying role on "Velho Piano" where Segal-Garcia sings in duo effectively with Kate McGarry.

The anchor of the disc are three expansive pieces: " Cinema Paradiso" who the singer shares with Mon David; "Message to Prez," and extended non-lyric vocals pitting Segal-Garcia with the group "Fish to Birds," and the mash up of "Universal Prisoner" and "Compared to What" with whom the leader shares vocal space with Tierney Sutton the pair turning in a politically-and culturally-charged performance that recasts National Public Radio's recitation of the Declaration of Independence in a whole new light. The Jazz Chamber is jazz on the very edge of creative thought.

Jamie Shew
Eyes Wide Open
Self Produced

Art is not conceived in a vacuum and need not stand on its own, independent of all else, for validity and necessity, as New Criticism would design. The essence of being human is the story behind being human. Musical polymath Jamie Shew takes the deliberate opportunity to use art to express what cannot simply be told but must also be experienced. Eyes Wide Open. The release describes in music her life with husband, bassist and educator Roger Shew, who passes away much too young from cancer. We humans often do not know where to put those inconvenient, unwelcome, and always unavoidable things too large and painful to put into quick perspective. Shew decided to weave the entire experience, the good and bad, into thirteen-part life suite, meaningfully composed and chosen.

Leading a guitar-fronted quartet consisting of guitarist Larry Koonse, keyboardist Joe Bagg, bassist Darek Oles and drummer Jason Harnell, Shew crafts an extended story, one easier to understand as it is performed. She bookends the collection with original compositions, the bright and playful "Get Out of My Head" and the beautifully brutal reality check evolution to hope of the title composition. Between these is a grandly conceived program of thoughtfully selected songs that brings a loving and passionate integrity to the whole of Eyes Wide Open. A jaunty "Easy to Love," a humorous (but respectful) "The Flat Foot Floogie," Pat Metheny's "Question & Answer" transformed into "The Answers are You" by Roger Shew's lyrics written for his her are all couched in an intensely personal significance for the couple. A skipping "Thou Swell," a Broadway-tinged "Mountain Greenery," and an organ trio "Easy Living" hold down the center of a fading conception of perfection well remembered.

Lynne Arriale Trio
Give Us These Days
UTA Records

Pianist/composer Lynne Arriale ends a six-year absence from recording with the release of Give Us These Days. Her 13 previous recordings spanning the past 25 years, are filled with informed and exquisitely performed piano trio performance. This most recent addition to the discography continues this paradigm and is notable for the inclusion of vocalist Kate McGarry on the plaintive and through-provoking Tom Waits song "Take It With Me." Arriale and McGarry's palpable duo empathy make a full recording of the two a most welcome dream. In addition to this highlight are performances of six Arriale compositions, of which "Apassionata," "Finding Home," and the title ballad, show off very different creative sides of the pianist that potently qualify her as a principal piano trio leader.

The two "standards" included are big ones. Joni Mitchell's touchstone "Woodstock" proves putty in the hands of an improvisatory master like Arriale, who builds an all-inclusive orchestral architecture out of it (particularly in the drumming of Jasper van Hulten ). The Beatles' "Let It Be" offers a similar canvas upon which Arriale paints a hesitant and fractured beauty, seasoned with the expert cymbal work of Van Hulten, and the precision bass pizzicato of Jasper Somsen. Piano trio art remains vibrant and essential in the hands of Lynne Arriale.

In the Loop
University of Texas Arlington Records

And now for a hard-left turn. Woodwired is a winds duo made up of flautist Hannah Leffler and bass clarinetist Cheyenne Cruz. Drs. Leffler and Cruz are based in Dallas and associated with the University of Texas at Arlington. I would classify this as "progressive chamber music," Leffler and Cruz thinking way outside of the box in their even ten original compositions making up their debut In the Loop. The title is a take-off on the pair's use of computers and sound loops in their performances. This technique has acquired traction in recent years, employed by inventive artists like Tash Sultana. Songs here range from the harmonically complex "Dionysus" to the humidly rhythmic insistence of "Libertango." What In the Loop offers listeners is a different hearing experience. This is a vastly listenable and enjoyable collection of music made by two learned souls of adventure.

Allegra Levy
Looking at the Moon

The theme here is a classic look at the moon. New York vocalist Allegra Levy's first two recordings, Cities Between Us (SteepleChase, 2017), Lonely City (SteepleChase, 2014) were uncommonly devoted to mostly original compositions. For her third release, Levy has cleverly assembled standards devoted to that spherical object of poets' dreams. She is backed by an equally uncommon jazz trio made up of pianist Carmen Staaf; guitarist Alex Goodman, and bassist Tim Norton making for a relaxed and pleasantly quiet recording date. There is the expected "Moon River" performed and sung darkly. Neil Young's 1992 "Harvest Moon" translates well into the jazz ballad realm, just as Nick Drake's "Pink Moon" emerges as an anxious portrait of 20 years before. Levy's use of spare instrumentation makes this recording a quiet affair, concentrating its artistic gravity into an infinite point, a musical singularity from which nothing escapes.

Marty Elkins
Fat Daddy
Nagel Heyer Records

Marty Elkins is the most effective purveyor of 1920s and '30s swing vocals recording today. Her previous Hegel Meyer recordings, Fuse Blues (2000) and Walkin' By the River (2016) display both a fixed yet evolutionary direction in American Songbook interpretation. These are no sepia-toned, nostalgic performances any more than they are too-cute reimaginings of songs having no business being reimagined. The present Fat Daddy continues Elkins showcase of old songs presented progressively and respectfully, revealing the deep and fertile nature of American Song. Supported by the likes of guitarist James Chirillo, trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso, and keyboardist Joel Diamond (all old Nagel Heyer hands), Elkins rips the gospel guts from "On Revival Day" and remakes "Cow Cow Boogie" in her own image. As long as the American Songbook exists, Marty Elkins need be there to interpret it for us.

Christine Hitt
Magical Kite
Self Produced

Twenty Years ago, I reviewed Christine Hitt's MAXJAZZ release, You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To (1999). Listening to it again makes me wonder what Hitt has been doing in the meantime. It does not take long to figure that out. Besides teaching, Hitt was raising a family, two of the members appearing on her self-produced recording Magical Kite. Hitt purposely assembled a band that includes pianists John Beasley and Geoff Keezer (who also produced the recording), son Eric Hitt on bass, and drummers Jeff Hamilton and Gene Coye. Ubiquitous saxophonist Bob Sheppard adds his seasoning to an eclectic collection of the old (Charlie Parker's "Yardbird Suite") and the new (Dan Fogelberg's "Believe in Me"). MAXJAZZ alum Erin Bode joins Hitt on her original title piece, defining perfectly what Hitt has been doing the last 20 years...growing, teaching, singing, living.

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