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Dee Alexander: Songs My Mother Loves

Dan Bilawsky By

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The maternal influence on a musician should never be underestimated. There's a degree of love, guidance, nurturing and support that only a mother can provide, and plenty of jazz artists have taken the time to express their appreciation for this fact: violinist Regina Carter did so with the touching I'll Be Seeing You: A Sentimental Journey (Verve, 2006), trumpeter Dave Douglas explored the hymns and folk songs that his mother had asked to be played at her funeral on Be Still (Greenleaf, 2012), and plenty of others haven't been shy about expressing their feelings about dear old mom in song or album-length tributes. Now Dee Alexander joins the ranks, but her album is a bit different than those previously mentioned: she delivers this tribute while her mother is still around to hear it.

On the plainly-titled Songs My Mother Loves, Alexander puts her own spin on classics and infrequently-performed winners that her mother enjoys, giving every single number a new lease on life. She paints "Long As You're Living" with earthier and more soulful colors than those used by Abbey Lincoln, dials down the temperature on "Now Or Never" while still retaining the blues form and the spirit of the Billie Holiday version, projects a tropical lilt and Latin tinge onto "Perdido," and cooks and floats over a hip-and-buoyant rhythmic soul stew on "Softly As In A Morning Sunrise."

In her band mates, Alexander finds kindred spirits. Bassist Harrison Bankhead's pliant tones enliven this music, pianist Miguel de la Cerna can shift between the church, the corner joint, the concert hall, and the supper club in a single song ("Soul Serenade"), and drummer Yussef Ernie Adams expertly balances sensitivity and power throughout. Several guests also step aboard, adding additional colors and textures to the album. Most notable among them are guitarist Scott Hesse, who brings a gentle and relaxed feeling to "What A Difference A Day Makes," Corey Wilkes, whose muted trumpet adds to the smoky allure of "Nature Boy," and saxophonists Oliver Lake and Ari Brown, who both shine on their respective guest shots.

While Dee Alexander is rightly viewed as a musical treasure in her hometown of Chicago, albums like this and Wild Is The Wind (Blujazz, 2009) should go a long way in expanding her reach. Her voice and talents can't be bound by any city, style or subject.

Track Listing: Long As You're Living; Now Or Never; Guess Who I Saw Today; Perdido; Lonesome Lover; Nature Boy; Letter From Home; What A Difference A Day Makes; Softly As In A Morning Sunrise; Soul Serenade; Perdido.

Personnel: Dee Alexander: vocals; Miguel de la Cerna: piano; Harrison Bankhead: bass; Yussef Ernie Adams: drums, percussion; Tomeka Reid: cello (10); Scott Hesse: guitar (8, 10); Junius Paul: bass (8, 10); Ari Brown: tenor saxophone (2, 7); Oliver Lake: alto saxophone (1, 5); Corey Wilkes: trumpet (6).

Title: Songs My Mother Loves | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Blujazz Productions

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