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Ten Artists: June 2019

C. Michael Bailey By

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Polly Gibbons
All I Can Do
Resonance Records
2019

Polly Gibbons's 2017 Resonance release, Is It Me...? was positively received by All About Jazz and other outlets when it appeared. That recording featured a crack trio augmented with soloists, establishing Gibbons as a sensitive yet muscular interpreter of the American Songbook and beyond. All I Can Do finds Gibbons in larger company and in front of a live audience. If Gibbons betrayed any shyness on her debut recording, it has been dispensed with here. She emerges with full confidence and control.

Gibbons is not afraid to shake up the repertoire with challenging and unexpected songs. This recital is filled with upbeat music that swings with a relaxed momentum, one bragging of fine musicianship and arrangement. Gibbons covers "Beautiful Things" from the 1967 film Dr. Dolittle a nice surprise augmented by beautiful piano playing from James Pearson. Cole Porter's "Anything Goes" is put on the slow simmer with an arrangement that could have been envisioned by Leon Russell circa Mad Dogs and Englishmen, again steered by Pearson. Prince's "Nothing Compares 2 U" in its anxious simplicity, demands the listeners' attention for its superb composition and equally superb performance. Gibbons brings the fun and the blues with "Some of My Best Friends are the Blues" a "Sugar in My Bowl," completing a satisfying and informative jazz vocals recording.

Lauren White
Life in the Modern World
Cafe Pacific Records
2019

Los Angeles-based vocalist Lauren White follows up her recordings Out of the Past: Jazz & Noir (Cafe Pacific, 2016) with the mature and urbane Life in the Modern World. Again recording for Mark Winkler's Cafe Pacific label with Winkler producing (and joining in on a duet "'Till I Get It Right"), White displays a steady voice and precise talent for repertoire. In addition to Winkler and looming very large is pianist/arranger Quinn Johnson whose melody management ranks with that of Jamieson Trotter and Tamir Hendelman. All of this firepower is brought forth in support of the densely-balanced alto voice of White, which has grown richer and more substantial over the her previous five recordings.

White has assembled a collection of eleven of newer compositions and reimaginings of several old ones, all presented in freshly-considered harmonic environments that infuse them with a warmth and familiarity in spite of the "newness" of the presentation. This is a large part of the recording's charm. Older pieces like the Carmichael/Mercer "How Little We Know" meld well this more contemporary songs like Michael Franks "Monk's New Tune." Charles Mingus's "Ellington's Sound of Love" dovetails nicely into Paul Simon's iconic "American Tune." It is my tribute to call this "grown up" jazz singing for grownups. While this recording can be readily appreciated by all listeners, the most seasoned will find it quite divine.

Angela Davis
Little Did they Know
ABC Jazz
2019

Aussie saxophonist Angela Davis arrived just in the nick of time with her third recording Little Did They Know, following up on her introductory The Art of The Melody (Self Produced, 2013) and sophomore effort Lady Luck (Self Produced, 2015). Davis allowed this one to incubate, resulting in a fully evolved project produced by a confident professional who knows exactly what she wants. Opting for the smallest rhythm section possible, bassist Sam Anning and pianist Tony Gould, Davis steers through four original compositions and four pleasant surprises.

The paired-down music frames Davis' warm and delicate alto saxophone tone in a three-dimensional space of quiet where a magical counterpoint takes place. Davis' original title piece is a case in point, where she chooses a simple harmonic scaffolding upon which to hang the subtle filigree of melody, faintly Old-World European and melancholy. She addresses Charlie Haden from his collaboration on Ginger Baker's Falling off the Roof (Atlantic, 1996)—a humid reading of "Our Spanish Love Song" and Bill Frisell from his Blues Dream (Nonesuch, 2011) on a pastoral "Pretty Flowers Made for Blooming." A brief and beautiful recitation of Handel's "Lascia ch'io pianga" closes this sensitive recital, Davis' tone and approach are effective and direct and it serves her sound. This recording is a quiet interlude in an otherwise busy field.

Elizabeth Tomboulian
Love's In Need of Love Today
Quantum StarSong
2019

Love's in Need of Love Today is a recording replete with Arkansas connections. That in itself may not be too impressive save for Arkansas giving the world Johnny Cash, Glen Campbell, oh, and Bob Dorough, not to mention, Levon Helm (and I almost I missed Sister Sister Rosetta Tharpe). If none of that impresses one, the Natural State provided Roseanna Vitro, who produced this recording and is a pretty spiffy singer in her own right, along with her husband and master mixer Paul Wickliffe, who smoothed any rough edges here. And then, there is the leader of the band, singer/arranger Elizabeth Tomboulian, native of Pine Bluff, and her husband, pianist Lee Tomboulian, who holds down the keyboard bench. That is a high talent density for such a humble state.

Elizabeth is in no mood to play around on Love's in Need of Love Today. She detects a spiritual and emotional void not experienced since 1969 and seeks to fill it with music cleverly chosen and performed. There is a certain anxiety in these performances: her pairings are insightful. Bill Evans's "Re: Person I Knew" with Cyndi Lauper: Memphis Blues Tour's "Time After Time;" Thelonious Monk's "Nutty" with "If I Love Again:" and her quietly explosive coupling of Stephen Stills's "For What It's Worth" with {Joe Zawinul}}'s "Mercy Mercy Mercy" (with "Love Wins" lyrics by Elizabeth). Trumpeter Ingrid Jensen shows up and off her excellent muted soloing. The stylistic palette is varied and repertoire top-notch. Tomboulian's voice is fresh and fun and she is not afraid to use it with a decided edge. Bravo! An excellent recording in any estimation.

Bill Evans
Evans in England
Resonance Records
2019

In Europe, during the late 1960s, pianist Bill Evans had his very own Dean Benedetti following him around, discreetly recording his performances. A mysterious French collector known only as "Jo" recorded Evans across Europe, capturing the pianist's performances at London's Ronnie Scott's in December 1969 while Evans was enjoying a month-long residency with his longest lived trio, including bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Marty Morrell. These tapes took a circuitous route from "Jo" to Bud Powell's biographer, Francis Paudras to filmmaker Leon Terjanian, and, finally, to intrepid music sleuth, Zev Feldman. Capturing Evans during a particularly productive period, these recordings chronologically occur between the recordings of Quiet Now (Affinity, 1969), recorded in Amsterdam in late November before starting his residency at Ronnie Scott's (December 1st through the 27th) and his recordings at the Village Vanguard in February 1970, which would be eventually released as Bill Evans: The Secret Sessions (Milestone, 1996).

Evans always proved to be a consistent performer, always operating at an unusually high level and these London sides are no exception, capturing Evans quiet fire and brilliant thunder. It is worth comparing performances that these recitals have in common with Evans famous Village Vanguard performances eight years earlier. Evans covered "My Foolish Heart" on both recordings, as well as, his own "Waltz for Debbie." Both were mainstays in Evans' concert book, and these compositions receive two delicately differing and nuanced treatments. Evans' 1961 performances were carefully thoughtful, allowing bassist Scott LaFaro a broad introspective palette and Paul Motian much rhythmic latitude, which he uses sparingly. The 1969 performances are more extroverted, which I will credit to Gomez and Morrell. But Evans himself is feeling his creative oats, stepping well beyond his almost painfully introspective performances in 1961, to a more muscular expressiveness eight years later. Evans's discography is anything but lacking, yet a newly found Evans recording is always reason for celebration.

Wes Montgomery
Back on Indiana Avenue: The Carol DeCamp Recordings
Resonance Records
2019

Zev Feldman's explanations of how he comes about the archival material he acquires for Resonance Records borders on the most elaborate of Kennedy assassination conspiracies. Typically, his story includes the friend of a friend of a friend, meeting him serendipitously in a Dubai bar, drinking absinthe and smoking opium, before a person known only as "El Gato Gordo" shows up gripping some mysterious tapes in his sweaty hands. Wes Montgomery's Back on Indiana Avenue: The Carol DeCamp Recordings does not change this research trajectory. In his introductory essay, Feldman reports, "A collector provided the Echoes [of Indiana Avenue] recordings, but ultimately, it was really never known where the recordings originally came from. I was contacted by...Brook Reindollar, a protege of... [pianist] Carroll DeCamp. Pianist and scholar Lewis Porter has put Reindollar in touch with me..." See what I mean? As this turns out. the Echoes performances belonged to DeCamp, who provided the tapes for the present Back on Indiana Avenue.

The music? If the administrative particulars are a bit spotty, the music and its fidelity are well better than expected. Disc one is divided between an unidentified piano quartet, organ trio, and sextet. Of note is the diptych of "'Round Midnight" and "So What" that ground the disc in Montgomery's already solid style Montgomery is soulful and assertive. Disc two are labelled as "Nat 'King" Cole-style trios with bass and piano. The fidelity here is less than that of Disc one, approximate the sonics of the famous bebop sides issued a decade before. "Stompin' at the Savoy," "Opus De Funk," and "Summertime" anchor this disc in the present vernacular It is thought that these recordings were made in the middle-to late-1959, possible before Montgomery's debut on Riverside with The Wes Montgomery Trio (1959). This release exists to make us wonder just how much more of this music we may expect. Hopefully, much more.

Betty Carter
The Music Never Stops
Blue Engine Records
2019

The list of female jazz vocalists is usually topped (based on sheer talent and innovation) with: Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Sarah Vaughan. Who should come next? I will make the immediate argument that it should be Betty Carter. Carter was a fearless performer, peerless scat singer, and one of the most exciting voices to hear. Carter died in 1998 and Blue Engine Records, in imprint for the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, has released the first posthumous Carter release of previously unheard material since that time. This release signals the first time in the history of Jazz at Lincoln Center that archivists have produced a CD from the organizations considerable live recorded holdings. That prospect alone is exciting: a treasure trove of releases to rival that of Resonance Records, Reel to Real, and Elemental Music.

Carter's recital is an eclectic one, including a medley of two two mainstays from the Carter performance book, "Tight!" and "Mr. Gentleman," (featuring Cyrus Chestnut on piano, Ariel Roland on bass and Gregory Hutchinson on drums. A pensive "Moonlight in Vermont" and extroverted "Frenesi" represent the alpha and omega of the collection. Carter's is a voice that often is considered an acquired taste. She can come off a bit like a harsh bourbon that requires stepping past the harshness into the undiluted light of the Carter's talent. While is may not be an essential recording, it is a welcome one, documenting the most important jazz singer leading up to Cassandra Wilson and Cecile McLorin Salvant.

Mandy Kemp
Firecracker
Label
2019

After forgoing a musical career from the get-go, right out of high school, for the greater stability of 15 years of corporate marketing, vocalist Mandy Kemp returns to music with her debut recording, a slim, six-selection EP, Firecracker. Leading a piano (Andy Langham)—vibraphone (Nick Mancini) quartet, augmented with electric guitar (Will Brahm, along with bassist Jonathan Flaugher and drummer Rick Montalbano), Kemp strolls through a handful of jazz styles from the nostalgic "How Little We Know," to the jaunty "I Concentrate on You." She and the band turn "I Don't Care Much" into a lilting jazz waltz, while taking a straight ballad road with "In a Manner of Speaking." Kemp reaches a zenith with a mash up of "These Foolish Things" and "Detour Ahead" presented, quietly with piano trio. Kemp's voice is confident and no-nonsense. Her past few years singing cabaret have paid off giving the singer a sound grounding in both her timing and sense of swing. She delivers these standards and near-standards with a quiet flair and aplomb.

John Dokes
True Love
Rondette Records
2019

Renaissance Man John Dokes immediately reminds me of Lyn Stanley. Both are multi-talented: singers, arrangers, dancers, and entrepreneurs. Dokes has a day job as the Global Chief Marketing Officer at Accuweather besides having previously recorded Forever Reasons (Rondette Records, 2016) and John Dokes Sings, George Gee Swings! (Swing Theory, 2010). His present offering, True Love is the second in a projected trio of quintet releases (after Forever Reasons), which he intends to then follow up with a prospective project with a yet-to-be-named trumpet player. A busy man, to be sure.

One first notices Doke's rich and creamy baritone voice, a commanding presence that fills the sonic space with warmth and familiarity.. His phrasing is relaxed and his confidence sure. The opening measures of "A Sleepin' Bee" reveal a relentless swing courtesy of bassist Alex Claffy who pins the time and promotes the momentum of the entire set. His interactions with the leader are notable, particularly on the ballads "Never Let Me Go" and an upbeat "You Don't Know What Love Is." Dokes's original composition, "Cool Enough" reveals the singer's capable writing talent. Dokes makes it all sound easy and effortless.

Ray Fuller and the Blues Rockers
Pay The Price
Azuretone Records
2019

One couldn't expect to escape this column without a stiff dose of stomp. New Albany, Ohio native Ray Fuller has been a part of the blues music community since having heard John Mayall's Bluesbreakers in real time. Fuller founded the Ray Fuller band in 1974 and then the Bluesrockers in 1978. Since that time, Fuller and his band have recorded and toured regularly. It is not too far a reach to call Fuller and his band journeymen in the best sense of the word. They have honed the craft of performing blues, rockabilly, rock and roll, and beyond. Fuller and his band prove on the present recording, Pay the Price that they can play with fine facility and element of these genres and subgenres. Fuller is noted as a capable slide guitarist. He is, to be sure, of the slash and burn variety: more Hound Dog Taylor and George Thorogood than Duane Allman and Lowell George. Vocally, Fuller is solid with impressive chops able to summon sweetness and decadence in the same phrase. Of interest is the bona fides that mouth harpist Doc Malone brings to the recording, filling in any sonic black spots surrounding Fuller's persistent momentum for the ultimate groove.

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All I Can Do

All I Can Do

Resonance Records
2019

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Is It Me...?

Is It Me...?

Resonance Records
2017

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Many Faces of Love

Many Faces of Love

Resonance Records
2014

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What's The Real Reason?

What's The Real...

Rugged Ram Records
2006

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