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Ten Artists: May 2019

C. Michael Bailey By

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Paul Jost
Simple Life
Paul Jost Music
2019

I believe there are precious few exceptional male jazz vocalists. There. I said it. Female vocalists? They are legion. But once one has pruned away the vanity projects, the Sinatra wannabes, and the most recent unforgivable cover of "My Funny Valentine," there remain few. Paul Jost is one of those few. The singer's Breaking Through (Dot Time, 2014) revealed a fearless, scat-singing spirit unafraid of not only shaking up the jazz canon but adding to it. The spirit continues on Simple Life.

Jost is a bit of a throwback hipster, very conversational in his singing, and both warm and intimate. Here he enjoys the support of pianist Jim Ridl, bassist Dean Johnson, drummer Tim Horner, and vibraphonist Joe Locke. This quartet provides Jost a solid terrain over which to sing, ruminate, talk... communicate.

Jost deftly transforms more contemporary compositions into jazz vehicles. The opening "Blackbird" is propelled by bassist Johnson's simple figure, accented by Locke. Jost transforms Fred Neil's "Everybody's Talkin'" into a Quaalude dream bubbling up from the subconscious, broken only by the lazy rhythm provided by Horner. The Beatles show up a second time on "With A Little Help From My Friends," infused with Jost's exceptional harmonica playing. The title piece is just great, straight-ahead jazz, with a slow, introverted introduction giving way to an easy but urgent 4/4 swing. The surprise of the disc, however, is Jost's sensitive and earthy treatment of "Shenandoah." Again, he shows off his harmonica chops in a lilting, balladic treatment of an American classic.

Paul Jost is taking his time. He is careful about his repertoire selection, making even the most daring selections work. This is talent worth waiting for, and until his next recording let's just enjoy Simple Life.

Cathy Segal-Garcia, Larry Koonse & Josh Nelson
Dreamsville
Dash Hoffman Records
2019

Following up her The Jazz Chamber (Dash Hoffman, 2018), singer Cathy Segal-Garcia pares things down to a trio, with guitarist Larry Koonse and pianist Josh Nelson, for Dreamsville. Segal-Garcia, a rarified vocalist in any format, finds a plush comfort zone with these two singular players. This is a gentle recording that lives up to it somnolent title. There are no fireworks to be found among these beautifully disparate songs, only quiet ruminations, thoughtfully sung and performed by this obviously empathic trio.

In the title song, Koonse and Nelson establish a method that expands throughout the eleven selections of the disc. While Koonse plays palm-muted single-note figures, Nelson summons the melodies from the compositions, with occasional forays into clever counterpoint between guitar and piano. This method is also demonstrated in an ebullient performance of "September in the Rain."

The trio extends its counterpoint study to a logical conclusion on a vocalese performance of Domenico Scarlatti's Keyboard Sonata in B minor (L. 33). The performance is a pensive one, weaving together patches of Baroque precision and subtle impressionism. Segal-Garcia also courageously covers Horace Silver's "Lonely Woman" (complete with Leonard Feather lyrics) as a drifting ballad, devoid of any hard bop undertones.

The singer proves a master of direction when casting songs on the whim of her fertile creativity. The guitar-piano combination is provocative and effective for Segal-Garcia's project. Writers like to call Segal-Garcia a "singer's singer." I can think of nothing better.

Carolyn Fitzhugh
Living in Peace
IYOUWE Records
2019

Accountants are orderly people. Before becoming a singer, Carolyn Fitzhugh was an accountant and analyst for the federal government. In 2011, after 30 years of counting and checking, and when her daughter was graduating High School and her son elementary school, Fitzhugh retired to begin her next career: singer, songwriter, and composer.

It might be easy to dismiss such a project as vanity by a well-meaning, modestly talented amateur, if that were the case here. But it is not. Not the least because Fitzhugh secured the considerable services of Azerbaijani jazz pianist and composer Amina Figarova, who arranges a dozen surprising covers and original compositions and leads a band that sports tenor saxophonist Wayne Escoffery and guitarist Rez Abbasi. Figarova opts for a breezy, Latin atmosphere for Fitzhugh's sturdy and dependable alto voice and Bart Platteau's slippery flute playing.

Fitzfhugh's material ranges from an achingly emotive performance of Gil Scott-Heron's "Combinations" to James Taylor's "Secret of Life." She shares a very productive moment in duet with Freddy Cole on "I'm Not Alone," demonstrating great empathy for the material and her co-singer. Fitzhugh smooths out Prince's "Strollin,'" giving it an urban edge that features Abbasi's spacing-filling guitar, setting a frantic momentum. The lone straight-ahead, 4/4 swinging song is "Yes I Know When I've Had It," pitting Platteau, Escoffery, and trumpeter Alex Norris, all driven through the time set by bassist Yasushi Nakamura.

Fitzhugh's originals, "Wish I Knew," "Living in Peace" and "In the Autumn," are sprinkled throughout the set, a reminder that her ability as a composer is bracing, refined and well-conceived.

Amina Figarova
Road to the Sun
AmFi Records
2019

Amina Figarova's contribution to Carolyn Fitzhugh's Living in Peace was provocative enough to consider the pianist and composer's own Road to the Sun. Many of the players present on the Fitzhugh recording came from Figarova's band and the music, while quite different, is complete in its finely crafted personality and performance. Figarova has continued to evolve as both a band leader and composer over the past decade, releasing Above The Clouds (Munich Music, 2008), Twelve (In + Out Records, 2012), and Blue Whisper (In + Out Records, 2016).

Road to the Sun adds a string section to Figarova's sextet in the guise of a violin, viola, and cello trio. The addition results in a lush, volume- filling presence that seems natural to the composer's world music.

Figarova's music is an ensemble blanket, precisely woven to be imprecise and unpredictable. The composer's piano playing is circuitous and bold, drawing equally from a dozen music traditions in each composition. Figarova's music is vital and necessary. She deserves much greater recognition and is gratefully starting to get it.

Catherine Russell
Alone Together
Dot Time Records
2019

Catherine Russell's bona fides are many and may best be expressed in her journey to today. Born in Panama to musical parents (her mother being Carline Ray), her family emigrated to New Orleans, then Chicago and then New York City, following the path of jazz music over the last century. Her recordings, in particular her recent and enthusiastically received Bring It Back (Harmonia Mundi Jazz Village Music, 2014), show a broad interest in both the Great American Songbook and early jazz standards. In performance and presentation, Russell prefers a traditional, authentic sound.

Alone Together has been released, by Dot Time records, at about the same time that Russell makes an appearance on Wynton Marsalis' soundtrack for the 2019 movie Bolden, Dan Pritzker's directorial debut spotlighting the life of the legendary Buddy Bolden. I believe her preparation for both paid off on this recording, as Russell reaches back to otherwise novelty songs like "You Can't Pull The Wool Over My Eyes" and "Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby." Another notable inclusion in this set is Warren and Dublin's oft-covered, 1934 song, "I Only Have Eyes for You."

Russell pulls music from the '20s' female blues singers with a sporting performance of Rosa Henderson's "He May Be Your Dog But He's Wearing My Collar," accented by a piquant dobro. Russell brings both satin and grit to the song, remaking it in her own image.

Alone Together's songs are treated with great care by Russell and musical support from her core groups of guitarist Matt Munisteri, pianist Mark Shane, bassist Tal Ronan and drummer Mark McLean. Russell approaches her material with a reserve that pays off in both the tactile and stylistic texture of the collection.

Wynton Marsalis
Bolden: Music from the Original Soundtrack by Wynton Marsalis
Blue Engine Records Records
2019

Charles Joseph "Buddy" Bolden (September 6, 1877-November 4, 1931) is a musical myth even bigger than bluesman Robert Johnson. He is remembered today by mostly a word-of-mouth reputation and Donald M. Marquis's In Search of Buddy Bolden, First Man of Jazz (Louisiana State University Press, 1978). He was musically active briefly at the dawn of the 20th Century, and reputedly recorded on Edison wax cylinder, though none have ever surfaced.

Bolden was known for his loud volume and pre-Louis Armstrong ability to improvise, his style impacting younger musicians. Bolden was also a reputed barber and editor of the Cricket, a scandal sheet, though these assertions are likely apocryphal. Bolden's life now makes it to the cinema in the form of the film Bolden, directed by Dan Pritzker and distributed by Abramorama. Who was tapped for the soundtrack? Wynton Marsalis...who else?

Cherry picking players from the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, his own septet and past associations, Marsalis assembles a perfect band for this storied music. There is a challenge, however: trying to realize music that has never been heard, the antecedent of jazz. The music containing the spark that would ignite all that came after it.

Into the 26 selections available on this soundtrack, Marsalis weaves original compositions created to enhance the hearing of the music being performed at the time. Marsalis' "Come On Children" opens the disc with music wafting from the fecund alluvium of ragtime, African, the Caribbean and Latin America. He peppers the remainder of the disc with musical musings of Bolden, into which he stirs Catherine Russell, singing the traditional "Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor," supported only by trumpet and cello. Marsalis arranges and stages "You Rascal You," "Stardust," and "Dinah," all sung by Reno Williams.

Instrumentally, "Muskrat Ramble," Basin Street Blues" and "Tiger Rag" demonstrate tone-perfect song selection. The disc closes, as necessary, with Jelly Roll Morton's "Funky Butt (I Thought I Heard Buddy Bolden Say)," a stark "Didn't He Ramble," and Marsalis' coda, "Buddy's Horn."

We know what to expect of Wynton Marsalis when he retires to his vernacular: reverent performances with great spirit and warmth. Add Wycliffe Gordon, Dr. Michael White, Victor Goines, Ted Nash and Marcus Printup, and you have the makings of a superbly realized soundtrack, which this is.

Claudia Villela
Encantada Live
Taina Music
2019

I was expecting another breezy and humid bossa nova recording, as vocalist and composer Claudia Villela is a native of Rio De Janeiro and known for her interpretations of the local fare. But Encantada Live is far more Caribbean-flavored, and far more improvised and genre-splitting than bossa nova.

Leading a crack septet, Villela checks her inhibitions at the door, producing an intoxicating set of nine pieces, some original and some not, performed in a variety of formats. Encantada Live has the precise pacing and drama of the best musical performances, right down to the leader's introductions of the band members. This is more than a mere recital; it is an event, and an exciting one at that.

Three of the nine pieces have Villela leading the entire septet. Outstanding amongst these pieces are drummer Paul van Wageningen, percussionist Michael Spiro, and Villela herself ("Viola fora de Moda"). The rhythmic philosophy is one of pathos rather than pure technique, though the latter is certainly evident. First and foremost, however, is Villela's voice, which, in the opening "Cuscus," ranges from a guttural growl to an angelic daydream, all over Bruce Dunlap's prepared guitar. The pair quotes, appropriately, Sonny Rollins' "St. Thomas" in this rollicking bit of improv.

I might give an edge to Villela's smaller format performances like "Negra," with guitarist Jeff Buenz, "En Paz," featuring Dunlap, or the mammoth melodic study with pianist Kenny Werner, "Minas." But it is her septet performances that are most complexly revealing and uniformly fine. I believe this is music for the ages.

Ellis Mano Band
Here and Now
Suisa Records
2019

The Swiss Ellis Mano Band is named for two of its four members: lead singer Chris Ellis and guitarist Edis Mano. The remaining members are bassist Severin Gaf and drummer Nico Looser. While not household names here in the States, they have the reputation as the Wrecking Crew or Funk Brothers of Europe, having supported artists all over the mainland. The band steps out on its own with its debut, Here and Now, a collection of original compositions that exists squarely in the triple point intersection of blues, rock, and soul. To be sure, there is not a traditional 12-bar blues to be found on this recording. Much to the contrary, this is a smart collection of songs assimilating a spectrum of influences.

Things begin loudly with "Whiskey," sounding a bit like early '70s Black Sabbath's driving blues pentatonics (for reference, hear Samantha Fish's performance of "War Pigs"). The musical environment is molten, Ellis singing with commitment and Mano crunching his way to the coda. The title cut is churchy R&B, with Ellis singing very soulfully over Kico Babic's Hammond B3. No two songs recorded are the same, a characteristic that demonstrates the band's breadth. "Where We Belong" has a distinct U2 flavor, while "Goodbye My Love" evokes country-folk spirits distilled through the '90s.

The spiritual center of the recording is "Badwater," a song allowing Ellis to show off every corner of his voice while letting Mano's crushing rumba rhythm decimate everything in his path. "I Want You Back" could have come from Kenny Wayne Shepherd, had he greater depth, and "Georgia," from late '70s AM radio. Considered as a unified whole, Here and Now, re-presents the blues-rock-soul triad in a thoroughly modern environment, recalling the past and looking to the future.

Culture
The Nighthawk Recordings
Omnivore
2019

Unaddressed here until now, Omnivore Records has scored a deal to re-release the catalog of St. Louis' Reggae label, Nighthawk Records. Omnivore has already released historic recordings by The Gladiators, The Ethiopian, Justin Hinds, and Junior Byles, and continues its reggae releases with Culture: The Nighthawk Recordings. Culture began recording in 1976 with an early version of "This Time," which was released in Jamaica. The band released several recordings for other labels in the late '70s, before three of their songs ("Calling Rastafari," "Dem a Payaka" and "This Time") appeared on the 1982 Nighthawk compilation, Calling Rastafari.

These songs, plus four unreleased songs are presented here for the first time. The four unreleased pieces are two performances each of "Can They Run" and "Mister Music," each presented with differing production. Their presentation, as such, reveals the evolution to a final product that is both interesting and circuitous. While leader Joseph Hill likes a tight ship, he is not opposed to trying new things. The values of these reissues is in showing pedestrian reggae fans that there is much more to the music than Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer, Peter Tosh, and Toots Hibbert. It is a rich and varied tradition deserving of greater exposure.

Douyé Quatro
Bossa Nova Deluxe
Groove Note Records
2019

Douyé. Just Douyé. That is confidence. A native of Lagos, Nigeria, Douyé has been making Los Angeles a better place since moving there. Her previous jazz recording (her third, if counting two earlier R&B efforts), Daddy Said So (Groove Note Records, 2017), was a well-received collection of jazz standards assembled with considerable musical firepower. Douyé returns with the same solid support that includes guitarist Romero Lumbambo, tenor saxophonist Dominic Carioti and what seems like a whole passel of Arturo O'Farrill's children (drummer Zack and trumpeter Adam).

Bossa Nova Deluxe is similar to Daddy Said So with respect to its repertoire of well-known songs. These songs, however, come from the more humid climes of Brazil and include the cornerstones of bossa nova. The disc is anchored by an interior quartet of Antonio Carlos Jobim compositions: "The Girl From Ipanema," "One Note Samba," "Once I Loved," and "Corcovado." One might wonder if we need yet another bossa nova recording featuring these four songs (not to mention "Desafinado," "Wave" and "Dindi"). That answer would be yes, if that recording were as finely tuned and performed as Bossa Nova Deluxe.

I would argue that Douyé has a greater affinity for this music and the Great American Songbook, which rears its considerable head in the form of "Lover Man," "Song for My Father" and "Nica's Dream," all presented with Caribbean flair, drawing forth and infusing them with the bossa rhythm. Douyé also transforms pianist Horace Silver in a significant way. Bossa Nova Deluxe bests Daddy Said So, something that hard to do. What is next?

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