The State of Piano Playin' Jazz Singers 2009: Brenda Earle and John Proulx

C. Michael Bailey By

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There exists in jazz vocals a sub-specialty, those artists who regularly double on an instrument, most often the piano. There are many notable pianist/singers recording, including Patricia Barber, Dena DeRose, Patti Wicks, Harry Connick Jr., Peter Cincotti and Tony DeSare. That is a heady bunch, to be sure. Brenda Earle and John Proulx can now be added to this rich mix of talent.

Brenda Earle

Songs for a New Day

Self Produced


Canadian musician Brenda Earle brings a fresh perspective to jazz vocals with her self-produced debut recording Songs for a New Day. No mere regurgitation of standards, the album is intent on introducing new into the pool, such as the 2006 Keane recording, "Is it Any Wonder," and Crowded House's 1987 release, "Do Dream It's Over." Earle's Spanish proves impeccable on Marc Anthony's "Vali la Pena." Her piano groove is piquantly Latin, informed by the likes of the father and son Valdes and Gonzalo Rubalcaba with hints of, yes, Elton John.

While Earle transforms this contemporary material into lithe and functional jazz, lean and taut, never pushing the songs beyond their most sensible interpretation, she also puts a pleasant spin on the classics. Covered here is a brisk "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To" and a straight-played "Nobody Else But Me," featuring a swinging guitar solo by Jesse Lewis. Earle also displays capable songwriting talent. She is joined by tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm on Frahm's "Song For A New Day," providing Frahm's melody lyrics and a soaring vocal. Frahm provides an absolutely delightful soul-jazz break, buoyed by Earle's observant piano playing.

Young and angular are the Earle originals, "A Few Lines," again featuring guitarist Lewis and Earle on Fender Rhodes, and "Standing" with the same instrument configuration. With Songs for a New Day Brenda Earle shapes up to be a driving force in jazz vocals, giving the genre a much needed shot of youthful exuberance.

Visit Brenda Earle on the web.

John Proulx

Baker's Dozen: Remembering Chet Baker



John Proulx has a near perfect voice and a natural inclination toward the material made famous by the late trumpeter and singer Chet Baker. On his 2006 debut recording, Moon And Sand (MAXJAZZ), Proulx amply displayed his affinity for Baker's singing style without Baker's eccentricities. Baker's Dozen: Remembering Chet Baker is a well-conceived recording in the same vein as Karrin Allyson's 2001 Ballads: Remembering John Coltrane (Concord Music Group). Proulx takes Baker's well worn repertoire, polishing it to a high shine.

Add to this Proulx's assertive piano playing and we are treated to a veritable Chet Baker through-a-modern-lens recital. All of the usual CB repertoire suspects are here. A plaintive "Let's Get Lost" opens the disc in a tone that recalls Bruce Weber's 1988 documentary of the same title. "Time after Time" and a scorching "But Not For Me" prove Proulx's mettle. Proulx's voice and piano are given expert support by bassist Chuck Berghofer and drummer Joe LaBarbera, their playing providing the singer authentic accent and fragrance.

Chet Baker is a controversial artist. A meager talent at best, he nevertheless became a cultural icon with his progressive Dorian Gray looks and life long decline. What Proulx does is cast Baker's art outside the cigarette smoke and heroin haze, illustrating that less is often more and that technique does not always rule. Proulx channels Baker appropriately on "My Funny Valentine," bringing back to mind one of the countless Baker readings.

Visit John Proulx on the web.

Tracks and Personnel

Songs for a New Day

Tracks: You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To; Is It Any Wonder; The Waltz; Valio La Pena; All These Questions; Song for a New Day; Nobody Else but Me; Don't Dream It's Over; A Few Lines; So I Say (Sai Dessa); Standing.

Personnel: Brenda Earle: voice/piano; Ike Sturm: bass; Jesse Lewis: guitars; Jared Schonig: drums; Lauren Riley-Rigby: cello (2); Joel Frahm: saxophone (6).

Baker's Dozen: Remembering Chet Baker

Tracks: Let's Get Lost; Long Ago and Far Away; Time After Time; But Not For Me; I Get Along Without You Very Well; Reunion/There Will Never Be Another You; I Remember You; You Don't Know What Love is; Before You Know It; I Fall In Love Too Easily; Line For Lyons; My Funny Valentine; Look For the Silver Lining.

Personnel: John Proulx: vocals, piano; Dominick Farinacci: trumpet, flugelhorn; Chuck Berghofer: bass; Joe LaBarbera: drums.

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