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Jazz Vocals 2021


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Here are some notable jazz recordings heard this past year.

Roseanna Vitro
Sing a Song of Bird
Skyline Records

This release addresses jazz vocalese using Charlie Parker's music and is crafted by field expert, Roseanna Vitro while being recorded in two sessions (with two separate bands) on either ostensible side of the COVID-19 pandemic. Vocally (and temporally) joining Vitro are the late Bob Dorough, Sheila Jordan and Marion Cowings. Spiritually, lyricist/singer giants of the genre include Jon Hendricks, Eddie Jefferson, and King Pleasure, with brand new lyrics provided by Vitro and producer/husband Paul Wickliffe, Dorough and Jordan. Smart head arrangements drive the tunes giving flight to the performances. Nothing beats hearing Dorough's Arkansas honesty one more time.

Key Selection: "Sheila, Jazz Child (Cheryl)."

Gemma Sherry
Music To Dream To
Tunley Records

Gemma Sherry is on a roll. Music to Dream To was released on the heels of Let's Get Serious (Tunley Records, 2020), which itself preceded by the EP Sings Bossa Nova (Tunley Records, 2020) and full length debut Songs I Love (Tunley Records, 2020). Sherry remains enamoured with the music of Brazil, addressing six off-the-beaten-path selections (two of which are repeated in acoustic versions). Her vocals are air light and confident, as is her accompaniment.

Key Selection: "The Coffee Song."

Lorraine Feather
My Own Particular Life
Relarion Records

Aside from being jazz royalty, Lorraine Feather has proven an exceptional vocalist, lyricist, and composer. My Own Particular Life is her fourteenth release. Each previous release shows a steady evolution in melodic complexity, as well as the most literate lyrics in jazz. The recording is the temporal product of the COVID-19 pandemic. All parties recorded in different locations with the engineers and producers assembling the final product as if by alchemy. Feather employed composers Eddie Arkin, Shelly Berg, Russell Ferrante, and Dave Grusin, who managed to also perform on the recording. Feather further reveals herself as a panoramic lyricist capturing the simple and complex in life.

Key Selection: "Are You Up?."

Judy Wexler
Back to the Garden
Jewel City Jazz

Judy Wexler spent her pandemic time well, recording her "Back to the Garden" repertoire that she has been honing the past decade. An homage to Woodstock and its perimeter, Wexler enlists pianist Jeff Coella as arranger, assembling a soundtrack on the fulcrum between the '60s and '70s. "Get Together" and "For What It's Worth" are given anxious arrangements to stir the listener's social conscience. Wexler's interpretation of Paul Simon's "An American Tune" ranks equally with Kurt Elling's fine reading from The Questions (Okeh, 2018) and The Questions Live (Okeh, 2019). This is the smartest of West Coast contemporary jazz.

Key Selection: "Big Yellow Taxi."

Cathy Segal-Garcia
Social Anthems, Volume 1
Origin Records

Akin in design and focus, but more organically nuanced, Cathy Segal-Garcia's Social Anthems, Volume 1 could be considered a sister project to Judy Wexler's Back to the Garden. Both rely on careful arrangement and orchestration, but offer differing sonic environments—compare the performances of Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth" and the Youngbloods' "Get Together." The remainder of the disc focuses on questions, Marvin Gaye's "Save The Children" (sung with the incomparable Mon David) and the original "What Are We Gonna Do?" Shepherded by pianist Josh Nelson (Diana Krall and others) this disc is intensely integrated and sincere.

Key Selection: "And So It Goes" with Paul Jost.

Adonis Rose and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, featuring Cyrille Aimẻe
Petite Fleur

Pure opium. French vocalist Cyrille Aimee (Move On: A Sondheim Adventure (Mack Avenue, 2019)) and Adonis Rose and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra (Songs -The Music Of Allen Toussaint (Storyville, 2019)) together praise Mr. Sidney Bechet and the French tinge of NOLA on Petite Fleur: a fresh bouquet of French and English standards nestled in the plush confines of the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra. Aimẻe's vocals are so wholesomely sensual they would confuse the best intentioned priest. Beautiful is this recording.

Key Selection: "Crazy He Calls Me."

Adrianne Duncan
Self Produced

An important contributor to Cathy Segal-Garcia's The Jazz Chamber (Dash Hoffmann, 2018), with an impressive pedigree and resume, pianist/vocalist Adrianne Duncan, steps to the forefront with a debut LP amply illustrating her many considerable talents. Duncan's compositions lean into seamless balladic themes with assertive elbows softened by her clever arrangements. "He's Not Quite You" allows Duncan to show off both her tempered voice and smart writing, while the title piece barges into the room unannounced to take control. Duncan's cover of the Police's "Roxanne" is an inspired revelation, an alloy of jazz and rock delivered with stylish and graceful authority.

Key Selection: "Roxanne."

The Greenway Group (PHG), featuring Carla Cook
65 St. Marks Place
Some One Too

The Greenway Group (PHG) is a solid NYC-based piano trio led by Drummer David Greenway. Their debut recording 65 Saint Marks Place plays like a finely crafted musical timepiece. Featured front and center is the versatile vocalist Carla Cook (Dem Bones (MAXJAZZ, 2001), who contributes to a trio of tunes, including spry interpretation of Steely Dan's "Home at Last," Mongo Santamaria's "Afro Blue" and the Pamala Hamilton original "I Could Get Used To This." Out of the recording spotlight for the past 20 years, Cook reemerges as if always here, vibrant and expressive.

Key Selection: "Four on Six."

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