Vocalists 2004


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Carol Mennie
I'm Not a Sometime Thing
CDM 1004

Long closely associated with guitarist composer Dom Minasi, jazz vocalist Carol Mennie steps out as leader and hits one out of the park. Ms. Mennie revealed her deep alto on the recent Dom Minasi release, Time Will Tell, fashioning Monk's "'Round Midnight" into a darkly-colored ballad. Here, she steers through a collection of originals and standards, all framed by Minasi's keen freedom principle, but kept between the ditches by Ms. Mennie's firm vocal command. The best pieces on the disc are the originals. Minasi's waltz, "Jazz, Jazz, Jazz" has Broadway written all over it. "Brown Eyes" allows the vocalist to explore the troubling dissonance of life, accentuated by the arco bass plaing that introduces the piece. Of the standards, "Willow Weep For Me" is transformed from quasi blues to a well-lite deconstruction. Another Sinatra staple, "In the Wee Small Hours" is again liberated from the saloon and cast in an incredibly fresh setting. Ms. Mennie, where have you been hiding?

Ann Austin
Lost in Your Eyes
Whaling City Sound

Ann Austin possesses a straightforward, muscular vocal style that would have been as at home in the rock arena as it is in the jazz. Back by a standard piano-guitar quartet, Ms. Austin's powerful vocals steer pianist John Harrison's arrangements through an earthy collection of jazz and blues. Austin blows off the slate with her composition "Tell Me Not To Love You" which features some nifty post-bop drumming by Rusty Russo. The blues "Ain't No Use" is given a humid, austere reading, reaching into the song's blues roots. "Black Coffee" and "Ballad of the Sad Young Men" reach backwards into the songbooks of Peggy Lee and Anita O'Day, repositioning the tunes perfectly for reconsideration. Ms. Austin's vocals are so strong and so potent that it took as bright a band as she has to pull off this recording. Paul Good provides the piquant guitar that spices this recording.

Sally Stark
Sally Stark Sings Maxine Sullivan
Self Produced

Maxine Sullivan (1911-1987) had a long and productive career. Discovered by bandleader Claude Thornhill in the late-1930s, Ms. Sullivan was noted for a casual, comfortable delivery that always flattered the lyrics she sang. Enter Sally Stark paying hommage to Ms. Sullivan. Sally Stark shares with her protagonist an easy delivery. Effortless Swing is how I would characterize it. The music is vintage from the 1920s and '30s, Fats Waller and Johnny Mercer. The Waller pieces, "I'm Crazy 'bout my Baby" and "Keepin' Out of Trouble" are vintage. Ms. Stark has brought along some heavyweights to help her. On for the ride are the impeccable trumpeter Warren Vache and the pristine and crystalline guitarist James Chirillo. They combine for a period performance right out of the Twenty-First Century.

Shawnn Monteiro
One Special Night
Whaling City Sound

Shawann Monteiro is joined by Clark Terry for One Special Night, recorded live at Scullers. This is vocal jazz of rarified swing. Supported by her father, bassist Jimmy Woods, trumpeter Clark Terry, pianist John Harrison, III, and drummer Jimmy Cobb, Ms. Monteiro whips through the familiar and unfamiliar. The disc opens with a scorching "The Lamp is Low." The sprite "Blues Medley" is conversational with an appearance of Mumbles Man. This is the high-class blues of the supper club. This is contrasted against the next blues, "Having Chit'lins on the Champs Elysees, Paris," which is a bit more greasy in nature. Monteiro's Godfather, Clark Terry adds his conversation and trumpet to me mix, making for a great deal of entertainment. Thelonious Monk's "Let's Cool One" is a very cool one, indeed, as is the story told before the song. This disc deserves better exposure that it has received, either by me of other writers.

Nicole Henry
The Nearness of You
Banister Records

Jazz vocals back by a standard piano trio—this is the format mainstream jazz vocals was built on. It remains a durable and enduring format as well. Pennsylvania / South Florida-native Nicole Henry and her capable trio produce a gale-force swingfest. "Summertime" is upbeat as is "Can't Help Lovin' that man of Mine." Pianist Mike Orta drives the rhythm section (at least when bassist Paul Shewchuk is not). Ms. Henry is a no-nonsense vocalist not subject to scat whims or flights of fancy. She is very much a meat and potatoes vocalist who presents the music as written. Good show—here beautiful alto colors these time-honored standards with a stained-glass radiance. Ms. Henry kills on the Harold Arlen chestnut, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" as she does on all of the ballad herein contained.

Lisa Sokalov
Laughing Horse Records

Even before I write these words, Lisa Sokolov has already hit a grand slam with her new recording Presence—five stars in Down Beat and many kudos from All About Jazz. Ms. Sokolov has been on my to do pile forever and it is time for her to surface. Recorded live Finland and New York, Presence is a molten tour de force of genre-crushing music. Ms. Sokolov's website boasts the singer as educator as the originator of the Embodied VoiceWork method of voice and improvisation. This can be readily heard on this recording, particularly the title song, "Oh What a Beautiful Morning," and a staggering "And When I Die." She combines this potent vocal approach with a percussive keyboard style. This is music moving at the velocity of a bullet, creativity and invention years ahead of its time. Ms. Sokolov is changing the face of jazz vocals in the same way Cassandra Wilson did in the last decade, and this change should prove to have greater gravity.

Marlena Sharp
Lookin' For Love
441 Records

Veteran Jazz vocalist Marlena Sharp joins forces with ubiquitous pianist David Hazeltine for a cool collection of less than standards. The approach here is smooth and the results are the same. "New York State of Mind" and "For All We Know" are relaxed readings as is "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" at least until Jeff Chambers breaks into a bass solo in the latter piece that heats things up a bit. I would have hoped for Ms. Sharp to have put a bit more "umph" behind this song. "What a Wonderful World" is likeable and "Sweet Georgia Brown" predictable. On the whole, this is an adequate recording with nothing to truly distinguish it among the plethora of vocal jazz available.

Michelle Samuels
Across A Crowded Room
Self Produced

Michelle Samuels centers her new recording, Across a Crowded Room , around a drums-vocal duet. "Hum Drum Blues" is as exciting and sexy as it is sensual and smoldering. It is 2:54 of vocal perfection and is followed by a splendid "My Foolish Heart." The remainder of the recording, while not living up to these two pieces, is still very good and offers the listener a clinic on straight-ahead jazz vocals. Ms. Samuels does not clutter her deliver and vision with needless vocalizations and scat. She leaves that to others. She delivers songs offering a glimpse of what the composers intended in their (the song's) delivery. Just check out "Some Enchanted Evening" and "It Ain't Necessarily So." Ms. Samuels puts forth a noble effort indeed!

Fay Victor
Lazy Old Sun—Live / Life in the Lowlands
Greene Ave Music

Fay Victor has already flown through this radar. A number of years ago the American expatriate released the very fine Darker Than Blue . She returns with an equally, if not superior effort in Lazy Old Sun. Ms. Victor again opts to stroll through some of the most unlikely terrain one could predict. The title cut is an old Kinks song from their 1967 album, Something Else by the Kinks. It is a voice-guitar duet from somewhere above the stratosphere. The Doors' "People are Strange" is a strange and wonderful vehicle in the hands of Ms. Victor, sung with jazz conviction, as is her take on the Sonny Rollins composition "Way Out West." This is music of pure invention and craftsmanship.

Marilyn Scott
Prana Entertainment

Crystalline accompaniment framing Marilyn Scott's smoky alto is what gives Nightcap its julep kicker. Sexy and sprite, Marilyn Scott capable adds the organic to the Bossa Nova of "I Wished on the Moon," the earnest to "Smile," and the whimsy to "Here's That Rainy Day." This disc has George Duke written into its DNA (good thing, considering he provides the keys and produced the disc). His presence guarantees a smooth approach without the needless swarm. There is no shame in the smoother take on the Great American Songbook undertaken by Ms. Scott. "Stardust" is perhaps the most provocative piece on the disc. "Here's to Life," "Yesterdays," and If It's The Last Thing I Do" follow this same pattern all capable performed and sung by the delicious Ms. Scott. Is this great art? No, but it need not be, it is pure entertainment.

Anna Netrebko
Sempre Libera
Deutsche Grammophon

There is a new prima donna on the horizon who has just released her second major label recital. Born in Krasnodar, Anna Netrebko was trained at the St. Petersburg Conservatory and continues her studies with renowned soprano Renata Scotto. She was closely associated with the Kirov Opera, conducted by Valery Gergiev. She is a full-service soprano who has specialized in Italian opera as is in abundant evidence on Sempre Libera, her new recital recording. Verdi, Bellini, Donizetti, and Puccini, the golden composers of the Italian opera, are well represented here and superbly served by Ms. Netrebko's perfectly developed and trained soprano voice. No evidence of strain is apparent and the singer perfectly infuses the "Estrano? E Estrano!" Sempre Libera and from Verdi's La Triviata with the necessary humidity of sexual awareness. Bravo!

Rebecca Martin
People Behave Like Ballads

People Behave Like Ballads is exciting because it is a collection of original compositions by one of the brightest "new" stars in jazz. Ms. Martin has a wide-open attitude toward music and feels that if one is musically inclined that it is that person's public service to write, perform and record. She takes this philosophy to heart. Rebecca Martin makes early '70s and mid '80s Joni Mitchell make sense to me. Both women are cast as "folk" artists and as such they are able to draw form all American "Folk" influences. So, there is jazz, country, blues, and yes, "folk." In addition to being a superb vocalist, Ms. Martin is all so quite the guitarist, leading quite an eclectic band. Martin's lyrical themes include love—lost and found and often misunderstood. Her words are lazy and often sardonic. A dreamer this one is.

Rene Marie
Serene Renegade

Rene Marie has had three previous releases on MaxJazz records. How Can I Keep From Singing was an auspicious debut with Vertigo as a solid sophomore effort. Live at the Jazz Standard being the appropriate live apex to this trinity of recordings. Now, Ms. Rene Marie takes the next logical step in producing a collection of predominantly original compositions. She leads a standard rhythm section plus percussion and the exquisite Jeremy Pelt on trumpet. Ms. Rene Marie is taking her sound well beyond the new jazz method employed by Cassandra Wilson. Serene Renegade establishes a gentle groove through its creative center and never stops swinging. The Beatles "A Hard Day's Night" is recast and actually shines brightly on this very fine recording.

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