Lisa Rich – High Wire

Lisa Rich was one of the most promising jazz singers of the 1980s. Blessed with a very attractive voice, she performed in a wide variety of often-prestigious settings during a 15 year period. She made her recording debut with her album Listen Here in 1983 and was featured at a Pops concert in 1985 with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Lisa recorded Touch Of The Rare with Clare Fischer in 1985. The following year she performed at a series of groundbreaking concerts in China (the first jazz events in China since 1949) and she also sang in India in 1990. Unfortunately bad health eventually forced her to stop performing altogether so she opened up a music studio and has worked as a teacher ever since, giving private lessons and conducting workshops. In 1987, Ms. Rich recorded her third album which she recently remixed and is releasing for the first time. She had made the acquaintance of Chick Corea who gave her several of his songs, only one of which (“Bud Powell”) is well known. With sensitive support provided by pianist Marc Copland (David Kane takes his place on two numbers), bassist Drew Gress and drummer Michael Smith, Lisa Rich interprets five Chick Corea songs, two by Ralph Towner, one apiece by Duke Ellington, Ornette Coleman and Loonis McGlohon, and the standard “We’ll Be Together Again.” Although the material is often challenging with some wide interval jumps (the Corea and Towner pieces were not originally meant to feature a singer), Lisa Rich sounds relaxed throughout, and her vocal flights sound effortless and natural. The opener, Corea’s “High Wire The Aerialist,” was not recorded by anyone else until the composer with singer Chaka Khan documented it in 2009, 32 years after this version. The beauty of Lisa Rich’s voice and the ease in which she sings the intervals are very much in...

Gretje Angell – In Any Key

Gretje Angell, the daughter and granddaughter of drummers, was born to sing jazz. Her alluring voice has a beautiful tone, she digs into the lyrics that she interprets, and she is a superior scat-singer.  For her debut recording, In Any Key (named cheekily after Dori’s ability to play any song in any key at Gretje’s behest), Ms. Angell is joined by guitarist-producer Dori Amarilio, Chuck Berghofer, Kevin Axt or Gabe Davis on bass, drummer Steve Haas, percussionist Kevin Winard, and a few guest musicians. The first four selections display the set’s variety and quality. They include a bossa-nova version of “Our Love Is Here To Stay” (which has some warm and inventive scatting), a swinging rendition of “I’m Old Fashioned,” a quietly sensual and Latin-flavored “Fever,” and the ballad “Deep In A Dream” in which the singer shows how she sounds being accompanied by a 60 piece orchestra. The high quality continues throughout the second half of the program which includes “Berimbau” (on which Gretje Angell sounds like she is a native of Brazil), a revival of Duke Ellington’s “Do Nothing Til You Hear From Me,” and three duets with guitarist Amarilio: “One Note Samba,” a charming rendition (complete with verse) of “Tea For Two,” and an uptempo and scat-filled “Theme There Eyes.” “Gretje Angell was born in Akron, Ohio and early in life she regularly accompanied her father to jazz clubs for his gigs. She learned to play string bass and cherishes her memories of playing with her father at jam sessions. She studied classical music in college, spent time away from music, moved to Los Angeles, and became an important part of the local jazz scene. In addition to leading her own groups, she has sung with the Ladd McIntosh Swing Orchestra, Jack’s Cats, and Glen Garrett’s Big Band, also being active as a soprano with the Los Angeles Metropolitan Opera Company.” Gretje Angell has worked often with guitarist-producer-arranger Dori Amarilio and he makes many valuable contributions...

Veronica Swift – Confessions

Times change. In the Me Too era it is clearly politically incorrect for a female singer to sidle up to the microphone and huskily breathe “My Heart Belongs To Daddy” like Julie London used to do. Or even, for that matter, to lustily proclaim “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” like Marilyn Monroe. But a residue of that sort of thing (it’s called sex appeal) needs to remain, regardless. Veronica Swift is the epitome of a modern female jazz singer. She can wear figure-hugging evening gowns and high heels, but she’ll look her audience in their collective eye and state defiantly, “You’re Gonna Hear from Me.” That’s the one that goes, “Move over, sun and give me some sky; I’ve got these wings I’m eager to try.” She comes back down to earth with a fine interpretation of Billie Holiday‘s “I Don’t Want to Cry Anymore”: “Oh, why can’t I forget you; I know so well what is in store. A moment or two up in the clouds with you, Then back where I was before.” “Forget About the Boy” and her own bittersweet “I Hope She Makes You Happy” leaven the mix: love seen from different angles. Talking of which, there’s “Confession/The Other Woman,” an angle on love that is rarely celebrated in song.Veronica Swift chooses her songs with great care. She grew up touring with her parents, jazz pianist Hod O’Brien and singer Stephanie Nakasian. So she knows the score.  She made her first appearance at Jazz at Lincoln Center when just 11 years old. In 2015 she won second place in the Thelonious Monk Jazz Competition and a year later headlined at the Telluride Jazz Festival. A residency at Birdland in New York followed, and in 2018 she began touring with trios fronted by pianists Emmet Cohenand Benny Green, both featured on this album.  Her songs are marvelously well-crafted performances rooted in tradition,...

Tessa Souter “Beyond The Blue”

Three of the tracks—“The Lamp Is Low,” based on Ravel’s “Pavane”; “My Reverie,” built from Debussy’s “Rêverie”; and “Baubles, Bangles and Beads,” from Borodin’s “String Quartet in D”—will be instantly recognizable, though Souter’s slow, sensual readings are stunningly original. A fourth is based on another Borodin composition, his “Polovetsian Dances,” transformed more than a half-century ago into “Stranger in Paradise,” but here reimagined by Souter as the more intimately romantic “Dance With Me.” The eight remaining tracks embrace source material both familiar (Beethoven’s “Seventh Symphony,” Brahms’ “Symphony No. 3”) and comparatively obscure (Tomaso Albinoni’s “Adagio in G Minor,” Gabriel Fauré’s “Pavane” and his “Elegy”), all refitted with splendidly crafted Souter lyrics. In the liner notes, Souter says that the majority of the arrangements “emerged spontaneously in the studio.” Such alchemic dexterity is a rare pleasure. By Christopher Loudon “Jazz...

GRETA MATASSA – PORTRAIT

Greta Matassa has made choices in her career that have sacrificed some visibility in exchange for lifestyle. Yet the Seattle based vocal artist has established herself firmly as one of America’s finest singers, and one of the best that jazz has to offer in the new century. To this point, the jazz public at large had not heard from Matassa in 5 years, since her last solo release for Resonance Records, “I Wanna Be Loved” (Resonance, 2014). With Portrait (Origin, 2019), Matassa explores the best music she has performed in the past decade with her working quintet that includes pianist Darin Clendenin, bassist Clipper Anderson, saxophonist Alexey Nikolaev and drummer Mark Ivester. The entire album plays like a set they might perform one evening in an intimate setting. There is a beautiful chemistry illustrated broadly in the intricacies of the musical interaction, and effortless sense of swing from piece to piece. Opening with Michel LeGrand’s “Pieces of Dreams,” the listener hears immediate impressions of a long tenured band, with the scorching solo of Nikolaev weaving its way through the elegant comping of Clendenin, and the one mind tamdem of Anderson and Ivester. It is a melody perfect to highlight the cadence of Matassa’s innovative approach, her amazing sense of tonality and range, and deep connection with the blues. Innocently sequestered between melodies composed by the likes of Ellington and LeGrand is a Bob Dylan jewel, “To Make You Feel My Love.” Matassa switches gears to present this soulful rendition, giving the impression that this tune’s intimate setting may well be in Detroit. In short, the opening two numbers clearly establish not only Matassa’s versatile skill set, but her willingness to go deep into a melody with a musician’s mind. Her instrument has always been unquestionably top tier, her ability to interpret within the mood and emotive qualities of a...

Charles Ruggiero and Hilary Gardner Play The Bird And The Bee

That small seed of possibility, pointing toward the jazz potential in the songs of Inara George and Greg Kurstin, has now bloomed into this beautifully imaginative offering. Ruggiero and Gardner join forces here to deliver smart takes on eight of The Bird and the Bee’s compositions. Arresting and imaginative, the music is both in line with its origins and independent in style and spirit. Teaming up with pianist Jeremy Manasia and bassist Neal Miner, Gardner and Ruggiero get into the zone with a “Meteor” that finds vocals hanging in the stars while the drums maintain an active presence below. It’s a performance that’s tied to both heaven and earth. Following that kickoff, Gardner blends poise and humor (and a requisite expletive) in signature fashion on a snazzy, snapping-and-swinging “Boyfriend.” Both numbers point clearly enough toward the models while also demonstrating their malleability. If there was any doubt about the legitimacy of placing this material in a jazz context, those opening numbers swiftly dispel it. And the songs that follow continue to make good on the conceptual promise. Manasia serves as a glimmering presence while Ruggiero and Miner create a waltzing flow for Gardner to glide over on “Lovey Dovey.” Gardner and Manasia, eyeing the original opening transition and molding it to their liking, introduce “You’re A Cad” with a play on the sectional verse setup before Ruggiero brings his “Poinciana” groove spin into the picture. And “Diamond Dave,” a billet-doux to David Lee Roth, is painted to perfection in wistful shades. Ruggiero and Gardner have got something good going on here, occupying a niche that’s completely their own. While this classiest and wittiest of reimaginings may turn out to be a one- and-done affair, a second volume would most certainly be welcome. Track Listing: Meteor; Boyfriend; Lovey Dovey; You’re A Cad; Come As You Were; Diamond Dave; The Races; Fourth Of July. Personnel: Hilary...

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