VOICES Notes and news on Jazz Vocals releases
17 MAY 13 ANNE FARNSWORTH
Michael Feinstein's recording projects always contain the added depth of musical scholarship, a special interest of the celebrated singer and pianist. His latest release is no exception. Change of Heart: The Songs Of André Previn culls from the impressive repertoire of André Previn, focusing on lesser-known gems written by the famous composer/conductor/pianist.
Multiple Grammy- and Oscar-winner Feinstein's done single songwriter collections before -- he worked with Jules Styne, Burton Lane, Hugh Martin and Jay Livingston, as well as several Gershwin tributes. This new collaboration has an intimate vibe for it's a trio of Feinstein's vocals, Previn on piano and bassist David Finck. The results are warm and intimate, more Oak Room than Great White Way.
Previn, who's performed regularly as a jazz pianist throughout his career, has worked with many female singers in a range of styles that run from Ella Fitzgerald and Anita O'Day to Leontyne Price and Renee Fleming. But, this is the first time he's worked with a male vocalist. Songs we associate with either female or male singers always take on a new slant when the gender is switched.
Most of the songs are from film scores or stage productions. "(You've Had) A Change Of Heart" was written for Valley Of The Dolls but eventually cut from the movie. Another track, "Give A Little More," is also from that film and was sung in the movie by Patty Duke's character, the infamous Neely O'Hara. Hearing "Empty Is My Room" and "Goodbye," from an unproduced score for a musical film adaptation of Goodbye, Mr. Chips, makes one wish that the project be revived.
Fans of the Robert Mitchum/Shirley MacLaine movie, Two For The Seesaw, will recognize the theme song, "Second Chance" which here is paired in a medley with "Why Are We Afraid," from The Subterraneans.
Probably the best-known song from this album is "You're Gonna Hear From Me" from Inside Daisy Clover, the 1965 film about the workings of Hollywood celebrity that starred Natalie Wood and Robert Redford. Picking up Change Of Heart is a win/win for, after enjoying the music on this special album, you're going to want to revisit the movies where the songs originally appeared as well.
25 APR 13 ANNE FARNSWORTH
Molly Ringwald is having a heck of a year. Along with her international (and multilingual) acting career, she's just had her first novel published. In what spare time she had left over, she put together a wonderful debut album, Except Sometimes.
The celebrated actress comes by her musical chops honestly. Her father is trad jazz pianist Bob Ringwald. Ringwald Sr. has had a long career in the Dixieland genre and at one point co-directed the famous Bob Scobie Frisco Band.
Calling jazz her "musical equivalent of comfort food," Ringwald sings with an honest, straightforward approach and a natural sense of swing. She handpicked the 10 tracks, which were arranged by her musical director, pianist Peter Smith. Smith and the rest of the band are top Los Angeles jazz players, with bassist Trevor Ware and Clayton Cameron on drums.
The set opens with "Sooner Or Later," a Rosemary Clooney tune with fun, cheeky lyrics. The jazz waltz, "I'll Take Romance," moves between regular and double-time tempos with swinging bop solos by Smith and saxophonist Allen Mezquida.
Along with the sweet love songs, Ringwald includes "Ballad Of The Sad Young Men," the biting yet poignant song-poem written by Fran Landesman to describe her fellow Beat Generation contemporaries.
But, the most interesting addition to the American Songbook standards is her take on "Don't You Forget About Me," the Simple Minds hit that was featured in John Hughes' The Breakfast Club. Smith notes that there isn't a chord from the original left in his arrangement, and the lush instrumentation transforms the song into something completely new.
The Breakfast Club starred Miss Ringwald and, along with Hughes' Sixteen Candles and Pretty In Pink, made her the crush object of every teenage boy in the '80s. With Except Sometimes, she's poised to enthrall a whole new generation.
15 APR 13 ANNE FARNSWORTH
Vocalist Honi Gordon was New York City's go-to jazz studio singer in the 1950s and early '60s, the golden age of bop. She appears on albums recorded by legends like Charles Mingus, Dizzy Gillespie and Lionel Hampton but released only one album as a leader, 1962’s Honi Gordon Sings.
Gordon is backed by A-list musicians, the heart of which is a piano trio consisting of Jaki Byard, George Duvivier and Ed Shaughnessy. She sings with a clear soprano and impeccable intonation reminiscent of a young Ella.
Honi was part of a family vocal group called The Gordons. Patriarch George Gordon Sr. was a composer who worked with Mingus, writing lyrics to his instrumentals as well as contributing originals to Mingus recordings. "Strollin,'" the opening track, is a vocal version of Mingus' "Nostalgia In Times Square," with lyrics written by George Sr. (Honi first recorded on the Mingus Dynasty album.) Gordon also had a longstanding musical relationship with pianist/composer Mary Lou Williams, recording for her for over two decades. Williams' "Walkin' (Out The Door)," a straight ahead 12 bar blues, is included in this set.
"Cupid" isn't the Sam Cooke version but a jazz ballad written by Sonnie Leonard with lyrics by George Sr. Honi first recorded it in 1953 with the family band and Hank Jones at the helm.
Critic Scott Yanow puts it best when he said, "Honi Gordon's obscurity is a mystery for she displays a great deal of talent…This is bop based jazz singing at its best."
28 MAR 13 ANNE FARNSWORTH
Patricia Barber is a jazz pianist and vocalist with a twist. Her latest release, Smash, is a set of originals with lyrics that, taken as a whole, read like a tone poem. We don’t see a lot of singer/songwriters in the jazz realm, which makes this latest release even more special.
When not touring the world, Barber can be found at Chicago’s famed Green Mill, when she has been holding court for more than 20 years. Part of the magic of Smash is the great chemistry Barber has with her rhythm section -- guitarist John Kregor, bassist Larry Kohut and Jon Deitemyer on drums.
The overriding theme of most of the eight tracks deals with loss; Barber had five loved ones pass away in a short span of time. But her skill at creating artistry out of grief makes this more than an elegy. Her lyrics are thought provoking, sometimes disturbing but always beautifully expressed. As she sings in the opening track, “Code Cool,” “Split seconds can carry quite a surprise,” her words are accompanied by a musical arrangement that changes meter, tempo and feel and in places hearkens back to the avante garde jazz era of the early 1960’s.
In “Redshift,” a cool bossa, Barber cleverly describes sexual attraction by invoking astronomy, Einstein and Heisenberg. The sophisticated love song, “Spring Song,” could take a place in the American Songbook pantheon next to Harold Arlen and Vernon Duke. Barber’s harmonic sense and technical ability at the piano only enhance the originality of her lyrics.
The title song describes the end of a love affair with imagery of a car accident. As she haltingly sings, “this is the sound of a heart breaking” accompanied only by her solo piano, the effect is devastating -- even more so when a full on rock guitar solo shatters the mood. The meaning is clear: We may project silence to the public in our times of grief, but on the inside, our souls are screaming.
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