by: Hobart Taylor
Singers! Singers! Singers!
Theo Bleckmann - Elegy - (ECM)
The adjective often associated with Bleckmann's singing is ethereal. Perhaps it is because of his tonal purity that lends an angelic quality to his vocals. Perhaps it is because his timbre reverses the formula where an instrument seeks identity by imitating vocal characteristics. He uses his voice operatically as a urhuman instrument.
Often in popular and art music this effect is achieved electronically (autotune, etc.). While there are the common studio effects such as reverb on this release, it is the precision of Bleckmann's modulation of tone, frequency, and duration, his total control of his talents, that give his performances an intense authenticity as well as the pristine quality associated with such "perfection". Often it feels to me mathematical, akin to the compositional effect of Bach's music, and like Bach after the brain is engaged and tickled, the soul resonates.
Artists, especially on many film scores, employ vocalese, (wordless singing), which like scatting conveys a universal human musical communication that transcends cultures and genres. When Bleckmann employs this technique, it is in direct collaboration with the other instruments in the piece. His is not an overwhelming presence, instead the ensemble play is intensely coherent.
It is essential to mention the other artists who made this minor musical miracle.
They are guitarist, Ben Monder, pianist, Shai Maestro, bassist, Chris Tordini, and drummer, John Hollenbeck.
I will soon be interviewing Bleckmann on my show, The Crystal Egg, Thursdays 6-8 PM.
Jimmy Scott - I Go Back Home - (Eden River Records)
Jimmy Scott's a legend. I don't mean like you ought to have heard of this guy, I mean like deep in the subconscious of careful listeners, Scott like Billie Holiday or Bob Dylan sings himself, and through that process teaches us all how to listen to each other's individual voices rather than to a "type". A major presence in the '40's and '50's when he came up with Lionel Hampton's band, his career was another casualty of the rock revolution, sending him into a second career as a hospital orderly in Cleveland until his re-discovery in the '90's. Championed by the likes of Lou Reed and others he made great records until his death in 2014. This is his last release, tracks that are duets or collaborations, with the likes of Dee Dee Bridgewater, James Moody, Kenny Barron, and the great Hammond B3 player Joey DeFrancesco.
His perfect phrasing, his sweet and high counter-tenor, androgynous and deeply sexy, and his ability to inhabit a song mark him as one of the all time greats.
Black Olive Jazz - Exotica - (Self-Released)
Kay Kostopoulos vocalist and saxophonist Noel Jewkes are Bay Area jazz royalty. Taking standards and honoring their inherent musicality rather than painting by numbers, they allow listeners to hear the familiar perhaps the way they were heard for the first time. This is lounge jazz, but the lounge is the back room at the original San Francisco Trader Vic's in 1947, or if you have no idea what i'm talking about, it's like you "Purple Rose of Cairo" like walked into the screen during a showing of Otto Preminger's "Laura".
Ben Sidran - Picture Him Happy - (Nardis)
The wry ironic jazz song, show tunes without a show as Nina Simone called her "Mississippi Goddam", are a special category. Much of the impetus of jazz is social commentary, seizing the zeitgeist and holding it up to a dark mirror. Most often this is done instrumentally. When singers get into the act, they often use humor, and satire, sometimes gentle, and sometimes biting. Ben Sidran has been doing this for four decades. Like Mose Allison, who he produced at one point, his world weary songs and infectious tunes just feel comfortable in their own skins. The title cut is an homage to the Myth of Sisyphus, a tip of the hat to his literate sensibilities.
Sidney Jacobs - First Man - (Baby Chubs Records)
Jacobs has a soulful cast to his voice, but he is a pure jazz singer when he wants to be, like Al Jarreau. The title cut with a Marvin Gaye authoritative delivery over syncopated polyrhythms sets the mood. He swings in the Joe Williams tradition on "Last Night", one of his many originals, and extends his versatility to covers ranging from Rogers and Hammerstein to James Taylor to Kendrick Lamar.
Natalie Cressman/Mike Bono - Etchings in Amber - (Cressman Music)
Guitar and vocals waft trough poignant observational poetry. Many of her minor key ballads like "Mountains of Malaga" are profoundly hypnotic.
Sandy Cressman - Entre Amigos - (Cressman Music)
Accompanied and co/produced by her husband trombonist Jeff Cressman, Sandy Cressman has made one of the best new Brazilian Jazz releases not performed by Brazilians to come my way in years. Her phrasing doesn't seem to trip over her Portuguese. It sounds unencumbered by a phonetic reading which is a common drawback in the singing of most non Brazilians I've heard. This frees her to really fly in her performances. Also on this record, there is the classicism of the '60's Bossa Nova releases with arrangements that are natural, unselfconscious, intimate.
Heatther Bambrick - You'll Never Know - (Self Released)
This Toronto based jazz singer is best when she has an attitude. Her dark and subtle take of the Bruce Cockburn classic "Lovers in a Dangerous Time " and her spunky rendition of "Get Happy", where she orders us to be joyful, point the way to the special place her talents can take her in the jazz world.