by: Hobart Taylor
Kellye Gray - Rendering - (Grr8 Records)
Kellye Gray has consummate control of her instrument. This vocalist mixes the smooth and the rough, the laid back and the intense, with dynamic subtlety. This was de rigeur for jazz vocalists in the golden age, 1940's to 1970's (the list from Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, Carmen McRae, Billy Eckstine, Nancy Wilson, Abbey Lincoln, Betty Carter, Sinatra, and especially Lady Day, etc.), and back in the day pop vocalists knew how to do this as well, (Dinah Shore, Doris Day, Della Reese, Dionne Warwick and one from today, Shelby Lynne) but in recent years that match of soul and skill, singing jazz rather than singing "jazz like", is not as common. When someone like Kellye Gray comes along, a singer whose skill is beyond the technical, and whose commitment to the song is personal rather than selecting material to show off her abilities, it should be celebrated. Yeah, this is old style... she's O.G. and proud.
Check out "Out Blows Me", the glorious ballad, "A Time For Love", and her pristine rendering (yep that's what she does as the album title "Rendering" suggests, she goes for the essence of a song), of the classic "Don't Explain".
A note on the arrangements and performances of the other musicians. They are precisely right.
Gray's from Texas, but she is coming to town for a rare local appearance:
710 W. 1st Street, Los Angeles
Emi Meyer - Monochrome - (Origin Records)
Emi Meyer's phrasing and nuanced tonal control is clean and complete. This is a singer/songwriter whose intimate and compelling narratives and reflections are set in jazz pop arrangements. The melodies fall like the first snow. Her tune "If I Think of You" and her co-written tunes, especially one with Dawn Clement, "Flesh and Bones", resonate with sincerity. She covers an ironically understated version the blues classic "I'd Rather Go Blind", stressing resignation rather than anger and self pity, sung as an internal monolog rather than a castigation and accusation to a heartless cad.
Jackie Allen - Rose Fingered Dawn: The Songs of Hans Sturm - (Avant Bass)
Bassist/composer Sturm is a renowned figure in both the classical worlds, performing with such luminaries as Roscoe Mitchell and Joshua Bell. Working with Jackie Allen, a vocalist he calls his muse, he focuses more on his jazz side. These are like show tunes without a show, mini narratives focussing on characters consumed by melodies. The songs like "Time", "Dark Butterflies", "Rose Fingered Dawn", and "Moon's on the Rise", are full of imagery and Sondheim like irony. Allen gives these tunes a heartfelt and skillful reading.
Julie Benko - Introducing Julie Benko - (Self Released)
The thing about early Streisand that shot a twenty something to the stratosphere of song stylists in the '60's was her extraordinary skill in "acting" a song. This is a tradition the comes from the Yiddish stage and permeated Broadway musicals. Benko is in that tradition. Singing mainly familiar chestnuts, often from musical theater, she's not doing anything new, she's just doing it very well. Her version of "Lonesome Polecat" is a wonder. I also really dig her original "Tomorrow is a Day for You."
Laura Campisi - Double Mirror - (Self Released)
Laura Campisi has a mesmerizing voice. Match it with elliptical tunes and poetic fragments and you get a masterwork. Originally from Sicily, this New Yorker is joined by top jazz musicians who play with her, not behind her. Her own tunes shine, and her covers of the Miles Davis classic "Nardis", and Lou Reed's "Venus in Furs", are delights.
Patrick Butler - Sonic Stew - ( Self Released)
These are guitarist Stewart's collection of jams and riffs designated by key signatures (C 7th Stew, F# Major stew, D Minor Stew, etc). Like an laid back soundtrack to a rainy night. These tunes featuring flute, soprano sax, vibraphone, and other colors that meander graciously through consciousness and blissful backgrounds.
John Daversa - Wobbly Dance Flower - (BFM Jazz)
Trumpeter Daversa is a big deal in the big band and mainstream jazz scene as well as a noted jazz educator. He refreshes the genre with contemporary refinement without abandoning the tradition. Here joined by saxophonist Bob Mintzer on tenor and bass clarinet, he swings out in a sextet format. They sort of go for a be-bop groove, but somehow it feels updated, not reverential. There's a lot of push pull in the tempos that opens up the tunes. Pretty cool.
Florian Hoefner - Coldwater Stories - (Origin)
Some artists set off on their own journeys returning every so often to share with us what they have found both in the world and within themselves. Pianist Hoefner is such an artist. Currently based in St. John's Newfoundland Canada, his newest release describes the world around him in a place that is fog drenched, chilly, and quiet. Like Keith Jarrett, moods unfold wavelike in serial formations that circle back to reflections of profound inner states.
Vikingur Olafsson - Philip Glass Piano Works - (Deutsch Ggrammophon)
Bookended with performances of "Glassworks", perhaps Glass's most familiar tune, this celebration of the world's best known minimalist composer's piano etudes is played with a delicacy and sensitivity that transcends Glass's own versionss. The tempos and tonalities achieve a fluidity that is revelatory.