Saturday, March 21, 2015

Rachel Caswell: “All I Know” (2015) CD Review

Jazz vocalist Rachel Caswell’s new CD, All I Know, is a set of duets, but not vocal duets. This album finds her performing with guitarist Dave Stryker on approximately half the tracks and with bassist Jeremy Allen on the other tracks. The sparse instrumentation really causes us to focus on the vocals and on the core of each piece, and it gives the album a beautiful intimacy and late-night personal vibe. The song choices are mostly standards, but with the addition of a Simon And Garfunkel tune and Jimmy Webb’s “All I Know” (a song interestingly enough originally recorded by Art Garfunkel).

Rachel Caswell begins this CD with a cool rendition of “Sometimes I’m Happy,” a song written by Vincent Youmans, Irving Caesar and Clifford Grey. On this track, Rachel gives us some joyous scat. Dave Stryker joins her on guitar, and delivers a deliciously mellow solo partway through. I like that there is a slight pause after his solo before Rachel comes back in on vocals, as if she’s been enjoying Dave’s work on guitar as much as we have.

That’s followed by “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” with Jeremy Allen on bass. This song was written by Don Raye and Gene de Paul, and has been recorded by Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, among others. Rachel Caswell’s version begins with a bass line, and then her vocals have a sweet and emotional tenderness. It is a voice that clearly has a need to share her experience here, and when words aren’t enough, she does a bit of scat to convey her feelings.

I love Rachel Caswell’s approach to “I Fall In Love Too Easily,” a song written by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn and most closely associated with Frank Sinatra (he sang it in Anchors Aweigh). She has a great mix of hope and heartache in her delivery. And Dave Stryker’s guitar work is just right. His solo is mellow and intimate, without pushing outside the framework created by Rachel’s vocals. There is nothing showy there, but is more supportive, like a friend who is there to lend a hand.

Rachel Caswell enters the pop realm with a version of Simon And Garfunkel’s “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy),” accompanied by Jeremy Allen on bass. I am so fond of what Allen does on bass here, giving us a cool, quirky, fun line which works so well with the spirit of the song. And of course Rachel’s scat is perfect for this tune, as it’s already sort of built into the original, though to a much lesser degree. Both Rachel and Jeremy are clearly having a good time with this tune. They also have a great time with “If I Should Lose You” (written by Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin), with Jeremy Allen able to get loose at moments, making it one of the highlights for me.

I also really like what Rachel does with “De-Dah,” taking Elmo Hope’s piano part, and turning it into a vocal scat part. And Dave Stryker’s guitar part sounds like he’s smiling and smiling and smiling. It’s a wonderful track. And it’s followed by a cool version of the bossa nova standard “Agua de Beber,” written by Antonio Carlos Jobim, Vinicius de Moraes, and Norman Gimbel. I really like Jeremy Allen’s bass solo on this track.

Rachel Caswell ends this album with another song associated with Frank Sinatra, “One For My Baby,” written by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer. Again, I love the intimacy of this recording. There is something kind of sexy about this track, and it's another of my favorites.

CD Track List
  1. Sometimes I’m Happy
  2. You Don’t Know What Love Is
  3. For All We Know
  4. I Fall In Love Too Easily
  5. The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)
  6. Tell Him I Said Hello
  7. If I Should Lose You
  8. All I Know
  9. De-Dah
  10. Agua De Beber
  11. I’ve Never Been In Love Before
  12. One For My Baby
All I Know is scheduled to be released on April 7, 2015 through Turtle Ridge Records. Rachel Caswell will celebrate the CD release with a couple of shows on April 20, 2015 at The Bar Next Door in New York City.

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