Sunday, December 20, 2015

Mary Foster Conklin: “Photographs” (2016) CD Review

Mary Foster Conklin is a jazz vocalist based in New York. She has released several CDs in the last seventeen years, and her new album, Photographs, finds her putting her personal spin on some traditional tunes as well as some more contemporary pop songs. The focus is on compositions co-written by Fran Landesman, who is perhaps best-known for “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most” (one of the songs Mary Foster Conklin covers here). Mary Foster Conklin has a theatre background, and there is certainly something theatrical about her approach to some of these songs, and in her delivery. She has a great group of musicians backing her, including John di Martino on piano, Ed Howard on bass, Shinnosuke Takahashi on drums, Joel Frahm on saxophone, Warren Vache on cornet, Paul Meyers on guitar and Nanny Assis on percussion. Houston Person joins her on saxophone for one track. By the way, you might also know Mary Foster Conklin from her work with Art Lillard’s Heavenly Big Band.

The album opens with Joni Mitchell’s “Night In The City,” a song off of her debut album, Song To A Seagull. Mary Foster Conklin’s rendition begins with some nice work on bass by Ed Howard, and also features Warren Vache on cornet. That’s followed by a good rendition of “Key Largo,” but for me things really start to get going with “Autumn Serenade,” written by Peter DeRose and Sammy Gallop. It has a great pace and an excellent instrumental section. Everyone shines on this track, and I am especially fond of what Ed Howard does on bass and John di Martino does on piano.

“Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most” is the first of five tracks co-written by Fran Landesman, this one written with Tommy Wolf. Mary Foster Conklin’s recent project Life Is A Bitch was a tribute to Fran Landesman, and that project clearly had an effect and influence on her selection of material for this CD. “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most” is one of Landesman’s most well-known compositions, and Mary does a great job with it, giving it both a gorgeous and intimate feel. “Morning’s kiss wakes trees and flowers/And to them I’d like to drink a toast/I walk in the park/Just to kill the lonely hours/Spring can really hang you up the most.” And I really love these lines: “Love seems sure around the new year/Now it's April, love is just a ghost/Spring arrived on time/Only what became of you, dear/Spring can really hang you up the most.”

Mary Foster Conklin also does “Small Day Tomorrow,” an often-covered composition by Fran Landesman and Bob Dorough. Among the artists who have performed this song are Irene Kral, Janis Siegel, Andrea Wolper, and Ian Shaw. Recently, Lauren White covered it on her 2015 release, Experiment. I love what Mary Foster Conklin does with this song, her vocals sounding sultry with just the bass accompaniment at the beginning. And later John di Martino has a nice lead spot on piano. This is one of my favorite tracks on this release. “I can sleep the day away/And it won’t cause too much sorrow.” Also written by Fran Landesman and Bob Dorough are “The Winds Of Heaven” and “Nothing Like You,” two others that Mary covers here. “Photographs,” the album’s title track, was composed by Fran Landesman and Alec Wilder, and is another of the album’s best tracks.

Mary Foster Conklin also does a really sweet version of “Moonglow,” written by Will Hudson, Irving Mills and Eddie DeLange. And she concludes the CD with “Long As You’re Living,” a very cool song from Max Roach’s album Quiet As It’s Kept.  She clearly has a good time with it.

CD Track List
  1. Night In The City
  2. Key Largo
  3. Autumn Serenade
  4. Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most
  5. Cinnamon And Clove
  6. Small Day Tomorrow
  7. For No One
  8. Photographs
  9. The Winds Of Heaven
  10. Moonglow
  11. Night Song
  12. Nothing Like You
  13. Long As You’re Living 
Photographs is scheduled to be released on February 2, 2016 through Mock Turtle Music.

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