Monday, January 15, 2024

Brief Notes On New Jazz Releases

This is promising to be another insane year with regards to politics and the twisted way half the country has decided that democracy just isn’t for them (and so shouldn’t be for anyone). I know I’ll be turning to music for sanity, for warmth, for humanity. Here are notes on a few new jazz releases you might want to check out to help you through these strange times.

Kristen R. Bromley: “Muagsician” – Guitarist and composer Kristen R. Bromley’s new double album features mostly solo guitar tracks (with vocals on certain numbers). Its title is a combination of the words “musician” and “magician,” for, as she mentions in the release’s liner notes, it does take some magic to get across all the parts with one instrument. The first disc opens with a cover of “Watermelon Man,” which eases in, taking a moment to get us situated, before then establishing a good groove and taking off from there. It isn’t long before we are treated to some impressive guitar work. Things then get cooking and grooving with “Route 66,” the first of the album’s tracks to feature vocals. This music provides its own kicks, particularly in that guitar work in the track’s second half. Clearly, she does not need a band to provide a full and exciting sound. That song is then followed by the disc’s first original composition, “Faith Preceded My Miracle,” which has a more contemplative and reflective vibe as it begins. It then builds from there, with joy in her playing. There is also joy in her delivery of “All Blues,” which somehow feels like a wonderful jam even though there is just one guitar. There is a lively sound to “Simply Miraculous,” a cool original number with a catchy groove. I also love her approach to “The Girl From Ipanema,” making this oft-heard song feel fresh. That’s followed by “L-O-V-E,” which features her vocal work and some delightful guitar work. Another highlight from the first disc is her rendition of “Summertime.” You can never go wrong with Gershwin, and this is another track to feature her vocals. She adds a playful “Better believe it” after the line “And your ma is good-looking.” That’s followed by a good rendition of “Amazing Grace,” on which Kristen R. Bromley also sings. Her guitar work in the middle of this track is so good. The second disc opens with a cool rendition of Duke Ellington’s “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.” That’s followed by an original composition, “Rainy Day Blues,” the first of this release’s original numbers to include vocals. “I got those rainy day blues/They got me feeling so down and out/But I’m sure some day very soon/The sun is gonna come out/And shine again.” Oh yes, an optimistic blues number. It is that guitar work in the middle that really gets me feeling optimistic. There are more original tunes on the second disc than the first, including “Bring It On,” which has plenty of attitude and pride in that guitar playing, and “Paint Me A Picture My Love,” which Kristen R. Bromley had also recorded with her quintet for the 2021 release Bluish Tide. “Just Walkin’” was also included on that album, where it was a fun instrumental. On this new release, the song has been given a set of lyrics. “I was just out walking/And minding my own business/When suddenly you came along.” That’s followed by another original composition, “First Vision,” which begins in a more somber mood, and then features some really good guitar work. “So Much Better” is also an original number, a cheerful love song featuring vocals. “You make my life so much better/You make me feel so complete.” The album’s final original piece is “Winter Sunrise,” a pretty song that has an optimistic feel. This album was released on December 15, 2023.

Michael Costantino: “The Song Inside The Tune” – Pianist Michael Costantino delivers excellent renditions of some standards and pop numbers on his new album. He is joined by the great Harvie S on bass and Thierry Arpino on drums. Things get off to a good start with his arrangement of Jerome Kern’s “Yesterdays,” which has both warmth and excitement in the piano work, bringing the past into the present. He follows that with “Speak Softly, Love,” the theme to The Godfather, written by Nino Rota, who also composed the music for the 1968 film of Romeo And Juliet. Michael Costantino’s rendition interestingly has a stronger rhythm, with a bit of a swinging edge to it. And he finds some wonderful places to take this piece. Then Thierry Arpino begins this album’s rendition of “Just The Two Of Us” on drums, giving it a great groove. This is a strong rendition, and one of the disc’s highlights, in large part due to that drum work, but also because of some passionate work on piano. Michael Costantino then tackles a more recent pop song, “Beautiful,” written by Linda Perry and originally recorded by Christina Aguilera in 2002. This is a really nice rendition, at times incredibly moving, and with a positive bent to its rhythm. These guys really dig into this one, giving us a version that is nine minutes long. That’s followed by “Satin Doll,” written by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, this version having a delicious groove. This is a seriously enjoyable arrangement, making this track another of the disc’s highlights. Michael Costantino takes things in a different direction with Beethoven’s “Pathetique,” this track featuring some beautiful work by Harvie S, who uses a bow on his bass as it opens, setting the tone for a pretty and warm approach to the piece. Michael Costantino also puts his own spin on Irving Berlin’s “What’ll I Do,” this rendition having a good rhythm and a strong sense of movement, with lively work on piano. That’s followed by “Last Dance,” a song written by Paul Jabara and turned into a disco favorite by Donna Summer. An interesting choice, and Michael Costantino delivers a good rendition. It features a bass lead in the second half. The album concludes with an extended version of “Speak Softly, Love,” approximately a minute longer than the first version. This album was released on June 9, 2023 (so, okay, it’s not quite new, but in the grand scheme of things, it is).

Paul Kendall: “Whisper Not” – Paul Kendall is a saxophone player and composer who has recorded albums with Bob Leto. This new album features the trio of Paul Kendall on tenor saxophone, Dan Kostelnik on organ, and Rudy Petschauer on drums, and contains a couple of original compositions along with some great covers. According to the liner notes, the session was only three hours, and as the disc contains more than an hour of music, clearly a lot of these tracks are first takes. The album opens with its title track, which begins gently, with a cool vibe and pace, and builds from there, developing a lively sense, particularly in the work on sax, which steadily grows until more than halfway through, when Dan Kostelnik takes over on organ. Interestingly, when the saxophone comes back in, it returns to the vibe of the track’s opening. Then “Airegin” is moving and popping right from its first second, feeling like it might already be in progress. Paul Kendall is flying on the saxophone, and Rudy Petschauer is driving things forward with that strong groove, giving the piece an exciting feel. I tend to latch onto the drums on this track. Paul Kendall’s rendition of “It’s You Or No One” is also delivered at a good, fast pace, racing along with a lot of joy in the playing. This track features some fantastic drumming, making it a highlight for me. Paul Kendall’s sax then turns romantic and contemplative with “These Foolish Things.” This track also features a wonderful lead on organ. Paul Kendall also delivers a sweet rendition of “Embraceable You.” As I’ve said before, you can never go wrong with Gershwin, and this track is another of my favorites. And I love the lively saxophone work on Paul Kendall’s take on Kurt Weill’s “Speak Low,” a track that also features some delicious drum solos. The first of the album’s two original compositions, “Penelope’s Peril,” is a fast-paced gem, a hopping number that features some nice work on organ. “Quick Drink,” the other original tune, is the album’s closing number, and it contains an exciting rhythm and some excellent work on saxophone. This album is scheduled to be released on February 2, 2024.

Margot Sergent: “Douce France Sweet France” – Margot Sergent is a vocalist, harpist and composer born in France and now based in New York, where she is part of the So French Cabaret. Her new album contains a good mix of covers and original material, and she is joined by Patrick Brennan on guitar, Alec Safy on bass, and Linus Wyrsch on clarinet, with a couple of guests on certain tracks. She opens it with an original song titled “Keep The Moon In Mind,” which has a compelling, dark beauty as it begins, and features some good work on guitar. There is a touch of magic in the sound of her harp, transporting us to a different place, and walking with us through the night. “I have no words to clear your mind/If I don’t speak, don’t take it wrong.” Things get much lighter and more cheerful with her rendition of Charles Trenet’s “Douce France,” which features some wonderful work on clarinet and a vocal performance I want to wrap around me like a cloak. That’s followed by another original piece, “The Apartment Next Door,” which begins with some pretty and gentle work on harp, and then kicks in to become a light and carefree dance, our feet just a few inches above the ground. She delivers some joyful scat in this song celebrating friendship. “We’ll meet again, like way back when.” This track too includes some really nice work on clarinet. Margot Sergent combines the French and English versions of “Que Reste-t-il de Nos Amours,” written by Léo Chauliac and Charles Trenet, the English lyrics by Albert Askew Beach. It’s a sweet and soothing and beautiful rendition, the French and English sections divided by a wonderful instrumental part that features Vitor Goncalves on accordion. Then “Little Miracle,” an original composition, establishes an interesting rhythm as it starts, even before guest Ben Silashi enters on drums. She follows that with a delightful cover of “La Bohème,” this track also featuring wonderful work by Vitor Goncalves on accordion. But what really stands out is Margot Sergent’s fantastic vocal performance. There is a haunting beauty to “Dans Tes Bras Mon Ange,” an original track that features some really nice work on both bass and guitar. The bass then begins “La Rua Madureira,” another of the disc’s highlights. It features a passionate and seductive vocal performance and some excellent work on guitar in addition to that great stuff on bass. The album concludes with “Saudade,” a beautiful and dramatic original harp piece. This album was released on December 8, 2023.

Judy Whitmore: “Come Fly With Me” – Vocalist Judy Whitmore follows her excellent 2022 release Isn’t It Romantic with another wonderful album of well-chosen covers, this time material that will take listeners on a beautiful and romantic journey. And she has a talented and accomplished group of musicians backing her, including Josh Nelson on piano, Andrew Synowiec on guitar, Edwin Livingston on bass, Jamey Tate on drums, and Bob Sheppard on alto saxophone and flute. She opens the album with “It’s Nice To Go Trav’ling,” which has a pleasant vibe. Judy Whitmore’s vocal performance and the work of the brass section on this track will help you travel away from the world’s current troubles without having to pack or deal with lines at the airport, and in the middle of the track there is a really nice piano lead. And I like her playful vocal work near the end. That’s followed by the album’s title track, which begins with a rather dreamy vibe. There is always something appealing about leaving, about escaping, especially with that one special person, and Judy Whitmore’s voice here has all the warmth and passion you could hope for to set you on your way. There is something soothing about this track. This album continues to transport us with “On An Evening In Roma.” Italy is the place my girlfriend and I keep meaning to get to, and so far have failed. This song makes me yearn even more to be there. It is cheerful, and features some wonderful work from the string section. The string section also shines on “A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square.” That’s followed by a delightful rendition of “There’s A Small Hotel” that features a great lead by Kye Palmer on flugelhorn. “Looking through the window, you can see a distant steeple/Not a sign of people/Who wants people?” Hendrik Meurkens joins Judy Whitmore on harmonica for “April In Paris,” delivering excellent work, as always. This track also has one of the album’s best vocal performances. Another of the highlights is her rendition of “Georgia On My Mind,” with Adam Aejay Jackson joining her on vocals. It’s a beautiful, passionate and strong rendition, featuring the string section. David Delhomme plays organ on this track. This disc also contains a good rendition of “Beyond The Sea,” with a bright vocal performance and some excellent work by Bob Sheppard on alto saxophone. What song is appropriate to conclude an album of music that transports us? “Around The World,” of course, and Judy Whitmore gives us a magical rendition. It is one of my personal favorites. May we all keep that rendezvous. This album really is like a special passport. It is scheduled to be released on January 17, 2024.

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