Debra Milne Jazz

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Posted by gabzas331 on March 12, 2015 at 5:55 PM Comments comments (0)

Irene Serra – vocals; Richard Sadler – double bass; Chris Nickolls - drums; John Crawford – piano.

‘Too’, the second album from Irene Serra’s quartet, is a collection of 8 original songs, with well-penned lyrics largely musing on various aspects of relationships. Serra’s warm, bluesy & delicate voice remains to the fore throughout, with the relatively restrained John Crawford on piano supplementing with riffs & chords in the background. In contrast, Richard Sadler’s double bass gives melodic counterpoint, and is particularly effective in the second track ‘Falling Stars’, where he also plays one of the few solos on the album. The melancholic ‘Tears of a Clown’ stands out, with delicate and spacious backing from the trio. In Zion’, Chris Nickolls grooves a rhythmic dynamism, which may be why it has been selected as a single release. Crawford finally lets loose in the last track ‘Light and Shade, allowing his colleagues on drums & bass to develop the dynamic of the trio. Maybe the limited use of improvisation reflects the quartet’s ‘development of their crossover sound’, but some of these tunes may benefit from a little more musical exploration, and would be more compelling as a consequence.



Posted by gabzas331 on December 9, 2014 at 7:00 PM Comments comments (0)

Fini Bearman – voice, Matt Calvert – guitars, Ross Stanley – organ, piano, Wurlitzer, Jon Cox – bass, John Blease – drums, percussion.

Fini Bearman’s second album ‘Porgy and Bess’ is a reimagining of the Gershwin & DuBose Heyward opera ‘through the prism of the classic Miles Davis/ Gil Evans’ album’, but clearly has many other influences too. She and her collaborators have interpreted the music quite differently to their predecessors, whilst maintaining the strength of the narrative.

The first track ‘Gone, Gone, Gone’ opens with a funereal drum roll, which transforms into a rocking lament for the deceased Robbins, with a passionate vocal from Bearman. The sombre mood continues with the reflective and despairing My Man’s Gone Now’, a slow waltz with a country feel, inspired by Robert Plant’s & Allison Krautz’s Rising Sands. There is light relief and a complete change in style with ‘I Got Plenty of Nuttin’’, which is given a swinging Rockabilly treatment, and features a fluid organ solo by Ross Stanley, rounded off with relaxed vocal improvisation and a cracking drum groove to finish. In contrast, Bearman’s delicate, direct delivery of Porgy I’m‘ Your Woman Now’ is beautifully supported by Matt Calvert’s plucked guitar. ‘It Ain’t Necessarily So’ is a Hendrix inspired bluesy rock number, well delivered, but possibly not the ideal treatment for such a light and witty lyric. However, the mood is just right in I Loves You Porgy’, with atmospheric guitar and cymbals augmenting an initially tentative and then heartfelt vocal. The story draws to a close with There’s A Boat That’s Leaving, which is laid back & groovy, and has a powerful soul infused vocal , and an uncharacteristically straight ahead jazz guitar solo from Matt Calvert. The relaxed vibe & potential to swing is tempered by the drummer Blease’s on the beat emphasis, possibly a deliberate echo of the sombre backdrop in earlier tracks. The album ends with the freely improvised ‘Prayer (Summertime)’, bearing no resemblance to Gershwin’s overused classic; it has an ethereal, quiet beginning, which the ensemble develops and expands in support of the liberating, wordless vocal climax. Apparently, there was some debate as to whether to include this track, but their contemporary approach impressively evokes the themes of oppression and loss, love and hope, a demonstration of how this work has inspired generations of musicians.



Posted by gabzas331 on July 28, 2014 at 7:00 AM Comments comments (0)

The Amazing Nina Simone (1959); Nina Simone at Town Hall (1959); Forbidden Fruit (1960); Nina Simone Sings Ellington (1962); Folksy Nina (1964).

This 5 CD collection is a re-issue of Nina Simone’s early recordings with her first big label Colpix Records, which followed her debut LP ‘Little Boy Blue’ with Bethlehem Records. Her impact had been such that, unusually, Colpix gave her complete creative control.

The first album, issued in 1959 and recorded at the age of 26 with many years of performing behind her, is The Amazing Nina Simone, arranged & conducted by Bob Mersey. The range of material reflects her diverse musical influences and includes jazz standards, folk tunes and gospel. The opening ballad ‘Blue Prelude’ is a compelling reminder of the unique timbre of Nina Simone’s voice. Her delivery is melancholy and haunting, and this expressive, subtle style provides another highlight in ‘It Might As Well Be Spring’.

Nina Simone at Town Hall’ was recorded on September 12th of the same year, and captures Simone’s trio on top form. They are relaxed & swinging in ‘Exactly Like You’, restrained in ‘The Other Woman’, maximising its lyrical impact, and provide great dynamics in Billie Holliday’s ‘Fine and Mellow’. But the outstanding track is the exquisite ‘Wild Is the Wind’, sung so tenderly, and accompanied by delicate wind-like flurries from Simone at the piano.

Despite the tempting title, the third album in the series, ‘Forbidden Fruit’, is more pedestrian , with the exception of the upbeat, raunchier style of ‘I Love to Love’ and ‘Work Song’, and a heartfelt rendition of ‘ Memphis in June’. The final and eponymous track feels slightly out of place, although Simone always retained church derived songs in her repertoire, and the band clearly had some fun with this take of Adam & Eve eating that apple.

Nina Simone Sings Ellington!, released in 1962, includes a selection of well known and more obscure songs from the great composer. The arrangements, featuring orchestra with horns , strings, and a host of closely harmonied backing singers, are of its time, and restrict the opportunities for improvisation , although in the only instrumental track, Satin Doll, Simone’s distinctive piano style is evident. The exception is ‘Hey Buddy Bolden’ , a tribute to the New Orleans cornetist & one of the founders of jazz, in which Simone gives a passionate, hollering rendition accompanied almost exclusively by her piano.

The final album is ‘Folksy Nina’ , a collection of live recordings of old English , Israeli, Low Country & American blues and traditional tunes. This provides some unexpected treats, in particular the percussion from Montego Joe on ‘ Eretz Zavat Chalav’ and ‘Vanetihu’ , and a stripped down interpretation of the old English folk tune ‘The Twelfth of Never’ , with piano and bowed bass, which is leagues ahead of the schmaltzy Donny Osmond version. The album ends sweetly with 2 children’s songs ‘You Can Sing A Rainbow’, and ‘Hush Little Baby’, with Simone’s vocal backed by delicate interchanges of guitar and piano, lullabies of the highest calibre.

The Nina Simone Original Album Series provides 5 quite different albums that give a great overview of her unique voice and musicianship, as well as her diverse musical interests. Highly recommended for established fans, as well as for less familiar listeners, seeking to discover Simone’s early eclectic repertoire .



Posted by gabzas331 on July 20, 2014 at 8:15 AM Comments comments (0)

Alice Zawadzki – voice; violin, piano; Alex Roth – guitar; Andreas Lang – double bass; Kit Downes – Hammond Organ; Jon Scott – drums; Shirley Smart – cello; Emilia Martensson, Fini Bearman – voice; Eva Thorarinsdottir, Steven Proctor – violin; Lucy Nolan, Tanah Stevens – viola; Peggy Nolan, Rosie Toll – cello.

China Lane is the debut album of singer, violinist, pianist & composer Alice Zawadzki. The project’s diversity is signposted in the opening track ‘Ring of Fire’, where her bright pure voice and plucked violin introduce a modern folk song, which ultimately transforms into a funky jam with scat, bluesy guitar & Kit Downes grooving on Hammond organ. The fantastical ‘Cat’ has a rockier yet soulful groove, a fitting backdrop to the dark fairy tale of the lyric. A striking change of style follows in the next 2 tracks of traditional Sephardic songs, forcefully and meticulously delivered by Zawadzki, both with strong percussive arrangements, and with outstanding strings on ‘Dicho Me Habian Dicho’. In contrast, ‘Low Sun: Lovely Pink Light’, inspired by winter on a Danish island, is ethereal with layered voices and a restrained guitar solo by Alex Roth. But this wordless revelry is soon disturbed by the extended tale of obsessional love in ‘You As A Man’. Finally Zawadzski finishes her musical journey with the affectionate, lyrical and most conventional piece of the collection, returning home to Manchester in the eponymous ‘China Lane’. The album was recorded over an extended period of 5 years, and in so doing captures the distinctiveness and breadth of Zawadzki’s musical endeavours in her career so far.



Posted by gabzas331 on March 18, 2014 at 3:20 PM Comments comments (0)

Jason Rebello – keyboards, bass, backing vocals; Troy Miller – drums, guitar, percussion; Pino Palladino –  bass; Karl Rasheed-Abel – acoustic  bass; Paul Stacey – guitar; Jeremy Stacey – drums; George Rebello – drums; Miles Bould – percussion; Tim Garland – flute, bass clarinet.
Guest vocalists – Joy Rose, Omar, Jacob Collier, Xantone Black, Will Downing, Sumudu Jayatilaka, Alicia Carroll, Aja Downing.

 Since his emergence in the late 1980’s, pianist Jason Rebello’s musical versatility has taken him all over the world, playing and recording with mainstream artists such as Sting, Jeff Beck and Peter Gabriel.  ‘Anything But Look’, an album of soul infused jazz,  pulls together his many influences,  and features his new trio of Karl Rasheed-Abel on acoustic  bass & Troy Miller on drums, plus a host of guests.
Opening with the funky ‘Know What You Need’,  Omar’s warm rich tones  fit right into the groove.  In the following   ‘Man On The Train’, the lighter, sweeter voice of Sumudu Jayatilawa  tells the tale of a middle aged commuter fascinated by a beautiful young woman on a train, literally a vehicle  for reflection on the outward signs of ageing, masking  the inner youthful soul. Well we might have heard  that story before, but probably not with this combination of musical charm and lyrical poignance. The melodic, groove  filled pieces  give  plenty of scope for  Rebello’s improvisation,  underpinned by  tight dynamic arrangements,   pivotal to which are Troy Miller on drums (who also produced & mixed  the album) and bassists Karl Rasheed-Abel and Pino Palladino.  A  recurring  device is Rebello’s use of vocal and keyboard melodic  lines  in unison, particularly effective in the time signature shifting ‘In The Thick Of It’, where  Jacob Collier’s voice is used entirely instrumentally. Two of the tracks were composed with guest vocalists; the single  release ‘New Joy , sung and co-written by Joy Rose, is a slow funky number, and also includes Tim Garland on bass clarinet. The second  is the  potential  floor  filler ‘Lighten Up The Load’ featuring  Xantone Blacq, which has a Latin  feel with layered grooves and rhythms, reminiscent of Stevie Wonder around the time of ‘Songs in The Key of Life’. In contrast, the jazz rocks in ‘Dark Night Of The Soul’ featuring the operatic  Alicia Carroll, and ‘With Immediate Effect’ , the latter with Jeremy Stacey on drums and Paul Stacey on guitar.  Rebello’s  career so far has been diverse and accomplished, but in his return to  his own  compelling  jazz project  ‘Anything But Look’ he has created an outstanding  album .
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Posted by gabzas331 on March 2, 2014 at 9:55 AM Comments comments (0)


This musical project was inspired by the ‘Syntopicon’, a cross referencing index for ‘Great Books of the Western World’ published by Encyclopaedia Britannica in 1952. SNJO director Tommy Smith bought the entire 54 volumes in 1990, and in Kurt Elling he has found the ideal collaborator to explore some of the key themes in the context of jazz. The programme included ideas of knowledge & wisdom, language, good & evil, love & beauty, life and death, with re-workings of pieces from composers including Wayne Shorter, Thelonius Monk, Leonard Bernstein and traditional Scottish music.
The evening opened with ‘Green Chimneys’ a Monk piece representing joy, which Elling embraced with gleeful scatting. He provided lyrics to several numbers, including Vince Mendoza’s ‘Esperanto’ and Wayne Shorter’s ‘Go’. In the latter, the drummer Alyn Cosker’s sinister beating rumba was particularly effective, and presaged an old man’s haunting memories of the loss of his family in the Holocaust. The highlight of the first set was Paul Simon’s ‘American Tune’ (knowledge & wisdom), arranged by the young German Christian Elsasser, and played by the orchestra to great effect with Elling’s soaring vocal.
The second set continued with themes of love, beauty and death, but these pretensions never got in the way of the outstanding delivery of some great arrangements by SNJO. Elling  gave a reprise of ‘A New Body and Soul’ from the Nightmoves album, with a faultless delivery of his extended vocalese of Dexter Gordon’s solo. Initially a duet with Steve Hamilton on piano, then joined by bass and drums, the trio provided contrast to the other pieces, and gave focus to the superb vocal performance. A new arrangement of Bernstein & Sondheim’s ‘Somewhere’ was specially commissioned from Geoffrey Keezer, and was another example of how the different parts of the band were utilised to provide contrast, dynamics and drama. The evening ended on a seriously funky note with John Scofield’s ‘Jeep on 35’, with Elling singing a vocalese with attitude by Nina Clark (‘…got my plan, gonna get me a life…’), and a blistering tenor solo from Tommy Smith. However, the band leader got to show his tender side in his solo in the encore ‘Loch Tay Boat Song’.
This was the second night of the 3 date Scottish tour, and the performance reflected the depth of understanding that has developed during several collaborations over recent years. Elling plays with many big bands round the world, and rates SNJO as one of the best. Unfortunately the singer is yet to visit northeast England, but SNJO will be venturing south performing at The Sage Jazz Festival on April 6th.


Posted by gabzas331 on February 20, 2014 at 8:40 AM Comments comments (0)

Lauren Kinhan – vocal; Andy Ezrin – piano, Fender Rhodes & B3 organ; Ben Wittman – drums & percussion; David Finck – bass; Will Lee – bass.
Special guests: Randy Brecker – trumpet; Romero Lubambo – guitar; Chuck Loeb – guitar; Donny McCaslin – tenor saxophone; Joel Frahm – tenor saxophone; Gary Versace – accordion; Peter Eldridge – piano.

Lauren Kinhan is an established  American jazz singer and songwriter, best known  for her  longstanding involvement in New York Voices , and also as a member of  ‘vocal supergroups’  Moss and  JaLaLa, the latter a trio with Manhattan Transfer ‘s  Janis Siegel and Laurel Masse. ‘Circle In A Square’ is her 3rd solo album, and is composed of entirely original material, recorded with a core of longstanding musical collaborators and a host of special guests. She  co-produced the project with Elliott Scheiner , whose  previous credits  include  albums with Steely Dan,  Sting, Paul Simon & BB King , and no less than 7 Grammies. 
The album showcases Kinhan’s  soul  infused  jazz voice, particularly  in  the up  tempo numbers. However, the  first and  title track, inspired by her husband’s love of his record collection,  starts  quietly with  Brecker  & Ezrin accompanying sparingly on trumpet and  Fender Rhodes , before the rhythm section kicks in with a laid back groove. I’m Looking For That Number’ is particularly funky, augmented by a punchy horn section, with one of several great solos from Ezrin, this  time  on B3 organ .  Kinhan’s  soulful delivery is  particularly  effective  in ‘Another Hill To Climb’,  where  the  piano and string quartet augment  the developing emotion of  the vocal.  In contrast, ‘Chasing The Sun’ is a rhythmic, groove based, Latin infused, wordless piece, composed of  layers of voices and instruments, overlaid  with scat  improvisation and Romero Lubambo’s  solo on guitar.  A  straightforward  piano trio  suffices in  the contemplative ‘We’re Not Going Anywhere Today’, and her excellent intonation and scatting  are highlights of the  bebop style ‘Bear Walk’ , which also features  a  fine electric bass solo from Will Lee,  and Randy Brecker on trumpet.  Kinhan  makes a distinctive contribution to the shoe- related musical canon  with ‘Chaussure’s Complex’, a sensuous tango featuring Gary Versace on accordion , although  it is unlikely to  displace Kirsty McColl, Paul Simon or  Elvis Costello  as  leaders of the  Footwear Top Ten*. Nevertheless, ‘Circle In A Square’ is an impressive  album, which  captures  this  singer and composer  in  the prime of her musical career.

[*In These Shoes?; Diamonds In The Sole Of Her Shoes; The Angels Wanna Wear My Red Shoes]


Posted by gabzas331 on February 4, 2014 at 4:45 PM Comments comments (0)

Norma Winstone  - voice; Klaus Gesing – bass clarinet  & soprano saxophone; Glauco Venier – piano.

This unique  trio have worked together for more than a decade, and their  strong musical  bonds are evident in the newly released 4th album Dance Without  Answer,  recorded  in December 2012 in Lugano, Italy.  The first and title track  builds with the  rounded  tones of Gesing’s bass clarinet contrasting  with  the light  touch of Venier on piano and  Winstone provides a typically considered  lyric  to  this and  several other  compositions. Her subtle, expressive  delivery  is particularly effective  in Tomas Mendez’ ‘Cucurrucucu Paloma’,  capturing the quiet anguish of loneliness.   ‘Higher  Plane’   provides an uplifting change of mood,  with  rhythmic, low toned piano and flowing soprano sax, and Winstone & Gesing  combine well with  scat and sax interchanges and harmonies.  There is an eclectic choice of material from other artists, with an unexpected gem uncovered in  Madonna’s  ‘Live To Tell’.  The duet of Tom Wait’s ‘San Diego Serenade’  also stands out , with Winstone’s swinging  lyric  supported by Gesing’s rhythmic  bass clarinet.  Fans of Nick Drake may particularly appreciate the obscure ‘Time of No Reply’  (recorded , but not used, in his ‘Five Leaves Left’ sessions). ‘A Tor A Tor’, an Italian nursery rhyme adapted by Venier, again highlights the  musical sympathy shared by the trio , and  their  triangulation creates  a feeling of space allowing for  some delightful  musical interchanges.  Hearing  the  trio  live  would surely be compelling, but despite  this album’s release,  there seems to be only 2 performances scheduled in 2014 – in Merhauzen, Germany in March and in Lisbon, Portugal in May – so this  fine recording will have to do.


Posted by gabzas331 on November 9, 2013 at 11:15 AM Comments comments (0)

By the time I catch up with Cecile McLorin Salvant, it is towards the end of the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, after her 2nd set of the day, which was devoted to ‘Empress of the Blues’ Bessie Smith. Cecile has performed here several times, and was first brought along  in 2009 by the French reedsman Jean-Francois Bonnel, with whom she studied and performed  for a number of years.  It is particularly poignant that the festival’s founder, the greatly missed Mike Durham,  triggered   her extensive  study  of the legendary singer, by asking her to perform more Bessie Smith repertoire at this event. 
Cecile’s musical training was initially classical before she focussed on jazz, and her debut album ‘Womanchild’  reflects her  breadth of interest in American musical heritage, combined with a  more contemporary approach with much of the material. Her vocal technique is excellent, and I ask whether  this is due to her classical background. She thinks not, as voice projection without a microphone is very important in classical singing, whereas in jazz the interpretation of spoken word is at the forefront.  As if to reinforce  this point, whilst we are talking several festival goers stop to relate (in French or  in English)  how much they enjoyed her Bessie Smith set, & how moved they were by her singing .  She  cites many other influences as a jazz vocalist,  and  has spent a lot of time listening to Betty Carter, as well as  a host of others including Louis Armstrong, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holliday, Shirley Horn, Blossom Dearie, Dinah Washington,  and Nancy Wilson.
Jazz in all its forms seems peripheral to popular culture in the UK, so does Cecile feel it is more mainstream in the US? Not really – she says the audience is diminishing & is mainly older – with  occasional exceptions  such as at Dizzy’s in NYC, which is  frequented by a lot of music students & their arty friends. Jazz is never on mainstream TV. Even in New York, the range & quality of musicians seems reduced compared to her impression of 20-30 years ago. She  may have access to some of the best players around , but those with a genuine love of 20s & 30s jazz are scarce, & tend to be  more interested  in  the instrumental  perspective .  I note that, similarly, the musicians in the various sets this weekend do seem pretty obsessed with the recreation of legendary  arrangements, whereas her focus is on the interpretation of lyrics, rather than recreating  an icon from the past.
So what are Cecile’s plans for the future? In the coming year she plans to record her second album, but the material, personnel & recording dates are still to be finalised. It probably will be a selection of lesser known jazz standards, and possibly 1 or 2 originals. She is writing material but feels that it is not ready to be recorded, comparing her position to that of an unnamed poet who  said that the first 200 compositions  had to be written (badly), before one was able to create good poems.  Meanwhile, she has a busy schedule performing worldwide, in Europe, North & South America and Japan , with artists such as the Christian McBride trio and Wynton Marsalis, the latter at the Lincoln Center. It seems that her career is on the brink of a big change.  She modestly denies this,  however when I suggest that her next visit to northeast England is more likely to be at a bigger venue such as the Sage Gateshead, Cecile  is most enthusiastic.  But our time  for conversation is up, as she has to go and prepare for possibly her last ever  performance at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, in a set of later Ellingtonia.  She may now be moving  on  in  her  journey  to  internationally acclaimed jazz singer ,  but the experience Cecile McLorin Salvant has gained in her participation in this unique event is likely to have  a  significant  influence on her entire career.


Posted by gabzas331 on October 30, 2013 at 4:25 PM Comments comments (0)

Cecile McLorin Salvantvocals, piano (track 10); Aaron Diehl piano; Rodney Whitakerdouble bass; Herlin Riley – drums; James Chirillo – guitar, banjo.

Cecile McLorin Salvant  first  made an impression in the jazz world  in 2010, when she unexpectedly won  the  Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition. Her distinct musical identity was forged growing up in Miami with French & Haitian parents, and by the study of classical and baroque music as well as vocal jazz in Aix-en-Provence, where she began  performing with reed player Jean-Francois Bonnel.
The breadth of material in this debut album reflects her interest in the entire canon of vocal jazz, as well as older vocal traditions. In the opening guitar duet ‘St Louis Gal’,  recorded by Bessie Smith around 90 years ago, McLorin Salvant’s  rounded, warm and expressive voice makes an immediate impact. This is followed by the  exquisitely arranged ‘I Didn’t Know What Time It Was’,  where the  melodic  vocal  is  supported sparingly by rhythmic  brushes  & piano stabs, and a swinging ensemble, including a fine double bass solo by Rodney Whitaker.  ‘Nobody’ , a  song  about discrimination, associated with the early 20th Century African American comedian Bert Williams, is delivered with humour and sensitivity, and is the most traditional arranged piece, with a  ragtime  feel.  Yet the racial stereo types are shrugged off in Sam Caslow’s ‘You Bring Out The Savage In Me’, which is transformed into a jungle inspired, percussion driven love  song  with a splendidly uninhibited vocal.  There is an extended arrangement of ‘What A Little Moonlight Can Do’, initially as a night time soundscape overlaid by McLorin Salvant’s ethereal vocal tones, which develops into a superfast, swinging  romp. Diehl and Whitaker deliver impeccable solos, abetted by the swift brushwork of Herlin Riley, before  reverting  to the  atmospherics, and a rare  vocal grandstand finish.  The group’s fresh, contemporary approach is particularly effective in the traditional folk song ‘John Henry’, where the insistent drums and bass line  are almost funky, and which also features one of several masterful solos on the album by pianist Aaron Diehl. There  are a few original pieces,  the most effective  being  the title track ‘Womanchild’, in which Whitaker’s  double bass beats pulse-like throughout, alternating with swinging sections.  McLorin Salvant also shows herself to be an accomplished pianist in the playful ‘Jitterbug Waltz’, delivered with great dynamics, harmonic and rhythmic variation.
Cecile McLorin  Salvant may be just 23, but she not only possesses a beautifully rounded, versatile voice, but  has the poise and maturity to interpret ballads such as ‘There’s A Lull In My Life’ with great sensitivity.  Her style of phrasing and note bending , and the playfulness of her interpretations is reminiscent of Betty Carter, and the timbre and delivery in her lower register  is sometimes suggestive of Sarah Vaughan. These and other artists are surely influences, but her voice is her own. Combined with this ensemble of outstanding  musicians, her debut album is irresistible.