Jazz CD Reviews You Can Use – Vol. 2
Greetings, Jazz Family!
Various distractions, including brief hospital stay and a weeklong West Coast trip, have conspired to delay our meeting in this space for a minute. As I write this, I am still distracted by my modem crashing suddenly on last Thursday night (Hopefully, I’ll be back at full power by next Tuesday). But the itch to get something out there demanded to be scratched, so here are reviews of recent albums, by two excellent female vocalists.
One review is of a strong, concept based anthology that will be widely released on March 16; the other review, I originally wrote for a print publication; that decided, for some reason, not to publish it. So, you will notice that it is not in the format that I usually use for reviews in this blog. However, it is a wonderful album, by an inspiring artist, and though you may already be familiar with the disc, I wanted to share my thoughts about it with all of you.
Best of Love Songs – Jackie Ryan
Artist Website: www.jackieryanmusic.com
The Big Picture
Last year’s outstanding double CD Doozy, helped to give this comely singer the widest exposure of her career. Now, striking while the iron is hot, Ms. Ryan is back with The Best of Love Songs, is a collection of standards and originals, culled from three of her recordings that were released between 2002 and 2006. As you would surmise from the title, these tracks have one unifying theme and that is romance. However, this is not a compilation of snooze-inspiring selections, but a nice mixture of up-tempo swingers and gorgeous ballads that set the atmosphere for many good things, from a tender evening for two, to a pleasant dinner party for ten.
What’s Good About This CD?
The three CD’s used to compile this collection were the last three released by Ms. Ryan, prior to Doozy (This Heart of Mine, You and the Night and the Music and Passion Flower), which received deserved critical acclaim, but overall, only moderate public attention. So essentially, we have 15 of Jackie’s best performances; in English, Spanish and Portuguese, accompanied by groups ranging from quintets to compelling solo instruments. Best of the best here are “This Heart of Mine”, “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To”, with some tasty tenor from Red Holloway; “Historia De Un Amor”, a dramatic bolero; and the striking album closer, “You Are There”, where Ms. Ryan is accompanied only by Carol Robbins’ harp.
What Could Be Better?
Not much. There are a couple of other tracks from the original albums that I would have selected, over those that made the cut, but that’s strictly a matter of personal preference. What’s here is choice stuff, which should please discriminating jazz vocal fans.
Who Will Dig This Disc?
- For those who just discovered Ms. Ryan with Doozy, this serves as a very fine sampler of the rest of her work.
- Those looking for a great jazz vocal album from a contemporary artist, to add to their iPod musical mix
- Jackie’s fans, who don’t already own the pre-Doozy discs
Songs Spun of Gold – Elli Fordyce
Artist Website: www.ellifordyce.net
Let’s face it; it’s hard to not be impressed with Elli Fordyce. At 72, most artists consider themselves to be in the winter of their careers, content to reflect. If they are performing at all, those performances will usually take on the air of a well-earned valedictory. Instead, Ms. Fordyce and her career are in the midst of a life affirming springtime. Two years ago, she released her first CD, Something Still Cool, to very positive response from jazz fans and press. Now, she has returned with her second release, Songs Spun of Gold.
Born in Manhattan, Elli started singing with a jazz trio at 18. She took many breaks from singing over the years, for reasons that ranged from raising a family, to a serious car accident. Finally, a few years ago, Elli returned to singing regularly, inspired by her Yorkie pup, Dindi (yes, after the Jobim song). She then joined Lina Koutrakos’s Cabaret workshop and came under the tutelage of famed pianist, Barry Harris. Then came Something Still Cool, which proved that after all those years away, Elli had not lost her sense of swing and her expressiveness with a lyric. Songs Spun of Gold is cut from the same cloth as its fine predecessor, filled with 17 selections, most of them familiar to jazz audiences and all but two clocking in, in a swinging three and a half minutes, or less.
Ms. Fordyce’s group on Songs Spun of Gold, is composed of musicians with solid credits, if not instantly recognizable names. Guitarist Ed MacEachen has logged time in the working bands of Jack McDuff, Chico Hamilton and Ernestine Anderson. Bassist Neal Miner has worked with numerous singers, such as Annie Ross, Bill Henderson and Dena DeRose; in addition to his work as a leader. Jeremy Manasia, a fine young pianist, has worked with Peter Bernstein, Dianne Schuur and Jimmy Cobb.
Though both Something Still Cool and Songs Spun of Gold are fine discs, I give Songs the nod, mostly due to the change in Ms. Fordyce’s vocals. Though she sang quite well on the first disc, she exudes an increased confidence this time, which comes from having traveled this road before. There are many fine tracks here: “Let’s Get Lost”, which swings jauntily atop Elli’s scatting and the counterpoint of MacEachen’s guitar. “Desafinado” has been done more times than I would care to count, but Elli’s coquettish vocal, underpinned by Aaron Heick’s delightful flute, breathes some new life into this bossa nova warhorse. The medley of “A Child is Born” and “Waltz for Debby”, is especially moving as Elli makes it personal, melding the songs together to remind us parents how quickly time can pass. A finger-snapping version of “Pick Yourself Up” shows the singer at her most winning, with an inspiring vocal and a couple of jazz cum Bach, scat choruses. Manasia’s grooving piano solo also elevates the proceedings. “Oops”, the Warren/Mercer composition, made famous by Ella and Louis’s indelible version, but heard very rarely today, is perhaps the best track here, as it becomes a charming piece of aural theater. Jim Malloy, a very fine singer, who made several appearances on Elli’s first disc, joins her again. These two old friends have superb chemistry and it shows, as they toss off little asides and Mr. Malloy even breaks into an impromptu “Satchmo” impersonation on one verse, to Ms. Fordyce’s sheer delight. On top of that, we have tap dancer Max Pollak, who organically melds his foot percussion into the song with facility that I haven’t heard on record since Astaire. Together with MacEachen’s John Collins influenced guitar, they are a powerful support team that almost manages to steal the track from the two singers, which is an impressive feat.
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s oft repeated and rather pessimistic quotation, informs us that “there are no second acts in American lives”. With all due respect, I’ve seen Mr. Fitzgerald be proven wrong many times over the years, most recently by the life-affirming example of Elli Fordyce. Her Songs Spun of Gold, is a wonderful album, filled with the joy of a performer who, after making many stops along the way has finally come home. This septuagenarian can best be described in the title of a song that does not appear on this album: “The Best is Yet to Come”.
In the next few posts, we’ll pay tribute to the late jazz pianist and former Shea Stadium organist, Jane Jarvis. We’ll also get that promised post on Curtis Amy done and get a few more reviews out there for you.
Our vlog is also expected to make its debut shortly, so you’ll see me walk, talk and breathe jazz.
Sincere thanks to those of you who read my posts and listen to my station, Curt’s Café. Your messages and tweets of encouragement really keep me going.
Thanks for stopping by today. Until the next time, the jazz continues…