Archive for jazz vocals

Two New Jazz Albums To Warm Your Holidays

Posted in CD Reviews with tags , , , , , on November 29, 2017 by curtjazz

Each Holiday Season usually brings a few new discs in most genres, including jazz. Here’s our take on a couple that stand apart from the rest:

Champian Fulton – Christmas with Champian

Christmas with Champian final coverThis delightful Oklahoma native has had quite a year – She released a fine, all instrumental album (Speechless). This was followed by a terrific, live date, as a co-leader, with the great tenor saxophonist, Scott Hamilton (The Things We Did Last Summer). Champian Fulton now caps 2017 with Christmas with Champian, her first Holiday disc. It is another winner.

To be successful, Christmas albums, need to exude a certain joy of the season and this one does, from the finger-snapping backbeat of “White Christmas” (nice work by drummer, Fukushi Tainaka, throughout) to the closer, “Merry, Merry Christmas”, a lovely original number by Ms. Fulton. The rest of the album is filled with familiar songs of the season but thanks to Ms. Fulton’s first-rate piano work and the rock-solid backing of her sidemen; Mr. Tainaka, bassist David Williams and Champian’s dad, trumpeter Stephen Fulton, these tunes have new life.

Then there are Ms. Fulton’s vocals – to these ears, her sound is an amalgam of Dinah Washington and Nancy Wilson, to which she has added a touch of Blossom Dearie’s playfulness and charm. Yet, it manages to be all her own. She has grown by leaps and bounds as a singer, in the decade that she has been a part of the jazz scene. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, opens with a cool, bluesy piano figure, which pulled me in, prior to Ms. Fulton’s sassy vocal, which was then followed by a rollicking piano solo…Nice. Papa Stephen is on board, with his flugelhorn, for a swinging “Sleigh Ride”, with dad being pushed a little by his baby girl during his solo. That brought a smile to my face. “A Child is Born” is the stronger of the album’s two instrumental tracks, thanks to Ms. Fulton’s sensitive piano and outstanding work on the bass by Mr. Williams.

Order through Ms. Fulton’s website www.champian.net

Rating: 4 ½ out of 5 stars – Champian Fulton has produced a classic Holiday album that should be heard all year round.

 

Jason Paul Curtis – These Christmas Days

Jason-Paul-Curtis-These-Christmas-Days-CoverJason Paul Curtis is a Washington D.C. based vocalist and songwriter, who mostly works with a big band, called Swing Shift and a small combo, Swinglab. He is a pleasant, modern swinger, in the Harry Connick, Jr., Michael Bublé vein. For this, his second Holiday themed album, he has concentrated on his own music, having written eight of the album’s ten tracks.

These Christmas Days, has a warm, family feeling, with most of the tracks referencing family celebrations and Christmas memories with his children. Curtis is in fact, joined by his daughter, Isabella, on vocals, on two of the album’s more memorable tracks; the lightly swinging, “December Again”, which will touch a soft spot in the hearts of any of us who have watched our kids grow up too quickly; and the bouncy, “I Want Snow”, with a warm alto sax interlude by Dave Schiff. “Came Winter”, a finger snapping piece, with a punchy big band arrangement, and good solos. It’s a winning tune but its lyrical content is more along the lines of Wham’s “Last Christmas”, with its topic of Holiday season bitterness against the treachery of a former lover. Not exactly one for decking the halls. “I’ll Feel Christmas”, with its Motown derived backbeat and the happy freneticism of “Christmas Breakfast” are more like it, as they celebrate, respectively, the start of the Holiday Season, in the city and the joy of Christmas morning with those you love.

The arrangements are sharp and tight and Mr. Curtis is in excellent voice, throughout. If you’re looking for a well-played, Holiday jazz album, with tunes that are not in the traditional vein, give These Christmas Days a try.

Order through CDBaby.com Click HERE

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars. A Charismatic, swinging and warm Holiday album.

Album Review: Bel Hommage – Patti LaBelle

Posted in CD Reviews with tags , , , on October 7, 2017 by curtjazz

PATTI LaBELLE – Bel Hommage (GPE Records)

patti labelle - bel hommageLet me start by saying that I am a big fan of Ms. Patti LaBelle. I consider her to be one of the great R&B/Soul Vocalists of our time. What some have considered to be excesses, I’ve always thought to be part of her inimitable style. And she is from the generation of vocalists (perhaps the last one) who don’t just sing but who also know their way around many genres of song. I still thrill to her blues performances in the classic 1984 film A Soldier’s Story.

When I heard that this legend’s first album in a decade was to be a jazz vocal album, I was quite pleased. Because I figured that if anyone could make a smooth transition from pop to jazz, it would be this great diva.  So, now I will get to the point. Patti LaBelle’s Bel Hommage, though well-intentioned, is uneven and a bit of a disappointment.

Most of the problems here are not Ms. LaBelle’s fault. At 73, her voice is still powerful and supple. She is more than up to the task of handling the jazz tunes and pop standards that have been selected. If I must fault her for anything, it’s that at times, she is too mannered in her approach. She left behind her trademark earthiness, in exchange for the precise diction of an Ella Fitzgerald. But that is a minor quibble. What really undoes Ms. LaBelle are the arrangements and her musical partners. A respected legend like Patti LaBelle could easily draw the participation of some of the top arrangers, producers and musicians in the jazz idiom. Instead the arrangements are in many cases, anchored to adult soul and smooth jazz clichés, with synthesizer fills and overdubbing intruding in places where less would have been more. Instead of enhancing the proceedings, I feel that Ms. LaBelle is often fighting to be heard over the cacophony, which is a damn shame. She deserves better.

Bel Hommage has enough highlights to let you know what could have been, with a better support system. “The Jazz in You” gets things off to a great start – soulful, bluesy and swinging; this is Patti as sassy jazz chanteuse, and it’s a winning formula. It’s hands-down the best of the up-tempo tracks. Ms. LaBelle also shines on a trio of performances that allow her to access her subtle, philosophical side. “Don’t Explain”, Billie Holiday’s anthem of infidelity and understanding, is appropriately heartbreaking. “Song for Old Lovers”, is in the same vein as “Don’t Explain”, giving Patti a chance to give another wonderful, world-weary but resolute, performance. And “Here’s to Life” is a gorgeous valedictory statement – just the singer and the pianist, in glorious and proud reflection. Let’s hope that there’s more like these four performances in the future, because Patti LaBelle – Jazz Singer, is a fabulous concept; it just needs better execution.

Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars – Patti fights to rise above it all

Best Jazz Albums of 2017 (So Far) – Closer Look Pt. 1 – Vocal Albums

Posted in Best Jazz Albums of 2017, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on July 26, 2017 by curtjazz

Taking a closer look at my five favorite vocal projects, so far, in 2017:

  • Dance of Time – Eliane Elias (Concord) – It’s still hard to believe that in her early years on  the American jazz scene, Eliane Elias was known strictly as a pianist. I liken her at this point to a Brazilian Diana Krall – she is still a first rate pianist but her vocal gifts, especially in her native Portuguese, have at this point, overshadowed her keyboard skills. On her latest album, she pays tribute to 100 years of samba. It is a sheer delight, with guest spots by Toquinho, Mike Manieri, ex-husband Randy Brecker, Mark Kibble and many others. Dance of Time is a true celebration and a great place to start for those introducing themselves to Ms. Elias’ work.

  • Nightintales – China Moses (MPS) – The daughter of legendary jazz vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater, Ms. Moses has been on the scene now, for a few years. On Nightintales, she nails down a perfect mix of modern R&B and passionate soul-jazz. The sound is like nothing else on the scene today and that’s precisely what makes it irresistible.  The angular, hypnotic “Running” and raw soul of “Hungover”, make this album worthwhile, all by themselves. But there’s much more here and all of it needs to be experienced.

  • Petite Afrique – Somi (OKeh/Sony Masterworks) Somi, the American vocalist, of Rwandan and Ugandan heritage, has gotten better with each successive release. I thought she had reached her peak with 2014’s impressive The Lagos Music Salon.  Petite Afrique, however, feels even more personal and is more captivating than the previous project. Named for the section of Harlem around 116th Street, which is home to a gorgeous mosaic of African immigrants, the music captures, the rhythms, the passion, the joy, the fears and the frustrations of that community, in some cases, simultaneously.  With top flight co-production by Keith Witty and the brilliant trumpeter Etienne Charles, this is an album that you’ll remember long after the final note.

  • A Social Call – Jazzmeia Horn (Prestige) I was first exposed to this amazing young vocalist when I decided, without previewing, to drop her version of Betty Carter’s “Tight”, into my radio show one night. The hair on my arms stood at attention, my mouth fell open and by the time she begins to trade fours with the saxophonist a third of the way in, I was an unabashed fan. I then listened to the rest of the album on the way home from the studio and by the time I got to my front door, I was on a jazz high. Ms. Horn brings us a little Betty, a little Sarah, a little Ella, a little gospel and a whole lot of herself on this stunning debut project. Jazzmeia won the right to record this project as a prize for winning the 2015 Monk Vocal Competition. I’ve taken issue with the Monk judges in the past but not this time. They got it 100% right.

  • What Time Is It? – Giacomo Gates (Savant) I was first introduced to Mr. Gates around 20 years ago, at one of the earliest incarnations of the Litchfield Jazz Festival. His set was ridiculously truncated, due to curfew rules and a previous artist running overtime. Giacomo expressed mild annoyance, which greatly displeased the festival organizers. But I dug what little I heard and vowed to keep up with this “regular guy”, baritone, with loads of charm, who exuded the cool soulfulness of Mark Murphy. Gates has released a number of very fine albums over the years and his latest is another in the series. It’s a nice mix of jazz standards, originals and a few surprises (such as “Silhouettes”, the ’50’s pop classic). Now in his sixties, Mr. Gates still doesn’t get the attention, even within our insular jazz world, that I think he deserves. If you haven’t heard him before, What Time Is It?, is a great place to start.

I haven’t heard everything released so far this year and I’m sure that there will be more to come over the next few months. I can’t wait to be back with more in December.

Up next – a closer look at my favorite instrumental albums, so far.

Until then, the jazz continues

Album Review: Nicole Zuraitis – Pariah Anthem

Posted in CD Reviews, Who's New in Jazz with tags , , , on February 11, 2014 by curtjazz

The following review first appeared in the February 2014 issue of Eric Nemeyer’s Jazz Inside Magazine

Nicole Zuraitis

nicole zuratis

PARIAH ANTHEM – Self Release www.nicolezuraitis.com  Stinger; Watercolors; Try, Love; Secret; Staring Into The Sun; To The Hive; Dagger; The Bridge; If Only For Today; Pariah Anthem

PERSONNEL: Nicole Zuraitis, vocals, piano; Dan Pugach, drums; Scott Colberg, double bass; Julian Shore, rhodes, organ; Victor Gould, piano; Ilan Bar-Lavi, guitar; Billy Buss trumpet, flugelhorn; Jon Paul, acoustic guitar; Nandini Srikar, vocals

By Curtis Davenport

In my younger days, I used to frequent what we called “Wine and Cheese Cafés”, where you could usually find some very good and reasonably priced wines, a diverse assortment of cheeses and more often than not, an eclectic assortment of some of the best music around, setting the atmosphere. It was generally a mix of soft rock, mellow but funky R&B and tasty contemporary jazz of the type that was popularized by CTI Records. Often, I would hate to leave because the music mix was more intoxicating than any alcoholic beverage being served. Invariably, there would be an artist that captured that perfect mix of the genres and I would ask the waiter “Who is that playing now?” If now was then, I would have certainly asked about the music of Nicole Zuraitis.

Nicole Zuraitis is a young New York based singer/songwriter/keyboardist.  The NYU graduate has performed or recorded with Winard Harper, Jane Monheit and Don Braden. Her own music as evidenced on Pariah Anthem, which is her second album, is a well crafted hybrid of rock, jazz and R&B, which fits very well around her impressive voice. And that voice is hard to ignore. On most selections, Ms. Zuraitis hangs out in that corner of the alto range that was once so well occupied by the great Angela Bofill. Then just as soon as you’ve gotten comfortable there, Ms. Zuraitis will suddenly sweep into a glissando through several octaves that places her close to Minnie Riperton territory. I couldn’t help but stop and take notice.

The songs on Pariah Anthem were all written by Zuraitis and many of them are quite good. “Secret” is sweetly soulful, with a swirl of jazz chords and a dreamy rhodes backdrop by Julian Shore. It sounds like a lost track from Ms. Bofill’s Angel of the Night album. “Staring Into the Sun” is a lovely duet between Ms. Zuraitis and Victor Gould’s piano. It gives her a chance to show off her remarkable range to great effect.  “To The Hive” starts as an insistent jazz-rock tune that takes an unexpected turn with the addition of a Hindi verse by Indian singer Nandini Srikar. When Srikar and Zuraitis rush toward the coda in an English/ Hindi counterpoint, it is exhilarating. On “Dagger”, Ms. Zuraitis and company drop a nice neo-soul groove, led again by Julian Shore’s rhodes. This cat knows how to pull an atmosphere out of his keyboard. “If Only for Today” is a torchy ballad, performed again as a duet between Ms. Zuraitis and Mr. Gould. They are so good together that I would gladly listen to an evening of them playing duets.

Nicole Zuraitis is a gifted performer and Pariah Anthem is an album that will grow on you with repeated listening as the nuances reveal themselves. It’s music that doesn’t easily categorize itself.  And you know what? That’s not a necessarily a bad thing.  Keep an eye on Ms. Zuraitis, for I think that she has a bright future ahead of her.

Album Review: New York Voices – Let It Snow

Posted in CD Reviews with tags , , , , , , on November 3, 2013 by curtjazz

The following review first appeared in the November 2013 edition of Eric Nemeyer’s Jazz Inside Magazine

New York Voices

new york voices

LET IT SNOW – Five Cent Records FCR-0001 www.newyorkvoices.com  Let it Snow; Christmas Song/Christmas Time; O, Little Town of Bethlehem; O Come, O Come, Emanuel; We Three Kings; Holiday for Strings; Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas; Sleepers, Wake!; O Come All Ye Faithful; The Merry Medley; I Wonder as I Wander; We Wish You a Merry Christmas; Silent Night

PERSONNEL: Darmon Meader, vocals, tenor sax, alto sax, soprano sax, flute; Peter Eldridge, vocals, piano; Kim Nazarian, vocals;  Lauren Kinhan, vocals; Andy Ezrin, piano; Paul Nowinski, bass; Marcello Pellitieri, drums; Bob Mann, guitar; David Finck, bass; Ben Wittman, drums; Tyler Kuebler, alto sax; Andy Axelrod, alto sax; Tedd Baker, tenor sax; Grant Langford, tenor sax; Doug Morgan, baritone sax; Brian MacDonald, trumpet; Kevin Burns, trumpet; Rich Sigler, trumpet; Time Leahey, trumpet; Joe Jackson, trombone; Jim McFalls, trombone; Dave Perkel, trombone; Lee Gause, trombone; Roger Rosenberg, baritone sax, bass clarinet; Frank Greene, trumpet; Matt Holman, trumpet; Randy Andos, trombone; Mike Davis, trombone; Studio Orchestra.

By Curtis Davenport

This album was as inevitable as snowfall at the North Pole. New York Voices have been moving in this direction since they appeared on the GRP Christmas Collection II singing a gorgeous version of “I Wonder as I Wander” in 1991. They then backed the great Nancy Wilson on a few selections on her first full length Christmas Album a decade later. Now in their 25th year as a group, we finally have the vocal quartet’s first disc of Holiday tunes, Let It Snow. It is just what you would expect from them; swinging, tasteful arrangements, strong vocal harmonies and a few well-placed surprises.

Over the years, New York Voices has been compared, understandably, to The Manhattan Transfer. They are both vocal quartets comprised of two men and two women that are closely associated with jazz. However, perhaps due to their lack of pop chart success, the NYV over the years have taken a few more chances than their more famous predecessors. This is also the case on their respective Holiday releases. I’ve always thought that the Manhattan Transfer’s Christmas Album, with the notable exception of a couple of tracks, was a disappointingly staid affair. Let it Snow, on the other hand, swings hard right out of the gate and keeps that pace going through the majority of its 13 selections.

The arrangements, which range from big band to full orchestra to a cappella are right on the money. “Let It Snow”, with a big band charts by the legendary Don Sebesky and a tenor sax solo by NYV’s jack of all trades Darmon Meader, is a joyous opener; full of blaring brass and scatted vocals. “O Little Town of Bethlehem”, arranged by Meader is a finger snapper, with creamy harmonies and a cool as winter guitar solo by Bob Mann. “We Three Kings” takes on a Middle Eastern air, appropriate for the subjects of the song, with beautiful contrapuntal harmonies. “Holiday for Strings” is a pleasant surprise as Meader’s vocal adaptation breathes new life into this old MOR radio staple. I’ve never cared for this song until now, as Meader has uncovered the hidden swing that was always there. Another winner is “The Merry Medley”, a mashup “The Man with the Bag”, “I’d Like You for Christmas” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”, encased in a big band setting. Each group member takes a quick turn as the leader and “Santa…” even takes a turn as a Bossa. “I Wonder As I Wander” is back, in an arrangement quite similar to the one from GRP 20 years ago, the big difference is this time the horns are real, instead of synthesized. It still mainly exists as a showcase for their vocal harmonies, which are some of the best in the business. “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” is done as an extremely pleasant jazz waltz highlighted by Andy Ezrin’s tasty piano solo,  Peter Eldridge’s vocal  duet with bassist David Finck and some Swingle Singers inspired group scatting.

Let It Snow is a very strong Holiday album from one of the best jazz vocal groups around today. New York Voices manage to walk a fine line, with enough jazz content to keep their fan base happy and manage to keep things lively and accessible enough to be enjoyed by those who may be looking for something new for their seasonal celebration. I’m glad that New York Voices finally got around to making the album that they always had in them.

Album Review – Loston Harris – Swingfully Yours

Posted in CD Reviews with tags , , , , , , on October 7, 2013 by curtjazz

This review first appeared in the October 2013 issue of Eric Nemeyer’s Jazz Inside Magazine

Loston Harris

loston harris

SWINGFULLY YOURS – Magenta Label Group LHM-CD-101 www.lostonharris.com  Kiss and Run; Nice Work If You Can Get It; I’m Old Fashioned; Hey You With The Crazy Eyes; How About You; I’ve Got The World On A String; 9:26 Special; The Lamp Is Low; You Can’t Love ‘Em All

PERSONNEL: Loston Harris, piano, vocals; Ian Hendrickson-Smith, tenor saxophone; Gianluca Renzi, bass; Carmen Intorre, Jr, drums

By Curtis Davenport

I was very pleased to see this CD from Loston Harris come across my desk. I had first enjoyed the work of this Virginia native in the late’90’s, when his Comes Love CD was on the playlist of the radio station I was then working for. His recordings in the ensuing 15 years have been sporadic but always enjoyable. Swingfully Yours, his fifth disc, is no exception.

Many New Yorkers are already familiar with Mr. Harris from his decade as a headliner in Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle Hotel, a role previously held by Bobby Short. Those in Los Angeles know him from his regular gigs at The Whisper. However on his recordings Harris has consistently shed his cabaret conventions in favor of a hard swinging, somewhat percussive piano style that betray his musical beginnings as a drummer. When you find out a little about Mr. Harris’ background, you understand his sound. He’s a protégé of Ellis Marsalis, who he met through Harry Connick, Jr. Harris also has studied with Geri Allen and the late Dr. Billy Taylor. With all those folks around him, how could Loston keep from swinging? And like his piano pal Connick, Harris also sings rather well.

On Swingfully Yours, Mr. Harris sticks to the formula that has worked so well for him in the past; well-known standards mixed with a few rarities from the great composers.  Harris himself describes the album quite succinctly on the inside cover: “This recording is all about swing. No torch songs or ballads, just tunes with tempos that make you wanna tap your toes.” He is accompanied by his new working group, a simpatico trio of young New York based pros; bassist Gianluca Renzi, drummer Carmen Intorre, Jr. and Ian Hendrickson-Smith on tenor sax. They all get where the leader wants to go and they take him there in high style.

Harris’ early albums concentrated on instrumentals with a few vocals thrown in.  Now, perhaps due to the expectations of his cabaret audience, that balance has reversed.  Swingfully Yours has only two instrumental tracks but both are choice. The disc springs to life with one of them, “Kiss and Run”, the minor classic, performed memorably in the past by Johnny Hartman and Bill Henderson, among others. Here Harris and company romp joyously through it as if opening their nightly set. You can hear one of Harris’ teachers, Dr. Taylor, all over Loston’s festive solo, as Renzi and Intorre keep perfect time. He is followed by Hendrickson-Smith, a very versatile and creative saxman who deserves much wider recognition and brief statements from Renzi and Intorre before the out chorus. It’s classy without sacrificing an ounce of swing. The other instrumental is “9:26 Special”, Harris’ arrangement of “9:20 Special” the swing chestnut by longtime Basie saxophonist Earle Warren. This arrangement was so infectious that I listened at least three times before moving on. Harris is not only a fine soloist but a good accompanist as well. I loved the intricate figures he was playing in support of Hendrickson-Smith on this track and throughout the album. Among the vocal tracks the most notable were “The Lamp is Low” taken at bop speed with a Petersonesque solo by the leader and the saxophonist matching him step for speedy step; “Nice Work if You Can Get It” has an inventive mid-tempo boogie rhythm with a real strong left hand from Harris and “How About You”, is taken at a mid-tempo burn that makes it the closest thing to a ballad on this set. Harris’ vocal put this old warhorse over in a delightful manner that says “I’ve sung this a hundred times and I’m still finding new things in it”. Because he does, we do too.

Swingfully Yours is another fine album from Loston Harris, who has grown by leaps and bounds as a pianist and as a singer over his two decade career. There was only a two-year gap between this album and its predecessor. That’s encouraging. Perhaps it’s a sign that those of us outside of NYC and LA will hear from Mr. Harris a bit more often.