WOMEN IN JAZZ BRING CULTURE AND CREATIVITY TO DISC

July 6, 2017

WOMEN IN JAZZ BRING CULTURE AND CREATIVITY TO DISC
CD Reviews by Jazz journalist, Dee Dee McNeil

HYESEON HONG JAZZ ORCHESTRA – EE – YA – GI with Rich Perry & Ingrid Jensen
Mama Records

Hyeseon Hong, composer/arranger/director; Matt Panayides, guitar; Broc Hempel, piano; John Lenis, bass; Mark Ferber, drums; Ben Kono, alto/soprano saxophones; flute; Matt Vashlishan, alto saxophone/EWI/flute; Rich Perry, tenor sax; Jeremy Powell, tenor sax/clarinet; Andrew Hadro, bari/bass clarinet; Augie Haas, Ingrid Jensen, Jason Wiseman, Colin Brigstocke, Trumpets; Ron Wilkens, Daniel Linden, Ric Becker, Becca Patterson, trombones; EJ Park & Subin Park, vocalists.
Hyeseon Hong (pronounced hay-son-hong) migrated to New York City from Seoul, Korea pursuing an extended education in music education. From the ages of twelve to eighteen, she studied art in Korea, but that was her second passion. The first was music. As a child, her family realized she had perfect pitch and she studied and played piano in church and gave piano lessons to others when she was only nine years old. Her interest in music evolved to composition, arranging and a powerful urge to form and direct an orchestra. She could hear all the arrangements in her head.

Coming to America to further her music education, at New York University, she honed her composition skills and began arranging for her 10-piece band and gigging around the city. For a while, she returned to her native Korea and taught college classes. But she was bitten by the East Coast music bug. The energy and cultural diversity of NYC were infectious. Ms. Hong returned and over the past fifteen years, she has been a band leader/composer and arranger. This year, 2017, she was awarded a grant for this recording from the prestigious Aaron Copland Fund for Music. The results equal this work titled, “Ee-Ya-Gi.”

I was struck by cut #3 on this 18-piece, orchestrated CD titled, “Para Mi Amigo Distante.” It begins with Ben Kono’s reed talents singing the melody sweetly on soprano saxophone. Then, the Bossa beat kicks in, thanks to Matt Panayides’ rhythm guitar licks and the orchestra supports the haunting melody that Ms. Hyeseon Hong wrote with ebullience. She says it is meant to celebrate Latin America and others who feel misplaced in another country. This composition recalls traveling to foreign shores, making new friends, then leaving and how those friendships come and go; how they inspire us and make memories that are ever-lasting. I also enjoyed the jazzy “Friends or Lovers” arrangement, which leant itself to Swing and Matt Panayides, once again, showed great competence on his guitar.

Cut #4 follows. It’s culturally rich with Subin Park as guest vocalist, opening the piece singing in Korean. “Boat Song” also features the tenor saxophone of Rich Perry. He brings jazz to the forefront in a lovely, unforgettable way with the orchestra oily-smooth in the background, laying down a royal foundation for his exquisite horn solo. Then Park’s voice re-enters, like raindrops on the rooftop, tinkling a different sound against the orchestration and sometimes singing in unison with the orchestrated melody.

I met Ingrid Jenson in Detroit, while reviewing her with her own ensemble. She was part of the Motor City’s historic Free Annual Jazz Festival and boy, could she swing! I was absolutely blown away by this lady’s tenacity on trumpet. She mesmerized the audience. So, of course I was eager to hear her with this orchestra, in a totally different setting. On the last cut, “Love Song: Story of the First Love,” she plays a pretty, legato solo, but I felt that the piece did not allow Jensen to stretch out into a place of freedom and improvisation, the way I witnessed her with her own group. I found the orchestration somewhat confining and very classical in format. Ingrid Jensen was also featured on “Trash Digging Queen: Story of Nica, the Dog,” which I found to be a fascinating title. On this composition by Ms. Hong, Jensen was given a lot more leeway to pursue self-expression on her instrument. I thought Andrew Hadro’s baritone saxophone added great depth and interest to this piece, while Rich Perry’s tenor brought jazz riffs and spontaneity to the tune. But the composition itself, is a strange combination of marching band influence mixed with orchestral whole tones and repetitive harmonics that just don’t necessarily bring jazz to my consciousness. On Cut #1, that opens this project, is titled “Harvest Dance,” and seems to signal a World Music vernacular, with hints of Asian influence. It also features the trumpet improv of Ms. Jensen. Perhaps this song demonstrates the point of this CD project. It weaves various cultures and styles together into a cohesive world musical exploration. The artist previews her composition skills, as well as her arrangements of self-expression and beauty during this Hyeseon Hong production.

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PEGGY DUQUESNEL – “LOVELY SKIES” – Piano Orchestrations
Joyspring Productions

Peggy Duquesnel, piano/keyboard/organ/composer/producer; Steve Hall & Steve Donovan, piano; Jeff Lorber, Andre Mayeux, & Edo Guidotti, keyboards/organ; David Patt, Michael Higgins, Michael Thompson & Grant Geissman, guitar; Jimmy Haslip, Ernie Nunez, Gordon Rustvold & Dave Stone, bass; Jimmy Branley, Gary Novak, Dave Owens, Tony Moore, Suzanne Morrisette & Sinclair Lott, drums/percussion; Dee Dee McNeil, background vocals.

Starting with “Rainy Days and Mondays” pianist Peggy Duquesnel sets the smooth jazz groove for an exceptional album of easy listening, contemporary music. This CD contains sixteen songs that are well- produced. Some are familiar and even Ms. Duquesnel’s original compositions sound like songs we’ve heard before and are pleasant to the ear, like “Bird on a Leash.”

Her piano talents are like delicate touches on a table full of delicious songs. It’s her simplistic way of delivering a melody that makes listening to this production so compelling. You find yourself humming along with her songs after just one listen. The rhythm sections are strong and super supportive, with appearances by bass man and former member of the famed Yellow Jackets, Jimmy Haslett, and keyboard master, Jeff Lorber. Also, long time bandmate of Duquesnel is bassist, Ernie Nunez, who plays with gusto on several of her original song productions. You will hear some of the top horn players in the Orange County/Los Angeles area including Greg Vail on saxophone and flute, as well as Tony Guerrero and Ric Braun on trumpets and flugel horns.

“When I Think of You” is a catchy original written by Lorber and Duquesnel, featuring Duqeusnel injection of that funky, blues feeling on her piano. She has a happiness that radiates off the keys. To add to the magic, Lorber is a master of grooves and delivers his special talents on keyboards. I also enjoy Guerrero’s muted trumpet solo. All in all, Peggy Duquesnel shares her composer/arranger/piano and production talents with us, featuring the double fisted talents of several musical friends.
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MICHELLE BRADLEY – “BODY AND SOUL”
Merry Lane Records

Michelle Bradley, vocals; Art Fristoe, piano; Tim Ruiz, bass; Jerre Jackson & Richard Cholakian, drums; Andre Hayward, trombone; Shelley Carrol, flue/saxophone; Brennen Nase & Greg Petito, guitars.

Michelle Bradley has a soprano voice with a great deal of judder to her tone; an appealing tremor similar to Beyoncé, but in an operatic way. I enjoyed the arrangement of “Body and Soul” as a Bossa/Swing combination and featuring an impressive guitar solo by Brennan Nase. Bradley’s band is supportive and her melodic ideas are stylized and obvious in “Misty”, where the melodic liberties she takes are lovely and sometimes unexpected. I felt she was reaching for an identity during the execution of this song and I look forward to hearing more from this artist in the future. The first thing that caught my ear was that Ms. Bradley employs a very opera-like vocal quality to her interpretation of jazz standards.

Sadly, so many people think singing jazz is easy, but it takes a certain ability, just as it takes serious practice and technical skill to sing Opera. When Ms. Bradley tackles “How High the Moon,” Her rendition, falls short of the copy she implemented by mimicking Ella Fitzgerald’s rendition of “How High The Moon.” With her pitch and range, Ella Fitzgerald could have easily sung operatically, but her gift was that she could ‘Swing.’ Ella was a true jazz singer and you have to be able to ‘Swing’ to copy Ella. When Ms. Bradley repeats Ella’s ‘live’ performance of this song, she sings Ella’s improvised words “… We’re swinging it just for you …”. Unfortunately, Michelle Bradley does not ‘Swing’ and has not yet mastered the ability to ‘Swing’ the music. In her liner notes, I read that she is currently seeking jazz vocal coaching and that’s a good step forward.

In the same breath, Michelle Bradley has a beautiful voice and has made an impact as a member of the Metropolitan Opera Company in New York City. Ms. Bradley also spent time as a featured singer at the legendary Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church in Houston, Texas. Bob Dorough was scoring a film and found a certain intoxication with Bradley rich, operatic tones. He and pianist, Art Fristoe, hired her to sing a tune he wrote with Fran Landesman titled, “A Few Days of Glory.” Bradley’s voice on this gospel tune, as part of the soundtrack, was released on Eulalia label and becomes one of her first recordings. She can only grow from this point forward.
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KELLYE GRAY – “RENDERING” ( A double disc release)
Independent Label

RENDERING: Kellye Gray, vocals; Pamela York, piano; David Craig, bass; Sebastian Whittaker, drums; Warren Sneed, saxophone; Andre Hayward, trombone.
STANDARDS IN GRAY Disc: Kellye Gray, voice; Dave Catney, piano; Tom Anastacio, bass; Sebastian Whittaker, drums; Warren Sneed, saxophone.

On “Don’t Explain,” the opening song on one of Kellye Gray’s dual disc set, the artist offers a compelling performance. Ms. Gray sings like she means it. She’s expressive and vocally demonstrative, using all of her range and power. This vocalist has a way of changing the melody of songs to suit her vocal arrangement. Most horn players and vocalists learn to sing the song down once as written by the composer, then improvise on the theme and chord changes. Still, the changes and melody adjustments sung by Kellye Gray are creative and not unlikeable. Jazz certainly gives you the freedom to find your own voice. That’s the whole point of singing jazz.

You can tell, this is a woman whose known pain, up-close and personal. It infects her vocals and colors her songs. One of the discs features a younger Kellye Gray, with dark, short cropped hair and innocent eyes. Her accompanying group on this CD labeled, “Standards in Gray” is stellar. Her interpretation of “The Island” is lovely. Although living for many years in the San Francisco Bay Area, this entire project was recorded ‘live’ over three days, at the Sugar Hill Studios in Houston, Texas; her hometown. It was recorded on two-track analog tape, what we call old-school recording and before Sibelius and ProTools were available. I am attracted to the rich, warm sound the engineer manages to capture on tape and it transfers beautifully to disc. There’s no overdubbing here. So, congratulations are in order to Kellye Gray and her band for their musical competence in recording ‘live’.

On “All Blues” her vocals sound like a trombone, instead of a human voice. Dave Catney soars on piano. For my taste, this is clearly the better jazz ensemble with Anastacio on bass and Catney on keys. They seem more cohesive. You can hear Kellye Gray’s style developing on this project, recorded over two decades ago. At times, I hear shades of the great Morgana King in her alto tones.
Kellye Gray paints “Morning” by the late, great Clare Fischer, with a familiar face, but adds her own stylistic coloring to this musical portrait. “How Long Has This Been Going On” is one of those songs sung often. Gray knows how to sell a ballad and puts her spin on the song. One minute, with sweet whispery tones and the next, with vocal crescendos that sometimes soar over-the-top. She’s appropriately or inappropriately dramatic, depending on how you look at it. This is a seasoned vocalist who offers you her fledgling talents on one disc and her current, more mature style on another. Her repertoire is rich with emotion and her vocals definitely pack a punch.
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KATHY SANBORN – “RECOLLECTING YOU”
Pacific Coast Jazz

Kathy Sanborn, vocals/composer; Keerthy Narayanan, keyboards/bass; Aman Almeida, piano; Abhinav Khanna, drums; Wayne Ricci, trumpet; Rocio Marron, violin; Vito Gregoli & Ciro Hurtado, guitars.

Here is a smoky voice, with Peggy Lee character and contemporary jazz arrangements She has composed all the tunes on this, her eighth CD release. In partnership with Narayanan, her producer, keyboard man and bass player, they have a finished product that’s polished and smooth-jazz-friendly.

Sanborn has a comfortable style to her voice, cozy, soft and sexy like a favorite cashmere sweater. You slip into her music and curl up on the couch. This is romantic music, not only the artist’s voice, but her accompanying ensemble make her compositions come alive. Her music breathes, whispers and flows. Her poems have been put to music. They don’t always rhyme, but they are prose that capture the moment and tell vivid stories. Each original composition flows into the next, like lovers, breathing as one. Kathy Sanborn was a 2015 American Songwriting Award winner.

Wayne Ricci is simplistic, but strikingly present on his trumpet as he improvises around Sanborn’s vocals. Pianist, Aman Almeida, is mixed perfectly into the arrangements and adds his attentive accompaniment in all the perfect places, cushioning her warm tones. There is something ethereal and captivating about this artist, about her band and her stories. The freedom they personify is striking, both musically and lyrically. The producer, and multi-talented musician, Keerthy Narayanan, is to be congratulated. Thanks to the combination of his talent with hers, you’ll remember the Kathy Sanborn sound long after the last tune has finished.
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KRIS RUSSELL – “DOWN IN BRAZIL”
A single release – Independent Label

As soon as you hear the first strains of Russell’s mellow tones, you think Michael Franks. I look for the writer’s credits, and Voila! Michael Franks.
Russell sounds smooth and comfortable on this contemporary arrangement of the Frank’s tune along with her “mystery ensemble” (as she refers to her band). They are more than ample and lay down a fat, well-produced track.
I think it is both unfortunate and disrespectful to record music and not give your band members credit. That’s how folks used to do it years ago, but that behavior is frowned upon today. With the vocal artist, Kris Russell, taking all the credit, it made me less inclined to give her any credit at all.

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NOTE: Kris Russell responded to my review and I was happy to post her response.

—–Original Message—–
From: Kris Russell
To: ddmcneil
Cc: kris_russell_
Sent: Mon, Jul 10, 2017 4:32 pm
Subject: Kris Russell Down in Brazil

Hello Dee Dee …..I appreciate the kind words about my new single and I would like to answer the critical part about my self and not naming the musicians on the CD ….and just let you know that the contract/agreement between myself and the musicians for Down in Brazil my new release calls for that. The musicians don’t want their names/and or credit on the CD..for now…and there are very good reasons why! You are making assumptions that you shouldn’t be making and I have done nothing wrong in keeping with what the musicians themselves want and what the contract/agreement calls for! I thank you for the opportunity to answer what probably will concern other reviewers too. I hope I have answered your concerns and questions? I would have given them credit if not for other circumstances that they and I know about! Sincerely Kris Russell

On Monday, July 10, 2017 9:02 PM, Dee Dee wrote:

Hi Kris,

Thank you for reaching out. Having been in the business for some years, I understand that contractually some musicians are not supposed to record outside their labels. Perhaps this is the situation. I’m really happy to hear from you and that you would happily give the musicians credit if you could. That makes me feel a lot better. If you like, I can post your response and mine on the website.

Kris responded: Yes.. that would be great. I knew from your years in Jazz that you would understand the many problems in recording that can come up. I’m following you at LaJazz.com on twitter also. Thanks so much! Kris

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