JAZZY LADIES RELEASE REMARKABLE CDs

JAZZY LADIES RELEASE REMARKABLE CDS
By Dee Dee McNeil/ jazz journalist

November 19, 2017

STACEY KENT – “I KNOW I DREAM” – The Orchestral Session
Sony Records

Stacey Kent, vocals; Jim Tomilinson, saxophones/alto flute/percussion; Graham Harvey, piano/Fender Rhodes; John Paricelli, guitars; Jeremy Brown, double bass; Joshua Morrison, drums; Curtis Schwartz, Fender/electric bass; Erika Matsuo, station announcer background voice.

ORCHESTRA MEMBERS: 1st violins: Martin Burgess (leader); Amanda Smith, George Salter, Katie Stillman, Lorraine McAsian, John Mills, Andrew Storey, Richard Milone, Paul Willey, Rob Bishop. 2nd Violins: Jenny Godson (principal second); Catherine Morgan, Matthew Ward, Jeremy Morris, Clare Hayes. Richard Blayden, Richard George, Alison Dods, Susan Briscoe, Takane Funatsu. Violas: Fiona Bonds, James Boyd, Ian Rathbone, Nick Barr, Chian Lim, Reiad Chibah. Celli: Martin Loveday, Nick Cooper, Will Schofield, Judith Herbert, Juliet Welchman, Julia Graham, Vicky Matthews. Basses: Chris Laurence, Richard Pryce, Lucy Shaw; Flutes: Eliza Marshall, Sarah Newbold, Patricia Moynihan, Siobhan Grealy, Holly Cook. Clarinet/Alto flute, Jamie Talbot; Clarinets: Tim Lines, Tom Lessels (bass clarinet), Steve Morris, (contra bass clarinet); French Horns: John Thurgood, Corinne Bailey, Joanna Hensel, Andy Sutton; Harp, Sue Blair; Vibraphone & percussion, Adrian Bending; Keyboard, Graham Harvey.

The orchestra on this CD is so beautiful, I could not stop listening. From the very first “Double Rainbow” tune, puffed up by all the lush strings and harmonic horn arrangements, I was hooked. The orchestra supports Stacey Kent’s velvet soft tones with precision. On “Photograph,” Sue Blair’s tender harp,at the top of the tune, is dreamy and lovely. I find this is a perfect project of music to play when you want to just cool down, meditate or be romantic. It’s a very soothing production and Kent has an easy listening voice that enunciates every word clearly and puts great emotion into each song interpretation. She’s also competent in French, fluently singing a sexy arrangement of “Les Amours Perdues.”

Kudos to Tommy Laurence, who arranged this masterpiece and to Jim Tomlinson, the orchestra conductor. The song choices are superb, inclusive of several original compositions co-penned by Jim Tomlinson. I was particularly drawn to “Make It Up” that features original lyrics to match a happy-go-lucky arrangement and the title tune is also magnificent. Kent’s interpretation of Lani Hall & Torquato Neto’s song, “To Say Goodbye” will be etched in my memory forever. Stacey Kent’s honey-smooth, sweet tones bring each composition alive in a delightful way. This is an elegant, classy piece of art that you will enjoy listening to time after time.
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YUKO MABUCHI TRIO
Yarlung Records

Yuko Mabuchi, piano; Del Atkins, bass; Bobby Breton, drums

This ‘live’ recording is an awe-inspiring work of art. Pianist Yuko Mabuchi is as exciting on recording as she is in person. Here is a production that sparkles with improvisational creativity, energy, and the piano talents of a young and developing super star. Yarlung, founder of Yarlung Records, first heard the Yuko Mabuchi Trio at Catalina Bar and Grill in Hollywood. The very next day he offered to record their album. This concert was recorded at the USC campus Cammilleri Hall. This space is used for master-classes and recitals. It’s the same concert venue designed by Yasuhisa Toyota, where Yarlung previously recorded Sophisticated Lady Jazz Quartet in 2014. Jazz pianist and educator, Billy Mitchell, served as associate producer on this project.

Opening with Cole Porter’s “What Is This Thing Called Love,” Mabuchi introduces a unique arrangement that showcases her bassist and drummer, as well as accentuating her classical training. She moves from Swing to a Latin a tinged arrangement that acts as the perfect platform for Bobby Breton to present his energetic drum solo. I am intrigued with Mabuchi’s piano style. She often sounds like two people are playing piano instead of one, using cross-hand techniques and showing that she is as fluid with her left hand as she is with her right hand. Del Atkins shows himself to be a very melodic bassist, creative and improvisational on his solo. The Mabuchi Trio’s transitions from Swing to Latin are as smooth as velvet. They work in concert and as close as perfectly fitted puzzle pieces. You can tell this trio has been playing together for some time. Their familiarity offers their listening audience a certain level of comfort. On songs like “Valse Noire” composed by Mark Louis Lehman, Mabuchi plays with so much emotion and sincerity, I had to stop everything I was doing just so I could give her my entire attention. She plays two-handed ‘call and response,’ toying with the melody. Here is a ballad, once again showing how her technique sounds as though there are four hands at two pianos, instead of one petite and gifted woman poised above the 88-keys. At first, she begins solo. When her band joins in, she digs deep and pulls the blues out of this song, interspersing the arrangement with classical overtones. When the drums and bass drop out once again, the arrangement allows her to successfully solo and familiarize us with the beauty of the melody. This is followed by “Green Dolphin Street,” played nice and easy, with Del Atkins’ bass arrangement holding the trio solidly in place and locking the slow swing tempo solidly with Breton’s tasty drums. Mabuchi rolls atop their rock-solid rhythm section, like sweet butter across a hot pan.

Yuko Mabuchi interprets pop singer/songwriter Sara Bareilles’ composition, “Seriously,” in a fresh, jazzy way. Then she follows up by creating a medley of Ellington, Jerome Kern and Billy Strayhorn. In celebration of her heritage, she includes a Japanese Medley of “Hazy Moon,” “Cherry Blossom”, and “Look At the Sky” combining composers Teiichi Okano, Anon, and Hachidai Nakamura. Speaking of composers, she offers us one of her original tunes titled, “Sona’s Song” and closes with “St. Thomas” by Sonny Rollins.

This is a soulful CD, combining cultures, like serving grits and gravy with delicious miso soup. This talented lady and her trio are a force of nature that bring musical excellence and energetic excitement to an unforgettable jazz production.

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CHERYL BENTYNE “REARRANGEMENTS OF SHADOWS” – The music of Stephen Sondheim
Artist Share Label

Cheryl Bentyne, vocals; John Beasley & Tom Zink, piano; Bevan Manson, piano/electric piano; Rafi Rishik, violin; Jennie Hansen, viola; Tom McCauley, percussion/guitar; Armen Ksajikian, cello; Brad Dutz, percussion; John Arrucci, marimba; Kevin Axt, bass; Dave Tul, drums; SPECIAL GUESTS: Janis Siegel & Tierney Sutton, vocals; Mark Kibble & Armand Hutton,vocals.

The tinkle of the piano’s upper register opens this CD, like raindrops against windowpanes. When Cheryl Bentyne sings, “I remember sky, it was blue as ink … Rain, like things and changing things like me,” you are totally attentive to her voice and her stories. I find myself sitting motionless at that window, looking into her life. That’s the telltale mark of a good storyteller. One who can whisk you away from your everyday melodrama into the pictures they paint with the words of a song. Bentyne is excellent at doing just that. Her voice is the brush against the canvas of our imaginations.

The piano is also the star of this first song. I look to see who it is and not surprisingly, it’s Grammy-nominated John Beasley. No wonder it’s so creative and outstanding.

Bentyne celebrates ten tunes composed by the Broadway icon, Stephen Sondheim. His “Send in the Clowns” is scratched into the memory-bank of the universe. Bentyne helps us reacquaint ourselves with some of his other amazingly well-written songs. At thirteen she was already singing with her father’s Dixieland band and she studied acting and performed in plays when she was a student at Skagit Valley College. So naturally, she would be attracted to Sondheim’s music. On this CD, she’s invited Janis Siegel and Tierney Sutton to join her on a Swing version of “The Ladies Who Lunch” from the play, “Company.” I am a big fan of Seigel & Bentyne, two Grammy Award-winning singers. I remember them from their days as members of the popular vocal quartet, The Manhattan Transfer. They were the 20th century replication of the Lambert, Hendrix and Ross style, and that quartet brought jazz vocal harmonies back to the forefront of popular music. I also admire jazz vocalist,Tierney Sutton.

You get a taste of the Manhattan Transfer style during her arrangement of “Send in the Clowns”. This is my favorite song on her whole album and I’m sure it will get lots of air play.

I’m happy to hear the Manhattan Transfer group is still performing, but currently, Bentyne has travelled her own musical path with emphasis on her stellar soprano vocal gift and her desire to interpret Broadway music. This is a continuation of that journey. If you love Sondheim compositions, you’ll find Bentyne’s rendition of his music well-produced and sincere.

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HIROMI & EDMAR CASTANEDA – “LIVE IN MONTREAL”
Telarc Label/Concord Music Group

Hiromi,piano;Edmar Castaneda,harp.

Live in Montreal at the 2017 Montreal International Jazz Festival, pianist/composer ‘Hiromi’ and Colombian composer/harpist, Edmar Castaneda take us on an excursion into the outer limits of jazz with a special, duet and musical bonding. I could not imagine how two people could present such a rich and exciting partnership, using only harp and piano. They prove their strength of style, technique and purpose by playing Avant Garde jazz on their very first cut titled, “A Harp in New York.” I find myself captivated. Castaneda has composed this tune and it’s full of spunk and energy.

Edmar Castaneda described his talent in this way. “I was born to play the harp. It is a gift from God and like every gift from God, it has a purpose. The purpose of my music is to worship Him and bring his presence and unconditional love to people.”

Castaneda brings a totally original voice to jazz on his harp. He studied the instrument during his teens, starting by playing Colombian folkloric music. He was introduced to the jazz community by Paquito D’Rivera, who recognized the young man’s talent and helped direct him to musicians and situations that could utilize his unique approach to the harp. Castaneda has worked with bassists Marcus Miller and John Patitucci. One of the first things I noticed about Castaneda’s unusual approach to harp was how he could make it sound like a bass. This was particularly obvious on their second cut when he sets the stage with funk and fusion. It was very Jaco Pastoria sounding. When I looked for the title on the album credits, imagine my surprise when the tune was called, “For Jaco.” Well Hiromi and Castaneda definitely capture the iconic bass players spirit on this original composition.

Hiromi is also an amazing musician. Her first Telarc CD release was in 2003 titled, “Another Mind,” but this duo project has her veering off into a whole new direction. Born in Hamamasu, Shizuoka, Japan on March 26, 1979, she started piano lessons as a six-year-old girl. Her piano teacher, Hikida-san, introduced her to jazz and the music of Erroll Garner and Oscar Peterson. In 1999, she matriculated to Berklee College of Music in Boston. Her professor, bassist/arranger Richard Evans, took special care to introduce Hiromi in-person, to the legendary pianist/bandleader, Ahmad Jamal. Both men were very encouraging to the fledgling pianist. Evans actually co-produced her debut CD titled, “Another Mind.” These two musicians (Evans & Jamal) had a lot to do with helping Hiromi find her own artistic path and helping her develop her unique style. That debut CD had critical success in both America and Japan. The album shipped gold (which means 100,000 plus units sold) and received the Recording Industry Association of Japan’s (RIAJ) award for “Jazz Album of the Year”. Her awards have piled up over the years. Another highlight of her musical life was recording with pianist Chick Corea, who she met in Japan, when she was only seventeen. The release was simply called, “Duet.” She later appeared on bassist, Stanley Clarke’s “Heads Up” international release; (“Jazz in the Garden”). In 2011, The Stanley Clarke Band CD, featuring Hiromi, won the GRAMMY Award for Best Contemporary Jazz Album.

This latest album is a new chapter in Hiromi’s musical life. It’s amazing how much music this duo can get out of only two instruments. I never knew the harp was so versatile and could emulate the sound of so many instruments. One minute it sounded like a guitar, the next a sitar, and then an electric bass, always coming back to it’s unique, angelic, harp roots. Hiromi’s talent and energy seems to propel Castaneda to his highest heights and he reciprocates, inspiring her on piano. You will embrace and enjoy her extraordinary manipulation of the piano keys, drawing beauty out of the instrument from treble to the bass clef. Additionally, she shuts the piano and the wooden key-cover becomes a percussive instrument where she becomes a drummer on the tune, “Fire.” I found her composition, “Moonlight Sunshine” to be a very beautiful exploration of a melodic ballad. She was inspired to write this after the devastating tsunami and earthquake that hit Japan in 2011. It’s a perfect vehicle for these two instruments to explore their passion and virtuosity.

Perhaps Hiromi explained it best by saying:

“When I heard Edmar play I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. It was a jaw-dropping experience. I didn’t realize the harp could create such rhythm and groove. I only knew about classical harp. … His way of playing was pure energy, full of passion. I was just blown away.”

They are currently touring and will be appearing in San Francisco November 16 through November 19. If you’re in that part of the world, don’t miss their extraordinary performance, or just check them out below.

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KELLY GREEN – “LIFE REARRANGED”
Independent Label

Kelly Green, piano/vocals; Christian McBride, Tamir Shmerling & Matt Dwonszyk, bass; Steve Nelson, vibraphone; Noam Israeli & Kush Abadey, drums; Josh Evans, trumpet; Mike Troy, alto saxophone; Jovan Alexandre, tenor saxophone.

Kelly Green is a composer, pianist and vocalist. This is her debut recording effort and she has chosen some lovely Frank Loesser tunes and other ‘Standards’ that celebrate composers like Cole Porter and Sammy Cahn. I hadn’t heard someone sing “Never Will I Marry” since Nancy Wilson sang it with the Cannonball Adderley group years ago. Green does a superb job of interpreting this song, with its challenging melody and range. She tackles it in her own inimitable way. Her piano playing is impressive and sensitive. I enjoyed the standards, but I was more interested in her original compositions. She has composed seven of the thirteen recorded tunes. “My Little Daffodil” is melodically well written, with an arrangement that goes from Pink Panther stealth and slow swing into double time. I enjoyed the addition of Steve Nelson’s vibraphone. “If You Thought to Ask Me,” is a slow, sexy ballad with compelling and harmonic horns introducing the melody and no lyrics. Green’s solo is tentative and purposeful without a lot of fluff and flare.

“Culture Shock” is Straight Ahead jazz; no vocals. A soaring saxophone takes flight (unlisted as to who is soloing in the CD credits), consequently I’m not sure if it’s Jovan Alexandre or Mike Troy. The tune also features Josh Evans on trumpet. Her original compositions all display strong melodies and that makes up for the composer’s sometimes lack-luster lyrics. One exception is “I Sing” that unfolds a lyrical story of interest and gives bassist Christian McBride a chance to shine, echoing her haunting melody on his instrument. Noam Israell, on drums, takes a percussive bow during his solo and throughout. McBride also is featured on an inspired solo during the old standard, “I Should Care” and holds the rhythm section together throughout like musical paste. The title tune, “Life Rearranged” is lyrically reflective and the changes are stunning. Her melody unfolds beautifully, with unexpected notes that are haunting. I don’t understand the subway sounds I keep hearing throughout, during songs and in between songs. I wonder, what was the purpose for the sound effects? I keep awaiting the composition called B Train or Subway Song, but no such gift arrives to make sense of the odd sound effects. Otherwise, here is a talented singer/composer/pianist who shares her “Life Rearranged” moments with us unpretentiously.

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RETA WATKINS – “THAT CHRISTMAS FEELING”
Suite 28 Records

Reta Watkins, vocals; Jason Webb, piano; Danny O’Lannerghty, upright bass/electric bass; Scott Williamson, drums/percussion; Trumpets: Steve Patrick, Mike Haynes, Mike Barry, Keith Smith. Trombones: Barry Green, Jeremy Wilson, Chris McDonald, Prentis Hobbs, Roy Agee. French Horns: Jennifer Kummer, Anna Spina. Woodwinds: Mark Douthit, Sam Levine, Jeff Coffin, Doug Moffet, Jimmy Bowland. Violins: David Davidson (concert master); David Angell, Conni Ellisor, Karen Winkelmann, Mary Kathryn Vanosdale, Janet Darnall, Jenny Bifano, Carolym Bailey, Alicia Enstrom. Violas: Maniso Angell, Elizabeth Lamb, Chris Ferrell. Cello: Anthony Lamarchina, Sari Reist, Emily Nelson, Carole Rabinowitz. Arco Bass: Craig Nelson, Jack Jezioro. Harp: Kristin Copely.

Reta Watkins has a full orchestra accompaniment for this musical holiday greeting. It’s the perfect music for the season. Her second-soprano voice is bright and clear, with the orchestra arrangements by Jason Webb beautifully written and performed. Webb’s blues tinged arrangement of “Mary Did You Know” is a pleasant surprise. Reta Watkins sells the song with sincerity and good timing.

The string arrangements on “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” are awesome. It was lovely to hear Watkins sing the verse, often unsung, and certainly worthy of being heard. She sings all the American favorites and adds a couple of new songs composed by Jeremy Johnson and Paul Marino. One is a heartfelt tribute to a soul departed titled, “Christmas in Heaven.” The melody is absolutely beautiful and the lyrics are startlingly poetic and tender.

“Is the snow falling down on the streets of gold?
Are the mansions all covered in white?
Are you singing with angels ‘Silent Night’?
I wonder what Christmas in Heaven is like?”

Another song I can’t remember hearing is “Wonderful Christmastime” and “Behold Emmanuel” is a second song composed by Johnson and Marino. Other songs included in this heavily orchestrated gem of a Christmas album are, “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” “The Christmas Song” and “White Christmas.” Here is the perfect, uplifting music to play during this season of peace and love.

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LISA HILTON – “ESCAPISM”
Ruby Slippers Production

Lisa Hilton, piano; Gregg August, bass; Rudy Royston, drums; JD Allen, sax; Terrell Stafford, trumpet.

This is the 20th album release for pianist, Lisa Hilton. Spectacularly, she has recorded an album a year since 1997. This project is different from the others, because she wanted to provide a feeling of uplift and rejuvenation with this new body of musical work. She has composed nine of the ten songs on this project and hopes that they bring peace and positive energy to a world basking in disruption and climate catastrophe. I do not feel this is all jazz music. Some of the arrangements, like “Meltdown” are more like easy listening. Others are modernistic. However, then comes “Too Hot” that is very jazzy and steps outside the realms of Straight Ahead to become more Avant Garde and free flowing. JD Allen brings a feeling of peace and meditation with his sexy saxophone. Terell Stafford stabs at the senses with his trumpet, while Hilton’s floating rhythmic piano line beneath the horn improvisation comes in waves of sultry sound. Her unique arrangement of the only standard jazz song on this project, “On A Clear Day,” is fresh and uninhibited, taking musical paths less trodden and using expressive and unique chords to sing this old familiar song. Unfortunately, I could find no video for her recent recording to share with you. The one attached is older music, recorded at L.A.’s prestigious Vibrato Club.

Perhaps Lisa Hilton described this album best when she wrote in her liner notes:

“Artists have an important role in our culture and community. It is through art and music that our souls and spirits can be energized, balanced and entertained … We all need to “escape” from our challenges. I want our music to be a positive force, whether you’re listening on the subway, while at work or lounging on a tropical island. Our music embraces the good experiences in our world.”

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