CELEBRATING CHRISTMAS & THE FIRST HUMAN INSTRUMENT: THE VOICE

CELEBRATING CHRISTMAS AND THE FIRST HUMAN INSTRUMENT: THE VOICE
By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist
December 9, 2018

MARIA SCHAFER & SHANE SAVALA – “CHRISTMAS IN THE CITY” Independent label

Maria Schafer, vocals/composer; Shane Savala, guitar/composer.

Maria Schafer doesn’t need a huge production to enhance her lovely voice and celebrate the season. Every bright light shines a little brighter when spotlighting this lady’s vocal talents. Shane Savala is the glitter on the garland that drapes her warm tones. His guitar accompaniment is lovely, technically astute, sensitive and warm as a friendly family gathering around the holiday table. This is a seasonal album that is perfectly beautiful. Maria Schafer has included holiday songs we love like “It’s Beginning to Look a lot Like Christmas,” Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over)”, “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?”, “White Christmas” and “Let It Snow”.

Her original songs, “Shape Your Light” and “Brings Me Back” that she and Savala have composed, are well written and make for enjoyable listening. Her original music is jazzy in a folksy-kind of way.

This is an awesome stocking stuffer that can be found by contacting maria@mariaschafer.com or http://www.MarschMusic.com.
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JOHN MINNOCK – “RIGHT AROUND THE CORNER” Independent Label

John Minnock, vocals/composer; Tony DePaolo, guitar; Enrique Haneline, piano/fender Rhodes; Carlos Mena & Will Woodard, bass; Pablo Eluchans & Diego Voglino, drums. SPECIAL GUEST: Dave Liebman

This CD is a delightful surprise. On the first track, after a short, interesting introduction that features the tinkling upper-register piano notes of Enrique Haneline, I did not expect to hear a vocalization. I presumed this was an instrumental album. Enter John Minnock. On “Get Happy” I experience a totally unique production of a popular Harold Arlen/Ted Koehler tune. Minnock’s expressive tenor voice floats beautifully above the unusual track. It’s jazzy in a very classical mode. This complete project, is fresh, creative and inspired.

The original composition, “Right Around the Corner” moves us from jazz to the Broadway stage. Minnock is a strong and powerful vocalist. That sweet tenor that caressed “Get Happy” disappears and becomes a powerful baritone vocal on this song. It unexpectedly turns the mood and comfort level of this recording towards a new direction. This is followed by, “Do You Know What It Means?”, the song that celebrates New Orleans and showcases Minnock’s emotional and tender vocal delivery once again. It’s arranged as a ballad. John Minnock obviously admires Tony Bennett. I hear his influence during this production, and that’s meant to be a definite compliment. I love pianist Enrique Haneline, whose contributions to this musical endeavor are brilliant. Also, special guest and outstanding reedman, Dave Liebman, lends awesome credibility and challenge to this project by putting the ‘J’ in jazz. On “New York, New York” (composed by Jay Brannon & featuring Liebman on saxophone), the arrangement is reminiscent of John Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things”, but the vocals reflect a Broadway musical. Strange! Strange because this artist has the voice and style to have become a Tony-Bennett-strong and emotionally believable artist on this arrangement. However, he misses the mark. Perhaps because he needs a jazz producer who could have brought out the best of his obvious talents, directing him to stay true to a more jazz directed vocal and to match the amazing track created by his musical ensemble.
That being said, this is clearly an album mixing various musical styles inclusive of Cabaret, boisterous Broadway and straight-ahead jazz, as well as tender ballads. Speaking of tender ballads, Minnock and his accomplished pianist have co-written “Are We All Alone?” It’s a beautiful composition and sung with sincerity and poignant emotion. In the same jazzy mode, “Moon River” is produced as a Latin-flavored medium-tempo’d arrangement and features the talented Tony DePaolo on guitar. Minnock reminds me a wee bit of Al Jarreau on this vocal presentation. However, I have to say that Minnock,(although influenced by some of our jazz icons) definitely has his own unique style and sound. His sincerity and his ability to transmit an emotional presentation inside the restrictive walls of the recording studio is to be commended.

I’m touched by his awesome presentation of “You Don’t Know What Love is.” His triple tempo on the blues song “Love Being Here with You” turns it into a straight-ahead, Lambert, Hendrix & Ross type production that swings hard. On this recording, Minnock shows us he can sing it all. He is clearly an artist who pushes the boundaries of music and art with his vocal instrument.
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ADA BIRD WOLFE – “BIRDIE” Independent label

Ada Bird Wolfe, vocals; Jamieson Trotter, piano/organ; Dan Lutz, bass; Mike Shapiro, drums/percussion; Scott Mayo, tenor saxophone; Jamelle Adisa, trumpet; Kleber Jorge, Nathaniel LaPointe & Hideaki Tokunaga, guitars.

The famous Billie Holiday popularized the song, “Lover Man” and that composition opens this production as a swift-moving samba. The track is killer! Ada Bird Wolfe’s voice dances atop the music like an instrument. That being said, this is a sad, heart-wrenching lyrical song that has suddenly become a happy Latin-infused arrangement. As an instrumental, this would probably work perfectly. However, with the lyrics being sung, Wolfe seems to make light of the sadness because of her happy arrangement. I’m sure that wasn’t her intention. Notably, Jamieson Trotter is dynamite on piano, setting the groove and freely improvising throughout. On the second track, Ms. Wolfe surprises with a fluid performance in Portuguese, “Doralice,” that is a composition by Joáo Gilberto. She honors the roots of the song by performing it in its original language form, although slightly off-key in several places. Later, on “Mon Fantome” Wolfe sings in French, obviously showing her penchant and ear for languages. Using rich alto tones to caress each song choice, I can tell that Ada Bird Wolfe admires Carmen McCrae’s vocal style. It is reflected in both her song choices and vocal presentation. She sings several Thelonious Monk songs whose lyrical content and vocal style was freshly introduced to us by McCrae’s awesome, recorded tribute to Monk back in 1988 when she released “Carmen Sings Monk.” Ms. Wolfe also tackles the famous Miles Davis tune, “All Blues” and tributes Charles Mingus with Joni Mitchell’s composition, “Goodbye Porkpie Hat”. Her repertoire is admirable. At times, her pitch falls ever-so-slightly below the notes and this is somewhat annoying to those with keenly alert ears. It’s particularly noticeable on “Monk’s Dream” and she misses the melodic mark entirely on “Round Midnight.” Thelonious Monk’s music is not to be trifled with.

She is more persuasive with ballads, but Ada Bird Wolfe endeavors to swing on the jazz standard, “Four.” Sadly, she appears out of breath and unable to keep pace with her stellar band. For the most part, listeners can expect to be entertained with a group of familiar jazz songs by famed composers and a musical ensemble that is both competent and fearsome.
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JAKE EHRENREICH with the ROGER KELLAWAY TRIO – “TREASURY OF JEWISH CHRISTMAS SONGS” Independent Label

Jake Ehrenreich, vocals; Roger Kellaway, piano; Bruce Forman, guitars; Dan Lutz, bass; Kevin Winard, percussion.

I found the title of this album to be a bit puzzling, since we know that the Jewish religion celebrates Hanukah and not Christmas. However, on the CD cover it clearly states this is a “cool jazz tribute to the Jewish songwriters” of several Christmas songs. That explains it. Jake Enrenreich is the satin smooth vocalist who celebrates these stellar composers. He has a tone and ambience that appears to be greatly influenced by Sinatra and Tony Bennett. That being said, it’s a pleasure and a joyful experience to listen to Jake Ehrenreich sing. Beginning with “A Holly Jolly Christmas,” we are immediately off and swinging our way into the holiday season. Ehrenreich’s voice is full of joy and it’s contagious. The Roger Kellaway trio is brick-solid beneath the spotlighted vocals. I enjoyed the addition of Bruce Forman on guitar during the Brazilian-flavored arrangement of “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.” Roger Kellaway is a master musician and accompanist. He gives beautiful and creative support to the vocals of Ehrenreich. On “Christmas Time is Here,” Kellaway steps outside the realm of support and dives into his own improvisational display of independence and talent during his brief but poignant piano solo. I enjoy the walking bass of Dan Lutz on “Home for the Holidays” and the strumming guitar that puts the “S” in shuffle during this blues tinged rendition of a seasonal song. Written by Robert Allen Deitcher and Albert Silverman, I don’t remember hearing this song before now. Great song! Enrenreich’s awesome delivery makes you listen to and embrace every lyric and each note. He’s quite a storyteller.

“A Christmas Love Song” is quite beautifully presented by Jake Ehrenreich and features the always inspiring lyrics of Alan and Marilyn Bergman and the magnificent music of Johnny Mandel. Once again, Kellaway is amazing on piano. This is the perfect album to light the fireplace, mix the drinks, pour the wine, and cuddle up in the soft glow of Christmas lights to be inspired by this fine vocalist and his holiday repertoire.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PI9g3Zp3M2k&index=10&list=PLWOK64HMzr6K _hgfLP7 ErsN0DZjSF7SLM
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SIMONE KOPMAJER – “SPOTLIGHT ON JAZZ” Lucky Mojo Records

Simone Kopmajer, vocals/composer; Terry Myers, tenor saxophone/clarinet; Paul Urbanek, piano; Martin Spitzer, guitar; Karl Sayeer, bass; Reinhardt Winkler, drums.

This is an easy listening jazz production. It feels as though I am front-row-center in an intimate club setting with Kopmajer’s sweet tones swirling around me along with her sextet’s smart accompaniment. Simone Kopmajer has co-composed the opening tune, “Spotlights”. It’s a moderate swing that introduces us to this smooth, polished singer. She takes me back to the so-called ‘cool’ West Coast jazz scene with her vocal style and these arrangements. This recording conjures up shades of Edie Gormé, Julie London (without her sexy, smoky sound), June Christy and/or Chris Connor. These were some of the West Coast female recorded voices who were popular during that Southern California jazz scene in the 1950’s and 60s. Kopmajer’s voice takes me back to that time in jazz history. I enjoyed her interpretation of Ahmad Jamal’s wonderful hit song, “Poinciana”. She floats brightly over her ensemble’s music track, her voice dancing like moonlight on a rushing river. Terry Myers adds saxophone and clarinet-fills throughout this album, executing his instrumentation to sensitively highlight and support Kopmajer’s melodic vocals.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NQVFz9HKNT8&list=OLAK5uy_npFFxcxjaJviKoXtLM6pHQJTV Gajyyod8

Simone Kopmajer is quite popular in Southeast Asia and Japan, as well as all over Europe. Born in Schladming, Austria, she started singing at age eight, studied piano and saxophone and by the time she turned twelve, young Simone was performing with her father’s big band. After obtaining a Master’s Degree at the University of Music and Dramatic Arts in Graz, She honed her jazz skills with well-known artists like Sheila Jordan, Mark Murphy, Michele Hendricks, Jay Clayton and the New York Voices. This is her thirteenth album release as a leader and she offers fourteen songs of fine music for our listening pleasure.
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KRIS ADAMS:STEVE PROSSER,THE MUSIC OF – “WE SHOULD HAVE DANCED” Jazzbird Records

Kris Adams, vocals/lyrics; Steve Prosser, composer; Tim Ray, piano/arranger; Paul Del Nero, acoustic bass; Fernando Brandáo, flutes.

“We Should Have Danced” celebrates the music of Steve Prosser by a select ensemble of musicians. Kris Adams take on the project with one of those crystal-clean vocals, clear enunciation, and a handle on complimentary scatting that blends easily with the piano, flute and bass on this project. There are no drums, yet the rhythm of this ensemble is solid and steady. The widow of Steve Prosser, Kris Adams, has written lyrics to the music of her talented husband. These sensual and intimate lyrics are noted on the inside of the CD jacket. Adams tells their love story with music and vocals. It is not her voice as much as the arrangements that touch me. I do feel her vocal sincerity throughout. These compositions are well written and the music is quite melodic. The lyrics are memorable and honest. Often Kris Adams uses her voice like a secondary flute, harmonizing with Fernando Brandáo’s instrument. Sometimes she simply soars in her own space, blowing her song like a feather in the wind. This is particularly true on the title tune, where Fernando Brandáo is king on flute. I was particularly taken by this song, “We Should Have Danced.” Pianist, Tim Ray, took on the huge, challenging project of arranging these original songs and accompanying Kris Adams on piano while she explored her musical diary. Songs like “Imaginings” challenge Adam’s range and voice with a haunting and rangy melody. Paul Del Nero on acoustic bass plays a noteworthy solo. “Another Time” swings hard with the intense walking bass of Paul Del Nero. He and Tim Ray provide a rhythmic stage to spotlight the driving vocals of Kris Adams. She is a singing poet.

If you are looking for a project of fresh, original material and well-written lyrics, here is an artistic project to tribute a composer’s work, celebrate a life well-lived and spotlight a romantic love. Although it is meant to be a tribute to the composer, Steve Prosser, it is also a recording that showcases the arranging talents and piano excellence of Tim Ray, the lyrical abilities and vocal agility of Kris Adams and it is colored with the beautiful flute playing of Fernando Brandáo. Paul Del Nero is another star of this production on acoustic bass and he is like super glue when it comes to holding the rhythm tightly in place.
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LAURA DICKINSON 17 – “AULD LANG SYNE” Music & Mirror Records

As this recording opens, I flash back to the Andrew Sisters and their harmonic, swing-hit-records of the 1930s through the 1950’s. They sold over 75-million records with hits like “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy”. Laura Dickinson’s first song on this holiday recording is a medley of “Happy Holidays” and “The Holiday Season” and definitely brings the Andrew Sisters to mind with her harmony layered delivery. It’s both festive and big-band swinging.

Dickinson has a crystal-clear soprano voice that soars, dips and glides like a wild dove in flight. On the second track, “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” her high notes sparkle. This vocalist sounds like a well-seasoned veteran of the recording studio and of session work. As I begin to read her biography, I realize why I detected this studio ease and professionalism in her recording. She’s celebrated as one of the busiest studio voices in Southern California. Her television and radio commercial success has featured her vocals promoting KFC, Maybelline, Target, and Priceline. She’s sung on hit TV shows like Modern Family, Son of Zorn and Supernatural. Her vocals have been heard on motion picture tracks galore and Laura Dickinson has been Michael Buble’s vocal contractor since 2015. In fact, in whatever spare time this lady has left, she manages to contract vocalists for projects like Englebert Humperdinck’s 2018 Christmas album and Mr. Buble’s promotional tour for his November 2018 CD release, “The Christmas Chronicles” with Kurt Russell. In 2017, Laura Dickinson won three Grammy awards for her work as music producer on the Ted Nash Big Band: Presidential Suite album. She was also vocal contractor that year on “Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin.” This exemplifies her seamless approach to appreciating and singing a multitude of musical styles. For example, her Andrew Sisters tribute on the arrangement that opens this CD moves fluidly to present a solo rendition of an old standard in the next breath, with a more modern, pop/ funk arrangement. Her voice sounds innocent and sweet; almost child-like on this number. Yet her maturity in the control of notes, tone and delivery is evident. Her rendition of “Christmas is Starting Now” comes from the Disney cartoon “Phineas and Ferb”, that is featured in a music video. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6KSiHNVccz0). I prefer Dickinson’s swinging presentation to the original. Her voice puts youth and happiness into the mix.

This is an album of eleven wintery, holiday songs that add to the joy and celebration of the season. She even tackles the soaring Mariah Carey composition, “Miss You Most (At Christmas Time)” sung as a touching ballad. Her big band arrangements are tightly played and beautiful. They feature some top arrangers including Brent Fischer, Larry Blank, James A. McMillan (who has arranged five of the elven songs herein), Bill Liston, Johnny Mandel, Alan Steinberger, Andrew Synowiec and Ms. Dickinson herself. I love the arrangement complexity on “Let It Snow.” The trumpet work of former member of the Tonight Show Band, Kye Palmer, is outstanding on several solos. Laura Dickinson has an infectious voice that capsulizes the spirit of the season. Her folksy rendition of the title tune is supported by the sensitive accompaniment of Grammy-winning guitarist, Andrew Synowiec. Ms. Dickinson introduces me to a number of holiday songs I have not heard before and her forever-young tonal quality brushes the cold windy season with warmth and sincerity.
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