VARIOUS SOUL CONVERSATIONS

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

April 21, 2021

LAUFEY – “TYPICAL OF ME” –  Independent label

Laufey Lin, vocals/guitar/cello/piano/composer; Josh Jacobson, keyboards; Magnus Johann Ragnarsson, Keyboards.

Track 1 on this new EP by Laufey snagged my ear and held on, like a diamond earring.  Her voice has a soft, warm, lovely tone, and on “Street by Street,” Laufey makes it clear she is a blossoming singer/songwriter.  The young artist mixes genres, blending jazzy chord changes and beautiful melodies with pop music, rhythm and blues, all in a very embraceable way.   When Laufey returned to her native Iceland last summer, she was surprised when she pumped on the car radio and her song, “Street by Street” was playing.

“That’s when I realized something big was happening,” she told her publicist.

The production is sparse, but very effective.  The finger snaps and her guitar accompaniment, with vocals harmonizing in the background, allows us to clearly hear her lyrics and the groove is infectious.  Her latest single, from this debut EP titled, “Magnolia,” is a ballad with a lyric about a beautiful woman. Actually, the lyrics pose a love letter to women who don’t recognize their own beauty and strength.  Track 3 is titled “Like the Movies” and is a throw-back to the 1920s or 30s type music, with its slow, strumming shuffle-feel and her voice scatting atop the production in a sweet and affectionate way.  Laufey’s unique tone and the addition of the synthesized horn makes this ‘cut’ very jazzy.  She follows this production with a cover of “I Wish You Love” just to make it clear she can sing jazz standards with the same energy and style that she uses when singing her original songs.

“I’ve always loved classical music.  I’m definitely very influenced by composers like Ravel and Chopin,” Laufey shares.  “But when I discovered the Great American Songbook and the music of George Gershwin and Richard Rodgers, it felt like this middle ground between jazz and classical suited me perfectly.  It was something I could love on my own terms,” she explained her stylized musical approach.

Laufey has performed with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra at the young age of fifteen.  But deep inside, she knew she wanted to blend her classical training with more modern influences.  She longed to expand her writing and repertoire with jazz influences, with pop, R&B overtones and with her own sense of creativity and uniqueness.  You can hear all that in her very first release and debut single, “Street by Street.”  This song sent international waves crashing against commercial music shorelines. 

As a result of collaborating with peers at Berklee College of Music, the day before their campus was shut down due to COVID-19, she embraced the down-time while self-quarantined to work on her first recording project.  Laufey began recording at home, playing piano, guitar, singing, composing and adding cello to the mix.  Other instrumentation was delivered remotely by her fellow student musicians.  When I listen to “James,” another original composition, I note her expressive way of phrasing, singing, scatting and the lyrical way she writes.  Laufey’s artistically fascinating.

Once she posted the first tune, Laufey’s project went viral!  She had a hit single on Icelandic Radio Charts and her music grew a massive, universal following.  Before she could blink twice, the BBC announced they wanted to present a music series for BBC Radio 3 that featured “Happy Harmonies with Laufey.”  This series began on April 10th of 2021.  Laufey’s entire EP project is absolutely fresh, charming and unique.  Ms. Lin is a gifted singer, plays multiple instruments and is a talented songwriter.  I expect great things from this young lady and a bright future. 

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JOHN DAVERSA JAZZ ORCHESTRA featuring JUSTIN MORELL – “ALL WITHOUT WORDS: VARIATIONS INSPIRED BY LOREN – Tiger Turn Records

John Daversa, trumpet; Justin Morell, guitars/orchestrator/composer/arranger. Scott Flavin, orchestra conductor; Amanda Quist, choir conductor; CHOIR: Emily Finke & Safia Zaman, sopranos; Alexandra Colaizzi & Kate Reid, altos; Sidney O’Gorman & Noah Zaidspiner, tenors; Thandolwethu Mamba & Dylan Melville, basses. GUEST MUSICIANS: Conrad Fok, piano; Lev Garfein, violin. RHYTHM: Tal Cohen, piano; Justin Morell, guitars; Dion Kerr, bass; David Chiverton, drums. PERCUSSION: Antoni Olesik, timpani/ vibraphone/ glockenspiel/ marimba. Orchestra Bass: Brian Powell & Ethan Olaguibel.  VIOLIN 1: Abby Young (concertmaster), Sheena Gutierrez, Karen Lord-Powell, Steffen Zeichner, Ashley Liberty & Gregory Carreno. VIOLIN II: Svetlana Kosakovskoya, Yuhao Zhou, Orlando Forte, Katarina Nazarova & Julia Jakkel. VIOLA: Matt Nabours, Vishnu Ramankutty & Ross DeBardelaben; CELLO: Brent Charran, Shea Kole & Tadao Ito; WOODWINDS: Jennifer Grim, flute; Alyssa Mena, flute/alto flute; Melvin Butler & Troy Roberts, soprano & tenor saxophones; Matt Clarke, clarinet; Franke Capoferri, clarinet/bass clarinet; Gabriel Beavers & Melanie Villarreal, bassoon; Richard Todd Stan Spinola, horn.

When John Daversa approached Justin Morell about writing a large-scale orchestral jazz piece for his album project, Morell conceived the project from the perspective of a parent with an autistic child.  This album is a tribute and a reflection of love in raising a 16-year-old, non-verbal son.  The title is reflective; “All Without Words.”   It is a story, unfolding in the orchestrated music, about connection and compassion; pain and prevailing love in the face of every challenge. 

A multi-Grammy winner, John Daversa is an orchestral jazz trumpeter whose albums reflect important social themes.  Justin Morell said this about composing this elaborate music.

“Loren (his autistic child) can be wonderfully spontaneous and always in the moment.  One evening, I sat with him and listened to the singing and sounds that he often makes, recording them on my phone.  I quickly returned to the recordings and transcribed two different segments of beautiful melody.  These segments became the theme that is the basis for the eleven variations,” Justin explained.

Loren’s voice is represented by Daversa’s distinctive trumpet sound.  This album was recorded at the Frost School of Music recording facilities at the University of Miami, where Daversa is Chair of Studio Music.  These top musicians based in South Florida, are both classically proficient and others are steeped and specialized in jazz.  Because of the pandemic and social restrictions, each section of the orchestra was recorded separately.  However, this does not interrupt the beauty or flow of this project.  Here is a tender, gorgeous album.  John Daversa becomes the voice of a voice-less child in the most perfect and soulful sense. 

The orchestra transmits to us emotionally, via these amazing musicians, with their colorful arrangements.  It’s an awesome combination of composer magic and musicians who play life into their music.  I found Daversa and Morell’s project to be peaceful and healing; inspired and lovely.  Perhaps producer, Kabir Sehgal sums the experience up best.

“This is a poignant and profound work. … This collaboration speaks not only to their mutual respect and admiration, but to their interest in doing good in the world,” Sehgal says in the press package. 

I agree!

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ULYSSES OWENS JR. BIG BAND – “SOUL CONVERSATIONS” – Outside In Music

Ulysses Owens Jr., drums/producer/bandleader; Takesi Ohbayashi, piano; Yasushi Nakamura, bass; Charles Turner III, vocals; SPECIAL GUEST: Stefon harris, vibraphone; WOODWINDS: Alexa Tarantino & Erena Tarakubo, alto saxophones; Diego Rivera & Daniel Dickinson, tenor saxophones; Andrew Gutauskas, baritone saxophone. TRUMPETS:  Walter Cano, lead trumpet; Benny Benack III, Summer Camargo, & Giveton Gelin.  TROMBONES: Michael Dease, Eric Miller & Gina Benalcazar. Wyatt Forhan, bass trombone.

Ulysses Owens Jr. is a drummer with a big sound, a big band and big career plans.  On this, his debut recording as a big band leader, he has gathered a host of excellent musicians that reflect multi-gender, multi-ethnic and multi-generational participation.  From the very first Dizzy Gillespie/John Lewis familiar composition of “Two Bass Hit” you hear the UOJ Big Band’s exuberance and high energy.  Ulysses Owens Jr. takes a mind-blowing solo excursion on his trap drums.  I appreciate his power, his creativity and technical wizardry.  Perhaps he explained his ultimate goals best in his liner notes.

“I finally feel like I have a record that is emanating a sound that I can confidently create forever,” Owens Jr. asserted.

On the original composition, “London Towne,” By Benny Benack III, who plays second trumpet, Stefon Harris makes a guest appearance on vibraphone.  On Track 3, Yasushi Nakamura steps out from the rhythm section and takes an impressive solo on double bass, followed by a soulful saxophone improvisation played by Diego Rivera, who also arranged this tune.  Titled, “Beardom X,” the horn harmonics soar and punch the arrangement in all the right places.  Bandleader and dynamic drummer, Owens Jr., takes a short but colorful solo on this original song that he has composed.  The staccato breaks by the horns build the dynamics during this presentation.

Intermittently, audience applause speckles this soulful ‘live’ recording.  The big band is quite impressive and distinguishes their high level of musicianship and tight, preparedness for this production.  There’s no over-dubs or engineering punch-marks when you record ‘live.’  Obviously, they need no such engineering helpmates.  I enjoyed hearing the “Soul Conversations” of each band member, expressed to the others.  I applaud the structured, creative arrangements that were written by various band members.  For example, on the original composition, “Language of Flowers” bassist, Yasushi Nakamura both wrote and arranged this lovely ballad.  The UOJ Big Band includes contemporary pieces like Michael Jackson’s hit record, “Human Nature” featuring Harris’s vibraphone and more straight-ahead pieces like John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps.  You will find every song on this project delightful, inspired and entertaining. However, the driving force behind their entire production is the amazing and relentless drum skill of Ulysses Owens Jr.

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BERTA MORENO AFRO-JAZZ SOUL PROJECT – “TUMAINI” – Tiger Turn Records

Berta Morena, tenor saxophone/vocals/composer/lyricist; Alana Sinkey, vocals; Manuel Valera, piano/keyboards; Maksim Perepilica, bass; Raphael Pannier, drums; Franco Pinna, percussion/ArpaLeguera; Maria Alejandra Jimenez, Sinuhé Padilla-Isunza, Berta Moreno & Alana Sinkey, choir voices.

The happy first track of this project showcases Berta Moreno’s saxophone and composer talents.  Alana Sinkey is the vocalist that introduces us to the contemporary jazz tune Moreno has written, with its slick, African influenced time changes and infectious melody.  Moreno’s tenor saxophone improvises above the rich African percussion.  Manuel Valera brings excitement and beauty during his piano solo.  

After taking a life-changing trip to Kenya and experiencing a Kawangare neighborhood, Berta Moreno was infatuated with the Kenyan African culture, people and music.  Kawangare is an economically disadvantaged area. Moreno, a native of Madrid, Spain, had volunteered to teach at the Little Ray of Hope School. Her album title, “Tumaini” translates to “Hope” in Swahili and was inspired by the children of Kawangare.  Their bright smiles and positive attitudes touched Berta Moreno’s heart.  That explains the happy, up-tempo tunes on this project and the addition of a choir of voices and rhythmic ideas she honed from the music of East Africa. 

Track 2, “Afrika” is also joyful and is bolstered by the drums of Raphael Pannier and Franco Pinna on percussion.  The Moreno composition titled, “Beauty of the Slum” introduces us to a lovely melody.  Moreno is a strong songwriter, who knows how to place the ‘hook’ of her songs in full view of the listener and strongly accentuates the titles of her songs. 

Sometimes Alana Sinkey, who has a beautiful voice and a lovely style of singing, falls flat on certain improvisation parts.  This is something that with practice and patience she can improve upon. I like the way she and Berta Moreno sometimes sing unison together (vocals and horn) and Ms. Sinkey also sounds wonderful harmonizing with Berta’s tenor saxophone.  Their blend is natural.  Musically, the album concept and Berta Moreno’s compositions make this project both unique and inspired.

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JACQUI NAYLOR – “THE LONG GAME” – Ruby Star Records

Jacqui Naylor, vocals/composer; Art Khu, piano/organ/Rhodes/guitars; Jon Evans, basses/guitar/background vocals; Josh Jones, drums/percussion.

Jacqui Naylor has a distinctive tone that enriches her alto vocals.  She offers us, not only her unique and pleasant sound, but an expert trio of jazz musicians.  Art Khu is magnificent and creative on piano.  He and Naylor co-wrote “Love Look What You’ve Done,” that becomes track 5 on this artistic venture.  It’s a jazz waltz with beautiful lyrics.  Best known for her ability to interpret a diverse repertoire and blend genres and generations, Jacqui Naylor’s album explores love with both original music and familiar songs.  Speaking of blending, the trio plays a Miles Davis background riff that is immediately recognizable from his band arrangement of “It Never Entered My Mind.”  Surprisingly, Ms. Naylor slaps the Coldplay song, “Fix You” on top, like a cherry on an ice cream Sunday.  It becomes a delicious arrangement. 

Over time, this artist’s eleven album releases have been named in the “Top 10” lists of USA Today, Jazziz Magazine and The Washington Post.  Naylor’s version of REM’s “Losing My Religion” was featured on the hit, television competitive series, “So You Think You Can Dance.”  Her three dynamic musicians contribute to the original and provocative arrangements with their supportive and intuitive talents.  Naylor’s vocals are a slightly reminiscent mixture of Amy Winehouse and Marlena Shaw.  In a sea of jazz vocal releases, it’s delightful to hear a vocalist and a creative artist with her own dynamic style and musical perspective.

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STEVE TINTWEISS AND THE PURPLE WHY – “MARKSTOWN” – Inky Dot Media

Steve Tintweiss, double bass/melodica/vocals/composer/bandleader; Laurence Cook, drums; Judy Stuart & Amy Sheffer, vocals; James DuBoise, trumpet; Mark Whitecage, tenor saxophone/flute; Trevor Koehler, baritone saxophone.

Steve Tintweiss is playing bass on a slew of Albert Ayler albums.   Tintweiss is perhaps best remembered for his Avant-garde appearances on the jazz scene of the late 1960s and early 1970s.  He was well-known for his stimulating improvisation as a sideman and revolutionary approach to the double bass.  He performed with singer, Patty Waters, and with great jazz players like Sam Rivers, Gato Barbieri and Perry Robinson.  Although Tintweiss has remained steadfast to his bass style and continuously performed on the jazz scene, this is a throwback album that was recorded in 1968 at St. Marks Church.  The group was part of a fundraising concert for the victims of the Nigerian/Biafran conflict.  The concert line-up included Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Pete Seeger, Country Joe McDonald and Jimi Hendrix.  This recording showcases the 20-minute segment featuring Steve Tintweiss and his ensemble.  Also included is their Town Hall concert of September 14, 1968.  This is fifty-one minutes of historic Avant-garde music from the protest time of the late 1960s. 

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TED NASH with GLENN CLOSE, WAYNE BRADY, WYNTON MARSALIS & MEMBERS OF THE JAZZ AT LINCOLN CENTER ORCHESTRA “TRANSFORMATION” –  Tiger Turn Productions

Ted Nash, conductor/soprano sax/composer/arranger; Dan Nimmer, piano; Carlos Henriquez, bass; Obed Calvaire, drums; SPECIAL GUESTS:  Glenn Close, Wayne Brady, Amy Irving, Matthew Stevenson, Eli Nash & Wynton Marsalis.  Members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.  WOODWINDS: Sherman Irby (lead); Marc Phaneuf, Victor Goines, Mark Lopeman & Paul Nedzela.  TRUMPETS: Ryan Kisor (lead); Tatum Greenblatt, Marcus Printup, Wynton Marsalis.  TROMBONES: Vincent Gardner (lead); Christopher Crenshaw, Elliot Mason.

“Transformation is the highest expression of change.  Transformation dictates a dramatic alteration of form or character – sometimes both.  The highest compliment one can give a piece of music, or writing, is that it has been transformative for the one who experiences it,” quotes Ted Nash of this project.

Ted Nash has created an orchestrated back-drop for the spoken word story of “Transformation,” shared by the amazing voices of both actors, Glenn Close and Wayne Brady.  This creative jazz project opens with “Creation, Part 1.”  Soloists featured on this cut are Sherman Irby on alto saxophone and Wynton Marsalis on trumpet.  Track 2, “Creation, Part II” features Chris Crenshaw on trombone and Paul Nedzela on baritone saxophone.  This is followed by Eli Nash’s spoken word, delivering a coming-out message in his “Dear Dad/Letter.”  With Dan Nimmer’s piano as a backdrop, Eli Nash begins talking about being a transgender and Ted Nash add his soprano saxophone and horn harmonics.

Glenn Close said of her participation in this project, “We are so fractured and in need of healing.  I wanted to create an experience from which people are comforted, but also inspired, to discover their shared humanity.”

Performed before a live audience, this is a concert that combines artforms, using orchestrated spoken word to bridge soulful conversations about life and living.  There are stories of being incarcerated in the composition, “One Among Many” and they approach the subject of right-wing racism in “Rising Out of Hatred.”   Wayne Brady has written and speaks “A Piece by the Angriest Black man in America (or How I Learned to Forgive Myself for Being a Black man in America” that addresses fratricide and self-loathing. Ted Nash hopes his music and the spoken word helps to promote forgiveness, love and humanity.  It all begins with various soul conversations.

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One Response to “VARIOUS SOUL CONVERSATIONS”

  1. REVIEWS: Ulysses Owens Jr., Berta Moreno, Ted Nash & Glenn Close - Musical Memoirs - LYDIALIEBMAN.COM Says:

    […] by Dee Dee McNeil, Musical Memoirs […]

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