Posts Tagged ‘Women jazz artists’


August 30, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

August 30, 2021


Ella Fitzgerald, vocals; Tommy Flanagan Trio: Tommy Flanagan, piano; Frank Delarose, bass; Ed Thigpen, drums. Lou Levy, piano; Gus Johnson, drums; Max Bennett, bass; Ernie Hecksher’s Big Band.

Today, I had the opportunity of listening to Ella Fitzgerald’s record, “Sunshine of Your Love.”  It’s an unusual blend of pop, rock and jazz tunes, showing her diversity and creativity.  Ella’s steps outside the proverbial jazz genre to record six tunes with an orchestra and six tunes with Tommy Flanagan’s Trio.

In 1968, jazz history became rooted in a German record label established by Hans Georg Brunner-Schwer and launched as MPS Records.  The company founder began to record amazing legends like Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson, Dexter Gordon, Freddie Hubbard and Ella Fitzgerald.  Thankfully, these historic recordings are being reissued in the United States on vinyl and in CD formats. MPS was Germany’s first ever jazz label and they have partnered with Bob Frank, CEO and founder of Bob Frank Entertainment, to make this distribution project successful. 

Ella’s project opens with audience applause.  We recognize that we are attending a ‘live’ recording and then we hear the full orchestration of a big band that is playing the popular Beatle’s pop song, “Hey Jude.”  Ella enters with her phenomenal phrasing that makes this album of mixed genres both interesting and inventive.  The supreme queen of jazz vocalists has refreshed “Hey Jude” and she manages to ‘swing’ the pop song into the arms of jazz.  Ella’s stylized version gives “Hey Jude” a big hug!

On the title tune, “Sunshine of Your Love,” Ella gives us all a lesson in embellishment, creativity and vocal aerobics.  The orchestration is a bit outdated, but Ella’s in grand voice.  On the Burt Bacharach/Hal David composition, “This Girl’s in Love with You” Ella showcases the sweeter side of her voice. 

She continues with “Watch What Happens.”  It spotlights her vocal fluidity and it’s more like what we jazz lovers admire about Ms. Fitzgerald; her ability to reinvent the Great American Songbook.  She continues by re-inventing the Joe Williams/Count Basie hit record, “Alright! Ok! You Win.”  Followed by a hard swing on “Give Me the Simple Life.”  When we reach “Useless Landscape” with its haunting, beautiful melody, the big band is gone and replaced by Tommy Flanagan’s capable trio.  Ella embellishes the tune with scat-singing, both unique and creative, she sings the way Ella and only Ella can do.  This is a historic reissue that should be in every collector’s library of music. 

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An Icelandic-Chinese singer/songwriter and cellist is now letting her guitar talents float above lush orchestration.  You will find Laufey’s talent both unique and hypnotic.  Although she’s marketed as a ‘pop’ singer, I believe this young lady’s talents cross genres.  She is performing her new release, “Let You Break My Heart Again.”  The melody is lovely and her light, airy voice dances, butterfly free, above the string ensemble.  With nimble fingers, she plucks the strings of her acoustic guitar and blends with the orchestra in a very delicate way. I am totally intrigued.  Enjoy her sweet soprano voice, her composer skills and the professional orchestration.  Check out Laufey’s other releases: “Street by Street & “Someone New.”  This talented young woman is a star on the rise.                                         

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Bill Cunliffe, pianist/arranger; Joe LaBarbera & Marvin “Smitty” Smith, drums; Terrel Stafford, trumpet; Rick Margitza, tenor saxophone; Alex Acuna, percussion; Chuck Berghofer, bass; Jake Langley, guitar.

Andy James has a voice as sweet as cotton candy.  She opens with one of my favorites, “My One and Only Love” and sings it beautifully complimented by Jake Langley on guitar.  The title tune “Shared Lives” is challenging melodically and features the drummer beating out the groove with mallets. The minor arrangement features Ernie Watts on saxophone and Bill Cunliffe on piano.  “You’ve Changed” is a bit of a train wreck, mostly, I think, because of the arrangement.  At times, the vocalist sounds unsure.  It just got so busy and with so many surprise modulations that mid-way through, it began to feel tedious.  The first time down was smooth as silk.  But then that modulation disrupted and put a speed-bump in the road.  Andy James is competent as she sells her rendition of “The Gentleman is a Dope” and “Moon River.”  She has been greatly influenced by the queen of jazz, Ella Fitzgerald.  However, Ms. James certainly has her own sound and tonal style.  She surprises me with her rendition of “These Boots Are Made for Walking” that Frank Sinatra’s daughter made famous as a bit pop hit. 

Since launching Le Coq Records, with husband, producer and label founder Piero Pata, James has quietly released four captivating records. Another CD that arrived in my review package was the one titled, “All the Lovely Things You Are.”  Once again, she gathers songs from the Great American Songbook like a lovely bouquet.  Each song is a pretty and colorful flower that Andy James has picked and she confidently and emotionally expresses.  James is also featured on The All-Star Vol. 1 album released in 2020.  It’s absolutely saturated with amazing West Coast talent like John Beasley, Bill Cunliffe, Bob Sheppard, John Patittuci, Rich Eames, and many of the same musicians who play on her current release; “SharedLives.” Andy James is a jazz vocalist to watch, to listen and to appreciate.

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Adi Meyerson, bass/composer; Sam Towse, piano/synthesizers; Kush Abadey, drums; Camille Thurman & Sabeth Perez, vocals; Eden Girma, spoken word; Lucas Pino, bass clarinet/tenor saxophone; Anne Drummond, flute; Marquis Hill, trumpet.

Eden Girma opens with spoken word, with Adi Meyerson bowing her bass instrument and using prose to set the mood for this recording.  They offer a three-minute prelude.

“To be one within a dark moment, bonded through the wreckage.  Turn over the palms of our hands up toward the sun and beyond …” Eden speaks in a soothing voice. 

The background music is peaceful.  It calls us to meditate or do yoga; or pray.  A soprano voice sings without words.  The bass plays the melody and the vocal spoken prose now doubles the voice.  We are entering an unusual project of creativity.  Part II, titled “Kabocha” a word Wikipedia describes as Japanese for winter squash features a male voice speaking Japanese.  It sounds more like he’s saying Kabucha. I look it up and Kombucha is a fermented tea.  So now, I’m truly confused.  Is it winter squash or tea?  Bassist and composer, Adi Meyerson says this musical journey was inspired by the life and work of iconic Avant-garde visual artist, Yayoi Kusama.  Adi is using her art work and intentions as a springboard for Meyerson to create a sonic, safe haven for listeners.  Ms. Meyerson hopes her music mirrors an ideal, a utopian society, devoid of negativity and strife. 

Well, I agree we certainly need a remedy and a get-away from stress and strife.  The entire world is in need of that.  The first two pieces on this six-part suite of music are indeed relaxing and thought provoking.   On “Follow the Red Dot, Part III, Marquis Hill makes a stunning appearance on trumpet and the music becomes more straight-ahead jazz stirred into an Avant-garde pot of improvisation.  Kush Abadey is masterful on drums.  Sam Towse takes a piano excursion to share his perspective with us, while Adi Meyerson pumps her double bass in the background.

Adi Meyerson was inspired by an art exhibit featuring the work of Yayoi Kusama in downtown New York City.  She has integrated thoughts, spoken word, political opinions and a vocalization on Part IV, “Caged Bird” with lyrics and a tenor saxophone solo by Lucas Pino.  Meyerson has synesthesia, a neurological condition in which two senses overlap and trigger each other.  In her case, she sees color when she hears certain pitches. I heard that pop star, Farrell Williams also has that gift.  Much of Kasama’s color palette matched Meyerson’s own visual perception in music.  When Adi saw Kasama’s artwork, she heard certain pitches and those infused her composition process.  Adi acquired her melodies from the colors in Yayoi Kusama’s paintings.  This is unique art, freedom and jazz.  I found Adi Meyerson’s music to be beautiful.  Perhaps she describes it best in her liner notes.

“The music and the message behind it took on a new form and became a vehicle for me to further explore my identity and womanhood and face my own mental health struggles,” she shared.

Meyerson endeavors to use her music to create and immerse the listeners in their own sonic version of utopia.  This is a special music project that stretches outside the mold to create new curves, colors and edges in her compositions.

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Haeun Joo, piano/vocals/composer; Matt Holman, trumpet/flugelhorn; Doug Weiss, bass; Ronen Itzik, drums.

Born in Busan, South Korea, this award-winning pianist, Haeun Joo is also a singer, composer and making a name for herself as a thoughtful and very original jazz artist.  Haeun Joo moved to the United States in 2011 in search of the true roots of jazz, pop and soul music.  As a student of Berklee School of Music, she honed her piano and composer skills studying with George Garzone, Danilo Perez and Joanne Brackeen.  She’s a big fan of Keith Jarrett, Bill Evans and Fred Hersch.  Another mentor is Vadim Neselovskyi, who is a very accomplished pianist/composer and who has co-produced this album.

From the very first tune on this debut album for Ms. Joo, you hear how lyrical she is and her melodies are well-thought out and lovely.  There is something peaceful about this artist’s composer consciousness.  She uses her voice, flute-like, to infuse her music with a choral balance.  When she sings, I can hear all the harmonics that could join her and become a string ensemble or orchestrated horn section.  Her piano style flows, pensive and persuasive.  She gives Doug Weiss a brief opportunity to solo on his bass, as if he and the piano are having a whispered conversation stage-center.  It’s a very effective arrangement that calls attention to the melody, while allowing Weiss to be expressive on his instrument. Haeun Joo’s music is warm and inviting.  It reflects a careful, well-planned and practiced personality.  Track 2 is called “John” and it too begins pensively.  She plays the piano tenderly, with a love of the upper-register.  Her fingers tinker with the soprano parts of the instrument with music-box-clarity.  Beneath the melody, like a counter-point descant, her voice soars now and then to add other harmonic elements to the piece.  The title tune, “We Will Find,” brings voice and trumpet together like two horns.  Matt Holman is fluid on both trumpet and flugelhorn.  He fits perfectly into the mix of Joo’s compositions.  The album’s title song is another laid-back tune that is both beautiful and relaxing.  Haeun has an ear for melodies and each song contained here is well-written with harmonies that are both interesting and nicely arranged.  I enjoyed “In the Rain.”  However, I found all the tempos are way too similar. 

I wanted to hear some hard swing or some energy driven, straight-ahead excitement.  There is none of that.  I know that these musicians have it in them to pick up a tempo or double-time a piece.  This production needed the tempo changes to showcase Ms. Joo’s ability to ‘swing’ and to play up-tempo, as well as excelling at a moderate pace.  On the tune, “A Window in the Dark,” the drummer tries hard to build the time and crescendo the music, but the over-all arrangement handcuffs him.  Her composition “Questions” has a jazz waltz feel to it, but it locks into that comfortable moderate tempo once again.  This debut album for Haeun Joo is like buying an album of ballads.  That works for certain moods and moments, but soon you will want to hear one piece that dances, leaps and jumps for joy.  That unfortunately is absent from this delightful debut.

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Satoko Fujii, solo piano.

Here is another album of music created as a result of the pandemic and self-quarantining.  Pianist and composer, Satoko Fujii has often expressed that she wanted to make music no one has heard before and this album certainly fulfills that goal.

“I started recording in my small piano room during the pandemic and while I was editing the recordings, I got this idea.  I thought I could put together small parts to make a big work, fitting the pieces together the way I wanted to.  I could make music like building with Legos.  This may not be a new thing for many creators, but for me, it was new because I am a very analog piano player,” Satoko explained her concept for this album of work.

This unique production stages Avant-garde music for us to marvel at and enjoy. It was created by Satoko Fujii by recording short snippets of improvisations and stringing them together like pearls.  For example, she dropped chop sticks on the piano strings; rubbed low strings with a big, felt mallet and plucked high strings inside the piano with determined fingertips.  Each time she tried something new, she recorded it. 

“The materials I recorded are all so short, that without shifting them around they don’t make any sense,” Satoko shrugged.

To grow the piece, she had to transfer these short parts into a music editing application.  The unique composer fit together smaller recorded parts to create a large, vibrant picture.  She worked with one section at a time, listening, then dragging the next part she wanted to hear into that section.  For example, on the first of two suites of music, Satoko created, number one composition titled “Shiroku” that translates to ‘white’ in Japanese.  It features a number of background-beautiful-sounds that cushion her piano premise.  Sometimes it’s percussive, using her fingers to pound the rich piano wood, or playing the inner strings of the instrument instead of the ivory and ebony keys.  At times, I could not have identified the grand piano instrument at all.  Satoko Fujii’s music does not sound like any piano concert you have experienced.  She would probably smile and say; mission accomplished.

Satoko Fujii’s music is textured and poetic.  Some of the high-pitched sounds would make a dog howl and a violin jealous.  They range from eclectic bird calls to percussive harp music or locomotive wheels against hot steel.  The electronic blending of these various bits and pieces of her artistic vision have produced a complete musical painting.  Satoko’s music mirrors many colors and various shades.  She is the ultimate musical revolutionary; the undeniable visionary who captures freedom and slaps it into her arrangements like soft putty. These compositions stick to your ears, wildly blowing like paper earrings. You will not be able to sing these songs, but you will be in awe of them as they float away.

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Helen Sung, piano; David Wong, bass; Kendrick Scott, drums; John Ellis, tenor saxophone/flute. SPECIAL GUESTS: Harlem Quartet: Ilmar Gavilan, first violin; Melissa White, second violin; Jaime Amador, viola; Felix Umansky, cello.

Pianist and composer, Helen Sung, recently won a 2021 Guggenheim Fellowship.  She uses this recent recording to celebrate the work of influential women composers, co-producing this project with the great violinist, Regina Carter.  Ms. Sung features fresh arrangements of tunes composed by Carla Bley, Mary Lou Williams, Marian McPartland, Toshiko Akiyoshi and Geri Allen, opening with Allen’s “Feed the Fire” that she plays flaming hot and brightly.  Helen Sung adds a new, counter melody to the piece. “Mary’s Waltz,” written by Mary Lou Williams, features the beautiful touches of Melissa White on violin.  Helen Sung’s delicate approach, during her piano performance, is quite different from the fiery and energetic first tune.  David Wong delivers a lovely bass solo.  You will enjoy Helen Sung’s classical influences that color these popular jazz songs.  For example, Sung incorporated a symphonic element into Akiyoshi’s “Long Yellow Road” and on “Elegy for the City,” (that features Jaime Amador on viola) and allows John Ellis to pick up his flute and inflate the tune with joy.  Both arrangements are lush and very classically infused. When Sung takes her piano solos, she brings one-hundred-percent jazz pianist to the spotlight.   Helen Sung’s arrangements change moods and rhythms; create grooves and bend genres, but are always infused with Helen’s mastery on the piano.  To add interest and dynamics to this production, The Harlem Quartet (a string quartet), was originally composed of first-place laureates of the Sphinx Competition for Black and Latino string players. This popular quartet was formed in 2006. The members on this recording are first violinist Ilmar Gavilán, second violinist Melissa White, violist Jaime Amador, and cellist Felix Umansky. They soar on “Melancholy Mood.”

Helen Sung will apply her Guggenheim Fellowship to a multi-movement arrangement for big band, slated for completion next year. She also received a Chamber Music America Digital Residency grant. Consequently, she’s producing a series of interdisciplinary events this year with her quartet, a poet, a DJ and an installation artist.  If that isn’t enough to keep her busy, Ms. Sung also received a New Music USA 2021 Music Creator Development Fund grant to collaborate her music with a dancer and neuro-rehabilitation researcher.  The dance program that results from this collaboration is meant to entertain, to heal and inspire dementia and Alzheimer patients.

“I’ve learned, this past year and a half, not to take anything for granted; be it people, relationships or opportunities … So, I’m jumping in with arms wide open.  I want to swallow life whole!”  Helen Sung shared.

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Sheila Jordan, vocals; Band members not acknowledged.

It’s quite exciting to hear Sheila Jordan in her prime, with vocals crystal clear and a small trio backing her up.  This 1960 recording predates the album, “Portrait of Sheila,” by more than two years.  In fact, it may be the earliest representation of this jazz singer at the beginning of her storied career. According to the liner notes, Sheila Jordan was working regularly at the Page Three Club in Greenwich Village with pianists John Knapp or Herbie Nichols at the keys; with bass players Steve Swallow or Gene Perlman and drummer Ziggy Willman.  There are no records of the bandmembers when it was recorded June 10, 1960 at the Olmsted Sound Studio in New York for a small label called Chatham Records.  Yes, Capri Records did confer with Jordan for the names of musicians, however she couldn’t remember. 

Born in Detroit and sent to live with her grandmother in Pennsylvania’s coal-mining country at a young age, Jordan was a born singer.  She expressed herself vocally as a child and when she returned to Detroit, Sheila began working in jazz clubs as a teenager.  She moved to NYC in the early fifties and married Charlie Parker’s pianist, Duke Jordan.

On this album of familiar jazz standards, Ms. Jordan covers songs we know and love like “Ballad of the Sad Young Men” and Billie Holiday favorites like “Comes Love” and “Don’t Explain.”  Sheila opens with a song Sassy Sarah Vaughan recorded called “I’m the Girl” and follows this with a wonderful rendition of “It Don’t mean A think If It Ain’t Got that Swing” exploring her scat vocals by freely rambling up and down the scale to show off her range and creativity.   She swings “Sleeping Bee” and seems very comfortable in the ‘swing’ mode.  On “When the World Was Young” Sheila introduces us to the verse of the song and then sings this ballad with great emotion.  I can tell that she’s a very young singer who was working on sustaining her tonal notes. Even back then, she seemed to be thinking and executing like a horn player.  On the ending note of this tune, she slides up to the third and then climbs above that, the way a saxophone might have done.  But her comfort level is always the up-tempo tunes, where she can let loose and swing; for example, on “I’ll Take Romance.” 

Today, Sheila Jordan is heralded as one of the most distinctive and creative voices of jazz and is a NEA Jazz Master and self-described “Jazz child.” She has made her historic mark in the jazz world, pioneering a duo approach of voice and solo bass and collaborating with legends like Mark Murphy, Cameron Brown, Harvie Swartz, Steve Kuhn and recording with Carla Bley, Arild Andersen, Roswell Rudd, Kenny Barron, Ben Riley and George Russell just to name a few. 

This album is a piece of jazz history, snatched from the past and celebrating the lady in her youth, during a formative period of her vocal growth.

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If Black Acid Soul/Jazz is your thing, Lady Blackbird’s album is one you just have to hear.  Her tone and persona stand solidly and singularly in their own spotlight.  Her voice is like no other I’ve heard.  There are shreds of Eartha Kitt, Nina Simone, Grace Jones and Tina Turner, but her sound is uniquely her own.  The production by Chris Seefried, who was GRAMMY Award-nominated for his work on the debut album by Andra Day, combines genres for Lady Blackbird that match and compliment this singer.

Lady Blackbird is Los Angeles-based singer Marley Munroe and she’s been steeped in music since birth.  Her voice developed richness and resonance while singing in church and performing at States Fairs since age five.  She landed a deal on a Christian record label as a young teen and that resulted in work with rock/rap group, DC Talk.  She appeared on four Christian albums recorded by TobyMac. However, that wasn’t exactly what she wanted to do forever.  At age eighteen, she found herself working with Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, Sam Watters and a bunch of R&B heavyweight producers.  A production deal led to a record contract with LA Reid’s Epic Records.  When that dissipated, Lady Blackbird nested into a comfortable position with producer/songwriter, Chris Seefried and signed to Foundation Music.  The result is this new album of unusual and non-specific, categorized music.  This vocalist could easily cross-over to jazz, but her deep gospel roots, thick R&B riffs and runs, along with her smokey tone and Patti LaBelle-like costumes could fly Lady Blackbird in all directions.

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Lucy Yeghiazaryan, vocals/songwriter; Vanisha Gould, vocals/songwriter; Eric Zolan, guitar; Dan Pappalardo, bass; Kate Victor, cello; Ludovica Burtone, violin; Richard Cortez, guest vocals.

This is a very sparse production with no whistles and bells; no string orchestras or dynamic saxophone solos. But it endears the listener with honest lyrics, interesting melodies and the delightful vocals of these two singer/songwriters: Lucy Yeghiazaryan and Vanisha Gould.  This recording is pure art.  Opening with a song called, “The Game” and the haunting voice of Lucy Yeghiazaryan blowing across space like a wild, hot wind. Eric Zolan’s guitar caresses the melody that Vanisha Gould has composed with tender fingers. “The Game” becomes one of my favorite songs straight away. 

“Gypsy Feet” has a lyric that celebrates the wild spirit of a woman who passes from scene to scene, man to man and this time the vocalist is songwriter, Vanisha Gould.  Both artists sing the refrain in unison and it’s a catchy, easily repeatable hook.  “Hey Baby” is a cute, jazzy duet featuring guest male vocalist, Richard Cortez and with Lucy Yeghiazaryan singing about a guy trying to pick up a girl.  It’s a strong jazz tune, as is “Look This Way,” written and performed by Vanisha.  Dan Pappalardo walks his bass and Eric Zolan takes a tour of his guitar instrument, improvising freely during this arrangement.  Lucy sings a bluesy ballad called “Gone Again” followed by another Gould original called “Trapped in This Room.”  This song has an inspired lyric.  There are a couple of standards thrown in for good measure, one being “My Man” sung beautifully by Lucy Yeghiazaryan.  Vanisha Gould is a fine composer.  I find her melodies and lyrics to be fresh and jazzy, like her song “Cute Boy.”   This is an unexpected diamond project, glittering brightly from a stack of CDs covering my desk.  It was generously funded by a grant from the New York Foundation Arts 2020 Women’s Fund.

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