Category Archives: Vocal Jazz

Pretty self-evident, isn’t it? Jazz with a singer.

Sarah McKenzie – Paris In The Rain – A Review (more or less)

I’ve previously praised the young Australian singer Sarah McKenzie for her last album on Impulse, We Could Be Lovers, have seen her perform live, and mentioned her in my Top 10 Jazz Covers of Pop songs. I was even able to exchange a couple of friendly words with her during the above mentioned concert.

So in a nutshell, I really like her. Hence, when I saw on Facebook that she is about to release a new album, I gotvery excited.

(Side note: following artists I like is one of the few useful purposes for me of Facebook. Why is it that in my generation the only people that regularly post updates are the ones you don’t care about? There seems to be some form of inverse correlation between posting activity and content value, with some rare exceptions)

Paris In the Rain (Impulse 2017)

So, now the album has been out for weeks, and I’m only just about now writing about it.

Sarah McKenzie Paris In The Rain Impulse 2017 (24/96)

Why is that? Well, not because I didn’t listen to it enough. The thing is, I was really trying to like it, but in a way something was just a bit wrong. And I spent the last month trying to put my finger on it.

Is it the singing? Absolutely not, that’s beautiful as ever.

Is it the songs? No, we get standards, like Tea For Two, beautiful ballads, like Little Girl Blue, own compositions such as Paris in the Rain, see below (she also has 4 other own compositions on the album!).

 

 

Is it the musicians? Again, not really. Actually, they do play extremely well. Sarah and Impulse were able to assemble some great musicians here: Mark Whitfield und Romero Lubambo on guitar, Warren Wolf on the vibraphone, Reuben Rogers on bass, Gregory Hutchinson on drums.

The horns are excellent too, from Dominick Farinacci on the trumpet, Jamie Baum on the flute, to Scott Robinson and Ralph Moore on saxphone.

So what is it? It was only when I read that this album was produced again (like the previous one) by Brian Bacchus, when the penny dropped. It is just a bit too perfect! That may sound a bit silly, but the album could use a little bit of “dirtiness” to my ears.

Bacchus, while not a household name, has worked with some of the greatest names in Jazz (e.g. John Scofield). However, he also produced Norah Jones and Gregory Porter. Not that I’m comparing this album to Norah Jones, unlike her this is 100% Jazz, but you get the total perfection of a Norah Jones album. This really doesn’t fully replicate the full energy I felt when I saw her live. I’d really love it if her next album will be a live one!

So why I strongly encourage you to check out this album, I’d even more recommend you see her live. As mentioned, she’s on facebook, and here’s her website that has the tour dates.

My rating: 4 stars

You can find the album here (Qobuz) and here (Prostudiomasters).

My Top 5 Vocal Jazz Albums of 2015

Following my recent post on my top Classical albums of 2015, let me now follow up with my top 5 Vocal Jazz albums for this year.

Note there are a couple of “only” four star albums here, which means I don’t consider them absolutely essential. That said, I very much like all of the below and would recommend them without hesitation.

 

Cecile McLorin Salvant: For One To Love (Mack Avenue 2015)

Cecile McLorin Salvant For One To Love MackAvenue 2015

My Jazz album of the year by an outstanding young talent (review here). I’ve seen her live and this was probably one of my best concerts of the year .

 

Sarah McKenzie: We Could Be Lovers (Impulse 2015)

Sarah McKenzie We Could Be Lovers Impulse 2015

Sarah McKenzie is my other discovery of this year (reviewed here). Less innovative than Cecile McLorin Salvant, she does just old fashioned 1960-style vocal jazz. The thing is, she does it with so much charm and also includes her own originals, I’m convinced we’ll continue hearing from this young artist.

If you can catch her live as I did (see here), go for it, she’s even better live than on this album.

 

Cassandra Wilson: Coming Forth By Day (Legacy Records 2015)

Cassandra Wilson Coming Forth By Day 2015

I’ve said it before, I have a love-hate relationship with Cassandra Wilson. Quite often, she just gets too close to a style that I just don’t like. On this Billie Holiday album, all is well from my perspective (see my review here).

 

Melody Gardot: Currency of Man (Universal 2015)

Melody Gardot - Currency of Man

 

To be fair, this is more Soul than Jazz, but in any case, I really like this album. See my review here.

 

Autour de Nina (Verve 2015)

Autour de Nina Verve Compilation Sophie Hunger Melody Gardot

A beautiful Nina Simone Tribute album from a variety of artists. One of my favorite vocal jazz albums of the year, reviewed here.

My Top 5 Christmas Jazz Albums

After my previous post on the Christmas Oratorio, I thought let’s continue the seasonal music a bit more, but expand to Jazz.

Warning: Cheesy Music Ahead!

Yes, obviously, non-classical Christmas music usually is rather cheesy. If you take it to the extremes, it can feel like a bit too much.

But let’s face it, isn’t this the time for “a bit too much”?

The trick is to find the albums that are still giving you the Christmas feel without completely overdoing it. I’ve looked around quite a bit and found 5 albums that are certainly a bit kitsch, but you (or at least I) can listen to an entire album without the feeling of just too much sugar.

 

Holly Cole: Baby, It’s Cold Outside (Alert Records 2001)

Holly Cole Baby It's Cold Outside

I’m actually surprised I haven’t mentioned Holly on my blog yet, as I like her music very much. She’s located somewhere between Jazz and Pop/Singer Songwriter, and I really like her voice.

My favorite song on this album is the track that is probably given you the least holiday spirit, a cover of Merle Haggard’s If We Make It Through December. You can see from this song already that this is not your typical Christmas album.

Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas (Verve 1960)

0004400650862_600

OK, not a lot of kitsch here, but one of the fastest versions of Jingle Bells ever (OK, not as fast as Barbara Streisand here, but still pretty fast). The track selection is a little bit more classical than Holly Cole, so you get all your Rudolph The Red Nose Reindeer, Let It Snow,  and Winter Wonderlands, but with the usual charm and swing of Ella’s beautiful voice.

Diana Krall: Christmas Songs (Verve 2005)

Diana Krall Christmas Songs Verve

This is actually already the second Christmas album by Mrs Krall, the first one is a 1999 EP called Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.

Diana Krall’s voice is just perfect for Christmas songs, and the not too overloaded Clayton/Hamilton Orchestra is doing a great job here (although poor drummer Jeff Hamilton probably get’s a bit bored here). OK, you get your occasional dose if strings, but they don’t dominate the album too much.

My favorite song on this album is Winter Wonderland, which has a beautiful swing to it.

 

Emilie-Claire Barlow: Winter Wonderland (Victor 2006)

Emilie-Claire Barlow doesn’t have the same near celebrity status as her fellow Canadian Diana Krall, but she’s also a very fine singer. She has a very particular tone, much brighter than all the other singers listed above, if you’ve heard her once, you’ll recognize her immediately.

 

One particularity of this album is that she turns Sleigh Ride into a Samba.

Emilie-Claire Barlow Winter Wonderland

 

Vince Guaraldi: A Charlie Brown Christmas (Fantasy 1965)

And given that I’m a fan of the Jazz Piano Trio, a non-vocal classic had to be on this list. You’ve never heard O Tannenbaum (O Christmas Tree) swinging better!

Vince Guaraldi A Charlie Brown Christmas

 

You can find the albums above here:

Holly Cole (ProStudimasters)

Ella Fitzgerald (Qobuz)

Diana Krall (Qobuz)

Emily-Claire Barlow (HDtracks)

Vince Guaraldi (Acoustic Sounds)

My Top10 Jazz Covers Of Pop Songs

Pop/Rock music in Jazz

The usage of pop music in Jazz is actually nothing new, to be fair, many of what are considered today’s Jazz standards were initially “pop” songs of their times.

In my list below, I’ve taken some kind of liberty with the definition of “Pop/Rock” song (in a nutshell it is just another list of music I love).

The entire list started with me listening to Christian McBride’s recent live album I just reviewed and particularly his “Car Wash” song, his version of this 1970s disco classic.

Don’t pay any attention to the numbering, this is just completely random, no ranking implied.

I’m pretty sure I’ve missed many others, please add your favorites in the comments!

1. Christian McBride – Car Wash

As mentioned before, from the great Album Live At The Village Vanguard 

The Christian McBride Trio Live At The Village Vanguard 2015 MackAvenue

2.  Brad Mehldau – Exit Music For a Film

I’ve already listed Brad Mehldau in my 25 Essential Jazz Albums, and he actually has two pop covers on there, I could have chosen both Nick Drake’s Riverman and this cover from Radiohead.

Brad Mehldau Art of the Trio vol 3 Songs Warner Jazz 1998

3. Sophie Hunger – I Put A Spell On You

I’ve already reviewed this great Nina Simone tribute album, and this version of the Screamin’ Jay Hawkins classic is my favorite song on there. Love it!

Autour de Nina Verve Compilation Sophie Hunger Melody Gardot

4.  The Bad Plus – Smells Like Teen Spirit

I haven’t mentioned this American trio on my blog yet, interestingly enough. They do a lot of cover versions which are usually a lot of fun, like this Nirvana classic from their 2003 album These Are The Vistas.

The Bad Plus These Are The Vistas 2003

5.  Gretchen Parlato – Holding Back the Years

The American singer Gretchen Parlato has really found her very own style, you’ll recognize her immediately. She deserves even more attention than she currently gets!

And as much as I hate Simply Red in general, I really like this cover a lot.

Gretchen Parlato The Lost And Found

6. Marcin Wasilewski Trio – Diamonds and Pearls

Marcin Wasilewski is a great Polish pianist, his trio recordings on ECM are very beautiful, and he’s played quite a bit on other great recordings as well. Here he’s covering Prince.

Marcin Wasilewski January

 

7. Holly Cole – Tennessee Waltz

Is Holly Cole actually a Jazz singer? Well, probably borderline. Who cares, this album is amazingly beautiful. One of my favorite songs on here is the 1940s classic Tennessee Waltz.

Holly Cole Don't Smoke In Bed

8. Musica Nuda – Roxane 

Musica Nuda, the Italian duo of Petra Magoni (vocals) and Ferruccio Spinet (double bass) is not very well-known outside of Italy, which is a pity, as it is really astounding to hear what you can do with this rather improbable “nude” combination of voice and bass, without any piano or drums. The do cover quite a lot of pop songs, The Police’s Roxane is just one beautiful example.

Musica Nuda Live At Fip

9. Youn Sun Nah – Enter Sandman

Youn Sun Nah also has a great track on Autour de Nina (mentioned above), but her own albums are equally impressive, e.g. this album Same Girl on ACT, which gives us this beautiful Metallica cover.

Youn Sun Nah Same Girl

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10. Sarah McKenzie – Moon River

I’ve recently praised Sarah McKenzie’s new release We Could Be Lovers, and still have it in constant rotation. Moon River is just out of this world!

Sarah McKenzie We Could Be Lovers Impulse 2015

So, what do you think? I’m considering a second edition of this blog post. Any recommendations would be appreciated!

Sarah McKenzie – Another Outstanding Vocal Jazz Talent

Me And Vocal Jazz

Already in my review of Cécile McLorin Salvant’s album I’ve said that I don’t listen a lot to contemporary vocal jazz. Too many of the albums just sound too interchangeable, without individual character. Cécile McLorin Salvant is one major exception to that rule.

So I didn’t expect a lot when I just clicked on one of the latest new Jazz release on Qobuz’ streaming site, the album “We Could Be Lovers” that was just released on Impulse.

We Could Be Lovers (Impulse 2015)

Sarah McKenzie We Could Be Lovers Impulse 2015

How wrong I was!

After listening for about 3 minutes I noticed that this album really is different, this is not one more of the many jazz vocalists that will never stand out from the crowd.

I then checked her biography and discovered she comes originally from Australia, had received a full scholarship for Berklee, probably the best music school of the planet, and has just signed her first album with Impulse, a label that is doing great things again after being one of the major jazz labels in the 60s (see also my review of the Kenny Barron and Dave Holland duo album here).

One warning ahead: this is as mainstream jazz as it gets. As you’ve probably seen from my blog before, I don’t mind that one bit.

You get jazz standards, but also some of their own compositions. She also plays the piano, and not just a bit, she swings like crazy (see some of the YouTube extracts below). Impulse was kind enough to give her outstanding musicians for this album,

The entire album and style sometimes recall the early Diana Krall, but you’ll quickly notice that she has already found her own voice, her own style, at the age of 27 nonetheless.

And I must admit, any singer doing Moon River get extra cookie points from me…. Reminds me every time of my first trip to NYC with my wife where we watched Breakfast at Tiffany’s on the hotel rooms VCR.

Keep your eyes and ears open for her!

My rating: 4 stars

Below two examples of her work, an earlier live recording during her time at Berklee, and the official clip of one of her tracks from the new album (not her strongest one by the way, but still fun to listen to).

You can download it here (Qobuz) or here (Highresaudio)

EDIT: I was notified by a reader that this album doesn’t seem to be available in the US yet. My chin dropped and I just couldn’t believe it. But it is true, Amazon US features this album only as “Import”. Seriously? Dear Execs at Universal, what are you thinking? Are these the 1980s? Is there one good rationale reason (probably beyond the weird parallel world of music licensing rights) why you wouldn’t make available an album by an Australian artist on a supposedly US label (impulse) in the US? I really don’t get it.

UPDATE: You’ll find a review of her live concert in Zurich in 2015 here.

Will Cécile McLorin Salvant Become The Most Important Jazz Singer of Our Century? – A Review of For One To Love

As you can see from my posting history, I really like young contemporary artists. Too many lovers of Jazz and Classical music live in the past (“Ah, the times of Toscanini…” “Nobody plays like Bird anymore…” etc.).

Contemporary Artists

I disagree. We have so many fantastic artists around us right now, there is no need to live only in the past. That is not to say we should forget the past (case in point, my previous review was about a 1959 album from Oscar Peterson with music mainly from the 1930s), but the much more exciting treasure hunt is to find the contemporary gems, that don’t yet are household name.

Some examples I’ve already written about include Shai Maestro, Benjamin Grosvenor and Igor Levit, or Vilde Frang. Another one is Aaron Diehl, He by the way also plays on the album below.

Cécile McLorin Salvant

Well, to be fair, you really don’t have to be a musical truffle pig to know about the 26 year old Cécile McLorin Salvant. She’s been praised all over the place after she won the Thelonious Monk competition, so if you read any Jazz reviews at all, you should have heard about her great debut, WomanChild.

As you’ve seen from my post on my 25 Essential Jazz albums, I’m not such a big fan of vocal jazz overall. There are many singers out there with great voices, but the musical result is often a bit nondescript.

Not so here. You’ll recognize her voice immediately, she’s already developed a great style, and having the brilliant Aaron Diehl at her side is a great asset, in a way this could become a similar winning combination to Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson.

For One To Love

Cecile McLorin Salvant For One To Love MackAvenue 2015

I already liked WomanChild, but this album gets even better. There are intimate piano only ballads like Left Over, songs that could come straight out of a Jacques Brel album (Le Mal de Vivre), and the outstanding 10:33 Something’s Coming (I think I mentioned already that I have a thing for long jazz tracks, this one is no exception). There is no weak track on this album, and unlike many other vocal jazz albums, you really never get bored.

My rating: 5 stars

So to come back to the title of this post, my bold prediction is that in 30 years from now we will list Cécile in the Great Hall of Jazz along with Ella, Sarah, and Billie.

I trusted her enough that I had this album in pre-paid pre-order without even listening to it once, and will certainly do the same for her future releases!

You can get it here (Qobuz) and here (HDtracks)

UPDATE: Review  of her concert in Basel in 2015 here.

Musicophile’s 25 Essential Jazz Albums – Part II

Following up to part I of my 25 Essential Jazz albums, here are the entries 13-25. Again no ranking implied in the numbers, this is just a list of albums I think everybody should have heard, and to give you a good understanding of what it is I really like in Jazz.

13. Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers – Moanin (1958)

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers Moanin Blue Note 24 192

Well, my entire mini-series on the Jazz Messengers’s spin-offs wouldn’t have been a series without this group. I’m not sure why I haven’t written about this album yet, but I eventually will.

14: Ella Fitzgerald – Clap Hands – Here Comes Charlie (1961)

Ella Fitzgerald Clap Hands Here Comes Charlie Verve 1961 24 192

Ella again is somebody with so many good albums to choose from. Just to give an example, the Ella and Louis series has been recommended everywhere, and I concur. The live recording Mack the Knife or her many songbook releases are also excellent.

So why this one? Well, purely subjectively again, it was one of my first I ever owned, and it’s got the outstanding 5 star track Cry Me A River.

15. Wayne Shorter: Adam’s Apple (1966)

Wayne Shorter Adam's Apple Blue Note

Already reviewed here.

16. Duke Ellington: Money Jungle (1963)

Duke Ellington Money Jungle

Duke Ellington obviously had a huge influence on Jazz, also as a composer of many standards. I’m not really into big band, but luckily he also did some albums with smaller crews, like the famous Duke Ellington & John Coltrane album, or this one, with Charles Mingus and Max Roach. I mean, what could go wrong if you combine these giants? This by the way has the best version ever of the great standard Caravan.

17. Stan Getz and Kenny Baron – People Time (1992)

Stan Getz Kenny Barron People Time The Complete Recordings

This is another example of a large box of “last concerts” recordings similar to the Bill Evans Consecration I wrote about in Part I of this post. This concert was recorded in Copenhagen very close to Stan Getz too early death.

Often duos in Jazz lack something, not here. This one is just beautiful, and a pleasure to listen to. If you don’t want to go for the full 6 box Complete Recordings, there’s also a 2 box compilation.

18. Oliver Nelson: The Blues And The Abstract Truth (1961)

Oliver Nelson Blues And The Abstract Truth 24 96

Oliver Nelson in a way is the One Hit Wonder of jazz. Or could you name any other album from him (with the possible exception of less known and less interesting part II follow-up with a different cast)?

In any case, just look at the line-up here, Evans!, Chambers!, Hubbard!, Haynes!, Dolphy! and you know you’re onto something. One of my favorite Impulse albums.

19. Oscar Peterson: Exclusively For My Friends (1968)

Oscar Peterson Exclusively For My Friends MPS 24 88

You could nominate many Oscar Peterson albums here. He is really one of the best pianists of all times. However, this set recorded in the cosy Black Forest in the personal studio of Hans Georg Brunner-Schwer, is probably one of the best, and most intimate. This album has recently been remastered from the original tapes.

20. Ray Brown: Summer Wind – Life At The Loa

Ray Brown Trio Summer Wind Live At The Loa Concord

You cannot talk about Oscar Peterson without mentioning Ray Brown, his legendary bassist. Ray has recorded several outstanding albums with the combo of Jeff Hamilton on drums and Gene Harris on the piano. To quote one of the tracks: It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing. Well, this one’s got plenty.

21. Diana Krall: The Girl In The Other Room

Diana Krall The Girl in The Other Room 24 192

Talking about Jeff Hamilton, he also plays on this one.

But now you may ask me: what, 25 albums, only 3 vocal jazz among them, and you chose Krall vs. all the other alternatives? Well yes, you could argue about the choice of Krall in general, but not this album. This to me is the best she ever did, by far. The influence of her husband, Elvis Costello, on the songs is clearly there, and this is the first time in my opinion that she truly moves beyond the (very high-class) cocktail bar jazz of her previous albums. Unfortunately, she’s never again reached this level of musical depth since (I personally didn’t like her last two albums, Wallflower and Glad Rag Doll).

22. Grant Green – Idle Moments (1965)

Grant Green Idle Moments 24 192 Blue Note

I’m usually not a big fan of guitar jazz, but the nearly 15 minutes of the title track of this album with so many outstanding musicians, including Joe Henderson (see my post on him here) justifies the including here. I guarantee there’s not one minute of boredom in this slowly developing and evolving track.

23. Michael Wollny Trio – Weltentraum (2014)

OK, so ECM, the great German jazz label, got their share of albums here. Let’s make sure we add another great German jazz label, ACT.

Michael Wollny is one of the great German talents of today, and both the 2014 album Weltentraum as well as this live version are creative, inspired, and fun to listen to.

Michael Wollny Trio Weltentraum Live ACT

24. Alboran Trio – Near Gale (2008)

Alboran Trio Near Gale

Another ACT album. The Italian Alboran Trio seems to have completely disappeared since this 2008 album, and it’s equally great predecessor, Meltemi (2006). What a pity, this is again to me the epitome of a piano trio album.

25. Keith Jarrett: Solo Concerts Bremen-Lausanne (1973)

Keith Jarrett Solo Concerts Bremen Lausann

Yes, I’m cheating. I said in my own rules only one album per artist.

Well, but first of all I make the rules on my own blog, and then this blog has Keith Jarrett in the subtitle. I couldn’t walk away from this without a Jarrett Solo Concerto, given that this was the topic of my very first blog that started this entire adventure entry here.

I could have chosen the Köln Concert, and yes that is a must have for everybody. But so are the Sun Bear Concerts, Bremen Lausanne, The Carnegie Hall Concert or pretty much any other of his solo albums for that matter.

I still have the original vinyl of the excellent Bremen Lausanne, and it is basically just a placeholder for his entire solo works. If I have enough time, I’ll try eventually to review in detail all Keith Jarrett solo concerts.

So, that’s it folks, looking forward to your feedback!

Download sources:

Moanin: here (Qobuz)

Here comes Charlie: here (Qobuz)

People Time: here (Qobuz)

Oliver Nelson: here (Qobuz)

Oscar Peterson: here (Highresaudio)

Ray Brown: here (HDTracks)

Diana Krall: here (Qobuz)

Chick Corea: here (Qobuz)

Bremen-Lausanne: here (Qobuz)

Michael Wollny: here (Qobuz)

Alboran Trio: here (Qobuz)