Category Archives: Vocal Jazz

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

Sarah McKenzie Live in Berlin – May 5, 2017

Better late than never

This will be a post about all the things I’ve recently been late at.

Well not all the things, but at least two of them. One is recognizing the 2nd anniversary of my blog!

On May 22, 2015, I’ve published my first post here. We’re now a bit more than two years and 194 posts later, and I’m still doing it.

And really, what keeps me motivated doing this, beyond my passion for good music, is your feedback. I’ve heard from so many of you individually, so many encouraging comments, and appreciative notes, I just have to say a big THANK YOU!

The second thing I’m really late at is a review of the concert of Sarah McKenzie I saw about a month ago now.

Sarah McKenzie Live at Passionskirche Berlin

I’ve written about her three times already (here, here, and here) and I remain a great fan of this young Australian singer. So when I had the opportunity to see her live in Berlin, I grabbed it.

And I’m very glad I did. My review of her last album was a bit mixed. There was nothing wrong with the music per se, I just felt the album was a bit overproduced, a bit sterile.

Obviously, live you get a completely different experience.

Let me get the negative points out of the way first.

  • Never do a Jazz concert in a church

The Passionskirche in Kreuzberg is a beautiful building and room, but why on earth somebody would want to do a Jazz concert in there really is beyond me. The acoustics are really bad, and the long reverb half killed the excellent swing of the band. Well at least, for the first time in my life I had a beer (they sold drinks before the concert) in a church. An interesting experience.

  • No pictures please

Unfortunately, the organizers didn’t want me to take any pictures, although I had brought my little Fuji X100T. That’s really a pity, as I believe a concert report with some pictures of the event is much more interesting for the reader. So sorry guys, text only.

But as of now starts the positive part: It really was a fantastic concert.

Her band was as good as ever, and we got a really great mix of standards and her own compositions. So the program switched between the good old classics of  I’m old fashioned to her new Paris in the Rain. 

What were my highlights? Well, as always, Moon River, in a duet with guitar only. Pierre Boussaguet on bass, who managed to even improvise a Bach Cello Suite into his bass solo. A blues, where the entire band was just swinging like crazy.

And, maybe my personal favorite, Sarah has now added You Must Believe In Spring to her repertoire. I´ve written here how much I love this Michel Legrand Song that was made famous in the Jazz world by Bill Evans. It was fantastic hearing her perform this gem.

In a nutshell: Sarah Mckenzie is still on tour, including her very first time at the legendary Montreux Jazz festival in July. Here are her tour dates, make sure you check her out when you can, she is just amazing!

 

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)

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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.