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).

Bill Charlap Trio: Notes From New York

Bill Charlap Trio

Regular readers of my blog won’t be surprised by the fact that I love the Jazz piano trio.

So I was actually a bit surprised when I read quite a lot about Bill Charlap’s Trio on several discussion fora, and had never heard of the guy. And this came from people who generally have a good taste (or to be more neutral, a taste similar to mine…).

So when I recently saw on my streaming service the release of his latest album, released on Impulse (the legendary label that has seen a great revival in the last decade), I was obviously very interested.

Notes From New York (Impulse 2016)

Bill Charlap Trio: Notes From New York 24 96 Impulse 2016

And now I will unfortunately disappoint the several Bill Charlap fans I know: This is really not my cup of tea.

Let me try to explain why. An old friend of mine, Jazz lover as well, often basically distinguishes Jazz groups by the quality of their drummer (and I’m not even talking technical quality). Basically, if the drummer doesn’t work for him, he doesn’t care about the rest of the music (when you read this, I’m paraphrasing).

So, I’m not as black and white, as I’m coming from the piano, this is usually the most important instrument for me a in a combo. And that said, Charlap is really excellent.

However (and maybe it is only on this particular album, need to check out others), but basically here I have exactly the same problem, I don’t like what Kenny Washington does on drums. To quote Duke Ellington again, It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing. Well, saying that Washington doesn’t swing isn’t fair, but he’s nevertheless the main reason why this album leaves me completely cold.

On very slow ballads, like Too Late Now, the music is much more focused on the piano and bass, and here I start appreciating the qualities of these artists (also Peter Washington on bass). But unfortunately, the rest just doesn’t do it for me.

I nevertheless strongly recommend you check this album out, there is nothing wrong with it, and these are without doubt excellent musicians, but it’s just not my cup of tea.

My (very personal) rating: 3 stars

You can find it here (Qobuz) and here (Prostudiomasters)

Kenny Barron Trio: Book Of Intuition – a Review

Kenny Barron

Regular readers of my blog know that I’m a big fan of Kenny Barron. To me, he’s the ultimate partner for duos, see for example his great collaboration with Dave Holland, The Art Of Conversation (reviewed here), or the amazing live work with Stan Getz on People Time (see Musicophile’s 25 Essential Jazz Albums).

So when Kenny came out with a new trio album on Impulse, I obviously had to check it out.

Book of Intuition (Impulse 2016)

Kenn Barron Trio Book Of Intuition Review 24 96 Impulse

Kenny Barron plays with Kiyoshi Kitagawa on bass and Johnathan Blake on drums here. The trio has been working together for a while, but this is apparently their first recording as a trio.

Unfortunately, while I’m still a huge fan of Kenny, I’m getting more of a mixed impression from this album.

The first for tracks are Kenny Barron originals.

Let’s start with the opening track, Magic Dance, an medium tempo track with some latin elements in the groove. In a live concert, this could be a nice warm-up, but on a recorded album, it kind of leaves me a bit cold. Nothing wrong with it, but nothing special either.

The next track, Bud Like, although this is already picking up on drive and swing, it still isn’t something that get’s me fully excited. Cook’s Bay is again solid swing.

Where Kenny and his trio really shine are on slower tracks. The first example is In The Slow Lane. Another beautiful example is the Monk composition Light Blue, where Kenny plays essentially solo.

Probably my favorite track on the album is the ballad Nightfall, and here you get again all I like about this amazing pianist. And maybe I just like Johnathan Blake best when he uses brushes? Kitagawa also gets to solo here, and his sound is just beautiful.

So in a nutshell, would I recommend this album? Yes and no. I wouldn’t call it an essential addition to the catalogue of Jazz Trio albums, but it certainly has very beautiful moments. I encourage you to check it out on a streaming site before buying.

My rating: 3-4 stars (3 stars for the uptempo tracks, 4 for the slower ones)

You can find it 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.

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.

The Art of Conversation – Dave Holland and Kenny Barron

Dave Holland

I got a lot of reactions to my 25 essential Jazz albums. One of them was saying: but what of Dave Holland? Well, I’m overall not such a big fan.

I’ve heard him live once at the New Morning in Paris, and very much enjoyed the concert, but his ECM albums usually don’t excite me that much. I must admit I haven’t gone through his entire discography yet, probably there are some gems to be discovered.

One such gems is the album below.

Jazz Duos

Let’s face it, there is a reason why Jazz is usually played at least in trio form: Duos are mostly boring. There is just something lacking without e.g. a drummer.

But to make sure: the rule above has its exceptions. And one person is usually involved in these, and that is the brilliant pianist Kenny Barron. He is one of the few who can pull it off without drums, as he’s already swinging like crazy, and you basically have the drum track in your head right with it.

One excellent example of an outstanding duo recording I already mentioned in the 25 essential Jazz albums: his collaboration with Stan Getz in People Time.

The Art Of Conversation

Kenny Barron Dave Holland The Art Of Conversation Impulse 2014

This 2014 Impulse album is excellent. And as a Keith Jarrett fan it pains me to admit that this collaboration is better to my ears than both the recent Jarrett / Charlie Haden duo recordings(Jasmine and Last Dance).

It is basically the result of a long tour of these two outstanding musicians together in 2012, actually, Jean-Philippe Allard, the producer of People Time mentioned above, saw them in concert in 2012 in Paris and asked them whether they wanted to do a duo recording. Luckily both agreed.

There are beautiful long ballads like Rain, Swinging monsters like In Walked Bud (I never would have believed that anybody else than Monk can pull this track off). In Your Arms is an outstanding Dave Holland original with a lot of intensity. Basically, this album really never becomes boring, but it is like to smart people having an intelligent conversation, the title is spot-on.

My rating: 4 stars

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