Singers Galore

It is impressive how many young jazz singers are taken with the music of the ‘20s, ‘30s, and ‘40s. Krissie & the Kranks (self-produced) features vocalist Krissie Nagy with instrumental support from Dennis Lichtman on clarinet, Josh Dunn on guitar, Kensuke Shoji on fiddle, Jen Hodge on bass, and Wilson Savoy on piano. The nine-song program is a collection of good old, good old ones, including “Is It True What They Say About Dixie,” “My Melancholy Baby,” “Jitterbug Waltz,” “I’m Olf Fashioned,” “On a Slow Boat to China,” “Kentucky Waltz,” “April Showers,” “It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie” ,and “Serenade in Blue.” Nagy has a perfect voice and approach to the material. The band swings out all the way. It is particularly good to hear Lichtman who should be more widely recognized (https://krissieandthekranks.bandcamp.com/album/krissie-the-kranks)

 You’re Alike, You Two (La Reserve Records) is a well-named album from vocalist Caity Gyorgy and pianist Mark Limacher. The 10-track program has nine Jerome Kern song plus, “The Bartender,” an original song by Gyorgy. Gyorgy and Limacher blend perfectly in their approach to the wonderfully melodic Kern compositions. Kern’s music is always a good choice for singers looking to devote an album to a specific composer, for he had a deep and rich catalog of songs. He worked with several lyricists during his career including Oscar Hammerstein II, Otto Harbach, Johnny Mercer, Bernard Dougall, and Dorothy Fields, all of whom are represented on this collection. The selection of tunes is intelligent as are the interpretations. There are often recorded songs like “Nobody Else But Me,” “A Fine Romance,” “Yesterdays,” “I’m Old Fashioned” and “Pick Yourself Up;” there are also less frequently heard selections such as “I’ll Be Hard to Handle,” “You Couldn’t Be Cuter” and “Bill;” plus a too overlooked gem, “April Fooled Me,” a trunk song discovered by vocalist George Byron who enlisted Dorothy Fields to add lyrics. It was one of three he included on his delightful 1958 album of Kern songs, Premier Performance. Gyorgy sings with assurance, has a lovely voice, and lets her jazz influences come through steadily. Limacher’s accompaniment is spot on, supportive, and never intrusive. (www.caitygyorgy.com)

Vocalist Dianne Fraser has been involved with musical theater for most of her adult years, but You and I: The Words and Music of Leslie Bricusse (Blujazz) is her debut recording. Her choice of Bricusse as a focus of her album is a wise one. Bricusse was a composer/lyricist for musical theater and film, who worked with several musical partners, most notably Anthony Newley and Henry Mancini. Fraser, abetted by pianist Todd Schroeder, bassist Adam Cohen, and drummer Denise Fraser, addresses 14 songs over the 10 tracks. Among his most well-known shows are Pickwick, Stop the World – I Want to Get Off, The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd and Jekyll & Hyde. In the world of film, he was involved with Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, Victor/Victoria, Scrooge, Dr. Dolittle. Goodbye, Mr. Chips, and Two for the Road. These sources provide the material for Fraser’s program of “At the Crossroads/ After Today,” “Pure Imagination,” “Feeling Good, “Crazy World/If I Ruled the World,” “Le Jazz Hot,” “Happiness,” “Look at That Face/Something in Your Smile,” You and I,” “This Is the Moment/Once in a Lifetime”, and “Two for the Road.” Listening to Fraser sing these songs, you can hear the influence of her musical theater background, but her approach is less formal and flavored with a jazz sensitivity. You and I is a fine introduction to her vocal artistry and provides a nice opportunity to revisit so many fine songs from Bricusse. (www.diannefraser.com)

Melissa Errico is a premier interpreter of the music of Michel Legrand. Legrand Affair: The Song of Michel Legrand – Deluxe Edition (Ghostlight – 791558460001) is an updated version of her 2011 album with a bonus disc of additional material. This includes demos of five songs, “Something New in My Life,” “Maybe Someone Dreamed Us,” “The Summer Knows,” “Once Upon a Summertime, “The Windmills of Your Mind” and Dis Moi, recorded with Legrand on piano, David Finck on bass, and Steve Gadd on drums as preliminary approaches to these songs that were eventually included with a full orchestra on the initial album. There are four tracks with Tedd Firth on piano, Zev Katz on bass, Joe Bonadio on drums, and Russell Malone on guitar, “I Haven’t Thought of This in Quite a While,” “Little Boy Lost,” “The Way He Makes Me Feel” and “Hurry Home,” plus “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life,” with sole accompaniment by Malone.   The first of these selections was the initial recording of the last song Legrand wrote with lyrics by Marilyn and Alan Bergman. There is also a track of Errico and Legrand in a working session, highlighting the interaction between them. The first disc has the original recording of 15 songs with full orchestral accompaniment. Legrand’s music is much loved by a wide audience, and Legrand Affair is as fine a representation of his work as one could desire. (www.ghostlightrecords.com)

Oklahoma: Jazz Arrangements from the Musical (Messy House Records – 0105) by vocalist Audrey Silver contains thoughtful reconceptions of the songs from the classic Broadway musical that changed the course of musical theater. Her support comes from pianist Bruce Barth, who also provided the imaginative arrangements, and guitarist Peter Bernstein on all 10 tracks, plus a four-piece string quartet on three tracks, alto flutist/bass clarinetistist Adam Kolker on three tracks, and percussionist Kahlil Kwame Bell on two tracks. While Oklahoma was recognized as the musical that first popularized the integration of plot and character-centered songs into musical theater, many of the songs have been popularized outside the context of the show. Silver lends her singular interpretations to the songs. To open the program, the string quartet and Silver’s playing of a Native American flute provide added elements that enhance the depiction of the setting for the show while Silver delivers a rather stoic reading of the lyrics. As the album progresses, she delivers very personal and sometimes surprising approaches to the material. One of the surprises is the inclusion of a song cut before the original show opened, “Boys and Girls Like You and Me” that did have recordings by Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra.   Ultimately, the final product is wonderfully effective, a refreshing and jazzy visit to a classic Broadway score. (audreysilver.com)

While not an album devoted completely to Antonio Carlos Jobim, Without You (Normandy Lane Music) by vocalist/pianist Sarah McKenzie contains nine Jobim tunes out of the 14 selections, and there is definitely a Brazilian feeling to the entire album. The instrumental backing is supplied by McKenzie on piano, Bob Sheppard on flute and sax, Romero Lubambo on guitar, Jacques Morelenbaum on cello, Geoff Gascoyne on bass, Peter Erskine on drums, and Rogerio Boccato on percussion. The Jobim songs are “Corcovado (Quiet Nights),” “Fotografia,” “Once I Loved,” “The Girl from Ipanema,” “Chege de Saudade,” “Bonita” and “Modihna.”, “Wave”, and “Dindi”. In addition, she sings Luis Bonfa’s “The Gentle Rain” and four original pieces by McKenzie, one of which she wrote with Lubambo. McKenzie is a relaxed singer with a smooth, mellow voice who is a fine reader of lyrics. Without You is one of those albums that you are likely to revisit often.   (normandylanemusic.com)

The latest release from vocalist Marty Elkins finds her with bassist Mike Richmond addressing 10 standards on ‘Tis Autumn (Elktone Music). Elkins is one of those singers who puts out albums too infrequently, but those that she does are inevitably ones to treasure. Her jazz approach is nicely complemented by Richmond who also takes up his cello on occasion. The program is one of familiar songs that are not overdone, but always tasteful. They include “Old Devil Moon,” “In a Mellow Tone,” “’Tis Autumn,” “When the Red, Red Robbin Comes Bob, Bob Bobbin’ Along,” “Stairway to the Stars,” “Lullaby of the Leaves,” “My Mother’s Eyes,” “Honeysuckle Rose,” “I Ain’t Got Nothin’ but the Blues”, and “All or Nothing at All.” Elkins approaches each selection with a freshness that makes them sound new. Voice and bass duos are rare, and to be effective, they require the proper chemistry between singer and bassist. That is present with Elkins and Richmond on this wholly appealing album. (mvdshop.com)

Sylvia Brooks Live with Christian Jacob (Rhombus Records – 7159) was recorded in performance at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Jazz Grill. Vocalist Sylvia Brooks has released four previous albums, and most of this program comprises songs that she had recorded on her previous four albums. With arrangements by pianist/musical director Christian Jacob, the sextet sounds like a small big band at time thanks to the musicianship of Jacob on piano, David Witham on keyboards and accordion, Jeff Bunnell on trumpet and flugelhorn, Brian Scanlon on tenor sax and flute, David Hughes on bass, and Kevin Kanner on drums. There are three Harold Arlen tunes, “When the Sun Comes Out,” “Blues in the Night” and “Come Rain or Come Shine,” with the first and last of these bookending the set. Other songs include “Guess Who I Saw Today,” “Cold, Cold Heart,” “Night and Day” and “The Tender Trap,” plus two Brooks originals, “The Flea Markets of Paris” and “Holding Back Tears.” The one all instrumental track is a Jacobs composition, “The Red Pig Flew Up the Hill.” Brooks has a strong, supple and appealing voice and digs into the message in each lyric. Jacobs once again shows why he is considered among the best accompanists in jazz. The enthusiasm of the crowd’s response speaks to the effectiveness of the performance by Brooks and her band. (sylviabrooks.net)

Texas vocalist Ermelinda Cuellar studied opera and has also performed in musical theater before discovering her love for jazz which dictated the professional path she opted to pursue. Listening to What a Difference a Day Made (self-produced), she has chosen a fitting direction. Her support comes from trombonist Andre Hayward, pianist Gilbert Sedeño, guitarist Greg Petito, bassist Anthony Caceres, drummer/percussionist Marion Simon, and, on some tracks, percussionist Anibal Ambert who passed away from Covid before the recording could be completed. From the opener, “Man with a Horn,’ featuring Hayward, to the uniquely uptempo, Latin take on the closer “Alone Together,” it is obvious that Cuellar is adept at handling a variety of approaches to the songs that she has selected. They include standards such as “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “Midnight Sun”, and “What a Difference a Day Made;” three Latin tunes; “Who’s Crying Now,” popularized by Journey, and two Cuellar originals. There is a Latin influence in many of the arrangements, not surprising from the daughter of Peruvian parents. Cuellar’s voice will draw you in, and What a Difference a Day Made will make your day. (Available as a download from amazon.com)

In October, 2008, San-Francisco-based vocalist Russ Lorenson performed a set of songs at the Metropolitan Room in New York City he believed would become new standards. The 2008 show was recorded and has now been released as a download only titled Standard Time: Live in New York (LML). Except for Lionel Richie’s “Hello,” none of them has been widely recorded. With support from pianist Kelly Park, guitarist Terrence Brewer, bassist Tom Hubbard, and drummer Bryan Carmody, Lorenson sings a 15-song program that is well conceived and effectively rendered. Many successful performers like Ronny Whyte, Tony DeSare, John Pizzarelli, Harry Connick, Jr., and Michael Feinstein are among the songwriters featured. It is wonderful to see two songs by the late Ray Jessel, a master at crafting clever lyrics, often in partnership with his wife, Cynthia Thompson. Lorenson has a pleasant baritone voice and a talent for making each song sound special. (www.lmlmusic.com)

For almost five decades, pianist Jeremy Monteiro has been a presence on the Singapore jazz scene where he has garnered the moniker Singapore’s King of Swing. He has occasionally performed a vocal track on his previous 46 albums, but Jeremy Monteiro Sings (jazznote Records) is his first all vocal effort. His relaxed vocalizing recalls Nat “King” Cole. Monteiro’s international supporting cast, including a string section on five of the 10 tracks provides a fine background for his vocals. The songs, apart from his original “Josefina,” are standards. They include “Candy,” “Smile,” “Moon River,” “Blame It on My Youth,” “Let’s Fall in Love,” “You’ll Never Know,” “Walkjn’ My Baby Back Home,” “My Romance”, and “Softly, as I Leave You.” The results here should encourage Monteiro to consider releasing similar albums in the future. (Download available at amazon.com)

Singer/pianists such as Bobby Troup, Matt Dennis, Bob Dorough, and Page Cavanaugh have a current vocalist from Toronto named Jim Clayton to carry on their tradition. Look Out (Clay-Tone Records – 103) finds Clayton addressing a dozen songs, a mixture of standards, “Devil May Care,” “This Can’t Be Love” and “Moon River;” contemporary pieces, “You Can Call Me Al,” “Time in a Bottle” and “Hold On;” youth-oriented tunes, “Everybody Wants to be a Cat,” “Spider-Man” and “Rainbow Connection”, plus an instrumental take on “Suicide is Painless (Theme from M*A*S*H ).” Clayton is hip and swinging like his predecessors in this genre. He selected songs that had meaning for him personally, songs that he heard at various times in his life and made a lasting impression on him. He applies a fine feeling for lyric interpretation with a pleasant baritone and offers wonderful piano self-accompaniment abetted by bassist Amina Scott and drummer Herlin Riley, two musicians from New Orleans where he made the recording. (www.jimclaytonjazz.com)

One thing that truly great singers never lose is their ability to phrase, even when their vocal instrument has been affected by the passing years. Such is the case with Jack Jones. He once possessed of one of the finest pure voices in the pop/jazz field. On ArtWork (Calvary Productions – BFD472) he no longer has that quality, but he still understands how to use his current voice to assuredly put across the lyrics of the 15 selections. He has superb support from the late Joey DeFrancesco on organ and occasionally on tenor sax or trumpet, plus a 53-piece orchestra led by John Clayton. The program includes standards such as “At Last,” “She’s Funny That Way,” “”If You Go Away,” “Lush Life”, and “This Is All I Ask;” a couple of Peggy Lee gems, “Fever” and “Is That All There Is;” some more contemporary songs, Lionel Richie’s “Hello,” Leon Russell’s “This Masquerade,” Don McLean’s “Empty Chairs”, and Artie Butler’s “Here’s to Life.” A particularly poignant selection is his sensitive reading of Stephen Sondheim’s “Not While I’m Around.” When he sings “Lush Life,” he convincingly brings a lifetime of experiences to this unique Billy Strayhorn classic. At first ,listening to ArtWork, one might be taken aback at the sound of Jones’s vocal instrument, but once you get past the initial surprise, you find a master singer using his current voice to create a package of delight. (calvaryproductions.com) – JOE LANG

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