Jean-Michel Pilc, True Story (Dreyfus)
This is at least the sixth recording by Paris native Pilc released since 2000. It showcases his longstanding strengths as a painter at the piano. He’s a modernist for sure, one whose musical colors are pastoral and romantic at times, yet impressionistic bordering on cubism as he drops in some thundering block chords in service to his view of the inspirations. There is a keen empathy with bandmates Boris Kozlov on bass and Billy Hart on drums. Their reinvigoration of two pop standards - “My Heart Belongs to Daddy” and “Try to Remember” - and Franz Schubert’s “Relic” are stunning. Favorites: “PBH Factor,” “Kingston, NY” (an affinity partially rooted perhaps in the fact that I was born there), and disc’s five-part title track “True Story” (which concludes the project as Scenes 1 through 5). The latter at various points touches on all of the aforementioned painterly qualities - and more.
Sophie Berkal-Sarbit, Young & Foolish (7 Arts/E1 Music Canada)
Winnipeg native Sophie Berkal-Sarbit, now based in Toronto, is a singer with a level of development and experience far deeper than her 19 years on the planet. It boils down to her range of emotion, sense of time and ability to make songs new and old her very own. This, her second CD, is a fine exploration of the many facets of love. The material ranges from reinterpretations of Kansas Joe McCoy’s early jazz and blues hit “Why Don’t You Do Right?” and 1954’s “I’m Gonna Live Till I Die” (done by singers from Frank Sinatra to Queen Latifah) to Sting’s movie soundtrack ballad “Until” to Raul Midón’s catchy “Pick Somebody Up.” Throw in Latin-tinged take on “Love for Sale” and a very personal update of Bill Withers’ classic “Grandma’s Hands.” Producer/keyboardist Bill King adds some nifty B-3 work to “Letter From Home” (Junior Mance and Eddie Jefferson) and to the Midón tune, which also has sizzling acoustic and electric guitar backing from Rob Piltch. There’s much more to savor. Check it out.
Samuel Torres, Yaoundé (Blue Conga)
This disc by Colombian-born percussionist Samuel Torres is the most stunning Latin CD to emerge so far in 2010. He composed all of the genre-blending material, part of which was developed after a trip to Cameroon with bassist Richard Bona. Top flight musicians aboard include saxophonist Joel Frahm, trumpeter Miquel Rodriguez, bassist John Benitez. The full ensemble pieces dominate, though there are a couple of short, intimate solo gems by conguero Torres. My favorites are the title track; the tango-like “Macondo,” featuring clarinetist Anat Cohen; and “Lincoln Tunnel” and “Camino del Barrio,” both of which sizzle with the added percussion of timbalero Ralph Irizarry.