Monday, May 14, 2012

CDs of Note - Short Takes

Taking a closer look at new CDs from Kat Edmonson, Louis Armstrong, Shawnn Monteiro and Tony Monaco...
Kat Edmonson, Way Down Low (Spinnerette)
The true greats among jazz singers are those who have a style and sound all their own, and – as part of their individuality – avoid the so-called tired tunes at all costs. That separates them from the rest of the pack. One of today’s emerging greats is Kat Edmonson, who’s just out with her second recording. Way Down Low is a spectacular successor to her 2009 debut Take to the Sky. She’s a charming singer with a soft-voiced intimacy that is enriched by her Texas twang. Edmonson wrote or co-wrote more than half of the poetic tunes here, which makes it feel even more personal. Check them out – and relish them. One unexpected cover is the Brian Wilson song “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times.” Her version of Doris and Fred Fisher’s “Whispering Grass” is a clear standout here. Lyle Lovett joins Edmonson for a duet on “Long Way Home.”

Louis Armstrong, Satchmo at the National Press Club: Red Beans and Rice-ly Yours (Smithsonian Folkways)
Here’s one for compleatists, capturing one of Armstrong’s last performances prior to his death in July 1971. Smithsonian Folkways issued this as a CD, 40 years after the National Press Club in Washington, DC issued a 300-copy limited-edition LP with for its members. Armstrong, despite ill health, played trumpet and/or sang on four numbers. The most poignant track is the autobiographical “Boy from New Orleans.” He’s backed by longtime collaborators Tyree Glenn and Tommy Gwaltney. Glenn returned to the National Press Club with his own band to pay tribute to Armstrong shortly after his passing. Those six tunes round out the CD. The Red Beans and Rice-ly Yours CD package includes many of Armstrong’s favorite recipes, as did the original 1972 pressing.

Shawnn Monteiro, To Carmen With Love (Whaling City Sound)
Need a reminder of just how extraordinary and impactful a singer Carmen McRae was? Check out this loving tribute from New England-based Shawnn Monteiro, who considers McRae one of her prime influences. Much like McRae did, Monteiro knows how to make the music and the lyrics breathe for maximum impact. Pianist Mike Renzi, bassist Dave Zinno and drummer Steve Langone are in Monteiro’s corner here with splendid backing. Standouts among the dozen McRae-associated songs here include “Old Devil Moon,” “I Have the Feeling I’ve Been Here Before,” “Miss Brown (to You),” “Nature Boy,” “You’re Looking at Me,” “Speak Low” and “Come in from the Rain” (a gorgeous duet with Renzi). Music runs in the family for Monteiro, whose dad was longtime Ellington bassist Jimmy Woode. This is one of her finest recordings. (I also recommend checking out 1993’s Visit Me.)

Tony Monaco, Celebration (Chicken Coup)
Hammond B3 player Tony Monaco is a burner. The Ohio-based musician’s first studio session in six years is a gem from two standpoints. Disc One of this set features Monaco with simpatico drummer Jason Brown and saxophonist Ken Fowser on nine tracks, then his Columbus-based regular team of guitarist Derek DiCenzo and drummer Reggie Jackson four more, so there are two fine yet very different organ trios. Highlights include “Daddy Oh,” “Indonesian Nights and the ballad “You  Rock My World, Asako,” on which pianist Asako Itoh adds a solo over Monaco’s B3 groove. Disc Two is a “best of” compilation of original materials from Monaco’s prior CDs. Players on those live and studio sessions included B3 compadre Joey DeFrancesco, guitarist Bruce Foreman, saxophonist Donny McCaslin and trumpeter Kenny Rampton among others. If you dig B3 fine and fiery playing with lots of subtlety, this is a must.

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