Friday, October 14, 2011

CDs of Note - Short Takes

Tierney Sutton Band,
American Road (BFM Jazz)

Singer Tierney Sutton’s latest project with her band of 18 years finds them on a cultural, geographic and stylistic road trip across America. They hit a fascinating early groove with beautiful renditions of “Wayfaring Stranger” and “Amazing Grace,” as well as “Oh Shenandoah” and The Water is Wide.” “America the Beautiful” was
another natural. There’s a wonderful jazz meets Americana feel with a true Sutton spin. Then the road trip, to my ears, spends a bit too much time on Broadway, mining six tunes by Sondheim, Bernstein Harburg/Arlen and Gershwin. Those sound like they could have been more effective on - or the germ for - a separate project. Musical choices aside, this is also a celebration of one of the most cohesive groups around, particularly the uncanny simpatico between Sutton and pianist Christian Jacob. With two bassists aboard (Trey Henry and Kevin Axt), it sounds droning and bass heavy in a couple of spots, but that’s a minor quibble.

Vince Mendoza, Nights on Earth (Horizontal Jazz)
Keyboardist Vince Mendoza has been one of the finest arrangers in the jazz and pop scenes over the past decade, garnering two Grammys and 25 nominations as he put his stamp on work for the likes of Joni Mitchell, Björk, Sting and Melody Gardot. This project finds Mendoza sharing his own compositions, directing all-star collaborators (including Luciana Souza, Romero Lubambo, Peter Erskine, Larry Goldings, John Scofield, Joe Lovano, Alan Pasqua and Christian McBride) along with members of the Netherlands’ Metropol Orkest, which Mendoza has conducted for six years. The compositions shimmer with beauty and subtlety. Favorites include “Otoño,” “Poem of the Moon,” “Beauty and Sadness” and “The Night We Met.” Bravo.

George Benson, Guitar Man (Concord Jazz)
George Benson’s smooth voice and adult pop star status for these many decades has tended to overshadow his wonderful skills as a guitarist in Brother Jack McDuff’s early 1960s organ quartet, his initial job on the jazz circuit. The aptly named Guitar Man brings Benson back to his musical roots. There are vocals on just four of the 12 tracks. On two of the instrumentals, the opener “Tenderly and “Danny Boy,” Benson flies solo. The improvisational liberties he takes with “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “Paper Moon” are a treat to hear. His touch is sure, his distinctive sound is warm and good friends, including Joe Sample, Harvey Mason, Lenny Castro and his musical director, David Garfield, surround him.
Ted Rosenthal Trio, Out of This World (Playscape)
Pianist Ted Rosenthal has great skills, a super imagination and keen sense of humor. He is a master of digging deep into standard fare to reimagine and rearrange tunes with fresh harmonies and/or rhythms. He calls the process (here’s the humor) “deranging” them. This CD teams Rosenthal with bassist Noriko Ueda and drummer Quincy Davis. Together they rework 10 tunes from the American Songbook. The gems include “So In Love,” People Will Say We’re in Love” and “Lotus Blossom.” This is a joy to hear – and keep on “repeat.”

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Melissa Morgan - retro romantic at Scullers

In her Tuesday night debut at Scullers jazz club in Boston, singer Melissa Morgan proved that she's an ambassador for romance. Her voice is strong, confident and polished, reflecting a maturity that extends far beyond her chronological years.
Her material was drawn in part from her Telarc debut CD, Until I Met You (released two years ago) and reflected the many facets of love and romance - as penned by the great songwriters of the 1950s and '60s principally, but stretching a decade in either direction.

The selection and the delivery were impeccable. The baker's dozen songs included "Our Love is Here to Stay," "A Sleeping Bee," "The Very Thought of You," "The Lamp is Low," "Dancing Cheek to Cheek," a Brazilian take on "No More Blues," as well as "Save Your Love for Me" and "Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby?"

The coolest moment of the evening? Morgan mentioned that she had begun a telephone and email friendship with bassist and composer Richard Evans, whose tune "He Loves Me I Think" is on her debut recording. She told the crowd they'd never met in person but she knew he was there that night. It turned out the Berklee College of Music professor was sitting at a front table an arm's length away from Morgan. They hugged, he waved, and - with a lump in her throat - she nailed the tune Evans wrote for Dinah Washington.

Morgan is working on her second CD. I can't wait to hear it.

I've been frequenting Scullers for 25 years and still consider it the finest club in Boston, and one of the finest environments in the land for singers. I'll miss it dearly as I continue to prepare for a move to Florida later this month. With some scouting around, I hope to find other venue treasures.