Friday, July 13, 2012

CDs of Note - Short Takes

Jazz singers are in today’s spotlight. Taking a closer look at new CDs from Alison Wedding, April Hall and Ori Dagan....

Alison Wedding, This Dance (groundUP)
Wedding’s first CD in seven years is nothing short of wonderful. She’s a tremendous jazz improviser and modern singer-songwriter who worked in Los Angeles and Australia before settling in New York City five years ago. Every tune here is an original. Her many collaborators on this exotic CD include Michael League on bass, percussion, guitars and keyboard, saxophonist Chris Potter, singer Theo Bleckmann, pianist Henry Hey and guitarists Pete McCann and Lionel Loueke. Most tracks are also shaded nicely by string quartet. Favorites: “Remain,” “Hey, Stranger,” “Let Me Pretend” and “Up in Smoke.” The finale, the title track is all Wedding. She delivers the lyrics ethereally over a multi-dubbed chorus whose members are all herself. Throughout the CD, she sings with great passion and understanding of her message. Singing your own fine material, with keen instrumental support, is a tremendous strength.

April Hall, Room for Two (Bee Boy)
The duo is one of the most difficult formats in jazz. It’s like a trapeze artist working with only half a net. There’s only one collaborator to work off your ideas and fuel your improvisational creativity. A full CD by two players is tough for the same reason, but April Hall took different tack on the aptly named Room for Two. On this duo project, she performs a dozen tracks with eight top different Boston-area musicians. They include guitarist Gray Sargent and bassist Marshall Wood (both mainstays in Tony Bennett’s band), pianist Tim Ray, accordionist Joe Barbato, drummer Les Harris Jr., bassists Marty Ballou and Mark Poniatowski, and her husband, tenor saxophonist Tom Hall. My favorites on this gem: her work with Sargent on “Amazing Love” and “I Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry,” Ballou on “Honeysuckle Rose,” Ray on “To Whom It May Concern” and Tom Hall on “Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good to You.” That’s not to diminish any of the other fine tracks. This is a gem for its artistic vocals, song selection and the quality of the unrehearsed improvisations.

Ori Dagan, Less Than Three (Scatcat)
Israel-born, Toronto-based Ori Dagan is part of a new generation of male vocalists, albeit small compared to the female song sparrows, to keep that side of jazz going. His second album is named for the heart-shaped sideways emoticon <3 that represents “love.” He sings in the bass-baritone range with confidence and swing, whether he’s crooning in English or Hebrew (on two tracks). My favorites, his rearranged take on “Sweet Georgia Brown” and the Elton John Hit “Your Song,” as well as “Googleable,” an original co-written with pianist Mark Kieswetter. The latter tune is a clever commentary on today’s World Wide Web dependency. (“Everything under the sun is googleable…. Do you google all day rather than scratchin’ your noodle? That’s OK.”) If you're unfamiliar, check him out.

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