Wednesday, April 2, 2014

CDs of Note - Short Takes

This vocals edition takes a closer look at new CDs by Barb Jungr, Stacey Kent and Susanna Smith….

Barb Jungr, Hard Rain (Kristalyn)
At a time when far too many jazz singers seem addicted to the most tired tunes in the Great American Songbook, London-based Barb Jungr has settled on a very different range of material. She is in love with the often-political works of musical bards Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. Hard Rain: The Songs of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen is a gem. Jungr and her band explore the delicious lyrics of six classic Dylan tunes and five more from his Canadian counterpart. With her own pacing and beautiful phrasing, Junger reveals the power of these most literary songs. The tracks include Cohen’s clever “Everybody Knows,” “Who By Fire,” “First We Take Manhattan,” “1000 Kisses Deep” and “Land of Plenty” and Dylan’s “Blowin’ In The Wind,” “Hard Rain,” “Masters of War,” “It’s Alright Ma,” “Gotta Serve Somebody” and “Chimes of Freedom.” This is excellent.

Stacey Kent, The Changing Lights (Warner Bros.)
There is much to love about American-born, London-based singer Stacey Kent’s latest CD, her 11th in a career now stretching more than 20 years. The session was inspired by Brazilian music and features Kent singing in English, Portuguese and French on favorite bossa novas and other material, much of it crafted just for her. The foremost material, to my ears, involves three songs that were composed by her husband, the fine British saxophonist Jim Tomlinson, in collaboration with the very gifted British novelist and lyricist Kazuo Ishiguro, who Kent acknowledges write for her voice and sensibility. They are the title track, the witty “Oh Waiter, On Waiter” and the CD’s centerpiece: “The Morning We Crossed Europe in the Rain.” It should become a contemporary jazz standard for discerning singers and voices, much like the 2007 Tomlinson-Ishiguro collaboration “Breakfast on the Morning Tram.” They have wistful, timeless messages and heaps of quality.

Suzanna Smith, Halfway Between Heaven & Love (Ink Pen)
Oakland CA-based Suzanna Smith has a dandy vocal debut recording here, one that showcases her confident, smoky vocals, significant chops as a lyricist, and an excellent backing band. Her talent is evident right from the opening bars of this CD, where she penned lyrics to ride atop a clever mash-up of Tadd Dameron’s “Lady Bird” and Miles Davis’ “Half Nelson.” She and pianist Michael Coleman collaborated on seven fine originals. Standouts: “Paper Boat,” “Comet” and the clever “Monk’s Make Believe.” There are also four covers of jazz standards, my favorite being the band’s take on Michel Legrand’s “Summer Me, Winter Me.” The CD closes with a fresh take on saxophonist Dexter Gordon’s “Soy Califa” with lyrics by Smith, of course. This is a talent to keep an eye on. She’s off to a great start with this CD.


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