by Rudy Palma
This is a genre where there seems to be an abundance of submissions each week. For a genre of music that is touted as only capturing 1 to 2% of the overall music market, it is certainly healthy with vocal releases.
Tamuz Nissim, Capturing Clouds (Street of Stars, 2020)
Nissim, originally from Tel Aviv, offers a sound with a distinct international flair. As on previous releases, Nissim tackles the concept of vocalese. This time on her new release Capturing Clouds, featuring longtime collaborator George Nazos: guitar with Harvie S on bass and Tony Jefferson on drums. The timbre of Nissim’s voice ranges from whispery moments to fully commanding forays of bebop. Of note is her interpretation of John Coltrane’s solo on “Rhapsody For Trane (I Hear Rhapsody)” where Nissim has written vocals to John Coltrane’s solo over “I Hear a Rhapsody” from the record Lush Life. Her rhythm is astutely accurate and tensioned with blue notes as she navigates the master’s solo with meaningful and well-crafted lyrics. Each track on Capturing Clouds, the listener is treated to textures that Nissim evokes and the personality that she conveys with each lyric. The album features equality of well-penned originals, and well-known standards, each highlighting Nissim’s prowess.
Karrin Allyson, Shoulder to Shoulder – Centennial Tribute to Women’s Suffrage (eOne Music, 2020)
As of late, Allyson has been either self-releasing or small label releasing after the split with Concord records. Her latest endeavor Shoulder to Shoulder – Centennial Tribute to Women’s Suffrage is rounded out with an indisputable line up of heavy hitting females from Lalah Hathaway, to newcomer Veronica Swift to heavyweights know in other genres like Roseanne Cash and Harry Belafonte and even male vocalist Kurt Elling adding his voice to the cause. There has never been any doubt as to Allyson’s abilities, maybe it’s the material they are covering that felt much less like jazz, and more so like a campy cabaret tribute. Indeed, a worthy and timely cause and there is nothing wrong with cabaret, but a genre not well suited for Allyson’s voice. Her beguiling style resides elsewhere.
Terrence Wintersmith, A Walk in the Woods (Self, 2019)
Wintersmith is a new name to me, though it appears he has a well-anchored resume from industry chair, to a performer, to songwriter to what is coined kindie rock producing his own daughters in a group called the Treetop Sisters. I pondered if this was a world, smooth-jazz, or jazz release, as it certainly has elements of each. What is evidently clear is the craftsmanship of the writing, Wintersmith is not the vocalist, but writes the songs, plays keyboards and produces the album, including three very adroit vocalists. A mere 6 tracks, the first cut “A Walk in the Woods,” is a celebratory sound that joyfully fits the canvas of world music, with its hypnotic melody and flowing instrumentation that settles your mood immediately. Whereas tunes like “Ridgetop,” have more of a pop-jazz appeal. While “Jumping and Jiving,” has an instrumentation aesthetic of the smooth jazz idiom with vocalists David E. Greene, Jessica Jeza and Patricia Lee creating a three-part harmony of quick runs and astute vocalizations that highlights an ala Andrew Sisters vintage throwback, this is where the tune takes on a new twist. While this is predominately an instrumental album, I have to note that “A Vida Que Eu Sonhei” is a distinctive Latin tune, with a tender softness to it and Portuguese lyrics sung by Jessica Jeza with an airy authenticity. The album runs the gamut of styles, but for our purposes, it is the 3 vocalists that truly shine on this project no matter the genre they might be tackling.
Kat Edmonson, Dreamers Do (Spinnerette Records, 2020)
Edmonson has always had a childlike quality to her voice, and gossamer quality that is wistful and airy. On her latest album Dreamers Do, the material is a perfect fit. Focusing on the hopes and dreams of a child’s belief that lives deep inside of all of us, Edmonson reignites that hope on her latest offering. An inclusion of two originals along with 18 GAS and Disney classics, Edmonson achieves a spinning listen that lends a carefree moment in the heavy world we live in these days. What makes this not your a-typical standards album is the smartly instrumented album includes exotic instruments like harp, strings, glockenspiel, pipa, and erhu giving the album a high-value production sound that enhances the earnest embrace of childhood optimism.
Carolyn Lee Jones, Close Your Eyes (Catn’round Sound, 2019)
We have reviewed Miss Jones on previous releases, and each time the evolution of her growth continues to reveal itself. This concept comes into crystal clear focus on her latest endeavor, Close Your Eyes. A unification of jazz and pop standards all smartly arranged to fit nicely in the jazz idiom. This is Jones’ fourth leader album, and as each release is put forth, you can hear a deepening of her delivery, vocal prowess, and ideas. Jones came into the genre later in life, but certainly not late. Her breezy easy-going delivery is as welcoming as the Spring dew. What is most striking about Jones’ is she is herself, it’s not contrived or forced, or trying to reach for the latest trend. It’s easy to hear how she connects to the lyrics as she weaves each storyline to a delightfully finessed performance.
Fleur Seule, Standards and Sweet Things (Self-Released, 2019)
Fleur Seule is led by vocalist Allyson Briggs. Authentic in their pursuit of a 1940s vintage sound. The group winds their way through sixteen timeless classics. What is most unique about their approach is not only Briggs focused pitch-perfect vocals, but how the group is recorded.
A purposeful dry recording approach not only gives the listener a chance to hear Briggs’s voice in all its glorious beauty, but it also lends to the timelessness of their approach. The group is a well-oiled machine of mastery. Briggs also offers a multilingual journey, presenting tracks in English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese. Standards and Sweet Things marks their 5th studio album and takes the listener through an authentic prism of jazz in its glorious haunt of the 1940s.
Adrienne West, Imagine (Dot Time Records, 2020)
Adrienne West is widely remembered as a member of the Alvin Queen Sextet. She has also performed and recorded with the WDR Radio Big Band Koln, the Hessischer Rundfunk Big Band Frankfurt, the NDR Radio Big Band Hamburg, among others. In more recent years, she has performed the role of Bessie Smith in “Mahalia” (a musical theatre tribute to Mahalia Jackson). West’s newest recording Imagine is a combination of well-worn standards and pop tunes reimagined by West with a sparkling style, and rhythmic nuances that give an updated listen throughout. “Inside A Silent Tear,” is given a funky treatment, while “The View,” is a dreamy Latin tune that West wistfully elongates her notes upon. An easy-going “It Could Happen To You,” at the halfway mark lends itself to the ballad “Darn That Dream” on this tune West’s voice is at its best. She accentuates each note of longing with a yearning that conveys each lyric with resonance. My only quibble, at times her delivery, can feel a bit too measured on the more up-tempo tunes, whereas on the ballads, this style is quite effective. Once again, it’s a tiny quibble, but it is one that was a distraction.