Amanda Brecker – Blossom

Wherever I go, it seems I end up looking for the record store.  New, used – vinyl or CDs.  Doesn’t matter.  Narita is a treat – female vocalists seem to get a lot of love generally in Asia, but especially in Japan.

Talented women, underexposed in North America take up a lot of rack space there.  Canada’s Sophie Milman is one of those – so is Halie Loren, whose albums release in Japan before her native US.

I also roll the dice and pick up artists unfamiliar to me.  Amanda Brecker‘s “Blossom” was released in Japan (Universal Classics and Jazz) last May.  It will be her first US release, but it’s not available (Emarcy/Pgd) until February of next year.

Ms. Brecker is the daughter of Brazilian superstar Eliane Elias and trumpeter Randy Brecker, so musical talent is right there, in the genes.  Featuring the songs of James Taylor and Carole King – it’s billed as a 40th anniversary celebration of Ms. King’s legendary “Tapestry” album.

Two of the musicians – Russ Kunkel on drums and Lee Sklar on bass, played on those original “Tapestry” sessions.  Veteran piano guy Larry Goldings is also in the band for this one, produced by Jesse Harris, who wrote Norah Jones’ “Don’t Know Why.”

From jazz roots, Ms. Brecker’s voice is surprisingly and sweetly folk-sounding, bordering on country, especially on Taylor’s “Something In The Way He Moves.”

This one is recommended, and worth a look when it comes off import prices in the US – in February. (Ms. Brecker’s Website)

Speaking of Halie Loren – Japan gave me a chance to catch up since I first heard her work.  I liked her a lot in 2008.  She’s even better, now.  And she still doesn’t get enough notice in the US.

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Cristina Morrison – I Love

If there are two kinds of people in the world – those who get it, and those who don’t – it’s always a pleasure to interact with people who do.  It’s possible to pursue a passion only for art’s sake.  But unless it gets into the marketplace, you’re only amusing yourself.

Cristina Morrison – I Love (Baronesa)
Released – May, 2012

This is a strong debut from singer-songwriter-actress Cristina Morrison, who has polished a half-dozen original tracks and three classics to a luster, with the help of some excellent New York session players.

“Summer In New York” is one of those originals I swear I’ve heard before – it’s that classic-sounding.  Distinctly Latin lyrics from Ms. Morrison, with lines like “You pierce through my pores,” only add to the heat of this outstanding opener.

The three standards add well to the new material.  They include “What A Difference A Day Makes,” first written in the 30s by María Grever as “Cuando Vuelva A Tu Lado,” along with Brooks Bowman’s “East Of The Sun” and Billie Holiday’s “Fine And Mellow.”

But if it’s Ms. Morrison who is front and center – with a rich and inviting alto – it’s the guys in the band who put the frame around it.  Bonus points for the artwork and packaging for this fine piece of art – from just about any way one looks at it.

I’ll look to hear more from Ms. Morrison.  Hope it’s soon.

This disc is highly recommended.

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Connie Evingson – Sweet Happy Life

I keep saying that one of these days, I intend to travel to Minneapolis-St. Paul, maybe to take in a baseball game at their new ballpark, but also to get a chance to listen live to some of the great vocalists who live and work there – so many in one metropolitan area.

Connie Evingson – Sweet Happy Life
(Minnehaha Music)

Released – July 10, 2012

Tracks from Connie Evingson’s previous albums are peppered all through my ‘pod playlists.  There’s no mix that can’t use a little cool, and Ms. Evingson never fails to deliver on that score.  This is her ninth album, a tribute to Norman Gimbel, whose vast repertoire as a lyricist includes everything from the English Lyrics to iconic Brazilian tunes such as “Girl From Ipanema” and “Summer Samba,” to pop classics like “Sway,” “Canadian Sunset,” and “Killing Me Softly.”

Ms. Evingson and the array of Minnealpolis-St. Paul musicians involved in this production are at the top of their game, with Ms. Evingson alternately sultry and sassy – running the Gimbel catalog from the big hits to the side streets, such as the title track, or “Take Me To Aruanda,” recorded by Astrud Gilberto in 1965, and largely ignored since.

On why an album of Gimbel classics, Ms. Evingson says he’s “…a very intelligent and observant guy, and I think he was able to see – and feel – what each song called for, no matter what the genre or era.”  She says, “I was astounded at the number of great tunes for which he’d written lyrics.  I was curious that his work was so familiar, but his name wasn’t.”

The album includes a Gimbel creation never before recorded – “Adventure,” lyrics to a Jobim melody titled “Olha Maria,” from a 1970 movie, “The Adventurers,” based on a Harold Robbins novel.

Ms. Evingson is one of several top-notch vocalists who work in the Twin Cities – as for how that happens, she points to a Minnesota tradition of choral music, and “…a strong, vibrant arts scene…with a supportive and sophisticated jazz audience.”

Sophisticated.  That’s one word to describe this disc.  Three words?  Very highly recommended.

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From Glasgow – one performer who has my attention is Lizzie Nightingale, whose EP, “Tiny Teardrops,” has that kind of anthemic sound that I’ve come to associate with UK pop.  Her earnest and insistent sound – coupled with smart lyrics – makes for a good listen.  In the US, individual tracks are available at the iTunes store – my favorite is “Sparkle.”  Here’s the video.

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Nicky Schrire – Freedom Flight

On the road this week: to Oslo, transiting Prague for a meeting with colleagues, and to pick up a ride to a trade show in Budapest.  On a downtime Saturday in Prague, a trip to one of my favorite used record shops found the same Shirley Bassey CD in exactly the same spot where it sat back in February.  Just like February, I was tempted.  But the trip also turned up a recording of Nancy Wilson’s first two efforts for Capitol Records in 1959 and 1960.

Lucky find?  Not really.

I could have snapped this up on eBay in two minutes and five bucks, had I been looking specifically for it.  But when I buy it for 290 Crowns (about fifteen dollars) from a musty rack in Prague, not only do I get the disc, but I also get the story about the serendipity of finding the disc.

And I treasure both.

Anyway – it’s easy to listen to these recordings that are 50-plus years old and say, Well, yeah – one could tell even then that she got it, had it, was going places.  Always easier in hindsight.  And that brings us to a young woman with a totally different style.

Nicky Schrire – Freedom Flight
(Circavision Productions)

Released – May 22, 2012

A stack of recordings sat on the home office desk when I returned from the last trip.  I was idly going through them.  The first run is typically about ten seconds apiece on track one.  If I listen longer the first time through, it’s for a really good reason.

After about 90 seconds on this recording, both my wife and my son (the musician) were in the office, saying, “Who’s this?”

This is Nicky Schrire.  The song was Lennon-McCartney’s “Blackbird,” which opens with Ms. Schrire harmonizing alongside a bowed bass.  That sounds so simple, but it’s Ms. Schrire’s pure soprano that adds the wow factor, and this album is full of moments like this.

An eclectic selection of tunes is brought together by Ms. Schrire’s unique arrangements and spot-on voice: full of new harmonies, but never straying far from the original.  Lerner and Lowe’s “If Ever I Would Leave You,” an original “Ode To A Folk Song,” and Loudon Wainwright’s “Swimming Song” all sit side by side pretty well.  Of that, Ms. Schrire says, “I feel like this album is representative of my generation’s understanding of the jazz genre,” she says, “the term ‘jazz’ is constantly evolving and growing to incorporate other styles…what is important is that it makes you feel something.”

The performances here of James Taylor’s “Shower The People” and Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” are testimony to Ms. Schrire’s point – tomorrow’s jazz standards will come from the more recent repertoire of all kinds of genres, presumably in the hands of those who will arrange them lovingly into new art.

Ms. Schrire is joined by the core group of Nick Paul on piano, Sam Anning on bass and percussionist Jake Goldbas.  Paul Jones joins on tenor saxophone for a pair of tracks, as does Jay Rattan on clarinet (their duet on “Me the Mango Picker” is a gem), Brian Adler on percussion and Peter Eldridge joins on piano on one track, and vocals on “Shower the People.”

But they’re the supporting cast for this amazing debut from a very talented young woman, whose confidence is backed up by her ample talent.  No ten-second listen here.  Multiple plays only make me like it more.

Highest recommendation.


Back to Nancy Wilson for a moment – here’s a 1964 appearance on ABC’s Saturday night “Hollywood Palace” program – and as one who commented so aptly described the scene – “(She) can barely move in that dress and she still makes it look cool!”

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