Taking a day off to catch up on some things around the house – and frankly to catch my breath. On the road three weeks of the last four – 12 timezones one way, six the other. Tried to get back to good old EST today. Ask me tomorrow if it worked.
Gene Ess (Featuring Nicki Parrott)
A Thousand Summers (SIMP Records)
Released – February 14, 2012
I hate those reviews that say, “If you like X, you’ll like this.”
So I’m going to avoid saying how much vocalist Nicki Parrott sounds like Stacey Kent.
Instead, I’m going to write for a moment about guitarist Gene Ess, and the group he’s assembled for this outing, covering ten mostly familiar tunes, from Rodgers and Hart’s “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,” from the 1939 Musical “Too Many Girls,” to Henry Mancini’s “Charade.”
And while the tunes may be old friends, the arrangements manage to be both accessible and forcing a steep learning curve, all at once. Complex harmonies intertwine with the basic melody, but just when I think I’m lost, it’s all familiar once again. Make no mistake – Mr. Ess and the gang are front and center here, with James Weidman on piano, Thomson Kneeland on Bass and Gene Jackson on Drums. Mr. Ess Shares arranging duties with Mr. Kneeland, who takes the odd-numbered tracks to Mr. Ess’ evens.
For me, Ms. Parrott was the anchor, holding firm with the melody in these somewhat tumultuous arrangements. Her gentle, but insistent way with the melody keeps the guys from straying too far off road. Mr. Ess says he chose her because she’s an “accomplished musician,” who has a stellar career as a bass player, as well as a vocalist – a regular in both Les Paul’s group at New York’s Iridium Jazz club – and the tribute band that succeeded him after his passing.
Sometimes it seems she’s straining to be heard in this group. I thought it was the mix at first – but after reading the liner notes, I’m convinced that Mr. Ess and Mr. Kneeland consider her just another of the instruments, who gets her turn for a solo now and then – but largely plays with the group.
I’ll have this one in heavy rotation on the ‘pod for a while, both for what it teaches me about the textures of good jazz, but also for Ms. Parrott, who – like the rest of the musicians – manages to be deceptively simple and complex, all at once.
And while I learn to live for her solo turns here – I’ll also be in search of smaller, quieter groups that better showcase her talent.
This disc is highly recommended.
Another of the discs I picked up in the second-hand shop in Prague on this last trip was an Italian CD of Anita O’Day – “The Complete 1952 Verve Sessions.”
That’s another education in a whole different direction.
From a 1963 television special, here’s Ms. O’Day in Tokyo – with “Honeysuckle Rose.”