In our house, it’s legal to talk about Christmas, now that we’re just coming out of our foggy tryptophan-fueled Thanksgiving comas. It’s okay to begin working on the lights, the decorations, the tree. So says my son, the musician. So say we all.
And it’s also legal to listen to Christmas music. Here are some of the tunes that’ll be playing at Chez Boynton this holiday season.
Clare Teal – Jing Jing-a-Ling (Mud Records) Released – October 27, 2013
I make no secret about my serious crush on Clare Teal’s talent (look here), and still cannot understand why she doesn’t get noticed on this side of the Atlantic.
No matter. She stays plenty busy performing live in her native UK, and handles a show or two for BBC’s Radio Two. Twice named Britain’s top jazz singer, silky smooth, and able to write ’em, as well as style ’em. I’ll settle for the fact that I didn’t have to wait for this one – it’s available as a non-import at Amazon, and it’s at the iTunes store.
Collaborating with long-time pianist/music director Grant Windsor, all the usual suspects are here, from Mel Tormé’s “The Christmas Song” to 1949’s “Mele Kalikimaka.” Top it off with a trio of Ms. Teal’s originals, that always make me think I’ve heard them before – “Skating On Thin Ice,” along with “A Little Whisky” and “The Feeling’s Right.”
No better Christmas freebie than the one for which you’ve already paid, dear taxpayer. I’m talking about the album from the US Air Force jazz band – the “Airmen of Note.” Recorded four years ago, “Cool Yule” features pal Paige Martin as the lead vocalist on five tracks. You can download the album here, but you can listen to one of my faves right now:
A family celebration this past weekend, and we found just the right place. Yummy dinner at DC’s Mandarin Oriental Hotel overlooking the Jefferson Memorial; and then Facebook pal Paige Martin and her guys in the lounge: Chris Frasso on piano, Lenny Robinson on drums, and Zack Pride on bass. She opened with Peggy Lee’s “I Love Being Here With You,” and filled a 45-minute set with luster and class.
It was great to see Ms. Martin in a civilian outfit – her day job is with the Air Force jazz band, “Airmen of Note.” And while that’s always fun, it doesn’t offer the opportunity to hear more than a song or two. This was the precision I’ve come to expect, but also some humidity that isn’t standard military issue. Someone needs to bottle this – or at least catch it on a recording.
Not my photo, by the way. It was too dark, and a flash would have ruined the mood of the room, which looks out onto the city. This one is an Air Force photo from the Note’s Christmas show, by Melanie Rodgers Cox.
Thea Neumann – Lady & The Tramps Released – February 28, 2012
From the first track, “Convenience Store” – one of those you’ll swear you’ve heard before – this disc is like hitting rush hour on the freeway with the pedal down. Energy to spare, even drifting through the traffic of the quieter tracks like the original “Vancouver,” or the haunting Gillian Welch track – “Dear Someone.”
Chris Andrew on piano, Kodi Hutchingson on bass and Sandro Dominelli on drums comprise this group of Tramps, but Ms. Neumann is clearly in command, a supple, sultry alto who keeps her gypsy-tinged band in line. It’s a ten-pack of both clever originals and classics (like Cole Porter’s “My Heart Belongs to Daddy,” and Sammy Cahn’s “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen”) that blend nicely, much like that Manhattan Cocktail that’s familiar and yet different, potent but smooth.
While the songbook tunes offer that familiarity that keep things grounded, the pair of Ms. Neumann’s originals, plus her take on Radiohead’s “How to Disappear Completely,” are what make this disc unique. “Convenience Store” has the added punch from the horn section from Bruce Springsteen’s band. Who couldn’t use a little juice from The Boss?
But it’s her group to lead, and it’s clear from the get-go – she’s in the driver’s seat.
As for the rest of the group – and us – well, we simply obey.
So much to write about this time. Wes and his girlfriend, Charlotte, went with me to see the Air Force Jazz Ensemble, “Airmen of Note” in a great show at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium Friday night. The band traces its roots to the Glenn Miller-led Army Air Force Band of World War Two. That band broke up after Miller’s disappearance in 1944, but reformed in 1950. The 60th anniversary celebration was this past weekend at Bolling Air Force Base, near Washington.
Many of the pieces they played Friday mimicked that Miller sound – with a single clarinet leading the saxophone section.
Alumni played with the band as well – and with current vocalist Paige Wroble Martin, two of the band’s past vocalilsts also appeared – Tracey Arrington Wright, who performed with the band from 1996 to 2005, and Bobbie McCleary, who worked with the group from 1978 through the 1980s. All three were aces.
The Friday event kicked off three shows in the group’s “Jazz Heritage” fall series at George Washington University’s Lister Hall – the next show features guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel – on Friday, October 1; and the series wraps with Al Jarreau on Friday, November 5. Find information here.
The band tours the country often, and the performances are always free. If they’re performing near you (calendar here), don’t miss ’em.
That’s my photo of Technical Sergeant Martin, but there are much better photos of the weekend’s events at the band’s Facebook Page, and free downloads of the band all over the place – just Bing it. I’ll offer three – Paige Martin and “I’ll Be Seeing You” here; Bobbie McCleary and “Body and Soul” here, and Tracey Wright and “Too Close For Comfort” here.
Can’t remember having so much fun on a Friday night.
Lee Engele – In The Key Of “L”
Released – August 15, 2010
I mentioned that I’ve been listening to a lot of Minnesota vocalists, and hinted that more than one artist from the Twin Cities is featured on my iPod lately. Here’s another. Lee Engele’s “…mix of hip jazz and gypsy swing” has found its way onto heavy rotation on the personal playlist this past month.
Her recording, “In The Key Of L” only features a half-dozen tracks; yet every one of them is a treat.
Ms. Engele’s band features Reynold Philipsek on guitar, Matt Senjem on bass, and Gary Schulte on violin. They manage to sound bigger than they are – and it’s a nice frame for Ms. Engele’s swing through these standards – including Bacharach’s “Walk On By,” one of my favorites, along with Ella’s “How High The Moon,” and a playful duet with Mr. Philipsek on the Gershwins’ “‘S Wonderful.”
Lovable in its simplicity – and in its closeness. Ms. Engele’s winsome voice is never overpowering, she always sounds very near; and in Mr. Philipsek’s channeling of Django Reinhardt, this one is a nice change of pace.
A treatment of songbook classics that’s almost entirely different, and highly recommended.
Finally – there’s another Minneapolis singer in the review pipeline. Nichola Miller dropped me a disc this past week, and while I’m out of gas for this post, I’ll have a ball listening to her stuff and writing about it in the week ahead.
Here’s a YouTube recording (audio not so hot) to give you an idea.
Lots of searches come through this page, looking for free music downloads. They’re out there – I run across nifty music all the time on MySpace and “All About Jazz,” a musical website. Linus Entertainment manages a number of Canadian acts – they’ve got a whole webpage dedicated to downloads by their stable of artists. It’s where you’ll find a freebie from one of this week’s featured artists, Sophie Milman.
Let’s get to it, then.
Sophie Milman – Take Love Easy (Koch)
Released – May 5, 2009 (Canada)
June 2, 2009 (US)
There’s a lot to like about this third release from Sophie Milman, the Canadian singer whose steady rise through North America continues to gain momentum. Appearances at the Kennedy Center and the Hollywood Bowl last year; you can find her DVD “Live In Montreal” in the racks at “Best Buy,” for heaven’s sake.
This release should continue the upward trajectory for Ms. Milman. There’s everything to like about her delivery, which sits somewhere the intersection of swing and seduction. That requires not only good production (thanks, Steven MacKinnon), but also the talent to pull it all off. Ms. Millman continues to mature as an artist – and as much as I liked her earlier two discs, this one is her best yet.
“Take Love Easy” topped the iTunes Jazz chart in Canada right after its release last month, and there’s no reason that this one won’t take off in the US, as well. The title track is the one that’s pushed as the first single from this disc – Duke Ellington’s “Take Love Easy.” The disc is heavy on covers of pop tunes; yet Ms. Milman’s silky styling and the new arrangements put a slightly different point on many of these familiar tracks. Among them – Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire,” Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” and Paul Simon’s “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover.”
I’d worry about the market for this kind of pop-tinged jazz; it seems to be shrinking a little, with the demise of so many “Smooth Jazz” radio outlets. On the other hand, I don’t get paid to worry about those things – I simply enjoy the music.
And there’s much to enjoy about this one. Highest recommendation.
Ms. Milman’s Canadian management company, Linus Entertainment has made one of the tracks from “Take Love Easy” available for download. It’s “That Is Love,” an original, penned by Ms. Milman’s pianist, Paul Shrofel. It’s available here.
Margo Reymundo – My Heart’s Desire (Organica Tunes)
Released – December 18, 2008
The note from the publicity guy came, inviting me to take a listen to Margo Reymundo’s music, which he said, “…combines, Jazz, Bossa, Pop, and the ethno-rhythmic sounds of world music together into what she calls ‘Organica.'”
Organica, he said, is “…an unorthodox hybrid of Pop that is deeply rooted in Jazz with thick, ethno-rhythmic beats created by humans not machines, textured with the lush vocals of Margo Reymundo and layered with ambient guitars and keys.”
Ethno-Rhythmic, Organica, hybrid, textured, ambient…okay, but as a wise man once said, “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.” Can the woman sing?
The answer to that – is “you betcha.”
The title track opens the disc – a catchy, growly, infectious tune, that nicely sets the tone for what follows. And what follows can perhaps be called a journey. Each track is a part of the whole, and despite all the mumbo-jumbo in the press releases, I just started to float along, and enjoy the trip.
And it’s quite a journey – most of the tracks are originals – you’ll find Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” and a bilingual version of the Carly Simon-Michael McDonald tune, “You Belong To Me” among the covers.
Production values are pop-flavored, but make no mistake. Ms. Reymundo’s voice is the show here. Whether Seductive, bouncy, or mesmerizing – it’s quite an instrument, itself.
And that’s what all those words were really trying to say.
The words get in the way. Just go listen. Very highly recommended.
I’m a sucker for big bands, and this past week, I’ve been listening to a lot of the US Air Force’s big band, the “Airmen of Note.” Recent vocalists with the band include Paige Martin and Tracey Wright. Some of those recordings are available free here.
And although the audio quality of this video recording is poor, it’ll give you an idea of the good stuff you can find from these guys and gals – free, if you poke around enough on line.