CD Review of the Day: Teka’s “So Many Stars”

April 16, 2014

Teka

So Many Stars (Blue in Green Productions)

By Brian Arsenault

I think my biggest miss of 2013 may have been not hearing Teka’s marvelous bossa nova infused album So Many Stars. If you missed it too, here’s another chance. Especially for those of us in northern climes in this cold, cold endless winter.

Teka

Teka

Bossa nova almost always warms with its calls to romance and dance. In a harsh world it shows that the finer tender emotions are still possible. So there really is some place other than LA it’s warm this March. Really. And it may be the heart.

Good example, Teka and her teen daughter Luana Psaros provide two slightly different shades of sunlight on water in Aguas de Marco (Waters of March). Luana sounds like a younger skylark, not a lesser one, on this achingly alluring duet.

The album’s title song is also its message. So many stars, so many dreams. Taken as a whole, the album is rather dreamlike and it is a sweet dream.

For one reason, a different band member is featured in combination with Teka’s voice on nearly every song:
Randy Tico’s bass on “So Many Stars,” Doug Webb’s sax on “You Stepped Out of Dream” and “April Child”, Ruben Martinez bass flute on “April Child,” Ian Bernard’s piano on “Skylark.” More. All first rate.

Teka is a fine guitarist in her own right as amply demonstrated on “Bluesette.”

Teka

Teka

“Skylark” is one of the highlights of the album and one of the few non-bossa nova styled songs. Rather it is a wonderful slow jazz arrangement of the great Johnny Mercer/Hoagy Carmichael tune.

The Gershwin’s “S’Wonderful” closes the album with Teka teaming again with Luana for a light hearted take. Smiles all around. Chuckles at the end.   For most of the time, though, we are in the world of Mendes and Jobim and, as noted, it is a warm world of dancing in the dark and counting stars.

Teka has a summer evening breeze quality to her voice always. She is as smoooooooooooth as bossa nova can be and that is very smooth indeed.

Surprises on the album? Maybe one. Her choice to include Kurt Weill’s “Speak Low,” lyrics by Ogden Nash. The central lyric of the song, though, fits the mold: “Speak low when you speak of love” for fear it might disappear.

There is a longing in bossa nova as well as a sweetness.  Teka sings in both English and Portuguese on the album but it is the Portuguese that best brings us the poetry of the music. Even if you don’t speak the language.

The pacing is where American audiences have their biggest problem. Bossa nova after a burst of popularity in the States in the 60s has been largely relegated to secondary status except among aficionados and Brazilian and other Latin communities.

Part of its charm is a pace that is never fast, never hurried and Norteamericanos sometimes need things hot and fast, not warm and romantic.

Still, we are open to “so many dreams,” aren’t we?

Teka and her New Bossa Trio perform at The Gardenia in Hollywood on Wednesday Ap[ril 30.  The Gardenia is at 7066 Santa Monica Blvd.  The phone number is (323) 467-7444.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.


Record Rack: Lyn Stanley, Lisa Engelken

December 11, 2013

Of West Coast Girls

By Brian Arsenault

The Left Coast is not taken seriously enough by the New York centric jazz “world” as a producer of any jazz, but maybe particularly female jazz singers. Of course, Queen Bentyne is based there now but she’s late of Manhattan Transfer so the East Coast still claims her.

So here come two very different talents to turn our eyes and ears to the West. You know, LA, San Francisco. The places that mostly stay warm but are oh so cool.

 Lyn Stanley

Lost in Romance (A.T. Music)

Only a few tracks are required for the listener to be Lost in Romance with Lyn Stanley. I was there by “The Nearness of You.” By then, she has warmed the room with a series of classics from Irving Berlin, Johnny Mercer, Hoagy Carmichael.

The room is in a small club. Perhaps near the desert. Dim lighting. Bogie and Bacall unobtrusive in the back of the room. Dietrich’s set over, she stays to listen.

The room has a piano that accompanies her so well whenever Tamir Hendelman or Mike Lang sit in. Tenor sax (Bob Sheppard), trombone (Bob McChesney), flugelhorn (Gilbert Castellanos, also on trumpet) in the backing group which plays every note to complement her. Every single note.

And those notes are all full and rounded, almost never sharp and stinging. Perhaps vinyl was required for the richness throughout. I’d like to think so. (two 180 gram 45 rpm albums which I first tried to play as 33s. Slowwwwwwwww. Also available in CDs and downloads for the unromantic.)

The striking blond former ballroom dancer opens and closes the album with songs entwined with dance.

First: “Change Partners,” where she lingers over each note, each moment, seeking her chance.

Last, naturally: “The Last Dance,” where the partner has been found and the evening is regrettably ending but “keep holding me tight.”

In between, the bartender leans in to listen as she asks for “One More for My Baby.” Each word, each inflection so important as “You Go to My Head.”

Her phrasing is close, intimate, personal. Not like Sinatra’s phrasing but with Ol’ Blue Eyes’ requirement that you listen to the story, that you feel it might be sung directly to you.

I don’t think her talents are best suited for Willie Dixon’s “I Just Want to Make Love to You” but she shines on George Harrison’s “Something” which Sinatra called the only really good love song in eons.

On “Fever”, the warmth becomes heat. Peggy Lee may have been the first white girl singer so openly sexual but Lyn Stanley takes it a bit sultrier, plays with it a bit. A touch of how Marilyn would have sung it. Finger snaps as percussion.

Another strength of vinyl; each time you get to flip the album or put on the second disc (may I say record), you’ll be pleased there’s another side. You’ll wish you were at that imaginary club that night. But go ahead, careful not to smudge the grooves, put on the album and soon you will be.

Lisa Engelken

little warrior (CD Baby)

If Lyn Stanley is the epitome of classic romance and the classic American songbook, Lisa Engelken is the postmodernist purveyor of pain and alienation.

. . . for there must be a god to exist such a godless man. . .”

If Lyn Stanley rounds each note and lingers for its full effect, Lisa Engelken frequently blows through lyrics with staccato phrasing. Everything at times is a single chopped note since she must move on and not linger.

send me keys

send me jets

send me trains . . .

and don’t forget instructions as to what to do with your remains”

Don’t get me wrong. Lisa’s range of emotions, as well as octaves, is extensive. The album includes the reflective “little warrior” title song and Chick Corea’s gently rolling “sea journey.”

But pain is near at all times. It’s integral to her art.

blue valentines” is Tom Wait via Billie Holiday (can’t beat that for melancholy) through Lisa. The band gets it. Bill Cantos’ piano chords keep a somber pace. Sam Bevan’s bass descends with her voice. Sadness keeps a grip impervious to whiskey.

She moves with Joni Mitchell’s “cold blue steel & sweet fire” to some very personal hell vision of “. . . vicious gnawing in the veins. . .” This seven minutes, a dark trip, is orchestral, at times symphonic — Lisa says she wants to sing it with the San Francisco Symphony — but some of the musicians may have hooves and tails, maybe even horns.

Even in the supposedly upbeat “viva la felicita,” an alleged ode to happiness, the chorus in Italian is “eh poi, eh poi?” what else, what else is there? Can’t get more post modernist than that. Like an Italo Calvino short story.

For this album to end on the sweetness of “All I Do Is Dream of You” is either ironic or an inside joke. This is a singer pushing some boundaries and a long way from romance. But we know the World needs more than one vision.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.


Record Rack: Robin Bessier, Eliane Elias (and a few words for Boones the Cat)

June 14, 2013

Two Songbirds and the American Songbook

 By Brian Arsenault

The so-called American Songbook doesn’t get old.  It gets better.  Because artists of the day keep reinterpreting and expanding it.  The branches of the tree grow gracefully and the songbirds perch higher.

Robin Bessier

other side of forever (Whispering River)

In  On the Road,  Sal Paradise (Jack Kerouac in thin disguise) walks outside in the early evening at a small Mexican village and says he feels “the softest air” he ever felt. I think I just heard it.

I succumbed to that soft air on the second song on Robin Bessier’s album other side of forever. And actually heard what soft feels like when she sang Bobby McFerrin’s “Jubilee.”

The song alone is justification for the album with its alternating trumpet and soprano sax, both by Jay Thomas, I think (nice trick). There’s also a little Manhattan Transfer sound on the chorus.  But mostly, there is Bessier’s warm, enticing voice.

A delight.

And daring.  She does both “God Bless the Child” and “Prelude to a Kiss.”  We’re talking Billie Holiday and Duke Ellington here, folks, so the standard is very high.  Add to that the technical difficulties of “Prelude to a Kiss” wherein a singer can just get lost. But not Bessier.

Later, she heats it up on “Too Nice” by producer Barney McClure, then cools down to a “Whisper” on the next track. She swings the great 1930s jazz composition “The Very Thought of You.”  Really swings it.

Bessier takes us out of the album with the title song, also written by McClure and you might play it again so you won‘t have to let it go.

How to characterize this remarkable tune?  Think of the most beautiful song you have ever heard in a Broadway show; the one that ties it all together, that touches the heart, that causes a pause, a moment of pure silence before the thunderous applause.  I wouldn’t want to take away from your first hearing of it by saying more.

After a promising career start, Robin Bessier had to deal with some life stuff that perhaps held back recognition of her great gifts and limited her time for music.  But now she’s back and she sings about it on “Right Here, Right Now.” That’s right.  Here and now and very, very good.

Eliane Elias

 I Thought About You — A Tribute to Chet Baker (Concord Music Group)

So you are a leading Bossa Nova singer.  Can you also do all those jazz classics associated with Chet Baker?

If you are Eliane Elias, you can. With voice and piano.  So how and why does someone get to be a terrific jazz singer and top shelf piano player?  I don’t know.  I just listen and count myself lucky.

Because on this album, Elias isn’t just paying homage to Baker, she’s covering the Gershwins, Johnny Mercer, Richard Rodgers and Hoagy Carmichael.  Among others.

The first five or six songs are like an American classic Master Class.

The title song, “There Will Never Be Another You,” “This Can’t Be Love,” “Embraceable You,” “That Old Feeling” . . . I’m almost out of breath and I’m just typing.  (You can still say “typing” can’t you?  “I’m word processing” sounds so wrong to my ear.)

Is there a lovelier song than the Gershwin’s “Embraceable You”?  If you have any doubts, you won’t be after you hear Elias’ version.

“There Will Never Be Another You” is so damn good because you can hear the bossa nova that is her as well as the jazz.  You hear them both and know that they are so closely related, cousins from different but attached hemispheres.  And when Randy Brecker’s trumpet comes in . . . just great.

The album never lets up and finishes with two of the album’s strongest:

* A quick-step paced “Just In Time” — usually done by a laid-back Sinatra at his most laid back pace — which features Elias’ husband Marc Johnson’s bass, her piano and her voice. Just the two of them in a kinda delightful musical quickie.

* Hoagy Carmichael’s plaintive, ironic “I Get Along Without You Very Well.”  I don’t know that it’s ever been treated better, almost whispered in places.  Like the best bossa nova songs and singers, there’s a depth of emotion here unrivaled elsewhere.  A heart can break in two.

Throughout the album, I have to keep reminding myself that it’s Elias on piano as well as singing so great.  That could be gender bias on my part, hard to shake that off completely in a single lifetime.  Or it could be the feeling that you just shouldn’t be so damn good at both.

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 Go Softly Into That Dark Earth

Boones the Cat left today.  We’ll bury her under a tree in the yard and be a little the less for it.  She was my surest barometer of a good album.  If she came in to listen, I knew the work was fine.  If my reviews aren’t quite so sharp from now on it’s because I’ve lost her.  She was 17 so we have no complaint.  Not that a complaint would make a damn bit of difference.

Bye, Boones

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.


Record Rack: Tine Bruhn & Johnny O’Neal, Jackie Ryan and Karen Souza

March 20, 2013

Three Queens, All Aces

By Brian Arsenault

This is a time of remarkable female jazz singers.  So many who are so good. Undoubtedly changes in social mores have increased the pool of women willing to run the risks of being a jazz singer and the industry‘s willingness to accept them. But I think there’s more than a sociology treatise here. I think there’s magic involved, as there was with the surge in bop jazz musicians in the late 40s and great rock in the second half of the sixties. Leave it to others to explain. We get to enjoy.

 Tine Bruhn & Johnny O’Neal:

 nearness (Burner Records)

Think of a time when a singer simply stood next to the piano.  She sings, he plays and, oh yeah, there’s a great tenor sax on some songs. Now’s the time and Tine Bruhn makes the most of it with the marvelous jazz pianist Johnny O’Neal and young sax player, Stacy Dillard. She’s deep into the American songbook of Cole Porter, Hoagy Carmichael, Johnny Mercer and others and she has the remarkable ability to make each song hers by the end.  “The Nearness of You,” from which the album title is drawn, is simply seven and a half minutes of bliss.  If an album can glow with light, this one does.

Jackie Ryan with John Clayton & Friends:

 Listen Here (Open Art Productions)

Jackie Ryan, I think, could sing just about anything and on this album she just about does. Jazzy, bluesy, in English and in Spanish, old classics and new compositions. Her “I Loves You Porgy” is nearly overwhelming. Hell, it is overwhelmingly beautiful. So is band mate John Clayton’s “Before We Fall In Love,” lyrics by the great Bergmans to touch the soul. Sidemen? You want sidemen: Gerald Clayton on piano, Graham Dechter on guitar, Gilbert Castellanos on a trumpet born in Mexico and journeyed to American jazz. More. I’m not even sure this is a jazz album. Not completely.  Jackie kind of defies categories.  She’s music.

 Karen Souza:

Hotel Souza (Music Brokers)

We begin in a Paris hotel with an affair, “prisoners of desire” wondering “how did it get this far.” It goes on like that. For the whole album. Sexuality in song. Longing, desire, surrender. This hotel where “I’ve Got it Bad” for “Delectable You” even if you’ll “Break My Heart.” Her version of Marvin Gaye’s “Heard it Through the Grapevine” is 110 degrees in the shade. Phew, well Marvin was about heat after all.  Yet underneath all the physical attraction and consummation there is a sadness at the impermanence of affairs and attraction. In the end, you have to “Lie to Me.”

To read more reviews, posts and columns from Brian Arsenault click HERE.


CD Review: Halie Loren’s “Stages”

August 1, 2012

Halie Loren

 Stages (White Moon Productions)

 By Brian Arsenault

It’s 2 a.m. when I put on Halie Loren’s reissue Stages, so I keep the volume low as to not bother Kath.  Doesn’t matter. Loren’s voice comes through soft but contralto clear as always; impeccable phrasing, melodious poetry emerging from the little player on the cabinet.

The cat Sage comes in after the piano introduction to the first song, “Danger In Loving You,” and sits on the carpet to listen as soon as Halie’s voice comes up. She doesn’t often do that. As soon as the song ends, Sage heads for her food dish but she comes back for “Sunny Afternoon,” the second song.

Halie Loren has that effect on audiences, it seems of all creatures, on this album recorded at two separate concerts a couple years ago.  “Danger In Loving You” is sung regretful while “Sunny Afternoon” is downright sassy.  One thinks that Ray Davies would be pleased with her sense of the vagaries of life and the honky tonk piano.

Halie Loren

But I’m trying to be very careful about the use of words like sassy and sultry and sexy which are of course true about her singing but tend to obscure artistry with connotations of femme fatale. There’s a kind of sexism about dropping those words on a female singer, a “nice ass” quality that diminishes while delighting in a woman.

Halie Loren’s  singing stands in its own right with a range of human emotion, the aforementioned remarkable phrasing, intelligent story telling, laughter and tears intermingling with accomplished technique.

She can go back to classics like the Gershwins’ “Summertime” and Hoagy Carmichael’s “Nearness  of You” as if they were written for her  and not decades before she was born. She shows that “Summertime” doesn’t need to be sung with a “do I shriek here” component. Not that she doesn’t hit it hard, she just knows where it’s soft.

Her version of “Cry Me A River” brings to mind Julie London’s biggest hit but with more edge. Anger and angst. The audience hoots its approval at the end.  She explores the musicality of Latin language, Portuguese specifically, in “The Girl from Ipanema” and makes it fresh again. Bossa Nova steps may be resurrected.

In the middle of the album there’s a three song stretch that encompasses “Free to be Loved by Me” that she penned, about the heartbreak of love.  Some of the notes will do that if the lyrics don’t. It touches at a deep level. It’s followed quickly by Billy Arnold’s  teasing “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby” to quickly lift the mood. And then follows the moody “Love Me Like a River Does.”  They call that range.

A favorite moment comes when she sings without accompaniment on “High Heel Blues,” laughing through it with the audience about high heel shoes that “go with everything in your closet.”  It brings down the house.

Her aptly titled “They Oughta Write a Song” (from the album of the same name) introduced a lot of us to Halie.  It’s an ironic take on love and life and belonged on this “live” album.  Actually, I prefer “concert album.”  What singers and musicians do in studios is live too, isn’t it, even when overproduced.

But let’s close with a consideration of recorded in the club albums. Ever hear one where you wince once in a while over a false note, mistimed solo, or too quick pacing?  Not here.  Her sidemen led by pianist Matt Treder are perfect support and I guess you know by now what I think of Loren‘s singing.

To see a terrific singer “live,” as they say, is a great but ethereal experience; quickly gone, vanished from your eyes and ears, just a memory. Fortunately for your ears and soul, this one is here whenever you want to listen.

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“November and Other Tales” by Brian Arsenault

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Brian Arsenault’s November and Other Tales is a collection of short stories exploring the way cold comes by degrees in winter and in the human heart.  To check it out, click HERE.


Here, There & Everywhere: Sing! Sing! Sing!

December 23, 2011

By Don Heckman

Christmas caroling was a regular seasonal activity in my young life.  Growing up in an Eastern Pennsylvania rust belt city, singing carols while slip-sliding our way across icy sidewalks was as necessary to the holiday as going to Mass on Christmas eve.  In a way, it was an equally necessary counter to the darker side of what we’d done on Halloween, when enacting tricks was a lot more common than  asking for treats.

All of which went through my mind last night when Faith and I took our lovely ten year old granddaughter, Maia, to the Victorian Mansion for “Candlelight Carols” by Judy Wolman, Howard Lewis and “Sing! Sing! Sing!”  And one couldn’t have asked for a more delightfully atmospheric setting to join in a holiday music singalong than the elegant wood-paneled room that jazz fans will recall as the former site of the much-missed jazz club, “The Vic.”

At the beginning, Wolman reminded me that she, Lewis and their group of singers had been doing these holiday celebrations for 20 years.  Not only that, of course, but also their continuing programs of participatory jaunts through the rich musical landscape of the Great American Songbook.  (Programs devoted to Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Johnny Mercer, Hoagy Carmichael and others are already scheduled for 2012.)

The “Candlelight Carols” program characteristically reached out to embrace the Songbook – with selections from Irving Berlin, Frank Loesser, Rodgers & Hammerstein, etc. — as well as a collection of traditional carols.  And the format was as comfortable and inviting as a holiday evening in a close friend’s living room.

Lewis introduced each number with some fascinating background, often including nuggets of insight into the song, as well as its creators.  Then Wolman — a superb piano accompanist, backed by Chris Conner’s bass, Dick Weller’s drums and some warm melody-making from harmonica player Ron Kalina – led the way into the song.

Maia

The audience, using lyric sheets provided by Wolman, sang along enthusiastically, sometimes even more than that.  And our granddaughter, Maia, not especially familiar with all the standards, nonetheless applied her already burgeoning musicality to every song, singing, smiling, enjoying every minute of this engaging new experience.

And what a collection of songs it was: “It’s Beginning To Look Like Christmas,” “Silver Bells,” “My Favorite Things,” “White Christmas,” “Sleigh Ride,” “Winter Wonderland,” “The Christmas Song,” “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?”  As well as “Silent Night,” “We Three Kings,” “The First Noel” and much, much more.

Between the singalong segments, individual singers from the Sing! Sing! Sing! vocal ensemble – Chuck Marso, Anita Royal, Jackie Manfredi and Ruth Davis – soloed.  And songwriter Jim Mann presented a brand new Christmas song, “Cheers! Cheers! Cheers!”

The sidewalks weren’t icy, and there was no snow in the forecast as we left the Victorian.  But the wind was blowing, and, as we walked hand in hand to our car, the words to one of the evening’s songs – with their perfect holiday sentiments — kept coming to mind.

           “The wind is blowing

           But I can weather the storm

            What do I care how much it may storm?

            I’ve got my love to keep me warm.”


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