CD Review: Jennifer Leitham’s “Mood(S)wings”

By Devon Wendell

Jennifer Leitham is a true seeker, a southpaw bassist supreme, fearless songwriter, and a jazz master to be reckoned with. Her new album MOOD(S)WINGS is a lush and beautiful musical tapestry that crosses mainstream pop and jazz with an introspective brilliance that places her in a class all by herself. Her music continues to give many (including myself) hope that jazz is far from dead and that there are plenty of incredible artists who are constantly redefining themselves and delivering lively yet powerful new musical statements all of the time.

Leitham has already earned legendary status, having recorded and performed with such jazz giants as Ed Shaughnessy, Bill Watrous, Mel Torme, and Peggy Lee, to name just a few.

MOOD(S)WINGS is one of the hippest jazz “crossover” albums to surface in many years.  You don’t ever get the feeling that Leitham is “selling out.” Just the opposite; she is flexing her mighty musical muscles and showcasing her incredible dynamics on this wonderfully energetic project.   Leitham’s virtuosic bass skills, added with her warm vocals, sly lyrics and masterful trio (Andy Langham on piano and Randy Drake on drums) create  a delightfully distinct mood within each composition.

Jennifer Leitham
Jennifer Leitham

Only Leitham and her trio could cover Clare Fischer’s “Cascade Of The Seven Waterfalls,” The Beatles’ “You Won’t See Me” and Oscar Pettiford’s “Tricotism” all on the same album and present it in a way that makes perfect sense as well as making it sound both fresh and beautiful.

Andy Langham’s fluid and thematic piano playing serves each composition perfectly and Randy Drake’s subtle bop-influenced drumming beautifully accentuates every carefully delivered phrase from Leitham’s vocals and bass. Jazz trios have often been dismissed by critics as being “background” music, but Leitham’s trio proves this to be far from the truth. “Glad Tidings” (written by and guest starring guitarist Jamie Findlay) is a perfect example of this, and its energy is infectious.   It sounds as if Leitham, Langham, and Drake have been playing together all of their lives but still continue to push each other to greater heights.

Leitham proves to be a true poetess with a songwriting style as unique as her bass playing and composing. On original compositions such as “Riverside Romp,” “Don’t You Ever” and “My Heart Had Wings,” Leitham’s lyrics are sweet, anguished, and contemplative, all at once .  Jeff Linsky’s ukulele accompaniment on “Don’t You Ever” is  thoughtful and precise. “The Masquerade Is Over” features some of Leitham’s warmest and most heartfelt vocals.

She is an artist constantly on the move; listening, playing, watching, and always growing. The trio’s sound has a potent yet elegant swing to it that is immediately identifiable.  There’s also a genuine sense of vulnerability throughout the album – a place where most musicians of all  musical  genres often fear to explore so freely. Finally, Leitham’s unique upright bass style rivals that of such iconic bassists as Paul Chambers, Ron Carter, and Oscar Pettiford.  Yes, she’s that great.

MOOD(S)WINGS is Leitham’s most adventurous and explorative album to date and to be enjoyed by music lovers of all genres. This is one of the finest “crossover” albums I’ve heard in many years. Do not miss out on this gem.

* * * * * * * *

The Jennifer Leithem Trio performs at the Blue Whale in Los Angeles on Wednesday, October 21.  Shows are from 9 p.m. to 11:55.  The Blue Whale is at

123 astronaut E S Onizuka St. Suite 301
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Tel: (213) 538-8038

 

 

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