CD Review: Eric Van Aro’s “Endless Roads”

September 1, 2015
Brian Arsenalt

Brian Arsenalt

By Brian Arsenault

The last time I reviewed an album by this guy in early 2014, I complimented his reclaiming stellar jazz singing for the guys in the face of so many fine current female jazz singers.

This time, with Endless Roads, Eric Van Aro has reestablished the stripped down rock/pop sound amidst an avalanche of overdubbed, over-produced, echo chambered, synthetic slop so dominant today. (We won’t name the purveyors as they know who they are; unshaken TV commercials abound for their concert tours; Good Morning America appearances before overexcited pre-teens. You know the drill.)

Eric Van Aro

Eric Van Aro

Eric himself writes that he has “been taught that the musical roads one can and should take are endless . . .” He may need to be careful, though, as the musical world has long since shown an obnoxious need to characterize artists and their art forms, neat little boxes to keep our tastes in without a lot of thought.

Eric, though, can find room for works by Pat Metheny, Laura Nyro, Randy Newman, Jimmy Page/Robert Plant, Bruno Mars and himself in the same album. Really.

Maybe the bravest piece is Mars’ “Just the Way You Are.” Reworking a big hit by a pop giant is to walk on the edge of unacceptable, as the original version is tucked so deeply into our musical consciousness. Singing along with the car radio and such. Eric pulls it off anyway by tipping his hat to the hit while singing it in his raspier, deeper way.

Eric Van Aro

Eric Van Aro

The lesser known Zep piece “Friends” moves effortlessly from bluesy at the start to jazzy at the end.

“This Is Not America” opens the album and sets the rocking tone with Max Elli’s slick rock guitar opening. Elli is a strength throughout the album, weaving in, under and around Van Aro’s vocals as if they had played together for years. In actuality, they seem to have met musically on Endless Roads.

Eric’s artistic generosity means this could almost have been billed as Elli’s album with Eric providing vocals, rather like the long ago days of Jeff Beck with Rod Stewart.

He notes that on this album he “really tried to let the producer in me stay at home and let myself by guided by my producer and my musicians.”

Kudos to Giordano Colombo for his production. As noted, a clean, crisp, basic sound is quite rare in these days of dubbing to the max.

Drummer Giordano Colombo is solid throughout and really breaks out on “Stratus.” If there’s such a thing as rock scat singing, Eric shows it off here.

Nyro’s “And When I Die”, recorded memorably by Blood Sweat & Tears, adds a little country flavor and Randy Newman’s “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today” has just a dash of Van Morrison flavor in Eric’s vocal.

The album closes with Van Aro’s co-written “One Life One Song” and as an earlier song notes: “. . . that’s the way to treat a friend.”

The friend in this case being any listener.

Endless Roads will be released on September 17.

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

 


Roger Crane the Song Scout: Great Ballads

July 2, 2015

Roger Crane the Song Scout

By Roger Crane

 

Fellow Music Fans….

I’m an adagio-kind of guy. I love ballads – jazz ballads, country ballads, Latin ballads, any ballads. In particular I seek the great recordings, meaning the 3-way combination of…

1 – Fine Song 2 – Fine Singer 3 – Fine Arrangement/Accompaniment

For example, you can find many such “triple threats” on the various Sinatra recordings from his Capitol years. Here is a beautiful song from those recordings which I often return to.

THE SONG – “Lonely Town”- By Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, from the 1944 Broadway show, On the Town

THE SINGER – Frank Sinatra

THE ARRANGER/CONDUCTOR – Gordon Jenkins

COMMENTS

I am not alone in my affection for this recording. Sinatra, in a 1984 interview chose it as “the best record I ever made.” One of the key components of Jenkins’ chart is his use of a haunting French horn introduction by Vince DeRosa (link below). I enjoy much of Bernstein’s music but not a particular fan of some songs (e.g., finding “Somewhere” boring with its pretentious Puccini high notes).

But “Lonely Town” (along with “Lucky to Be Me” and “Some Other Time” from the same show) is a superior song. It is a favorite of jazz groups, probably due to its subtle, constant modulation from minor to major and its unusual chords. Vocally, it is demanding, requiring a lot of voice and exact intonation. Maybe that is why the mediocre singers leave it alone. Sinatra is up to it and sings with vulnerability and is at ease with the slow tempo.

“Lonely Town” is on Sinatra’s 1957 Capitol recording titled Where Are You, which was his first recording in stereo. It is perfection or, if that is too reverent, let’s say “perfectly wonderful.”

And here’s another version of the song in a lovely piano rendition by Bill Charlap and his trio
(bassist, Peter Washington, drummer Kenny Washington).

Best to you all.  Comments welcomed.

Roger, the Benevolent Guardian of Song  (and an eager vendor of opinions)


Record Rack: Halie Loren and The Monks of Norcia

June 30, 2015

Brian Arsenault

by Brian Arsenault

Soul Music
Secular and Sacred or
Sacred and Sublime

Halie Loren: Butterfly Blue (Justin Time Records)

Halie Loren glides in flight on her new album Butterfly Blue from newly composed musical poetry to the songbook of American music on the wings of a deepening and darkening musical sense, an extraordinary accompanying group of musicians and a voice to wring out all the passion, pain and promise of living. We are captives of the cages of our lives but the spirit still soars.

The new:

“Blue” by sterling guitarist Daniel Gallo, “blue like the deep sea . . . blue like a moonbeam.”     Delicate without sentimentality, painful but not maudlin. Gallo’s guitar masterfully weaves under Loren’s voice.

“Butterfly” by Loren herself, wherein I think Otis Redding held her hand. I thought he might harmonize on the chorus and perhaps he does somewhere else.

“After the Fall” again by Gallo. Paper Moons hang, funny Valentines bring a tear. Songs of life remembered, a soundtrack of a life.

The classic:
Charles Trenet’s “I Wish You Love”, sung mostly in French and the more romantic for that. Loren’s voice haunts, evokes all the lyrical romance of the tune. Matt Treder’s piano and David Larsen’s clarinet so perfect in creating the cafe sensibility in play. Mark Schneider’s bass simply perfect.
“Stormy Weather” touches the very center of that blues piece, slowed down achingly beyond any version you’ve heard before.

Billie Holiday would approve. Ellington could have arranged.
And a bit later, back to back to back, my favorite moments on the album.
A playful yet deeply felt “Our Love Is Here to Stay” with Irving Berlin’s wonderful, hopeful lyrics. Again Larsen, this time on baritone sax, would be worth the trip just on his own. And Halie’s phrasing, I think she knew Berlin in an earlier life.

She has also somehow magically visited Cole Porter. “Under My Skin” is launched by a fine instrumental intro with Treder and Schneider leading the way before Loren’s breathy vocal comes in with just a touch of Peggy Lee. All that Porter longing, the pain/pleasure of being caught with no release and maybe none wanted.

On the Loren penned “Danger in Loving You,” heard in a performance version on an earlier recording, she writes to the level of Gershwin and Porter. There’s no release here either. There is of course danger to the heart.

Halie Loren is generally termed a jazz singer and that’s true if you acknowledge that blues underlies jazz, which of course it does. Then there is soul, she has that too. Ask me to walk into a club and conjure up my singer of choice and it would be Halie Loren.

To bend a lyric in “Blue” just a bit, I love her like Sunday.

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The Monks of Norcia Benedicta: Marian chant from Norcia (De Montfort Music)

I’ve never been interested in meditation. That’s why I didn’t care that much for “Peace,” the last cut on Halie’s album. I’m generally annoyed with all that find your center, peace out stuff. I’m entitled to my tension and my anger. Wars aren’t won and great art isn’t created by navel gazing.

Monks of Norcea Benedictus CDYet if I was going to meditate it would be to the immortal Gregorian chants of these monks in Umbria (Italy). In fact, while I had it on I began to feel more peaceful, more in tune, as they say. That annoyed me so much that I almost turned it off, but the beauty of the prayerfulness held me. Many I know who still attend Mass say that changing from Latin to English diminished its spiritual power. I can now say I think they are right.

I’m made to understand that the monks are killing (forgive the word) on the classical charts, even outselling some pop stars, and I can see why. Benedicta, largely in tribute to Mary (I don’t need to say which Mary do I), seems to echo down the ages from a time of believing, we’re talking 10th century here. Perhaps that is part of the attraction in this age of unbelieving, at least in the modern West.

Wherever you fall on or off the spiritual scale, beauty so rich and full is not to be discounted. Ever. The Monks of Norcia are also renowned for their craft brews, a spirit also not to be discounted.


CD Review: Lena Seikaly’s “Looking Back”

April 23, 2015

“A perfectly wonderful jazz vocal album”

By Roger Crane, the Song Scout

A classically trained mezzo-soprano who swings? Yes – and her name is Lena Seikaly. Although only 25, she is an established composer who has written many classical and jazz arrangements for small ensembles, choirs and full orchestra. She is also an educator, a successful teacher of jazz and classical voice.

But I wish to focus on that rich voice. Whatever your vocal criteria – quality of sound, intonation, phrasing, handling of time – Seikaly excels. She is a smart, sophisticated vocalist for grown ups.

Lena Seikaly

Lena Seikaly

 

If justice does exist, Looking Back, her third self-produced CD, should make the Washington D.C.-based Seikaly a star. Although it was released a year and a half ago, it is fresh on the national scene and worthy of more attention.  Seikaly has it all, a luxuriant rich voice with a melted-butter vibrato, a feeling for jazz, a deft sense of swing, effortless delivery, stunning presentation and a Rolls-Royce quartet providing her accompaniment. Just as importantly, she projects an unaffected honesty and joy.

Like many of the better singers, Seikaly also has an impeccable repertoire. Three ballads immediately grabbed my attention. Her easy patient way with “Baby, What Else Can I Do” is downright ecstatic. Is this seldom-heard Walter Hirsch-Gerald Marks collaboration truly a great song or is her sensuous delivery seducing my ear? Either way, the 5-minute cut alone is worth the price of the CD.

I have not heard a better rendition of Harold Arlen’s dramatic 1933 “I Cover the Waterfront.” Seikaly nicely includes his well-written but seldom heard verse and deftly handles the four octave jumps. The marvelous and sad “Supper Time” is certainly one of Irving Berlin’s greatest ballads particularly that long 16-measure bridge. Seikaly brings this cry of anguish to vibrant life.

She also swings delightfully and is even the scat’s meow. Mel Torme once said something like “a little scatting goes a long way.” It seems that every new jazz-influenced singer feels a need to scat, whether they have a facility for this vocal art form or not. Fortunately Seikaly’s scatting is subtle and as true as an oboe and she nicely uses this vocal technique judiciously. For example, on Gershwin’s “Fascinating Rhythm” and Duke Ellington’s “I Love You Madly” she is in lockstep with Zach Pride’s bass. Like an experienced lover, Siekaly initially takes her time with Benny Davis’ “I’m Nobody’s Baby” and then, with effective use of dynamics swings and scats the subsequent choruses. Drummer Lenny Robison displays his talents on this cut.

This is certainly Seikaly’s CD but she benefits immeasurably from the seamless interaction with her group. Pianist Chris Grasso, whether swinging or laying down tasty chords is superb. Bassist Zach Pride has a sound with depth and authenticity, something you want to reach out and touch. Guitarist Paul Pieper talents are very much evident on such cuts as Richard Whiting’s beloved standard “Guilty.” Speaking of this cut, you may notice that Seikaly’s Looking Back is somewhat a tribute to vocalists Billie Holiday and Ethel Waters.

Maybe it’s the water or the climate. Whatever the reason, the DC-Maryland area seems to have had more than it’s share of superior vocalists. Just to cite two examples, in the 1970s-80s there was the sublime Shirley Horn. In the ’90s – for too short a time – there was the genre-defying, captivating Eva Cassidy. Those two are stellar company and now we can add Lena Seikaly to this illustrious duo.

She has a natural, relaxed voice and was born to sing. Her warm timbre and uncomplicated phrasing are notable for their ease and expressiveness. You understand every word she sings and, given her selections on this CD, the lyrics deserve to be heard.  Looking Back is a perfect jazz vocal album. If that sounds too reverent, let me change the praise to “perfectly wonderful.” I’m already looking forward to her next release. For more information on background and recordings, click HERE to visit Seikaly’s website.

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To read more about Roger Crane, the Song Scout, click HERE.


CD Review: Van Morrison’s “Duets: Re-Working the Catalogue”

March 28, 2015

By Brian Arsenault

I started getting happy listening to Van Morrison’s Duets:Re-Working the Catalog” (RCA) about the time George Benson was singing as smooth as he always is on “Higher Than The World” and I was downright grinning through Van and Georgie Fame’s “Get On With The Show.” Pure 50s jukebox. Drifters, Coasters, gratuitous but funny “cha cha cha” at the end. Just shoulda kept it to two minute twenty second hit single radio time of the era.

You can while away a weekend morning with the album and feel better about things. Be advised, though, you will take a chunk out of that morning. There are 16 tracks. None are bad but some work better than others.

On “Streets of Arklow,” Mick Hucknall (Simply Red anyone) and Van are a perfect matched set of singers on one of the album’s moodiest songs. “Souls are clear. . .”   Mark Knopfler’s voice was made for “Irish Heartbeat” nearly as much as Van’s own. As with Hucknall, their voices flow over each other seamlessly.  Perhaps a bit more Knopfler guitar.

And Van’s good not just with the boys but with the girls too.

Raspy Mavis Staples is the perfect offset to Morrison’s own sharp edges on “If I Ever Needed Someone.”

Daughter Shana Morrison achieves with Dad a hymn of the Church of Music, the only church left to so many, on “Rough God Goes Riding.”

The musicianship throughout is never just background. Of special note are the Whites, Chris on tenor sax and Alistair on trombone. As far as I know, they are not related except by excellence. One example, on “The Eternal Kansas City,” the Whites are at the center of a neat little Kansas City bebop instrumental break.

You can almost hear Neal Cassady yelling, “that’s it, that’s it” on a stop On The Road.

Van Morrison

Van Morrison

When I was disappointed it was only a matter of personal taste, not artistry by Morrison and the incredible talent he assembled.

On “Carrying A Torch”, Clare Teal’s voice is literally like the tealing of the purest bell ever cast. I don’t want Van joining in because I don’t want anything to dilute Clare’s singing. But, hey, it’s his album.

More often, though, you may be struck by the fact that you like the original version of songs better. As Kath said, she likes Van so much she wasn’t sure she always likes him sharing favorite songs. But, hey, it’s his album.

I also found that the album slogged along a bit with ballad after ballad before “Get On With The Show” and the late injection of faster pace with Van and Michael Buble on “Real Real Gone.” I may not quite get Buble but the man can sing and who doesn’t love a song with references to Sam Cooke, Wicked Wilson Pickett and James Brown.

Which brings me to Taj, closing the album with Van on “How Can A Poor Boy?” Taj Mahal is so true to the purity of the blues that he seems to step out from an earlier time. I wondered if Van in closing the album with such a blues rendition of one of his signature songs was telling us that under it all, there is always the blues.

Rings true.

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

 


CD Review: Dave Stryker’s “Messin’ With Mister T”

March 25, 2015

By Devon Wendell

What could be better than guitarist Dave Stryker and his famed organ trio (Jared Gold: Hammond B3 organ, and McClenty Hunter: drums with Mayra Casales guesting on Percussion) paying tribute to Stryker’s ex-employee and mentor, the legendary tenor sax giant Stanley Turrentine? On Messin’ With Mister T (Strikezone), Stryker has assembled an all-star lineup of some of the finest tenor sax players in jazz to do just that.

And the results are marvelous. Although Turrentine passed away 15 years ago; his spirit is felt throughout this loving homage.

Stryker and the band kick things off with a stellar take on Turrentine’s “La Place Street” with Houston Person blowing for “Mr. T.” At times, Person’s fat, warm, bluesy tone and phrasing are very similar to Turrentine’s style. Stryker’s fluid and melodic arpeggios weave in and out of the melody with elegance and soul. Gold’s B3 playing is reminiscent of Jack Mcduff and Groove Holmes in that it is rhythmic yet subtle and funky.

Let’s check out the action on all the other tracks.

Mike Lee is the featured tenor player on Michel Legrand’s mid-tempo ballad; “Pieces Of Dreams.” Lee’s playing is sweet and economical. Stryker is the shinning star on this number, with some thoughtful, understated, and swinging guitar phrasing.

Don Braden plays it cool without venturing too far from the melody line on the album’s title track, which is a straight blues.

An absolute album highlight is hearing Jimmy Heath blowing his soul out on Duke Ellington’s “In A Sentimental Mood.” Heath and Stryker never play a note or phrase that doesn’t belong exactly where these men have so masterfully placed them.

urrentine, Freddie Hubbard and others.

Dave Stryker with Freddie Hubbard, Stanley Turrentine and others in New York City in June 1987.

Chris Potter seams to get better and better every time he picks up his horn. His playing on John Coltrane’s “Impressions” is daring, original, and hard swinging.
Hunter’s drumming drives the band and goes into strong be-bop mode.

But a rendition of Freddie Hubbard’s “Gibraltar” is an unusual choice for a Turrentine tribute. Although Bob Mintzer plays some strong tenor lines, this arrangement goes a little too far into smooth jazz turf for my liking.

Like Chris Potter, Eric Alexander is always on the move and constantly developing his style. His playing on Milton Nascimento’s “Salt Song” is no exception. Stryker’s guitar lines dance and swing with the Brazilian percussion rhythms laid down by Mayra Casales.

Javon Jackson and the band stay true to that jazz-soul sound on Turrentine’s “Sugar.” You can feel Jackson reeling himself in so as not to over-blow, which would not fit this particular piece, which is more about groove than hard-bop acrobatics.

That groove feel continues on “Sidesteppin” featuring Steve Slagle, who really lays back with the band on this funky Stryker original.

Completing the album is a brilliant reading of Turrentine’s “Let It Go.” Tivon Pennicott’s tenor explorations are the most adventurous on the whole album. Pennicott’s bop playing pushes the band to greater heights and soon everyone is cooking like they should. Stryker’s guitar attack is more percussive and daring.

Messin’ With Mister T (the album will be released by Strikezone Records on April 7th) is a soulful, well thought out tribute album to one of the greats. Stanley Turrentine would surely be proud of Stryker and all of the truly dedicated musicians who gave their all on this delightful project.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon “Doc” Wendell click HERE.


Live Jazz: Tierney Sutton at the Tilles Center for the Performing Arts

March 17, 2015

By Kathy Schwarz

Brookville, New York. Tierney Sutton has frequently received accolades such as “a singer’s singer” and a “musician’s singer.” But she’s also a listener’s singer, and all three of those descriptions were on full display in her Friday night performance in the TiIles Center for the Performing Arts.

She was backed by the superb playing of guitarist Serge Merlaud, who was also with her on Tierney’s Grammy-nominated Paris Sessions album. As well as cellist Mark Summer, a founding member of the Turtle Island Quartet.

And it was a remarkable combination, one that would reveal its unique qualities from the moment they walked on stage, greeted by gentle but enthusiastic audience applause.

Seated at stage center between her two musical companions, Tierney asked Serge for a key and the evening began – an hour and a half in which her listeners, with this writer included, would be mesmerized by Tierney’s exquisite vocal artistry.

Throughout the evening there was a beautiful blend of songs from Tierney’s After Blue: The Joni Mitchell Album and Paris Sessions album, as well as some jazz standards.

The show opened with a mix of “April in Paris/Free Man in Paris” from her Mitchell album. Tierney’s vocals were the third instrument on the stage. Pure and effortless, she sang to perfection. It was as if I were listening to these songs for the first time. Though I have heard Joni Mitchell’s “Free Man in Paris” many, many times, Tierney’s version and arrangement were definitely her own.

The evening hit an especially memorable highlight when the trio — Serge, Tierney and Mark — played “Court and Spark.” The arrangement was brilliant and Tierney’s sultry jazz vocals gave this classic a whole new meaning for me.

One of the standards was “I Remember You,” done as a duo with Serge on guitar. Tierney’s range on the Johnny Mercer classic was unbelievable. This was the performance that really brought to light the proof that her voice is indeed a musical instrument. Her vocals are effortless and she plays her voice like an instrument, never pushing, just letting it resonate with beauty.

I feel very privileged to have experienced this performance. Being relatively unfamiliar with Tierney’s artistry, I was grateful and I truly felt my musical horizons had been widened. Her gentle and laid back way with every song made it especially enjoyable for me.

At the end of the evening she paid tribute to her fellow musicians and it was evident that there was tremendous mutual respect among the three artists.

And with good reason. Tierney Sutton is an exquisite performer with a beauty that lies deep beyond her voice, touching the soul of who she is.

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To read more reviews by Kathy Schwarz click HERE.


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