CD Review: Karrin Allyson’s “Many A New Day”

October 6, 2015
Rpger Crane

Rpger Crane

By Roger Crane, the Song Scout

“Peerless Jazz Singing”

Many a New Day is Karrin Allyson’s fourteenth CD, one more in a string of topflight jazz vocal albums. In this era of the singer-songwriter, it is almost obligatory to compose one’s own material. But Allyson seemingly accepts that the gift of composing is a separate skill set from the gift of performing. She leaves the writing to others and has an impeccable ear for a good song. Ever since her impressive debut (I Didn’t Know About You, Concord, 1992) she has successfully pulled material from both the pop and jazz world and it all works well with her voluptuous huskiness and rhythmic sensibility.

Many a New Day is a tribute to Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein. Of course, their collaborations have been recorded before, but Allyson has included a few unjustly overlooked songs, such as the title piece “Many a New Day” giving it a joyful relaxed swing. Other selections from Oklahoma include her opening number “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,” which she begins softly and then kicks into a funky New Orleans jazz groove. Her sultry slow, smoky take on “I Cain’t Say No” is memorable as is her galloping rendition of “Surrey With the Fringe on Top” which she dresses with a few modulations. Allyson included the seldom-heard verse (“When I Think of Tom”) to the well-known “Hello Young Lovers,” which is from The King and I. Allyson’s reading of the sensuous “I Have Dreamed” (from the same musical) is alone worth the price of this CD. As she noted in her informative liner notes “this song puts more current images of desire to shame.” She shines delicious light on those images and thankfully included the verse. Although a bit pretentious and formal “Out of My Dreams” is a beautiful song. Allyson emphasizes the beauty but, metaphorically speaking, loosens its cummerbund. Another highlight is her deeply felt rendition of the inexplicably ignored “Something Good,” which is from the movie-version of The Sound of Music. “Here you are, standing there, loving me whether or not you should,  I must have done something good.” Bassist John Patitucci’s beautiful solo on this selection is notable.

Like only the very best of singers (which Allyson certainly is) she can break your heart with a ballad or “swing you into bad health” (as the jazz expression goes). So many newer jazz-influenced singers feel a need to scat, whether or not they have a facility for this vocal art form. Allyson, an expert musician (pianist), has the facility as evidenced on her uptempo judicious scatting on the intro to “Happy Talk,” Bloody Mary’s anthem from South Pacific. Pianist Kenny Barron shines on this cut. Allyson closes this engaging album by accompanying herself on piano with a heart-wrenching solo version of the waltz “Edelweiss” from The Sound of Music. If you’ve heard these songs before – and it’s likely you have – you have never heard them like this. Allyson and her empathetic musical duo, pianist Kenny Barron and bassist John Patitucci, transform and illuminate each piece making them sound new and urgent

Allyson is a very gifted singer with considerable musicianship and talent, for example it must be noted that she wrote all arrangements for Many a New Day. But emotional honesty and interpretive depth are also key to her art. She believes every note, every word and, thus, so do you, the listener. Many a New Day is a masterful concept album. Speaking of which, how nice to see artists who give thought to their selections, rather than just randomly assembling a dozen nice songs.

Karrin Allyson has always conceived of her recordings in thematic terms, covering such varied concepts as Coltrane ballads, songs in French, songs of Brazil and blues-related pieces. Many a New Day, like each of her CDs, is highly recommended. For more details, visit Allyson’s website at

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To read more reviews and essays by Roger Crane, the Song Scout, on iRoM, click HERE.

Doc Wendell’s Prescription For Bebop: Art Farmer’s “Early Art” (Prestige)

September 28, 2015

Devon “Doc” Wendell

By Devon Wendell

Romance is deadly. No matter how it’s glamorized in books, poems, songs, plays, or movies, it’s a dangerous state of being. It’s chaos driven by pure impulsivity without measuring the consequences of what waits for you on the other side of it all. For a musician it means exposing your vulnerabilities for all to witness. Which is risky. You’re left wide open with nothing to shield you from those who may want to use your weaknesses against you.

In the midst of the wild machismo-laden bravado that initially made up the jazz world, artists like Lester Young and Miles Davis went to those places fearlessly. They made it look and sound so easy, but it was far from simplistic. Once that box is opened, it’s hard to close it, even when it becomes overbearing.

Art Farmer

Trumpeter Art Farmer too had the skill and courage to plunge into that dark abyss with wild abandon with his sweet, luscious tone and often minimalist approach to phrasing. Farmer could swing with a fast and virtuosic flurry of notes, but he chose those moments carefully, much like Miles Davis and Kenny Dorham. That is the mark of a true master. Always know which aspects of your abilities to expose at precisely the right moments.

Art Farmer recorded two sessions for Prestige Records in 1954; the first took place on January 20th, featuring Sonny Rollins, tenor saxophone, Horace Silver, piano, Percy Heath, bass, and Kenny Clarke on drums. The second session, from November 9th, consists of Farmer joined by his twin brother Addison Farmer on bass, Wynton Kelly, piano, and Herbie Lovelle on drums. The two sessions became the aptly titled Early Art album, Farmer’s second recording as a band leader.

The kind of romance experienced when listening to this album goes much deeper than one pining away for unrequited or lost love, or being in the maddening throes of a passionate courtship or tryst. On up-tempo compositions like “Soft Shoe,” Horace Silver’s “Confab In Tempo” and “Wisteria,” you get the distinct impression that Farmer, Rollins, Silver, Heath, and Clarke are romanticizing the end of the bebop era in its purist form. The harmonic, melodic and rhythmic structure of these pieces are in the same vein as what Bird & Diz, Fats Navarro and Tadd Dameron, Dexter Gordon, Wardell Grey and a young Miles Davis were doing in the mid to late ‘40s. “Wisteria” sounds like a direct tribute to Fats Navarro who died less than four years prior to this recording.

By 1954, pure bebop, the way it was done in its earlier years, was on its way out. By the end of that decade, many of the era’s finest practitioners would be forced into a hand clapping, foot tapping “soul-jazz” bag of accessible and easily marketed clichés. Those wonderfully complex and frenetic early chord progressions would soon be replaced by something easier to swallow and more danceable to jazz tourists. The music on this album is a sadly romantic and final bugle call for all of the beauty, virtuosity, socio-political might, and musical rebellion of that era.

Sonny Rollins plays a lot like Bird here. Rollins was already one of the most phenomenal soloists to emerge from the late ‘40s and would just get greater all the time. Sonny picks up on a composition’s theme and adds broad brush strokes that embellish it from every corner. Farmer swings up-tempo, harkening back to the glory days of Minton’s Playhouse and 52nd Street in New York when it was really jumping. Percy Heath and Kenny Clarke were the greatest rhythm section of 1954 and they are playing with all of their might here; dangerously, as if their lives depended on it.

Then you have the other side of romance, which is more universal and more dangerous. “I’ll Take Romance” and “I’ll Walk Alone” are chilling. This is poetry. No words are needed. That frightening vulnerability and cold isolation runs strong throughout these ballads, often too strong at times. One has to be in the proper mind set for ballads this powerful.

Bill Evans1966_2

Farmer’s slow, desperate and breathy phrasing reminds me of Billie Holiday when “Lady Day” became acutely aware of her mortality as it bore down on her like a freight train. Wynton Kelly’s wonderfully twisted harmonic capabilities creates an even darker and menacing landscape on “Autumn Nocturne” and “Alone Together” from the second session. Addison Farmer’s bass lines ride perfectly beneath the surface, as does Herbie Lovelle’s subtle yet colorful drumming. This is the most spine tingling rendition of “alone Together” I can think of.
“Gone With The Wind” is played up-tempo. Farmer swings mercilessly, demonstrating his incredible sense of dynamics. That sweetly elegant yet burning swing of Art Farmer is just unrelenting.

The album concludes with “Pre Amp” which is a precursor to Miles Davis’ “Blues By Five.” The head sounds almost identical. The delicate interplay between Farmer and Kelly is incredible. The band is locked in tight. Farmer and Kelly solo briefly but return to the stated melody line before ending the number abruptly. This sounds like a quick impromptu warm up, but still every note Farmer plays is perfect.

Art Farmer’s Early Art deals with love, longing, romance, and sadness. And you feel every bit of danger and mastery that comes with the ability to express those emotions so openly in that wonderful life giving art form called jazz.

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

CD Review: Denise Donatelli’s “Find A Heart” (Savant)

September 22, 2015


Brian Arsenalt

Brian Arsenalt

By Brian Arsenault

The first cut, “Big Noise, New York” storms in like a Saturday night in Manhattan and I go, “Great! powerhouse jazz served smoking.” But that’s not the whole of Denise Donatelli’s Find a Heart, not by a long shot.

New York brassiness is followed by Paris Rain so soft, soft as a touch, no, not simply a touch, a caress. Touch, skin on skin, has a lot to do with this album but so does contrast.

The poet turned essayist Donald Hall writes that “Contradiction is the cellular structure of life.” On this album it also seems the cellular structure of music.

Back and forth we go from bold jazz to sly romance. There’s yearning despite skepticism of the likely outcome. Lovers are beckoned and pushed away, longed for and scorned.

The music equally contrasting. Tempo flares up then ripples softly.

The album soars on the title track, Leonardo Amuedo’s slashing guitar chasing Denise’s vocal of passion — “make it work by touching skin.” Then the same Amuedo on the very next track providing solo soft and sensual acoustic support for her heartachingly sung “Not Like This.” Actually, exactly like that.

The songs on this album by a variety of composers and lyricists seem a conversation with each other, a back and forth of style and sensibility. One hesitates to use the word sophisticated since it’s rather loaded and off putting for some. But take it as sophisticated in the sense of artistically mature, relationships for grownups, William Holden films don’t ya know.

Denise’s voice is a polished instrument. It (she) moves up and down scales, octaves, emotions with seeming ease, the mark of true artistry. It never seemed like Sinatra was working at it, did it.

Geoffrey Keezer, who Denise calls her musical partner, gets credit as the album’s producer and arranger but you’ll probably be most grateful for his piano work all over the album. And speaking of all over, Marvin “Smutty” Smith who was the Tonight Show drummer through most of Jay Leno’s tenure, dazzles often especially on the album’s up tempo jazz tunes such as the title song. Master bassist Carlitos Del Puerto is the other half of the stellar rhythm section.

Terrific guests add depth and color. Superb trumpeter Chris Botti adds just the right touch on “Practical Arrangement,” making you wish he could have stayed longer at the studio. And cellist Giovanna Clayton adds resonance wonderfully here and there. Isn’t it great that the cello has been increasingly freed from string quartet only.

If I haven’t given enough attention to individual songs in this review — “Troubled Child.” “In This Moment” and “Practical Arrangement” should and probably will become “standards,” sung by many others and deservedly so — it’s because the album hangs together so well as a complete piece.

Concept album is too trite a phrase to describe Find A Heart, but twenty-first century songbook perhaps isn’t. (I might have stolen that insight from Neil Tesser’s liner notes but so what, he had it right.)

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On Thursday, September 24, Denise Donatelli will celebrate the release of Find A Heart  with a gala performance and party at Catalina Bar & Grill in Hollywood. (323) 466-2210.

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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



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)

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: Diana Krall “Wallflower”

February 4, 2015

By Don Heckman

Diana Krall’s continuing quest to widen her already far reaching repertoire has led her to some of the most memorable songs of the ’70s and ’80s in this fine new Verve outing.  I’ve been hearing, seeing and writing about Diana in action since the ’90s. And I’ve been consistently awed by her capacity to apply her rich musicality to whatever genre she tries on for size.

Wallflower is no exception. I haven’t viewed the songs of the ’70s and ’80s with the sort of affection triggered by tunes from other decades in the Great Songbook. But sung with Diana’s remarkable story telling skills, virtually everything here comes vividly to life.

That said, it’s no surprise that the best known and most successful five or six numbers in the twelve song program have the greatest impact. The list begins with Diana’s laid back takes on the Mommas and Poppas’ “California Dreaming,” the Eagles’ “Desperado” and “I Can’t Tell You Why,” Leon Russell’s “Superstar” and Elton John’s “Sorry Seems To Be the Hardest Word.”

Add to that a pair of captivating duos in which Diana is joined by Michael Buble on Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again” and by Bryan Adams on Randy Newman’s “Feels Like Home.”

As if all that weren’t enough, there are a pair of lesser known, but no less compelling songs: the title tune, “Wallflower” by Bob Dylan and a new Paul McCartney song, “IF I Take You Home Tonight.” And top it off with Jim Croce’s “Operator That’s Not the Way It Feels,” the English band 10cc’s “I’m Not In Love” and the Australian band Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over.”

That’s a daunting program of songs, one that would be a challenge for almost any singer who comes to mind. But Diana, as noted above, handles them all superbly, aided by the rich musicality and the touching emotional honesty at the center of her art.

Additional credit should also be offered to producer/arranger David Foster. His arrangements, lush with cushions of string textures, provide a perfect setting for Diana, allowing her to offer her lyrical narratives at every level of sound and feeling.

The only missing element in an otherwise irresistible musical banquet was the up front proximity of Diana’s piano playing. For the great majority of her career, her singing and her piano have been intimately mated, with one continually inspiring the other. And the bolder presence of that creative duality could have provided the energy to transform Wallflower from a fine album to a great one.

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Diana Krall photo by Bonnie Perkinson. 

Record Rack: Tord Gustavsen Quartet and The Frank DiBussolo Group

February 8, 2014

Of Music from Norway and Allentown, PA

By Brian Arsenault

The Tord Gustavsen Quartet:  Extended Circle (ECM Records)

If God is Dead, his demise hasn’t prevented artists of serious purpose from seeking the spiritual, nay, creating the spiritual. Sacred music is never far from the mind and spirit of Tord Gustafsen whose compositions dominate Extended Circle.

Perhaps our doubting, questioning age had to bring forth artists who seek for what has been lost in the materialism of modernism. More than a century ago, the largely forgotten great American writer Sherwood Anderson bemoaned the loss of a sense of community, overwhelmed by the acquisitiveness of the modern times. Imagine his horror today as we all rush for more stuff that beeps and hums and sometimes catches fire in our pockets.

So here is Gustavsen and his terrific quartet pondering, meditating, respecting the stillness between the notes. That’s typical of ECM recordings but never more so than here. Each note played on its own completely, uncluttered, actually having a beginning and an end.

Still, I’m not sure I could have expected the frenetic, frantic drumming of Jarle Vespestad early in the album on “Eg Veit I Himmerik Ei Borg” (A Castle in Heaven), a reworked traditional Norwegian hymn.

Nor did I see coming, amidst so much meditation, the body swaying melodic tenor saxophone of Tore Brunborg on “Staying There.” This is jazz after all by fine jazz musicians.

But oh so serious. I’m an American and as a result sometimes raucously irreverent and I wonder if anyone ever cracks up or cracks wise during these recording sessions. Laughter now and then, please.

There’s something of the album’s theme in the title “Staying There,” not racing forward as in the modern age but holding still to sense something deeper.

I suppose, though, that the album’s real theme is stated more accurately though less satisfyingly on the following track, “Silent Spaces.” The previously cited silent spaces between fully expressed notes seem to summarize the album, its musical approach, the ECM credo.

Throughout, Mars Eilertsen’s double bass unites with Vespested’s drumming to form the foundation of all.

As noted, this is serious stuff and it’s not always easy for the untrained ear and paced rather slowly for usual American tastes. Yet it holds. It holds.

Near the end of the album “Glow” is in perfect tempo with the snow falling outside my window as I write this review. Norwegians know snow. It is part of their spirit, after all.

 The Frank DiBussolo Group: Songs to Write Home About (lostworldmusic)

So they put this little combo together in Allentown, Pennsylvania, from whence my mother’s Italian side of the family hails. And the guy heading the band is Frank DiBussulo. And they do American songbook tunes from the World War II era (see album cover) which was my parents’ generation, and they expect me to be objective about the album. Nah.

I liked it before I heard it and anyway any time I seem to be objective I’m probably really not. It’s about music I like or at least respect or I wouldn’t be writing about it.

Frank DiBussoloBut boy I really like this album now that I’ve heard it and singer Tiffany Grochowski’s singing is as much of a revelation to me as DiBussolo’s oh so smooth guitar.

Lets talk Grochowski first because this gal should be a star. She’s that good.

She’s so exuberant and playful on the early tunes — “I’m Beginning to See the Light,” “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” — alternately so wide eyed and sultry that I wonder if she’ll manage the erotic subtlety of “Teach Me Tonight.” She does.

She slides just as comfortably into the romantic sense of “Moonglow” and the sauciness of “Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me.”

In fact my biggest disappointment of the album is that “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” is done as an instrumental. Not that it isn’t good, it’s fine, but I was so looking forward to hearing Tiffany’s take on the tune and lyrics.

Speaking of instrumentals, “East of the Sun (West of the Moon)” really showcases DiBussolo’s guitar work. He’s one of those musicians whose playing just seems to flow naturally like he was born playing. Know what I mean? Sinatra singing. Armstrong playing. It’s what they do.

He’s just as good supporting as leading and he’s clearly a generous spirit to frequently step back to let Tiffany G’s vocals soar. He didn’t put the band together just to feature himself and that’s not so common, is it?

This is jazz for the club, the cabaret, not the concert hall. It’s jazz for dancing and drinking and forgetting your troubles and the War, if just for the night.

The singer out front, the gifted guitarist playing lead. Steven Liu’s upright bass and Bryan Tuk’s drums behind. Guest Gregory Edwards sits in on sax or clarinet on some numbers.

Good stuff.

But at the end it’s just Tiffany’s voice and DiBussolo’s guitar on “My Buddy.” I hadn’t thought about that sentimental old saw in a long time. My Dad liked that tune and he had a tendency to name dogs Buddy.

Old times made new.

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


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