Houtzeel Charms and Seduces in New Recital

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NOSTALGIA / GINASTERA: Canción al arbol del olvido; Triste. IVES: Songs My Mother Taught Me; Down East; Ann Street; The Housatonic at Stockbridge; The Indians; Tom Sails Away. MAHLER: Rheinlegendchen; Ich atmet’ einen linden Duft!; Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit; Ich hab’ ein glühend Messer; Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen. BUCHARDO: Prendiditos de la mano. GUASTAVINO: Encantamiento; Pampamapa. PIAZZOLA: Los parjaros perdidos / Stephanie Houtzeel, mezzo-soprano; Charles Spencer, piano / Capriccio C5262

Here’s a perfect example of the kind of convoluted idiocy with which record companies promote classical artists nowadays:

‘I am neither an Athenian, nor a Greek, but a citizen of the world’, Socrates is said to have uttered. He described himself as a cosmopolitan…who wanted to annul the dichotomy between being a polis member and a polis non-member by positioning himself in the overarching order of the cosmos. Along these lines, the mezzo-soprano Stephanie Houtzeel may, of course, describe herself as a cosmopolitan. Born in Kassel, she was raised in the vicinity of Boston, where she initially studied political science and French, then music at the New England Conservatory and the Juillard School in New York (she was the first winner of Juilliard’s Vocal Arts Debut Award). Since the autumn of 2010, she has been a member of the ensemble of the Vienna State Opera. So, the dramaturgically meticulously composed programme of her first recital should be viewed as being cosmopolitan. It is a journey through three stations, three world metropolises, Vienna, New York and Buenos Aires.

Translation: she has a dual background, actually triple since the region of Germany she came from is in the “Nord Holland” area, which explains her Dutch-sounding last name, and since she sings in Vienna that makes her a “triple citizen of the world.” This nonsense about positioning one’s self “in the overarching order of the cosmos” is a lot of hooey. The most important thing about this recording is that Houtzeel is a fabulous singer who communicates on each and every number.

Nothing she sings is perfunctory. She has the ability, rare among modern-day singers (because it is a skill most of them are not taught and do not cultivate), of coloring her tones, meaning that she uses very specific sounds on different words and different notes. Once in a while I felt that she tended to color her tones a bit too much in the direction of sadness, as if she were singing about death when she wasn’t, but for the most part I was absolutely enraptured by her approach. She is an artist, not just a Voice, and heaven knows we need more and more like her in the world.

Moreover, her program is interesting and diverse. Only a few of these songs, such as Ives’ Ann Street and The Housatonic at Stockbridge and Mahler’s Des knaben Wunderhorn and Songs of a Wayfarer excerpts, are really familiar to most concert-goers. Otherwise, she chose her program well, stocking it with some very interesting music by Ginastera, Carlos López Buchardo and Carlos Gustavino—and much to my surprise, her singing of some of these songs (i.e., Gustavino’s Pampamapa) has exactly the right style and accent. My lone complaint of Houtzeel is that neither her Spanish nor her English diction is really fine; she swallows too many consonants and is not crisp enough in enunciation. I find this puzzling, particularly her English singing, since she was raised near Boston, but as my regular readers know this is not a rare complaint among modern-day singers regardless of their country of origin.

In some of these songs pianist Spencer seems content to act as an impartial observer, but in those which call for emotional involvement, such as Mahler’s Ich hab’ ein glühend Messer from his Songs of a Wayfarer, he is very much involved in the emotional projection of the work. The sound of the recording, however, is rather strange: the voice seems to be in a discrete, reverberant space while the piano is aparently miked quite differently, up close and personal with a very dry sound. Happily, the ear eventually adjusts to this. The important thing is the involvement and the delivery of emotion, allied with first-rate musicianship, and Holtzeel has this in spades. One of the more interesting aspects of her performance is her approach to the Ives songs. Although she sings them as written, both she and Spencer take a lyrical approach to them, which takes the edge off their modern “spikiness.” Interestingly, for those who have heard Ives’ own recordings of his music, this is the way he played it himself—thus, Houtzeel’s approach may be said to be “historically correct.”

The bottom line is that the entire recital is mesmerizing and holds your attention from first note to last. Strictly as a voice, Houtzeel has a perfectly centered tone with perfect control from the top to the bottom of her registers, yet in the end it is not necessarily her timbre you recall as the way she uses the voice. Occasionally she drains it of vibrato to make a particular note or passage sound more haunting, but for the most part she employs a rich but perfectly controlled vibrato of alluring loveliness. It is not at all what we sometimes unkindly refer to as a “cookie cutter” voice, but one you will hear over again in your dreams once you listen to her. If I had to single out one track for supremacy on this superb album, it would probably be Ginastera’s Triste. This is singing on an extraordinarily high level of accomplishment, her voice spun out with such incredible control that one holds one’s breath, waiting for the spell to break. It never does.

Houtzeel is a sorceress who holds you in the palm of her hand and doesn’t let go until the final note has died away. This is on my very short list of best new releases for this year so far.

— © 2016 Lynn René Bayley

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Stan Kenton’s Neglected Masterpiece

Stan Kenton Dee Barton

STAN KENTON CONDUCTS THE JAZZ COMPOSITIONS OF DEE BARTON / BARTON: Man; Lonely Boy; The Singing Oyster; Dilemma; Three Thoughts; A New Day; Woman / Mike Price, Carl Leach, Jim Kartchner, Jay Daversa, John Madrid, tp; Dick Shearer, Tom Senff, Tom Whittaker, tb; Jim Amlotte, bs-tb; Ray Reed, a-sax/fl; Kim Richmond, Mike Altschul, t-sax; Mike Vaccaro, bar-sax; Earl Dumler, bar-sax/bs-sax; Stan Kenton, p/cond; Don Bagley, bs; Graham Ellis, tuba; Dee Barton, dm. / Capitol Jazz 094639673223

For a quarter-century, 1943-1967, Stan Kenton recorded exclusively for and was identified with Capitol Records. They were his “home,” and for years the label promoted him proudly as the banner of modern jazz. But a funny thing happened after Kenton’s “West Side Story” was nominated for a Grammy in the early 1960s: his sales numbers fell off. With free jazz and, a bit later, rock-jazz fusion taking over the field, Kenton was suddenly seen as old-fashioned and reactionary. The man who had been a nettle in the side of popular music over the years was now suddenly seen as “safe,” and therefore no longer contemporary or edgy. Thus, shortly after this album was recorded in December 1967 and released in early 1968, Capitol failed to renew his contract. Kenton asked them to reissue some of the many recordings they still had in the vaults but they refused. The upshot was that he started his own label, Creative World, and started issuing them himself. This caused a lawsuit from Capitol and a permanent rift between the two that never healed.

But what was worse was that this album, one of his best, was also dismissed by critics as uninteresting and tepid. In particular, they criticized his new band, made up almost entirely of young and”unproven” talent, as being unworthy of Kenton. The truth was that he was relatively broke at this point, having poured a great deal of his own money into the Los Angeles Neophonic Orchestra which wasn’t even really “his” except that he was chosen as its music director. But more to the point, most of these soloists are actually very good. They play solos that fit the overall structure of drummer Dee Barton’s compositions, which in themselves are among the finest his band ever played.

Of course, there were many listeners, myself included, who viewed Kenton with a grain of salt. We couldn’t stand the constant blaring and screaming of his “heavy”-sounding brass sections, but at the same time we recognized that he took a modern-classical view towards jazz. He heard jazz as an orchestral concept in which every facet of the composition, arrangement and solos interacted in such a way as to produce a cohesive whole. This was what drew us back to Kenton again and again, despite the fact that no matter how quietly the piece would begin we just knew that the trumpets would start screaming sooner or later.

But to return to this album: the critics were wrong, and not just wrong about the quality of the solos. They were wrong about the quality of the music. Barton, one of the rare drummer-composers in jazz, wrote here some very interesting and sophisticated scores utilizing a number of interesting techniques. In addition to asymmetric rhythms, these include canon form, contrasting sections that play against one another, and a use of extended harmonies within the orchestral scoring. Granted, this is not free jazz or even particularly “progressive” for its time when compared to the contemporary work of Charles Mingus or John Coltrane, but it is still remarkably well written, well crafted, and fairly original music.

Indeed, the only problem I have with the album is that several of these pieces tend to sound very similar to one another. Kenton tried to produce some variety by juxtaposing pieces that weren’t the same between those that are, for instance, the quasi-Latin-sounding Lonely Boy following the opening Man. The Singing Oyster begins with a pleasant but quirky tune in 3/4, but this quickly morphs into a regular 4/4, against which the opening tune is played against a muted trumpet solo by the rest of the brass section, then developed by them in written passages. Later on, we hear the opening theme repeated by the saxes, but now it is played against a 4/4 rhythm.

Dilemma opens with a quixotic series of held chords, over which an open trumpet and alto sax play a strange figure before moving into a rollicking if fragmented tune with diminished chords underneath at first before being resolved for the swinging central section. A very interesting, somewhat “outside” tenor sax solo follows while the trombones punctuate the proceedings. The strange opening tune and harmonies now coalesce into a somewhat cohesive progression as a florid and quite interesting trumpet solo emerges. This is really fine music. Three Thoughts opens with a bass solo, Barton’s drums underpinning it with an entirely different rhythm, then low-held sax notes act as a ground bass under an elusive, smeared brass tune. But here the ensuing melody sounds a bit too much like the central section of The Singing Oyster, leading to my sole complaint as noted above, that some of these pieces sound alike.

A New Day, like Dilemma, begins with soft, slightly ominous held chords (this type of opening seems to have been a trademark of Barton’s scores) before opening up into the “development” section, which in this case retains its quietude despite a fairly busy trumpet solo that eventually leads to the underlying bass, drums and orchestra becoming busier by degrees until they are playing at full volume and a much faster tempo. Woman, also sporting a quiet opening, moves into a quirky 6/8 beat with the stresses broken up irregularly. The bass enters the fray while muter trumpet, clarinet and flute play an odd melodic figure quietly. Then the opening chords return, now with flute obbligato above, eventually leading to a sudden key change and—with the flute still playing, but now jazzier and more rhythmically—a brisker, “punchier” version of the starting melody. The orchestra comes to a halt while the flute continues for a while a cappella, then the sequence restarts. This is a fine piece, and a quite interesting one.

In these performances the band’s tendency to screech is somehow held in check, and when the brass does scream it somehow seems much more in character with the surrounding material than in earlier Kenton records. Eventually he would find even more inventive scores in the work of Hank Levy and Chick Corea, but considering its time and place The Jazz Compositions of Dee Barton are a very fine and hitherto unappreciated chapter in the Kenton band’s saga.

— © 2016 Lynn René Bayley

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Haskil and Schuricht Bring Out the Melos of Mozart

Haskil Mozart cover

MOZART: Piano Concertos Nos. 9 in E-flat, K. 271 & 19 in F, K. 459 / Clara Haskil, piano; SWR Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orch.; Carl Schuricht, conductor / SWR Music 19013CD (mono) live: 1952 & 1956

This odd little CD is herewith reissued for what seems like the third time, as I have been able to trace at least four other incarnations: in 2003 under Schuricht’s name on SWR Hänssler Classics, on the “Phil Harmonie” label, in 2005 as part of the “Carl Schuricht Edition” on SWR and, besides this one, a new pressing by some company called “Mangora Classics.” But the front cover of this one boasts “Original SWR tame remastered. I compared it to the 2005 pressing on SWR Hänssler and can hear absolutely no difference. This is both good and bad: good in that the warmth of sound is preserved, but bad in that this pressing, like the earlier one, sounds a bit muddy to me. I increased the treble by about 1.7 db and found that it brightened up the string and piano tone wonderfully, making it sound crisper and less opaque.

So why am I reviewing it here? Because the performances are absolutely gorgeous. Haskil was a fairly straightforward pianist, like her good friend Dinu Lipatti; she was not prone to any modifications of the melodic line as were, for instance, Artur Schnabel (who recorded Mozart but not these concertos) or Nadia Reisenberg (who did perform these concertos). But she had a wonderfully strong approach to playing and way of slightly pressing the tempo forward that works wonders in Mozart.

But the real reason for my delight in these performances is the sympathetic conducting of Schuricht. Never before, in my experience, have I heard a better combination of conductor and soloists in any Mozart concerto, not even in Haskil’s studio recordings of the Mozart Concertos Nos. 20 and 24 with Igor Markevitch (Philips). It’s not just a matter of warmth, although these performances certainly have that; it’s more a matter of understanding every note in every single bar, and of conveying not only the underlying structure of the music but also the melos. These performances sing in a way I’ve never heard in any Mozart Concerto performance before, and in a sense it is almost as if Haskil, as fine as she is, is along for the ride rather than sitting in the driver’s seat.

If the reader assumes from the above paragraph that these are “conductor-driven” performances, as for instance were those of Szell or Toscanini in concertos, he or she will be wrong. They are complete collaborations. In fact, if anything the tempos are somewhat leisurely—Schuricht and Haskil take more than a half hour to get through the Concerto No. 9—but somehow they don’t sound it. They sound just perfect for the music, and that is the highest compliment I can pay to them.

Thus it doesn’t matter how many other recordings you may have of these pieces. This disc reveals something in the music, something almost indefinable, that other recordings simply don’t, no matter how interesting or dynamic the keyboard soloists may be. And oh, yes…they are infinitely better than most “historically informed performances” you may hear of them.

— © 2016 Lynn René Bayley

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Laurin, Paradiso and Marinčič Bring the French Baroque to Life

Laurin CD cover

SONATES ET SUITES / CHÉDEVILLE: Sonata VI. PHILIDOR: Sonate pour la Flûte à Bec. DIEUPART: 6 Suites de Clavecin: Première Suite. MARAIS: Couplets de Folies (Les Folies d’Espagne). HOTTETERRE: Trosième Suite – Sonate. LECLAIR: Second Livre de Sonates: Sonata XI. BLAVET: Troisième Livre de Sonates: Sonata II. CHÉRON: Sonates et en Duo et en Trio: Sonate III / Dan Laurin, recorder; Anna Paradiso, harpsichord; Domen Marinčič, cello / BIS 2185

“In early 18th-century France, music existed in a vacuum,” writes Dan Laurin in his informative notes for this release, explaining that it was due to “a kind of artistic censorship in the form of royal privileges, required for anyone who wished to print and distribute music…In spite of the strict regulations, the French musical idiom was nevertheless highly sophisticated and refined, to a degree possible only in a culture which restricts itself to looking inwardly, and ultimately backwards, at a glorious past.” His mission, then, is to bring this music to as many people as possible, to have them appreciate its many beauties and try to forget the elitist atmosphere in which it was written.

And he succeeds in doing so.

Laurin and his wife, the scintillating harpsichordist Anna Paradiso, are throwbacks to the early years of historically-informed practice, the 1970s, when such pioneers as Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Frans Brüggen, Gustav Leonhardt and Anner Bylsma ruled the roost. They tried to emulate the techniques of earlier centuries, but they also deeply loved the music they played and sought to bring out this love in animated performances that made the notes jump off the page. They were not pedants sitting around pulling on their chins, worrying that their viols didn’t sound anemic enough, their recorders weren’t dry enough in tone, and their harpsichords had too rich and beautiful a tone for the music. They wanted it to live. Think of the groups led by Joel Cohen and Alan Curtis in addition to those led by Brüggen and Leonhardt. Their performances were animated; they had life; they were fun to listen to.

And these are the qualities Laurin and Paradiso bring to this new CD, aided and abetted by Baroque cellist Marinčič who, I can assure you, plays with a full, rich tone and evidently enjoys this experience as much as the others. There is not a note or phrase in this entire recital that does not bustle with life. Laurin and company so obviously love playing music that their enjoyment is carried over to the listener. They do not set out to destroy your listening pleasure. They want you, the audience, to be a participant in their own joy of discovery and performance.

Laurin’s skills have, if anything, gotten better and better over the years. He always was one of the most accomplished players of his instrument back in the 1980s, but now he has such total command of the recorder that every grace note and turn falls from his lips like ripples in a stream—completely natural, as if there is no other way to play this music. But I know there are other ways of playing it; I’ve heard them; and they pale by comparison with what he does here.

Domen Marincic

Domen Marinčič

In most of these sonatas and suites Paradiso takes a back seat in the role of accompanist, yet her parts have their own little flourishes in them which she handles with the charm and verve I’ve come to expect from her. Happily, she is well recorded (not always the case in Baroque suite performances…go back and listen to how poorly Sylvia Marlowe was recorded in her version of Couperin’s Le Parnasse ou l’Apotheose de Corelli with the great flautist Claude Monteux in the 1950s), and thus is able to consistently enliven the proceedings with her cheerful, bouncing sense of rhythm. But perhaps cellist Marinčič impressed me the most simply because I was least familiar with his work. His full, rich tone both complements and buoys the trio sound, providing a solid base for the two higher instruments, and I especially appreciated his way of “nudging” the beat forward, constantly keeping things moving in his own way.

One of the highlights of this recital is Laurin’s own arrangement for recorder of Marin Marais’ well-known Couplets de Folies. And does he ever play it! But I hesitate to say, as the publicity blurb for this CD does, that this is the “highlight” of the CD, because every track is a highlight in its own way. Laurin and company have chosen the specific works for this disc well, with the result that there isn’t a dull moment from start to finish. In addition to his transcription of the Marais piece, Laurin has also transcribed Lean-Marie Leclair’s Violin Sonata No. 11 for recorder.

For those who have always felt—or been convinced by other dry, dull, HIP readings of this or similar pieces—that the music of the French baroque is a pretty dull and dismal affair, you need to get this CD to change your mind. For Laurin and/or Paradiso fans, this is yet another example of why they are considered among the tops in their field. You can’t make music this well unless you put your whole heart into it, and this is what this trio does. Oh, yes, and the sound quality is clear and forward, the way I like it. If you enjoy Baroque chamber music, this is an essential release.

— © 2016 Lynn René Bayley

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Vincent Peirani’s New Live Album Enigmatic But Fascinating

living being digipack 2CD neu

SWR NEW JAZZ MEETING 2013 / PEIRANI Cuba Si, Cuba No; Suite En V, Part IV; Choral; Some Monk; Mutinerie; Ballad; The Linden; Hypnotic; Is it G?; Throw it Away; Balkanski Čoček / Living Being Extended: Vincent Peirani, accordion; Mathias Eick, trumpet; Leïla Martial, vocal; Émile Parisien, soprano sax; Tony Paeleman, piano/Fender Rhodes piano; Julien Herne, electric bass; Yoann Serra, drums / SWR Jazzhaus JAH-458 [2 CDs] live, November 22-24, 2013, Karlsruhe, Tübingen & Mainz.

I have to admit up front that I was not previously aware of jazz accordionist Vincent Peirani or his group, Living Being, therefore I was unaware (at first) what “Living Being Extended” referred to until I read the promo sheet for this superb album. Apparently, Living Being is a quintet comprised of Peirani, Parisien, Paeleman, Herne and Serra. For these concerts he added trumpeter Eick and vocalist Martial, thus it is an “extended” version of this group.

In essence, Peirani is a jazz accordionist. The mere statement of this fact seems to place him in the lineage of Art van Damme and George Shearing (yes, that George Shearing; during his bebop years of the late 1940s, he played jazz accordion as well as piano), but Peirani eschews the usual linear mode of improvisation in lieu of a more diffuse method of playing. He somehow manages to retain the feel of French accordion music in his jazz, mixing in folk rhythms with a slight rock beat with a more diffuse sense of melodic-harmonic movement. In short, he plays modern jazz in a modern style, mostly tonal but also quite challenging in its layered rhythms and subtle use of color within the group.

In actuality the opening number, Cuba Si, Cuba No, is an anomaly in this set as a very uptempo and excitable piece. This is not Peirani’s style in most of the rest of the album, which is a sort of moody jazz with an underlying buzz cut of sound created by the according and the Fender Rhodes piano. Thus the second piece, Suite En V, Part IV is more in the vein of the majority of the music here, a slow-moving piece that nonetheless requires close listening so as not to miss the many subtleties going on. Here, for instance, trumpeter Eick plays in unison with the accordion, creating an amorphous melody in long lines. As I’ve said before in describing pieces like this, there is a certain debt to Charles Mingus, and the way Peirani and his musicians elongate the performance to a length of 11 minutes is slightly miraculous. Note, for instance, the introduction of an ostinato rhythm and the undulating buzz of the Fender Rhodes just before Peirani and soprano saxist Parisien double the tempo and take off into other realms. Eick plays a plaintive solo over the ostinato of Paeleman’s piano while Serra plays backbeats against the tide. Around the 8:30 mark, vocalist Martial comes in, singing wordless percussive obbligato, later switching to long lines of her own as Eick’s trumpet becomes busier and more agitated. A quick but telling key change upward at the 9:40 mark moves us into a more aigtated section, now with Eick playing an ostinato of his own beneath Parisien’s soprano sax solo. In this manner Peirani and his musicians create an almost hypnotic effect on the listener; this band is something like Chick Corea’s old Return to Forever group on acid.

It would be easy for an inattentive listener to hear this music as “ambient jazz,” but the level of complexity in each piece precludes this judgment for the serious jazz lover. That being said, Choral has a feeling much like the preceding number, except that here it is almost exclusively a showcase for what the leader can do on accordion. Here, Peirani almost manages to create a reverb effect onhis instrument through use of the bellows shake—a device, for those unfamiliar with schmaltz accordion playing, similar to that used by Myron Floren on the old Lawrence Welk Show when he played the “showstopping” tune Lady of Spain. The bellows shake gives the listener the effect that the sound is somehow going out of control yet still in control, like a singer who trills on every note. The difference is its use here as an artistic device. Peirani also creates some unusual effects using different stops and crushed chords (and also some sliding pitch drops—how he manages those I have no idea) in Some Monk, a tune in which the quirky melody is eventually joined by the electric piano and Martial’s wordless singing, all going together in a weird sort of unison. At 3:50 the whole piece seems to be flying in different directions, with accordion, trumpet, voice, soprano sax and electric piano tossing snippets of music up in the air to see where they might land. As it so happens, they manage to fall to earth together, just in time for a jolly but gentle solo from Paeleman with Serra excitedly jumping in backbeats all over the snare drum. As I say, the only thing that sems to keep Peirani’s music from being really avant-garde is its basis in tonality and use of regular scale work in its melodic construction. Otherwise, it verges on “outside jazz” most of the time, and in this particular number this is evident in Parisien’s rather wild soprano solo, eventually brought back to its C major base by the insistent singing and playing of Martial, Eick and Paeleman. Peirani plays a happy little French-sounding lick on the accordion while the others keep trying to disrupt the proceedings with wild licks—but Peirani wins out, his happy little accordion lick staying on til the very end.

Mutinerie is one of those pieces with a “slithery” melodic structure of the type I feel is influenced by Ornette Coleman. The tonal base here, however, has a slightly Eastern sound to it, and Martial’s eerie vocal effects heighten its strangeness. Eick and Parisien play rising, rhythmically excitable licks in round-robin fashion, sometimes in “chase” style and sometimes in canonic imitation. By 4:25 the tempo has suddenly become rollicking and a bit wild, brought quickly back to earth by piano, bass and drums—with Peirani’s according playing weird alien sounds above this base, sometimes with Martial sounding like a Martian. At one point Peirani holds a note while Martial creates bizarre sounds by playign around the same notes with her vocal cords. Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas any more!

Ballad begins with some soft “swiping” sounds in the left channel, followed by ambient Fender Rhodes sounds and Martial making equally soft, eerie sounds with reverb in the right channel. No actual music emerges until Martial begins holding some notes (I say “some notes” because they are fluid in pitch, not fixed, sliding downward chromatically as she sings them), followed by either a foreign language I could not identify or gibberish; eventually she sings into a reverb box, creating strange shards that break up and scatter to earth. She then takes up (or makes up) a melodic line, if one could call it that, of an indistinct nature, during which Periani enters on accordion, followed by bass and drums. I wasn’t entirely happy with the suggestion of a rock beat in this piece—my readers know what I think of rock music anyway (90% of it is “musical” garbage, and I detest the modern rock beat), but happily it veers more into a jazz feel when Eick takes over on trumpet. Peirani and Martial re-enter together at full volume, ramping up the emotional as well as the decibel level as Eick’s playing coalesces into a more conventional melodic structure (and the tonality coalesces in D major). At this point, and to the end of the piece, the band’s playing reminded me of Chick Corea’s “Return to Forever” group of the early ‘70s (the acoustic version of the band, anyway).

The Linden begins firmly in C major, with Eick playing the home tone while Martial sings around it in English, “I wake up in the sunrise,” but her English diction is so poor that I couldn’t make out the rest of the words. (You see, folks, it’s not just modern-day classical singers who have no diction; it’s also your pop and jazz singers, too.) The tempo picks up slightly as Paeleman enters on a conventional piano with bass in the background; Martial drops out temporarily, then returns with some intelligible lyrics, “I am walking down the sidewalk in rush hour, slow, and in the windows your reflection lingers still,” before slurring more of her words. But this is largley a showcase for Eick’s lyrical side, and he takes full advantage of the opportunity.

Hypnotic is built around a double-time minimalist lick played by Peirani with Paeleman backing him in thirds on the Fender Rhodes. Bass and drums eventually come in. The piece doesn’t go much of anywhere, despite a few slight key changes. I suppose this is its “hypnotic” effect. Eventually, at the 2:12 mark, Peirani begins improvising and here the piece picks up in interest, but we then return to the repetitive phrase, later with Martial singing long wordless lines over it, to the end.

Is it G?probably refers to the key, though it is in G-flat. This is a whimsical piece, fragmented in a way that reminds one of the “free jazz” of the 1960s, though it eventually moves into a funky beat (and remains, mostly, in G-glat).There are some wild passages in which Martial sings vocalese over Eick’s trumpet, then a fine soprano solo by Parisien (who seemed to have dropped out of sight in the previous two pieces) as the energy level continues to increase. Peirani plays staccato chords on one and three as the music continues; Martial and Eick again perform in longer unison lines above the fray before everyone falls away except Peirani, playing repetitive staccato phrases, with bass and drums. Eventually Martial scats her way through an excited chorus, followed by trumpet, soprano sax, accordion and electric piano playing in unison for an eight-bar break. Eventually the tempo halves, the Fender Rhodes (in a distorted sound setting) comes to dominate, and the rest of the band slithers in and around him with long-held notes. Then more tempo shifting in a way reminiscent of the Boswell Sisters, eventually reverting to the Fender Rhodes with bass and drums before we get the ride-out with the full band. This is one wild ride!

Throw it Away begins with some nifty bellows shakes from Peirani, playing by himself for a while, adding soft drones with his bass buttons, then switching over to downward arpeggiated runs and a chorded tune with an almost tango-like rhythm. This is where Peirani sounds most like a typical French accordionist, so to speak, playing what can be defined as a “musette”-type melody. (One almost expects to see a French “apache” in horizontal-striped shirt, bandana, beret and a Gauloise cigarette dangling from his lip as the music continues.) By contrast the final selection, Baltanski Čoček, sounds like a jazz frahlich with asymmetric beat, the band whipping up the jolly c minor tune, switching to the relative A major in the middle but then introducing a diminished chord in the break with Martial singing wordlessly above the fray. We then shift to B diminished, the music getting progressively more excited, with Parisien’s soprano sax simulating a klezmer clarinet. This wild ride to the finish line concludes Peirani’s set.

I cannot say enough good things about this live set; my only complaint is that, at a little over 92 minutes, the timing is a bit short for a 2-CD set. But this is certainly one of the finest jazz albums of the current year.

— © 2016 Lynn René Bayley

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Danny Bacher: A Swinger From Way Back, Here Today

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DANNY BACHER: SWING THAT MUSIC! / I Wanna Be Like You (The Monkey Song) (Robert Sherman-Richard Sherman); That Old Black Magic (Harold Arlen-Johnny Mercer); Early in the Mornin’ (Jon Hendricks); If It’s Love You Want, Baby, That’s Me (Louis Jordan); Dream a Little Dream of Me (Fabian Andre-Wilbur Schwandt-Gus Kahn); Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby? (Louis Jordan-Billy Austin); A Sunday Kind of Love (Louis Prima-Barbara Belle-Anita Leonard-Stan Rhodes); Just a Gigolo (Leonello Casucci-Julius Brammer) & I Ain’t Got Nobody (Spencer Williams-Roger Graham); St. James Infirmary Blues (Joe Primrose); La Vie en Rose (Louis Louiguy-Edith Piaf) & A Kiss to Build a Dream On (Bert Kalmar-Harry Ruby-Oscar Hammerstein II); Swing That Music (Louis Armstrong-Horace Gerlach) / Danny Bacher, vocal/soprano sax; Warren Vaché, cornet; Pete McGuiness, trombone; Dave Demsey, Houston Person, tenor sax; Jason Teborek, piano; Howard Alden, guitar; Ray Drummond, bass; Bill Goodwin, drums; Cyrille Aimée, vocal (on That Old Black Magic, La Vie en Rose) / Whaling City Sound WCS080

This is the kind of jazz record I sometimes (but not always) pass on for review, not because I am averse to swing era jazz—on the contrary, I love it to death—but because I normally only love the originals. Modern-day recreators, though well-intentioned, normally don’t swing as hard or sound as if they’re into the music.

Well, let me introduce you to Danny Bacher.

Look at the cover of this album. Now, be honest, aren’t you thinking, “A Harry Connick, Jr. clone”? I was. But he’s not. On the contrary, Connick sounds like a poor man’s Danny Bacher. Bacher sings like a cross between Bobby Darin at his hippest and Jon Hendricks…and that just takes in his vocal abilities, which include a light, skimming beat, very hip phrasing and an ability to scat with the best of them. On top of this, he also plays a very good soprano sax. And he plays it, folks…not just blowing airy “soft jazz” like Kenny G.

Essentially, this disc is a continuation of the wonderful concerts Bacher gave last year (2015) in which he paid tribute to the “three Louis’…Armstrong, Prima and Jordan.” But he doesn’t just ape their original records, although his tempos on That Old Black Magic and Just a Gigolo/I Ain’t Got Nobody are virtually identical to those of the old Louis Prima versions. He completely reworks them, putting his own joyous and personal stamp on the music. He keeps them jazz classics and doesn’t let them degenerate into third-rate cocktail lounge performances. Added to all his musical abilities is a wonderful tongue-in-cheek sense of humor…listen to the way he sings those suggestive lines in If It’s Love You Want Baby, That’s Me, or the way he jumps into Louis Prima’s Jungle Book showstopper, I Wanna Be Like You. But for me, personally, the best test of this man’s talent is the ballad A Sunday Kind of Love. For those who forget, it was introduced in 1947 by Fran Warren, an over-singing ballad belter with the Claude Thornhill Orchestra. Although I liked the song and loved the Thornhill band, I couldn’t stomach Warren’s delivery of the lyrics (sorry, I’m not susceptible to “torch singers,” I always want to torch them myself). Bacher takes it nice and slow, he gives the words their full value, but thank goodness, he phrases like a jazz singer, which he is. He makes the song work.

Aiding and abetting Bacher in his musical journey is an absolutely splendid and highly professional band, including cornetist Warren Vaché in a rare outing where he is called upon to play in a progressive swing style and not like one of King Oliver’s or Jelly Roll Morton’s brass players. His solos are crackling and inventive: evidently, he responded well to this environment (though he sounds more like Ruby Braff than Louis Armstrong on Swing That Music). The sax players are also excellent, including a guest visit by Houston Person. I was also knocked out by the singing of Cyrille Aimée in duet with Bacher on That Old Black Magic and the medley/duet of La Vie en Rose and A Kiss to Build a Dream On; she is one of those extremely rare female jazz singers who use a light, slightly nasal delivery yet sounds hip, not breathy and submissive. I want to hear more of her…a lot more.

To recap, this isn’t a jazz album that breaks any new ground or pushes the envelope. Make no mistake about that. But it is a jazz album that revisits the past and pays it honor rather than just ripping off old songs and pretending that the delivery sounds fresh. It is fresh because Bacher has such boundless energy and enthusiasm for this music, and obviously loves it. His website bio indicates that he is also a comedian and a playwright. Oh, please, Danny, don’t let those skills push your jazz to the side! Hang on to what you have and develop it, don’t let it atrophy. The world is a better place for skills like yours. It’s also a better place because of this CD.

— © 2016 Lynn René Bayley

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