Late At Night (Music Thoughts: Hilary Gardner, The Late Set)

a1860735702_10There is a sub-genre in jazz vocals that I love – that ballad-heavy, voice and piano,  late-night evocative mood. Few people do it, and even fewer excel at it. In ‘The Late Set,” Hilary Gardner (with pianist) and Ehud Asherie captures that mood perfectly. This is late night at its finest. I will be like Sophia Petrillo and will set it up. Almost everyone have gone home, but the singer and piano is still there. They start to play, even as the staff has started to clean up the joint. Think One For My Baby And One More For The Road. Gardner’s vocals and full and pristine, and Asherie’s ear for her tempo and phrasing is spot on – these two definitely know each other musically. When she tears into ‘Shadow Waltz,’ you are there for all teh heartache and pain, and rhythm and the blues. When she croons ‘Make Someone Happy,’ and ‘After You’ve Gone,’ you definitely know you are in good hands. I listened to this disc with my eyes closed, in the darkness and felt every nuance, every phrase. Nocturnal sublime.

Because Of Because (Music Thoughts: Standards Of Love, Virginia Ayers Dawson)

18922128_1596882117053319_2815930442632815194_nWhile looking through various standards albums, Virginia Ayers Dawson’s disc, ‘Standards Of Love,’ popped out at me because she sings one song: ‘Dahil Sa Yo.’ This is a classic Filipino song, a ‘standard’ from that country, if you will. It is a favorite of mine from the old country, and of course I am very curious as to how she found out about the song, and why she recorded it. I searched on the internet and I cannot find anything about her that connects her to it, besides the fact that she is based in Sacramento, California, and I think that there is a big Filipino community there.

So how does she fare with the song, by the way? She does it very well, and handles the Tagalog lyrics good enough, and even adds the English lyrics. She does a smooth jazz arrangement that serves the song well, and all in all, I like her version.

The rest of the album is fine as well. As I said, her sound veers more smooth jazz, think late Nancy Wilson. Her voice has a lot of character, and she sounds like she knows what she is singing about – I like her medlette of More/L-O-VE among all the tracks here.

But still, I go back to Dahil Sa Yo, perhaps I should email her via her website and ask?

Sing To Nowhere (Music Thoughts: My Silver Lining, Beth Malvezzi)

bethmaI have seen a lot of jazz singer hyphenates, but this is the first one I have seen jazz singer/conductor. Beth Malvezzi is a singer/pianist/ conductor from the Connecticut area and I have just played her album ‘My Shining Hour.’ This is your standard album of standards, and Malvezzi has a nice smooth middle-ranged voice, and sings mostly in tune, and has a nice sense of rhythm. And that’s it. I wish there were something else I can say about her and her album, but it just blends through everything else I hear. The most interesting thing I can say about it is that I liked her version of the Connie Francis song ‘Mama,’ complete with Italian lyrics. Whenever I hear that song, I am reminded of my own mother and how much I miss her. But besides that, it is just so nice and bland that I have already forgotten the music seconds after hearing it.

Livin’ LuPone (Music Thoughts: Don’t Monkey With Broadway, Patti LuPone)

51K64Ah+T8LI don’t think anyone would argue with you if you said Patti Lupone is one of the biggest, brightest, and most influential actors in the history of Broadway. She certainly has put in her work there, with iconic roles both in musicals and plays. So any musical recording of hers deserve undivided attention. She has just release her new live album, ‘Don’t Monkey With Broadway,’ which was recorded Live at John Engeman Theater in her hometown of Northport, Long Island.  And I listened. And I paid attention.

And I laughed, and cried. There is still no one like her – each song is a character. I cannot think of a more ‘singing actress’ than LuPone and she gives her fans everything here – her ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina,’ her ‘Meadowlark,’ her ‘Some People.’ We, her fans, eat it up and swallow it whole heartedly with a smile in her face. She is one of those performers who give two hundred percent of herself in every number, and you really never know what Patti you are going to get, but you know it’s going to be memorable.

But to be honest, I saw some cracks in the system. I have always thought she had pitch problems, and maybe I am a little more nit picky than usual, but they seem to be more and more evident here. Plus, let’s not kid ourselves, there are high notes there that just aren’t going to be connected.

Still – when she goes through ‘If,’ from ‘Two On The Aisle,’ you just go giddy with pleasure. And she does a trio of Sondheim and they all have the LuPone stamp on them (and she has one of the few ‘Being Alive’ I can tolerate) and really, there’s more LuPone here per square foot than anywhere else. So everything is fine in ‘Don’t Monkey WIth Broadway,’ and at times it is much much better than fine.

Aye, Claudia (Music Thoughts: Here’s To Life, Claudia Morris)

268x0wI guess I should be glad that there are a lot of singers out there singing standards, as this assures that these songs will never ever die. And yes, I know diddly squat about Claudia Morris before I started to play her new album ‘Here’s To Life.’

And what do I get – a pleasant enough singer singing these wonderful songs in her slow languid way, and I get the sense that this is someone who care about the lyrics she is singing. As I listen to her ‘Here’s The Life,’ I know there’s a beating heart behind that voice, and as she tackles ‘What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life,’ I knew that voice had something to say. I wish her style was more personalized, because I see glimpses of her in some tracks, particularly when she did a spoken intro on ‘Let There Be Love.’  This is a by-the-fireplace record, it smolders more than surprises.

Johnny Sings Lately (Music Thoughts: Sings The New Great American Songbook, Johnny Mathis)

0004794639It isn’t a surprise that there exists now a Johnny Mathis singing current pop songs because I do think he is one of the greatest male pop singers of a certain generation. Even in the 60s and 70s, his albums always included songs ‘of the day,’ and he always succeeded in getting those songs messages through. So all in all he thrives in singing ‘The New Great American Songbook,’ which included songs from the past twenty years or so.  Produced by Clive Davis and Babyface, there are obvious choices here: the Josh Groban hit ‘You Raise Me Up,’ R Kelly’s ‘I Believe I Can Fly,’ and Adele’s ‘Hello,’ even before he sang those songs I had already imagined how he would sing them had he, and sure enough, the resulting work is very similar to my imagination. i.e.: well enough to be Mathis-fied. At 82, he still has most of the chops, with some roughness here and there that only enhances his interpretions. Other songs include Pharrell’s ‘Happy’ (serviceable because he hows some character there) and country hits by Keith Urban and Alan JAckson (I don’t know the originals well so I really do not have much comment on those tracks)

But ultimately, this is a curiosity album. I wonder who will really listen to this, besides die hard Mathis fans. The original interpretations are obviously irreplaceable, and though Mathis’ versions are good, what purpose do they really serve?

For Nancy (Music Thoughts: A Sleepin’ Bee, Lauren Kinhan)

LaurenKinhan_SleepinBee_coverI was first familiar with Lauren Kinhan as a member of the jazz vocal group New York Voices years ago. So I was glad to see I was getting a ‘familiar’ voice when I started listening to her album ‘A Sleepin’ Bee.’  And I have got to be honest, I was doubly lured by the album cover, which replicates those mid-century pop/jazz albums. And, even more exciting, this album is a tribute album of sorts to the great Nancy Wilson, one of my all-time favorites.

Kinhan sings competently, and ably backed by competent musicians. And of course, the Wilson-inspired repertoire is great, but the album just left me cold. It bored me. And it’s not her, it’s me. It just did not agree with me, her musical choices sound but not my cup of tea. I am sure a lot of people will enjoy this, and I fault myself for not being one of them.