Starting from Barbra’s Start (Music Thoughts: Starting Here Starting Now, Cornelia Luna)

cornelia-luna-starting-here-starting-now-cd-cover-tmr-december-2018What a way to start the New Year but with an album titled ‘Starting Here Starting Now.’ It is by Cornelia Luna, who I remember being one of the Kims in the Original Broadway Cast of Miss Saigon. Initially, I thought that the album would be Broadway songs but I read up and saw that the inspiration of the album is Barbra Streisand. These are songs that are associated with Barbra, and she culls from the earlier albums, when Streisand was singing arrangements by Peter Matz.  Backed by the Bill King Trio, Luna sings with jazzy inflections. I don’t dislike her interpretations, but I probably have to get used to these arrangements of her songs. I don’t know if her stylings, for example, work on a song like ‘Will Someone Ever Look At me That Way?’ a song so personal that this version seems cold and impersonal. But on ‘Gotta Move,’ you can tell that Luna knows how to interpret and sing songs her way. And on the title track, there’s a high reached there that tells the full story of the lyric. It is interesting to me that she chose to sing songs from Barbra’s last duet album, ‘Any Moment Now,’ and ‘Loving You,’ (the former she duets with Gavin Hope) because stylistically they are very different from Barbra’s early material and they really don’t gel well together, but that is forgiven by her tender ‘I Had Myself A True Love,’ my favorite track from the album.

Her Eyes (Music Thoughts: Eyes Wide Open, Jamie Shaw)

b_W1sicmVzaXplIiw1MDBdLFsibWF4Il0sWyJ3ZSJdXQ==In her album ‘Eyes Wide Open,’ Jamie Shew chronicles, by song, her twenty year relationship with her husband, who succumbed to cancer. And concept-wise, it is an interesting concept, where she starts the album with ‘Get Out Of My Head,’ to ‘Easy To Love,’ merging to ‘The Answer Is You,’ to I guess the process of heartbreak, ending with the title track.

If only I liked the arrangements and the singing, which to my ears sounded so generic and banal to the point that it gave me a (literal) headache. In my opinion, this is one of those cases wherein the idea is more interesting than the execution, and it really makes me sad.

Tell Me From Tel Aviv (Music Thoughts: Echo Of A Heartbeat, Tamuz Nissim)

tamTamuz Nissim is from Tel Aviv and she has released a jazz album. Singers who sing standards always fascinate me because it shows that these songs touch everyone all over the world. But I also read that Nissim has been living in New York since 2015. Perhaps that is why I don’t really hear any of her ethnicity in this album. ‘Echo Of A Heartbeat’ sounds just like another generic jazz album, and those are the worst kinds. I honestly would rather hear one with bad qualities than these ones that you can never distinguish from one another. She doesn’t have a bad voice – it’s thin and reedy but malleable. She sings with a quartet led on piano by James Weidman. Her standards, like ‘Just Squeeze Me,’ and ‘What A Little Moonlight Can Do,’ aren’t bad. They are just worse by being boring. And she can be self-indulgent by inserting some of her tuneless originals. This could have been something, but now it’s just blah.

Nellie’s Florals (Music Thoughts: Sister Orchid, Nellie McKay)

NellieMcKay-768x768I hadn’t thought of Nellie McKay in a long while. I remember when she first came out she was a critic’s darling, and I distinctly remember her voice was similar to Blossom Dearie’s. I recently found out she has a new album of standards called ‘Sister Orchid’ and decided to put it on the playlist I listen to on my daily walks. I found that whenever a track from the album came on, I relished it and paid attention. So, I went ahead and listened to the album itself.

And it’s an interesting one, for sure. Her voice is not as delicate as Dearie’s. Oddly enough, it reminds me more of Peggy Lee’s, especially in her ‘My Romance.’ which seems to be channeling Lee’s. This is a very atmospheric album – the arrangements are all over the place yet the intimacy of her singing makes the whole album cohesive. I felt like I was in a room with just me and her singing to me, and I heard and understood every single word she was singing. She means these lyrics to her core. I never felt the words to ‘The Nearness Of You’ more, for example. This is a late-night album, akin to a Julie London one. I don’t know if I love all of it, to be honest, (the abrupt change int one in ‘Willow Weep For Me’ is jarring) but I know I pay attention when it’s playing. That’s more than I can say for any jazz vocal album I have listened to lately.

If Nina Knew (Music Thoughts: Abiah sings Nina, Abiah)

abiah_sings_ninaVery few people try to tackle the Nina Simone songbook only because she sings her songs with such a distinct style that you more than often just try to imitate her. Abiah tries his hand on this on ‘Abiah sings Nina.’

I wish I liked it more. He certainly has captured the Nina Simone ‘mood,’ and has chosen a great section of her repertoire – the tender, love-filled Nina – and that’s a surprise, as I had thought he would cover her more ‘political’ songs. But I heard more Nina than Abiah here, and I really wanted to know Abiah the singer, since I really don’t know much about him. I love the slow and tender sound of the album – his ‘Wild Is The Wind’ is going on my favorites playlist – but the album just made me want to Nina Simone more. I guess that is not the worst thing in the world – everyone needs to know Nina – but I wanted something more original, and was disappointed. aboiahnina

A Man And His Trumpet (Music Thoughts: Chris Norton, Mr. Chris Norton)

61tWEh2PR5L._SS500Who says I just listen to female jazz singers? Sometimes a male one catches my fancy, and I discovered Chris Norton in a most unexpected place. For some reason, Instagram ‘recommended’ his profile to me as one I might want to follow. I don’t know what kind of metric they used, but I discovered on his feed (a great one, by the way) that he had a jazz vocal album. So I went to Spotify and sampled it, and liked what I heard. But my initial reaction was – why are there so many trumpet solos? Duh. I looked at the album cover and realized he plays the trumpet as well, and really in here you get two for the price of one. I started reading his bio while listening to the album and found out he has performed for Presidents Clinton and Obama, and I am guessing leans towards blue, based on who in Washington he has performed for. Thank God I trust my instincts. He has a nice fine velvety voice, a la Torme, and has great command in lyric. His songs point more ‘bro’ than I normally would listen to, but variety, spice of life, and all that. He is a great find, and I don’t know why I never heard of him before, but I know him now.

Smooth Criminal (Music Thoughts: A Tribute To Michael Jackson, Margeaux Lampley)

mlmjThis album by Margeaux Lampley, ‘A Tribute to Michael Jackson’ was recommended to me by Spotify, and I could see why. My playlists are peppered by jazz vocalists and ‘world’ singers, and Ms. Lampley lives in Paris, though she is originally from Oakland, California. A jazz take on Michael Jackson songs? Kinda unique, I thought, and I am sure there are worse things in the world.

Ms. Lampley has a nice clear voice – kinda clean and she enunciates the lyrics clearly. She treats these songs fairly faithfully – I bet these songs inspire and intimidate her at the same time – and the arrangements verge more towards ‘smooth jazz,’ as there isn’t much edge to them. You get the usual suspects: ‘Thriller,’ ‘Ben,’ ‘Rock With You.’ But they all sound the same and seem to blend into one sound. It’s like watching a covers band (in this case a quartet) where you feel like you want to sing along to the songs and the main singer just blends into the background. I am sure Ms. Lampley has great musical personality. It just doesn’t show in this album.