At the Corner of Theater & Jazz (Music Thoughts: Something’s Coming, Katie Birtill)

Katie-BirtillJazz singing and theater vocals can sometimes be on opposite sides of the spectrum. But sometimes, they do merge together. Katie Britill can seemingly do both, and very well. She has a version of ‘Baby Dream Yuor Dream’ from Sweet Charity that made it to my “Ultimate Favorites” playlist and it was nice to see her release a new EP for the New Year. This new release is titled ‘Something’s Coming,’ and I am glad it has come. The one thing that first attracted me to the recording is the song selection – it’s very theater-centric! It starts with the title tune, and it has ‘I’ve Got The Sun In The Morning’ from Annie Get Your Gun. She does slightly swinging versions of both – you can sense her grasp of good rhythm. But, you can also tell that she has great flair for interpreting the lyrics. She brings her stage roots here, and you can tell she totally understands what she is singing about from a character’s point of view. I think this recording is so worth it even for just one track: her version of ‘No One is Alone’ from Into The Woods. I always pay attention when someone is singing Sondheim because they either give it justice or fudge it. She nails this song, essaying its meaning without diluting it. She would be a great Baker’ Wife. I think this particular track will be going on my Ultimate Favorite playlist. I read in her website that she performs in London – maybe one of these days I am able to see her live.

Ukulele And Waves (Music Thoughts: Bagatelles, Nellie McKay)

813BH3uavhL._SX466_I have been championing Nellie McKay from the very beginning. She is one of the few modern singers who sings songs from the Great American Songbook with a style that’s original. You know she has great love for these songs but she always takes a different route with how she interprets them. There are times when I disagree with how she sings them, but they are always interesting. In her new EP ‘Bagatelles,’ she takes her spare approach to songs even sparer. The best way I could describe this recording is that you feel like you were in an elementary music room with McKay, and somehow it works. You may not think initially they do, but then you realize the brilliance right after. Take for example, her take here of Cole Porter’s ‘I Concentrate On You.’ She sings it acapella, and what does she have in the background? the sound of waves and seagulls. Weird, but as you listen to it more, you get what she is going for – you get the urgency of how one feels when one is deeply in love with another person, and the tune becomes a whisper, as she confesses to you her precious love. I am obsessed with it. I personally also like the tracks where she just accompanies herself with a ukulele – they feel personal, and you cannot help but pay attention to the lyrics and phrasing. When McKay first started, people compared her voice to Blossom Dearie, but I don’t think that’s accurate anymore – it;s deepened and sounds much richer, as her accompaniments become more spare. She and this album is a total delight.

Standards in Red (Music Thoughts, Night At The Movies, Svetlana)

svetlana-cover-2019-hi-rezSvetlana, growing up in Moscow, learned a lot of her English by watching movies, so film music has always been close to her heart. So it comes as no surprise that she has recorded an album of songs from the cinema, titled ‘Night At The Movies.’ Svetlana has a cool unaffected voice, and it’s very nice and pleasant to listen to. And she sings with an accent, which I have said numerous times I like a lot, since it gives the interpretation a more personal touch. Her song selections have range, from Charlie Chaplin to Siney’s Coco. I even like a lot of the arrangements, which skew non-familiar. For example, she intersperses a little bit of ‘City of Stars’ to ‘Watch What Happens.’ Technically, it’s great, though I am a bit unsure if they match content-wise.

Flowery Jazz (Music Thoughts: Standards and Sweet Things, Fleur Seule)

61+xdR1IS+L._SS500_When I first saw the CD cover for Fleur Seule’s ‘Standards And Sweet Things,’ I thought the lady’s name on the cover was Fleur Seule, which I thought was interesting.  But no, I realized that this was the name of a “1940s Jazz band,” and the songbird who fronts them is called Allyson Briggs.

Briggs is sensational. I put this album on a playlist and whenever a song from this collection played, I stood up and paid attention. There’s something about Brigg’s singing that is very appealing – she has an approachable soprano that feels instantly intimate, and it felt like I was listening to someone I already know. Briggs speak a couple of languages apparently, and perhaps maybe that’s why I loved her version of “La Vie En Rose.’ It sounds curiously modern, but still instilled by the spirit of Piaf. And when she switched into Spanish, especially on ‘Con Los Años Que Me Quedan,’ it felt as heartfelt. Andy Taylor crafted most of the arrangements on this record, and they are great. What I liked most about the album is that it felt very atmospheric – it gave you a sense of how they are live, and I think that is a great example of fine recording. I loved this album a lot, and totally recommend it!

Finn Jazz (Music Thoughts: Midnight Sun, Tuija Komi)

81DQQcPqvmL._SS500_Tuija Komi is from Germany but now she resides in Finland. I love these weird International connections, as she sings jazz, which is a very American thing. I just listened to her album ‘Midnight Sun’ and do think it’s a very interesting album. I am always fascinated with music, especially vocal music. I love listening to how language is musically interpreted, and if it’s vocal jazz, even better. That said, I gravitated most to the Finnish songs in ‘Midnight Sun.’ Her English songs are interesting, choice-wise, but for me, they skew a little bit too familiar. Honestly, I don’t know if I ever will listen to this album again, but as it plays, it entertains.

Sutton Screen (Music Thoughts: Screen Play, The Tierney Sutton Band)

TierneySuttonI never ever judge a Tierney Sutton album with a first or second listen. i find that I appreciate her stuff as it marinates more. I don’t always ‘get’ what she is trying to do, and at times even vehemently dislike it, but more often than not I warm up, and even learn to love them. Again, that is the case with ‘Screen Play,’  the new album by the Tierney Sutton Band, consisting of pianist Christian Jacob, bassists Trey Henry and Kevin Axt, and drummer Ray Brinket.

The album is a collection of songs from films, a familiar concept that could ever be mundane or inspired. Song selection wise, Sutton goes for the eclectic. I was surprised to see not one but two songs from ‘Grease,’ – a no-fills retelling of ‘Hopelessly Devoted To You’ that is the antithesis of the original Olivia Newton John version, and a trippy ‘You’re The One That I Want.’ I don’t know if the latter really works – it’s much too contrived of an arrangement for me – but darn it if I can’t stop listening to it. Her album with Alan Bergamn on ‘How Do You Keep the Music Playing’ i seriously heartfelt, and on the medlette of ‘Moon River/Calling You’ she found two song of waiting and wanting that fit perfectly together. But some tracks are just misses for me. Draining ‘The Sound of Silence’ of its granola character makes it dishonest sounding which is a contrast from its lyrics, and ‘Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friends’ didn’t sound like a song about diamonds in her scat-filled vocal flourish. But when she is good, she’s fantastic, and when she finds darkness in songs – like’s Sondheim’s ‘Goodbye For Now’ – she is inimitable.

In An Italian Mood (Music Thoughts: Speak Low, Patrizia Gibertoni)

61EfJjBu+AL._SS500_There’s not much info about Patrizia Gibertoni on the internet except maybe that she is from Modena, Italy. And that’s a good thing, because that probably means that she is a serious musician, old school enough to not care if she has an internet presence.  One listen to her album ‘Speak Low’ and you know she ain’t playing.  She has fantastic musicality and tremendous sense of rhythm. She has a nice ‘mature voice.’ And she has a very thick Italian accent. I love it, as it gives her versions some individuality. I have heard these songs so many times that anything that makes them sound different is very welcome. To some, though, that accent may be too thick. When she sings ‘Let’s Fall In love,’ it sounds like she is saying ‘Let’s Fool In love.’  But then again….