by Scott Yanow
There are many talented female jazz singers on the scene today, but if anyone is on a higher level than Roberta Gambarini, I have yet to hear her. Ms. Gambarini has always had a beautiful voice, a wide range, a mastery of bebop and scatting, and the ability to really dig into the meaning behind lyrics. At Catalina’s recently, she showed plenty of maturity (while sounding youthful), covered a wide range of emotions, and displayed a real affinity for the ballads that she interpreted.
Joined by pianist Eric Gunnison, bassist Chuck Berghofer and drummer Aaron Sarfaty plus a couple of guests near the night’s conclusion, Roberta Gambarini performed a nearly two-hour set without a single misstep or moment of hesitation. She began with an unaccompanied chorus of a tune that I did not recognize and then launched into such songs as Dave Brubeck’s “In Your Own Sweet Way” (filled with creative scatting), “The Duke,” the lone McCoy Tyner-Sammy Cahn collaboration (a jubilant version of “You Taught My Heart To Sing”), Jobim’s “The Last Spring,” “No More Blues” (which she sang in both Portuguese and English), and Jimmy Heath’s “Without A Song.” She also performed her now-famous vocalese lyrics set to the solos of Sonny Stitt, Dizzy Gillespie and Sonny Rollins on “On The Sunny Side Of The Street.” While that is a classic, I hope that eventually she will be performing other vocalese lyrics that she has written.
Ms. Gambarini performed a tender version of “Once Upon A Summertime” in memory of its composer Michel Legrand and the late Roy Hargrove, demonstrated some superb ballad singing on a slow version of “What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life,” cooked on “From This Moment On” and constructed a memorable and rather emotional ballad medley comprised of “What’s New,” “The Thrill Is Gone” and “I’m A Fool To Want You.” After a rollicking “Devil May Care,” she welcomed Alan Paul of the Manhattan Transfer on stage to join her on a scat-filled uptempo blues (which became “Oo-Pop-A-Da”) and featured tenor-saxophonist Ralph Moore on “You Don’t Know What Love Is’ and “Blue Monk.”
It was an outstanding night of music from a great singer, the only one today who can approach the impossible heights of Ella and Sarah Vaughan.
It is impossible to believe that Sheila Jordan is 90 years old. She could pass for two decades younger and her adventurous spirit is timeless. She recently made a rare Los Angeles area appearance at a house party, being featured for a night of duets with bassist Cameron Brown.
A pioneer at performing and recording vocal-bass duets (first with Arild Andersen in 1977, for years with Harvie Swartz, and since the mid-1990s with Brown, Sheila Jordan fills the space with inspired ad-libbing of words (she is masterful at that), close interplay with her bassist (they had a constant musical conversation), and joyful swinging. Cameron Brown reacted immediately to her ideas, was both modest and occasionally assertive in his playing, and seemed to always anticipate her musical direction in addition to adding an occasional solo.
Among the songs that they performed that night were “Yesterdays,” “The Very Thought Of You,” a Fred and Ginger dance medley (“Let’s Face The Music And Dance,” “Cheek To Cheek,” “I Won’t Dance,” “I Could Have Danced All Night” and “Pick Yourself Up”), “It’s You Or No One,” and a children’s suite (“Brother Where Are You,” “Dat Dere” and “Home”). Throughout the night Ms. Jordan reminisced about her early days and knowing Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and Charles Mingus. She sang Jon Hendricks’ lyrics to Davis’ solo on “Freddie Freeloader,” got some in the audience to sing along on a medium-tempo blues, sang her words to “I’ve Grown Accustomed To The Bass,” and welcomed pianist Alan Pasqua and host Allan Goldman on organ to sit in on a couple of songs before closing with “The Crossing.”
Sheila Jordan epitomizes the spirit of jazz, always being sincere, a bit witty, insightful and constantly creative.
Ruth Price and the Jazz Bakery welcomed the Black Art Jazz Collective Co-Op to the Moss Theater. The group, whose name could be shortened (Collective and Co-Op essentially mean the same thing), is definitely an all-star ensemble, consisting of trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, tenor-saxophonist Wayne Escoffery, trombonist James Burton, pianist Xavier Davis, bassist Corcoran Holt and drummer Johnathan Blake.
The band’s music, which was comprised of originals, falls between classic hard bop (sometimes reminiscent of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers) and modern post bop. Each of the musicians had opportunities to be featured along the way with Pelt’s crisp and powerful trumpet solos, Escoffery’s muscular tenor, and James Burton’s J.J. Johnson-inspired trombone competing for honors. Pianist Davis was subtle but consistently creative both as a soloist and an accompanist, Holt had his spots and Blake was quite fascinating to watch. The drummer was fiery when he soloed but was also quite colorful in the stimulating ideas that he played behind the lead voices.
Among the songs that the sextet performed were “Miller Time” (Davis’ tribute to Mulgrew Miller), Pelt’s “Arama” (for his daughter), his brief ballad “And There She Was,” “Pretty” (a mellow tune that one could imagine Miles Davis playing in the 1950s), and the pianist’s urgent and passionate “When Will We Learn.” While none of the tunes had overly memorable melodies, the chord changes were original and inspired excellent solos.
The performances lived up to the high expectations that one had from this personnel, making listeners look forward to group’s future development.
BLUES FROM HI HORSE RECORDS
The Hi Horse label has recently released three historic blues sets on Lps. Blue 88s: Unreleased Piano Blues Gems 1938-1942 (which is also available as a CD) has 17 selections, 15 of which had never been released before despite their quality.
While the guitar became the dominant instrument in the blues from the 1950s on, before that the piano was actually as popular and sometimes more widely featured on recordings, particularly prior to the guitar becoming electrified. Quite a few talented blues pianists made popular recordings in the 1930s and ‘40s.
Blue 88s has two selections featuring pianist-singer Curtis Jones, one from singer Willie “Boodle It” Right (accompanied by pianist Joshua Altheimer), two by singer Poor Boy Burke (who was really St. Louis Jimmy Oden) backed by an unknown pianist who might be Roosevelt Sykes, and a dozen numbers from Sykes. The performances, all recorded in Chicago, were performed during 1939-42 with only two of the Sykes selections having been out before.
Although there are no instrumentals, there is plenty of space for the pianists. The Sykes recordings, which find him joined by bassist Ransom Knowling and, on four numbers, a larger group, hold their own with his released sides of the time. His music (as with that heard on the other sessions) is bluesy and blues-oriented but not always technically a blues. In addition to the actual blues, there are blues ballads and other complementary chord changes that Sykes and the others enjoyed playing. Among the Sykes titles are “Mellow Queen Swing,” “Training Camp Blues” (World War II. was raging on), “From The Cradle To The Grave,” “The World Is Upside Down” and “You Done Get Hip.” Fans of Roosevelt Sykes and blues piano in general will enjoy this well-conceived set which, in addition to lengthy liner notes, has the lyrics from the 17 performances.
Mississippi John Hurt (1892-1966) was one of the major discoveries of the acoustic blues/folk revival of the early 1960s. Self-taught on guitar from the age of nine, he often played at dances in the 1920s while working during the day on a farm as a sharecropper. Hurt made two recording sessions in 1928 resulting in 13 selections, but the recordings (although later considered legendary) did not sell well at the time and there were no further opportunities to record during the era. Hurt slipped away into obscurity, just playing locally.
In 1963, collector and researcher Tom Hoskins tracked down the singer-guitarist. He had his recording of “Avalon Blues,” looked on a map for Avalon, asked around, and found Hurt. Soon the guitarist-singer was back on records for the first time in 35 years. Although he was 71 years old, he proved to still be in his musical prime.
Folk Songs And Blues, which was originally made for the Piedmont label, is Mississippi John Hurt’s comeback record. A gentle singer and a subtle guitarist whose rhythmic patterns on the twelve-string guitar were often quite complex, Hurt was as much a folk singer as a blues vocalist, telling stories in his music. The 12 songs on the historic date, which include the brief instrumental “Spanish Fandang” and some harmonica playing on “Liza Jane,” show that Hurt still had a lot to say in his music. Among the highlights are “Avalon Blues,” “Richland Women Blues,” “Casey Jones” and “My Creole Belle.”
After the release of his first album, Mississippi John Hurt was a major success at the 1963 Newport Folk Festival and enjoyed three years of regular performing and recordings, making at least a dozen albums for a variety of labels before his death in 1966.
Hi Hat has reissued Hurt’s Worried Blues (also made for Piedmont) which is drawn from three appearances in March 1964. Mixing together new originals with a few older songs, Hurt is in top form on such numbers as “Nobody Cares For Me,” “Cow Hooking Blues No. 2,” “Weeping And Wailing” and “I Been Cryin’ Since You Been Gone.”
Mississippi John Hurt, who blended together blues, folk music, spirituals, early country and old time music, was in his own musical category. Anyone interested in early American music should know his name and musical legacy.
The three rewarding releases from the Hi Horse label can be ordered from www.cityhallrecords.com.
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