Reviews and Recommended Jazz by Nick Bewsey

Category: Rueben Rogers



A TOP JAZZ RECORD OF 2014: Recently, there’s been no shortage of excellent, forward-looking jazz albums led by drummers. For jazz fans who put groove and swing in their plus columns, Grammy®-winner Terri Lyne Carrington, Kendrick Scott, Antonio Sanchez, Matt Wilson and Rudy Royston are taking music to new and satisfying heights. You can add Ulysses Owens, Jr. to this exceptional lineup – he’s a drummer determined to blaze his own trail with sonically inspired beats. Continue reading


If you haven’t heard of pianist Helen Sung, her new recording Anthem For A New Day is a great introduction to her music and highly recommended. She’s been on my radar for a while now, ever since she sent me her 2011 Steeplechase Records release (Re)Conception – that I reviewed here.

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Mary Stallings is a brilliant jazz singer whose recent recordings have been revelatory in the way she takes on standards, both well known and obscure, and infuses them with a rewarding range of emotion, something many singers try to achieve but fall short of doing. “Don’t Look Back” (HighNote Records) is an extraordinary collection of songs that Ms. Stallings once again invests in fully and selflessly. Credit her 12-year association with pianist Eric Reed, a relationship as indelible as Ella Fitzgerald had with pianist Ellis Larkins on their classic duet records.

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Visionary women in jazz – we’re talking Sarah Vaughan, Betty Carter, Anita O’Day and Carmen McCrae – may be the hook and inspiration for “Girl Talk,” (Palmetto) but it also gives Grammy® nominated singer Kate McGarry a platform to cozy up to standards her own way, which means suppressing her pop inclinations (just a little bit) for something more soulfully reflective. It’s not quite a reinvention, but McGarry slips into the hypnotic chanteuse role splendidly on “Girl Talk,” with an true romanticism that swirls like so much cigarette smoke of a bygone era, until she blows it away with her stunningly original takes on chestnuts like “Charade” (a tango!) and the Gershwin’s’ “The Man I Love.” Credit her longtime musical family – guitarist (and husband) Keith Ganz, organist/pianist Gary Versace, bassist Rueben Rogers, and drummer/percussionist Clarence Penn who lays down a foundation of supple beats.

McGarry is a singer with a difference. She’s a smart and committed song stylist with an airy, breezy voice that’s easy to swoon over. Thanks to the solid, modern arrangements, she makes tunes like Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “We Kiss In The Shadow” sounds like it was written yesterday. That she included it as a banner-waving proclamation for marriage equality gets her major bonus points. There’s more good stuff like her giddy gospel take of Neil Hefti’s title tune with Versace’s quivering organ fills and Ganz’s bluesy solo, and the finger-popping grooves of “This Heart Of Mine” and “It’s Wonderful World” with lyrics that she coos with affection. But nothing beats the punch of the Jimmy Rowles, “Looking Back,” a wistful song that affirms once again that “home is where the heart is.” Over the gentle accompaniment of Ganz’s lush guitar sonics, McGarry sings with uncommon sincerity and her longing becomes our own. With her song choices, thematic concept and those ace musicians along for the ride, “Girl Talk” is another McGarry triumph. (10 tracks; 44:42 minutes)


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