COUNTING BEATS

Reviews and Recommended Jazz by Nick Bewsey

Tag: Jazz Singer

Marika Hughes, New York Nostalgia

Love songs seem to come easy to singer/songwriter and cellist Marika Hughes who freely admits her heart has been broken far too often and those are the emotions that fuel her beguiling compositions. The timbre of her voice – you’ll be reminded of Roberta Flack and Phoebe Snow – is what resonates, along with her soulful cello on New York Nostalgia, a sometimes bittersweet love letter to the city she remembers when she was growing up (her parents once owned a jazz club on the Upper West Side.)  Gil Scott-Heron, pianist Don Pullen and Abbey Lincoln are among her diverse inspirations. Amidst the heartache and happiness are songs with dreamy melodies (“Chapter 4”) and hand-clapping soul (“Click Three Times”), while the flirtatious “No Dancing” slyly blends saucy lyrics (“put me on your to do list”) with slide guitar and low down dirty bass. The polished production captures the album’s innovative sonic textures, but it’s Hughes solid song craft that seduces – her tunes have enough staying power to wonder why other artists aren’t singing them, too. (11 tracks; 47 minutes)

Gregory Porter, Take Me To The Alley

Gregory Porter’s popularity as a singer/songwriter sets him apart within genres and categories – as of press time, Take Me To The Alley (Blue Note) is the first jazz record in the UK in 10 years to break into the top five album list, placing just behind Drake. It’s easy to become infatuated with his booming baritone voice, sweet soul jazz crooning and musical grooves. Porter has the same ability as Bill Withers to charm and comfort you, and get you to sing along. Alley is the follow-up to his Grammy-winning Liquid Spirit, a gorgeously crafted jazz album with pop leanings, and on it Porter strikes that unique balance again, leading with a stripped down yet more heartfelt version of “Holding On,” a tune first released as a DJ remix by electronica group, Disclosure. The songs have a stylistic malleability that easily crossover, whether as glorious ballads (“Consequence of Love”) or bluesy showstoppers like “Don’t Lose Your Steam.” Working again with producer Kamau Kenyatta and his terrific band – pianist Chip Crawford, bassist Aaron James, drummer Emanuel Harrold and saxophonist Tivon Pennicott, among them — Porter’s musical stories, particularly the blissfully percussive “In Heaven, “ which features a divine solo by trumpeter Keyon Harrold, is catchy enough to be your ear worm, but the tunes that ground the album and make it truly soar are the stirring title track, a smooth, silky “Insanity” and the lushly romantic “Don’t Be A Fool,” each of which illustrate Porter’s skill to mix  poignancy with inspiration. That other voice you hear paired with Porter on these tracks is the angelic singer, Alicia Olatuja, a standout talent in her own right. (14 tracks; 60 minutes)

EUGENIE JONES, COME OUT SWINGIN’

Seattle-based jazz singer Eugenie Jones is an empowered storyteller who bares her soul with no-apology lyrics and a decisive singing style. Continue reading

ALICIA OLATUJA, TIMELESS

A TOP JAZZ RECORD OF 2014 and WRTI CD RECOMMENDATION

The Brooklyn-based singer/vocalist Alicia Olatuja is a classically trained mezzo-soprano, but her heart is deeply invested in jazz and soulful pop tunes. Timeless is her refreshing, modern recording that wraps her warm friendly voice in a blanket of exceptional sound; bassist Christian McBride, pianist Christian Sands and saxophonist Jaleel Shaw each make impressive appearances. Read the complete review at www.wrti.org

BARBARA MORRISON, I LOVE YOU, YES I DO

An irresistible jazz and blues singer, Los Angeles-based Barbara Morrison follows up last year’s A Sunday Kind Of Love (Savant) with a looser and superior effort, I Love You, Yes I Do, that cements her status as one of the best song stylists of the day. Once again, she’s produced and joined by grand tenor saxophonist Houston Person, who mixes things up by pairing Morrison with her LA trio featuring the sparkling pianist Stuart Elster, bassist Richard Simon and Lee Spath on drums. The set list has a deliberate gospel tinge – even The Beatles’ “And I Love Him” suggests a higher power — yet Morrison’s bluesy, swinging delivery, a combination of grit and poetry, make renditions of “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,” “Trust In Me” and the title track absolutely stellar. She’s intrepid enough to weave songs from the 40’s to the 70’s with an authoritative confidence and her black-tie accompaniment kills with a combination of professional elegance and gutsy lyricism. You’ll adore Morrison and company’s takes on “Save Your Love For Me” and the Eisley’s “For The Love Of You,” but there’s more to love when Morrison digs into less familiar material. (12 tracks; 59 minutes)

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