CD Reviews

THE PROPER COMBINATION

In discovering a unique repertoire, jazz musicians (both instrumentalists and vocalists) must search to find their own proper combination of standard and original material. If the two are not balanced, a musician can be unfairly labeled as either a cover artist or too esoteric. In this month’s Vocal CD Reviews, Thomas Cunniffe examines four self-released discs by artists who are searching for that elusive formula.

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SOLO PIANO!

Artists of all kinds strive for a direct connection with their audiences (basically, where thoughts move from their mind to yours)_. Until the day when telepathic communication becomes the norm, solo performances are the closest equivalents, with only an instrument, a communication method and our comprehension. In this month’s Instrumental CD Reviews, Thomas Cunniffe discusses three new solo piano recordings where the artist’s emotions and motivations are clearly expressed in their music.

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FOCUS ON COMPOSITIONS

There is a special challenge inherent in composing for a small jazz ensemble. The composer must leave enough room for improvisation but not stifle his/her own creative impulses. Thomas Cunniffe reviews three new albums primarily comprised of original music which secure that delicate balance. Led by Anat Cohen, Tom Harrell and Skip Wilkins, the discs feature prime examples of progressive jazz compositions.

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REMINISCING AND RE-EVALUATING

The four albums in this month’s vocal CD reviews feature artists who look backward and forward at the same time. “Somewhere”, the new disc from Peter Eldridge and Kenny Werner sounds like a classic vocalist-with-strings date but most of the music is new. On “Thirsty Ghost”, Sara Gazarek uses an eclectic selection of pop and jazz songs to comment on events from her personal life. Maggie Herron offers fresh interpretations of standards written over a 100-year span on “Renditions”, and the New York Voices’ “Reminiscing in Tempo” finds the group using jazz standards to explore new directions in their musical sphere. Thomas Cunniffe reviews the results.

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STANDARDS…OF MANY KINDS

The term “standards” can mean different things to different artists. On Holly Cole’s new CD, it refers to the Great American Songbook. Nancy Kelly, Jenna McLean and the Anöna Trio mix pop and jazz standards on their discs, and on the Tierney Sutton Band’s latest release, the term embraces a wide variety of movie music. Thomas Cunniffe reviews all of the above CDs in this month’s Vocal CD Reviews.

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CATHARSIS: APART AND TOGETHER

Ryan Keberle’s outstanding group Catharsis has won wide acclaim in recent years for its superb ensemble work, commitment to collective improvisation and strong political stance. In this feature review, Thomas Cunniffe reviews the band’s latest disc, alongside albums led by two members of Catharsis’ front line, Scott Robinson and Camila Meza.

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NEW SONGS: DISCOVERED & CREATED

The challenge for singers to find unique repertoire is not new, but with new jazz vocalists debuting every week, the repertoire challenge is as important as ever. Thomas Cunniffe reviews new CDs by Claire Martin, Judy Wexler, Hilary Gardner and Rosana Eckert which find solutions to this continuing issue.

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BASSISTS & COMPOSERS

All three of the albums covered in this issue’s Instrumental CD Reviews are led by bassists, but they are also tied together in their focus on compositions by the leaders and well-regarded masters. Thomas Cunniffe examines albums by Jay Anderson, Mark Dresser and Linda May Han Oh.

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Old, New, Borrowed, and Blue

This month’s vocal CD reviews spotlight four remarkable singers–two who have been reviewed here before (Sara Serpa and Elisabeth Lohninger), and two others who are new to our pages (Alyssa Allgood and Maggie Herron). Reviewer Thomas Cunniffe is eager to note that the adjectives in the review title are not intended as descriptions of each disc in turn, but a collection of qualities shared throughout the group.

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Standards, Old and New

Many of today’s jazz vocalists strive to find unique repertoire. This month’s Vocal CD Reviews spotlights three singers with their own solutions to the problem. Catherine Russell and Ann Hampton Callaway both explore classic songs written before 1950, with notably different results, while Cyrille Aimée transforms the music of Stephen Sondheim. Thomas Cunniffe notes the strengths of each album.

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