I'm sorry to cost you money but, trust me, these will be dollars well spent. Two albums crossed my desk recently that are perfect. One is a jazz orchestral album and the other is an album of boleros by a vocalist from Spain. I've listened to both CDs multiple times and could spend the entire day spinning just these two. [Above: Angarsk, Russia, by Rob Hornstra, 2007, Flatland Gallery]
First, the orchestral album. It's Balance (Acoustical Concepts) by Adam Unsworth, Byron Olson and John Vanore. Unsworth plays the French horn, Olson is the album's composer, arranger and conductor, and Vanore plays the trumpet and flugelhorn. The jazz soloists are joined by Bob Mallach on tenor saxophone, Bill Mays on piano, Mike Richmond on bass, Danny Gottlieb on drums and the Byron Olson Chamber Ensemble.
This album is an elegant blending of jazz and modern cinematic writing. Olson is an old hand at merging jazz, strings, woodwinds and horns without losing the muscle that jazz fans want or the grace that arrangers like Ralph Burns, Johnny Mandel and Neal Hefti delivered on movie scores. Olson's recording career began by arranging and conducting Carmen McRae's I Am Music (Blue Note) in 1975 and continued through Sketches of Miles and Sketches of Coltrane (Angel) in the 1990s and beyond.
Unsworth recorded on Ryan Truesdell's Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans (Artist Share, 2011) and has a dreamy West Coast sound on the French horn reminiscent of John Cave and Richard Perissi. Vanore's last album was John Vanore & Abstract Truth (Acoustical Concepts, 2012). There are hints of modern classical here, but for the most part you have terrific soloists backed by gorgeous soundtrack orchestration that shifts and changes all the way through. In fact, you'll find yourself listening to the orchestration as intently as the soloists. A perfect album that's driven to charm and impress.
The release date is February 4. Until then, here's the title track...
The second perfect album is Carmen Cuesta's Toda Una Vida (CD Baby), a beautiful collection of boleros. Cuesta is a singer from Spain, and this CD was recorded in Madrid, with Paco Ortega producing. The arrangements are by guitarist Chuck Loeb, who accompanies Cuesta throughout the album. Loeb has worked with Jim Hall, Pat Williams, Steps Ahead, Bob Mintzer and dozens of other artists. In additon to Loeb, the album features Kike Perdomo on flute, Antonio Serrano on harmonica, Moises P. Sanchez and Oli Rockberger on piano, Antonio "Tono" Miguel on bass, Jose San Martin on drums and Yuvisney Aguilar on percussion.
Cuesta's voice is young and sensual. Bolero melody lines twist and turn with aching sophistication yet her delivery remains remarkably cool, engaging and always in tune. Her yearning on the album's precious ballads never becomes overly dramatic or tragic, and her voice can be playful without falling into pop. Loeb's guitar is the perfect instrumental mate here, and the two work like a pair of slow dancers in a late-night club about to close. A perfect album that reminds you of love's eternal joy.
Here's the bolero La Puerta...
Wall Street Journal alert! Today I interview Jackie Collins for the paper's Mansion section about her 25,000-square-foot Beverly Hills home and pool that were inspired by David Hockney's "A Perfect Splash" (1967). As Jackie told me, "I couldn't afford the painting when I fell in love with it in the late '80s so I built a house based on what I saw." Her new book is Confessions of a Wild Child (St. Martin's Press). Go here to read my interview—or please buy the paper. [Photo of Jackie Collins, above, by Ethan Pines for The Wall Street Journal]