I've been traveling on assignment lately, which has left me less time to post on my latest CD discoveries. Last night I finally had a chance to go through my stack of favorites. Here are eight CDs I think you'll enjoy—actually, seven CDs and one LP, to be fair...
Italian vocalist-lyricist Lara Iacovini brings heart and smarts to Right Together (Abeat), which features electric bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Adam Nussbaum. Swallow handles the bass like a guitar while upright bassist Paolino Dalla Porta manages the time. Iacovini's voice is bell-like and seductive, and completely at ease on rather difficult material. Best of all, she has set English lyrics to four Swallow compositions, a Carla Bley song (Lawns), Tom Harrel's Sail Away and others. Ahead of the curve and as thoughtful and as pretty as jazz vocal albums get.
Another Adventure by guitarist PJ Rasmussen features original songs with a nautical names but the theme could easily have referred to hiking or driving. All of the tracks are inspiring, and no two are alike as jazz slides in and out of contemporary funk, fusion and hard bop. The music is fresh and the playing taut. The compositions are all by Rasmussen, who excels here as a tasteful leader and player. Kudos to trumpter Ben Hankle and saxophonist Nate Giroux. Sample Love Birds and Under a Wave. One senses that Rasmussen could stretch next time around to write and arrange for an orchestra.
Bassist Ark Ovrutski leads a solid hard-bop quintet on 44:33 (Zoho Music), his third CD. As you might have guessed, the album's title is its running time. Six of the seven songs are by Ovrutski (Milestones is by John Lewis) and each has a melodic joy and harmonic intensity that engage the jazz ear. Best of all, the players here work together beautifully as a tight-knit unit. Pianist David Berkman is sensational, as are saxophonist Michael Thomas and trombonist Michael Dease. And drummer Ulysses Owens drives without crowding songs or the group. Ovrutski, who is from Ukraine, has a warm, pronounced sound that never grows dull, an accomplishment for the bass.
I just discovered Sandi Shoemake's Slowly, recorded in 1982. Sandi is the wife of vibraphonist Charlie Shoemake and a vocalist who knows her way around a big band or just a piano. On Slowly, she is paired on songs with three different piano accompanists—Terry Trotter, Tommy Flanagan and Clare Fischer. Her voice is pure and playful, never slipping out of tune. What's more, her lovely sound is perfectly engaged and framed by these superb pianists. This one isn't available on CD, sadly, but it is on vinyl here and at Ebay. You'll find other albums by Sandi available here. Here's more on Sandi. Give a listen to I Wish I Knew with Terry Trotter on piano...
It also takes courage to record a vocal album with just piano and bass. But that's just what singer Nicky Schrire did on To the Spring. London-born, South African-raised and now based in New York, Schrire graduated from the Manhattan School of Music and has been recording since 2012. Here, she wrote all six of the album's songs, and her voice has terrific range and a lovely tone. Her approach turns song into melodic poetry. Sample Your Love and Fall Apart.
On Music Appreciation (Single Malt), saxophonist Chris Greene delivers a lively soul-jazz stew on this two-CD set. Greene's crisp attack pressed against the elegant fervor of his rhythm section—pianist Damian Espinosa, bassist Marc Piane and drummer Steve Corley—results in dynamic experimentation. John Coltrane's Equinox is given a reggae beat while Institutional Samba drifts down to Rio and Charles Mingus's Nostalgia in Times Square is treated to a slinky march time with Night Train folded in.
Guitarist Les Dudek, who I interviewed several weeks ago for my Wall Street Journal column on Ramblin' Man, sent along his latest album, Delta Breeze (Eflat). The CD rocks all the whole way through, with Les sending up one searing guitar solo after the next. Les handles guitar, harmonica and vocals, with Dan Walters on bass, Gary Ferguson on drums and Joe Skinner on frattoir, a Cajun percussion instrument. If you dig rock guitar, this CD makes for great driving music. Rock sounds especially solid when a studio pro is handling the wailing.
Tenor saxophonist Tom Tallitsch lays down heat on Ride (PosiTone), whether blowing alone or joined by trombonist Michael Dease. When together, the album takes on a brooding Jazz Crusaders feel. The album features mostly Tallitsch originals, with David Bowie's Life on Mars and Jimmy Page and Robert Plant's Ten Years Gone added. Sample Ride, Turtle and The Giving Tree.