Thursday, March 24, 2016

Sarah Vaughan "Live at Rosy's"

This article was first published at Blogcritics

If, like me, you can never have too much Sarah Vaughan, you’re in for a treat. Due for a March 25th release from Resonance Records is a two-CD set of the jazz diva’s previously unreleased 1978 live session recorded at Rosy’s Jazz Club in New Orleans for the National Public Radio program Jazz Alive! She is accompanied on the gig by Carl Schroeder on piano, Walter Booker on bass and Jimmy Cobb on drums.

Sarah Vaughan Live at Rosy’s has the singer at the top of her game. A consummate musician, she plays her voice like the magnificent instrument it is. Her song readings are excitingly inventive. She takes a classic up-tempo piece like “Fascinating Rhythm” and playfully finds a variety of multiple fascinating rhythms. It is an interpretive tour de force, while a classic ballad like “My Funny Valentine” is vocally rich like fine cognac.

 But you don’t need me to tell you that Sarah Vaughan can sing, this is one of the truly greats. And on two CD’s with 20 songs, each and every track is a winner. Beginning with “I’ll Remember April,” and running through tunes like “East of the Sun (and West of the Moon),” “Somebody Loves Me,” “Poor Butterfly,” and “Send in the Clowns”—and that’s only from Disc one—she takes these standards and not only makes them her own, but stamps them indelibly with her name. Meanwhile highlights of the second disc include “The Man I Love,” ”I Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good,” and a stellar version of “If You Went Away.”

Jazz singing doesn’t come any better than Sarah Vaughan. What she does with a song is magic, and pro that she is, she makes it sound effortless. In an essay by James Gavin included in the 36 page booklet that serves as the liner notes for the set, he quotes the singer: “’I don’t know what I’m doin’!’ she said ‘I just get onstage and sing. I don’t think about how I’m going to do it—it’s too complicated.’” Modesty aside, this is a singer who knows how to make the most out of her natural talent: the proof, as they say, is in the pudding.

Not only does she sing, but the set includes some of her banter with the audience.  There is some of her standard patter with the introduction of her trio. But perhaps the most interesting bit comes when someone shouts out a request for the Ella Fitzgerald classic “A-tisket, A-tasket,” and after joking that they have mistaken her for another singer, Vaughan treats it as a challenge and has some fun with it. Sassy is a pro. She knew how to work an audience, a skill singers today might want to emulate.

Soon after the release of the album the U. S. Post Office will be issuing a commemorative forever stamp honoring the singer. A ceremony will take place at the Sarah Vaughan Concert Hall at Newark Symphony Hall, 1020 Broad Street, Newark, N.J., at 11:00am, March 29th, 2016th.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Book Review: "Oneida: From Free Love Utopia to the Well-Set Table—An American Story" by Ellen Wayland-Smith.

This article was first published at Blogcritics

Of the various utopian groups that had sprung up in 19th century America, the millenarian Oneida Community birthed in upstate New York under the charismatic leadership of John Humphrey Noyes is one of the most interesting. Beginning by subscribing to a radical religious doctrine that advocated free love, communism and the perfectionism, the community morphed into a major industrial force, a model of benevolent capitalism. The history of that transformation is the compelling tale told by Ellen Wayland-Smith, a descendant of Noyes, in Oneida: From Free Love Utopia to the Well-Set Table—An American Story.

Avoiding the easy sensationalism inherent in her subject, Wayland-Smith manages to treat the ideas of Noyes and his followers seriously, placing them squarely in the context of the times. If, in terms of religion, they challenged Christian orthodoxy, they certainly were not alone. If their faith in communal sharing challenged the conventional social and economic norms, challenge was in the zeitgeist. And while her explanations of some of their particular ideas, ideas like “complex marriage,” “sticky love” and “stirpiculture,” may leave the reader wondering, those explanations are both detailed and lucid, odd perhaps, titillating at times, but never salacious.

The insular radical community’s transition to innovative industrial giant in the hands of a dynamic younger generation is in some sense the classic American story. As the end of the century approached, conservative attitudes toward sexuality stigmatizing free love even when described euphemistically as “complex marriage” forced the Oneidans to adapt their ideas to the new norms. And with the normalization of their teachings about sex, came new ideas about the way they conducted the businesses that supported the community.

Wayland-Smith describes how Oneida Community, Limited grew from a sleepy manufacturer of traps and silk threads to the world leader in the production and sales of silverware under the innovative leadership of Pierrepont Noyes. She notes the company’s success through its emphasis on design, sales and advertising. And she is careful to focus on its excellent treatment of its work force—perhaps a nod back to the community’s original principles. Less emphasis is given to the company’s decline of fortunes as the 20th century came to a close.

Wayland-Smith, it seems, was born into a fascinating topic, and in Oneida: From Free Love Utopia to the Well-Set Table—An American Story, she has made the most of it.


Thursday, March 10, 2016

"Love Wins Again:" New Album From Janiva Magness

This article was first published at Blogcritics

Probably best known as an award winning blues singer, the dynamic Janiva Magness releases her twelfth album, a highly personal emotional manifesto she calls Love Wins Again, in April. As she asserts quite clearly at the end of her liner note: “This record is me celebrating happy.” Celebration indeed: the album’s 11 tunes, several written by Magness and the record’s producer Dave Darling are performed as a kind of manifesto of the singer’s joy in the knowledge that “music is love, and it speaks, as it always has. If you listen it won’t be difficult to hear love, happiness, intimacy, truth, rebellion, redemption, resignation, hope, acceptance and finally the comfort of understanding.”

And almost as though the blues alone might be too much of a generic limitation on all this happiness, Magness masterfully broadens her musical palate with the colors of soul, rock and pop. She opens with the title song, a hot rocker announcing “sorrow’s all the way over” because love, indeed, “wins again.” Other highlights are the pop/blues love treat “When You Hold Me,” the dramatic “Moth to a Flame” and a touch of Americana in “Just Another Lesson,” a dark lyric set in a sweetly soft melody.

“Your House is Burnin’” is a rocker complete with the kind of horn accents that have James Brown written all over it. Magness carries it off with abandon. And if the song’s message—a warning about the miserable state of the world—seems at odds with the album’s central message, the song does end with a call for positive action: “Brother to brother and hand to hand/Starting today, I’m gonna say it again/Woman to woman and skin to skin/This is the day that we begin. . ./ To get up, break the chain/Make it right.”

There is also a gutsy cover of the Creedence Clearwater hit “Long as I Can See the Light.” The album ends with the almost prayerful end of life question: “Who Will Come for Me?”
The album, released by Blue √Član Records includes a small poster backed handily by the lyrics of all the songs.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Latin Big Band Jazz From Socrates Garcia: "Back Home"

This article was first published at Blogcritics

As Socrates Garcia, the Dominican born creative force behind his big band, the Socrates Garcia Latin Jazz Orchestra, explains in the liner notes to its February release, Back Home, the album has him “arriving to a place where I could combine my heritage with the aesthetics of jazz” and move that combination “towards a promising future for this symbiotic relationship.” Although the idea of creating such a symbiotic relationship may not be particularly new, Garcia and his orchestra bring it to life with dynamic force. Back Home is top of the line big band Latin Jazz.

The seven-track album, all composed and arranged by Garcia, begins with the high voltage “Vantage Point,” a tune based on the merengue that runs close to nine minutes. It features Ryan Miiddagh on the baritone sax and pianist Manuel Tejada as well as some real energy from the percussion section. This is followed by “Calle El Conde a Las 8:00,” a composition that celebrates the liveliness of what the composer remembers as a vibrant cultural neighborhood of his youth. Will Swindler on soprano sax and Jordan Skomal on trumpet capture the essence of the local scene.

The tenor sax of Kenyon Brenner highlights both “Celebration of the Butterflies,” a salute to the Mirabel sisters, anti-Trujillo activists assassinated in 1960 and the subjects of the novel and later the film In the Time of the Butterflies, and the album’s title song.

Back Home closes with a three-part suite entitled “Dominican Suite for Jazz Orchestra,” a major piece much in the tradition of the famed big band suites of the Duke Ellington Orchestra.  The first part is “Homage to Tavito.” Tavito Vasquez is a saxophonist, Garcia explains, revered as the “Charlie Parker of the Caribbean.” Garcia uses it as an opportunity to explore the symbiotic union of bebop and the merengue. “Bachata for Two” follows. The bachata is a genre born in the countryside of the Dominican Republic and sometime disparaged by the elites as peasant music. Garcia and the orchestra demonstrate the folly of disparaging any musical genre. “From Across the Street” concludes the album. It is the only track which includes a bit of vocal work. It is based on Garcia’s memories of a woman from his infancy who used to play a percussion dominated Dominican folk music called palos or atabales.

The suite provides a fine conclusion to Socrates Garcia’s jazz soaked tribute to his homeland.