With Harlem on My Mind (Jazz Village/Harmonia Mundi) vocalist Catherine Russell has produced a sleek, winning album that exalts the works of composers like Clarence Williams, Ray Noble, and Fats Waller—tunes from the “blue heart of the great African American songbook,” the back cover says. From the period-specific arrangements to Russell’s sultry vocals to the vintage hats in the photos, the entire effort exudes soulfulness and authenticity. These early jazz tunes never sounded better. Some of them you’ll hear often enough (“The Very Thought of You,” “You’re My Thrill”), but others are special finds (“You’ve Got the Right Key but the Wrong Keyhole,” “Blue Turning Grey over You”). For those who want to witness a second Harlem renaissance in person, Russell will release the CD officially with a concert at JALC Dizzy’s Coca-Cola on Sept. 29.
This past June a new jazz label, Harlem Jazz Records, launched its first album, Meet Me at Minton’s, a fantastic jumble of tunes featuring some of New York’s leading singers, both established and new: Andy Bey, Jon Hendricks, Alicia Olatuja, Kathy Sledge, Jazzmeia Horn, Queen Esther, Brianna Thomas, and Charles Turner. JC Hopkins Biggish Band—14 high-energy players, about half of them horns—surge through the 13 numbers on the disc, forming a powerful wave of music that the fortunate singers get to ride. Two of these singers, Thomas and Olatuja, more fortunate still, will join recently crowned Jazz Master DeeDee Bridgewater at JALC Appel on Sept. 23-24 in Songs We Love, a concert celebrating 100 years’ worth of vocal jazz music. (Note: At the same time that we don’t envy the curator of this show, we do envy the curator of this show.)
Theo Bleckmann also appears on the bill for Songs We Love, in between his sold-out six-day intensive at the California Jazz Conservatory in August and his European touring in October and November. Earlier this year Bleckmann contributed to a CD with another splendid crush of singers; Answer July (Sony Japan UPC) features Bleckmann alongside his mentor Sheila Jordan and New York Voices’ Lauren Kinhan, rising star Becca Stevens, and talented rookie Dylan Pranuk. The compositions, by Japanese pianist/composer Senri Oe, explore such cheery themes as nature, romance, wine, and Christmas, but the sedate, introspective tone of the music might challenge the perennially happy associations that we have with these things. The lyrics—several sets each by Kinham and Jon Hendricks and one by Stevens—mostly question the ephemeral nature of the good stuff in life. Just why do things disappear as quickly as snow in July? Whatever the answer, recordings of timeless voices go a long way to dispel the angst that lies behind the question. Jordan, who contributes some whimsical, improvised lyrics of her own on “Mischievous Mouse”—will perform at Birdland on Sept. 2-3 as part of the birthday celebration in honor of her mentor, Charlie Parker.
This month vocalist Sara Serpa and guitarist André Matos will launch their second album together, All the Dreams (Sunnyside), a stunning follow-up to their 2014 debut, Primavera (Incm). Matos’ restrained, impressionistic playing provides the ideal setting for Serpa’s voice, a clear siren call guiding the listener through each passage. All of the compositions on the recording are superbly written originals; two standouts are Matos’ composition, “Calma,” on which Serpa’s vocalese reaches northward to stop just this side of the stratosphere, and “Lisboa,” Serpa’s homage to her hometown, a piece full of intriguing harmonic shifts and lovely melodic complexities. The two take the title of their album from poems by Álvaro de Campos and Walt Whitman, who shared a love for the phrase, it seems; the title captures “the dreamlike state of mind” from which Serpa and Matos are able to create such beauty. The duo will kick off the CD with a show at Joe’s Pub on Sept. 15.
Mary Stallings, the gifted singer who toured with swing bands led by Dizzy Gillespie and Count Basie in the '60s and 70s, will bring an organ trio to Smoke on Sept. 23-25. With Mike LeDonne on Hammond B organ, Ed Cherry on guitar, and Jason Brown on drums, Stalling will evoke the laid-back, R&B mood of the jazz era she grew up in. "I might ask them to add a horn," she said, musing a bit before talking excitedly about the convivial atmosphere she wants to create for her fans that night.
(Reprinted from the September issue of The New York City Jazz Record.)