Dallas-born singer Jazzmeia Horn’s debut album is finally here. Horn first gained national attention when she won the Sarah Vaughan Competition in 2013, shortly after graduating from The New School’s vocal jazz program, but before winning the Thelonious Monk Competition in 2015. It’s been a long but worthwhile wait. With A Social Call (Prestige), Horn stands prepped to step into jazz stardom.  

The title A Social Call refers not to an afternoon tea but to a demand for change. Horn uses carefully chosen tunes, whip-smart arrangements, and strong words to challenge the societal status quo; her highly polished, golden voice is the weapon of choice. Her appeal (in both meanings of the word) is pretty hard to resist.

Beyond Horn’s fine instrument, she has a good ear for odd intervals, as on “The Peacocks,” a challenging Jimmy Rowles tune not so often heard with vocals (lyrics by Norma Winstone). Her improvs range from confident bebop scatting (“Moanin” and “I Remember You”) to out and free (“Medley”) to soul-driven R&B (“Up Above My Head” and “I’m Going Down”). Throughout all of these vocal transitions Horn remains deeply connected to her material—a tough thing to do when the musical ground is shifting under your feet. Horn will officially launch the album on May 15 at JALC Dizzy’s.

Author Langston Hughes published The Dream Keeper and Other Poems in 1932 as a book of children’s short verses. His words linger only briefly in the ear before they punch you in the gut: “…Bring me all your/Heart melodies/That I may wrap them/In a blue cloud-cloth/Away from the too-rough fingers/Of the world.” On The Dream Keeper (Avant/Mode Records) producer/guitarist Larry Simon brings together vocalist Eric Mingus, son of Charles, with pianist David Amram in recollection of an earlier context for Hughes’ poetry: Several decades ago, Charles Mingus, Hughes, and Amram helped start the nascent jazz poetry scene in Harlem. Today the musical setting is different—a digital recording of spoken word over improvised jazz blues—but Hughes’ words still reverberate meaningfully in the listener’s psyche. Most of the tracks feature Mingus and Amram as a duo, with Mingus speaking the text over Amram’s improvisations; on some tracks the guitar, woodwinds, and percussion join in. But on each track it’s Hughes’ words that ring the loudest, even when spoken softly.  

Fifty years ago Frank Sinatra recorded Sinatra at the Sands, a live album that set a high bar for crooners evermore: the foremost pop singer in the world, his biggest hits, the Count Basie Band, the Copa Room at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, and Quincy Jones as arranger and conductor. On One More for the Road, Curtis Stiger’s ninth release for Concord Records and his first with the Danish Radio Big Band, the singer/instrumentalist set out to capture the ambiance of the Sinatra album if not Sinatra’s exact phrasing and sonority. Even so, Stiger’s performance easily conjures up images on an earlier era. He explains that despite having his own vocal style and a personal understanding of these tunes, “there’s no way that some Sinatra doesn’t get in there…Certain phrasings that he used worked so well with the arrangements that I couldn’t not use them.” A point well taken. Stiger hosts a CD release run at Birdland May 9-13.

On This and That (Arbor Records), Portland-based singer Rebecca Kilgore chose to make four of the 15 tracks Billy Strayhorn tunes—all gorgeous melodies that singers rarely cover. One of them, “Lotus Blossom,” was even one of Duke Ellington’s favorite songs. It’s a mystery as to why these vocal gems remain relatively obscure. What’s no mystery, though, is Kilgore’s expertise with a standard. She recorded this bright, satisfying album in Germany last year with pianist Bernd Lhotzky. Superb.

 A knock-out cast will offer up a tribute to Abbey Lincoln at the Apollo Theater on May 6 as part of the Women of the World (WOW) Festival. Dee Dee Bridgewater, Dianne Reeves, and Esperanza Spalding all on the same stage at the same time. Wow indeed. 

(Reprinted from the May 2017 edition of The New York City Jazz Record.)