Singer/guitarist Allan Harris has been quietly gaining stature in the jazz world over the last three decades, but it wasn’t until 2015 that he claimed a spot in the Downbeat Critics Poll—remarkably, as a rising star vocalist. This accolade followed on the heels of his 2015 release Black Bar Jukebox (Love Production Records), his tenth album. Weaned on jazz at the knee of none other than Louis Armstrong, a family friend, Harris likes mixing it up on his albums; like Armstrong, he’ll cover a country/western tune with the same vocal alacrity as a jazz standard.
His new album, Nobody’s Gonna Love You Better (Black Bar Jukebox Redux) (Love Production Records), picks up where his last left off. Both albums showcase tunes from what Harris calls his “jukebox days” growing up in Harlem and Brooklyn, when the airwaves carried songs by artists like Steely Dan, Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Jefferson, Spiral Starecase, and Ray Charles. Harris’ cover of tunes by these diverse artists is something of a revelation: it’s hard to imagine what the 1969 hit “More Today than Yesterday” and the 1952 vocalese standard “Moody’s Mood for Love” have in common until you hear the ardor in Harris’ silvery rich baritone as he sings them. Harris’s official album release party will happen at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola on June 14-15.
Giacomo Gates’ new release, What Time Is It? (Savant/High Note), opens with an original spoken word piece on the ephemeral nature of time and segues into “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was.” This opener sets up Gates as a musical philosopher: in jazz standards he finds a gateway into something beyond mere romantic frippery. “Clocks on chains, so time won’t run away,” he muses. The opening track is the only oft-recorded vocal standard on the album; the remaining 10 tracks feature lesser-known tunes by Oscar Brown Jr., Tadd Dameron, Eddie Jefferson, and Artt Frank. In and about these tunes, Gates mixes in snippets of his own original verse, and the final track, “Too Many Things,” features one of his thought-provoking, full-length poems over improvised blues on piano and bass.
Gates uses classic jazz phrasing, laid-back bebop scats, and cool vocalese to get his message across; his deep, resonant instrument puts him in the same class as Mark Murphy, Kurt Elling, and Andy Bey (these singers toured Europe together as The Four Brothers in 2004). Gates’ voice in particular lends itself to the blues especially well, as on the Oscar Brown tune “Somebody Buy Me a Drink,” his raspy homage to the bottle. In pianist/arranger John Di Martino, sax player Jerry Weldon, guitarist Tony Lombardozzi, bassist Lonnie Plexico, and drummer Vincent Ector, Gates finds supportive fellow travelers in his quest to find musical answers to life’s perplexing questions. Gates will kick off What Time Is It? at West End Lounge on June 25.
By way of comparison, follow a listen of Gates’ album with one of Mark Murphy’s. Try Wild and Free: Live at the Keystone Korner (High Note), one of the many recent Mark Murphy discoveries. This live recording catalogues a 1980s gig when Murphy was at the height of his voice and career; on it you can hear the elder Murphy that Gates is channeling now. Also, a quick shout-out to journalist James Gavin for exceptionally well-researched, artfully written liner notes on this major figure in jazz history.
Young Canadian bandleader Quinn Bachand leapt into the foreground of mainstream jazz with his band Brishen’s 2014 eponymous release. This year the group adds to their success with Blue Verdun (Beacon Ridge), a sophomore effort that categorically upends Bachand’s newcomer status. With this record, Bachand earns his bona fides as a seasoned multi-instrumentalist and jazz singer in the modern gypsy jazz/vintage pop vein as he croons in a softly echoing voice and fiddles, picks, and strums his way into your grateful ear. He’s touring the Canadian festival circuit this summer, but surely a New York visit can’t be too far away.
Vocalist Sari Kessler, whose 2016 release Do Right (CD Baby) contains many a charming surprise, like “Walk on By” as a sultry mid-tempo and “Sunny” as a samba, will perform at Cornelia Street Café as part of the VoxEcstatic series on June 6. Kessler also sings once a month at The Society of Illustrators’ Sketch Night, where budding artists can sketch a model to Kessler’s jazz soundtrack—both live. This month’s jazz-and-drawing night is June 20.
(Reprinted from the June 2017 edition of The New York City Jazz Record.)