As a vocalist, Dee Dee Bridgewater is a master of reinterpretation. On Red Earth (EmArcy), in 2005, she invoked her Nigerian musical heritage through a baker’s dozen of contemporary jazz originals and rarely sung standards. Ten years later, she revamped the traditional New Orleans repertoire with contemporary feels and arrangements on Dee Dee’s Feathers (Sony/Okeh/DDB). And on Memphis...Yes, I’m Ready (Sony/Okeh/DDB), she reaches into the R&B soundtrack of her Tennessee birthplace circa the 1950s and pulls several landmark tunes into the current century. Nobody but Bridgewater could redo an Elvis classic like “Hound Dog”—with barking and growling against a slow reggae groove, no less—and make you forget the original.
Through her music, Bridgewater often explores her feelings about the people and places she loves—mentoring musicians, Southern cities, Paris, Mali. These personal revelations in her work are always invitations to learn, and listeners usually end up loving her favorite people and places, too. In this case, it will be hard for listeners to resist Bridgewater’s grit and the rhythm section’s funk on B.B. King’s “Thrill Is Gone” or her beseeching wail against a burning horn section on Otis Redding’s “Try A Little Tenderness.” Bridgewater gives one of her most passionate performances on this album, and what a powerful tribute to Beale Street it is.
This was Bridgewater’s intent. “I want to honor Memphis, which we call Soulsville, because it has brought joy to so many people around the world,” she says. To be sure, the joy continues. Bridgewater, who is touring internationally to promote the album, will release Memphis... in the U.S. on September 15.
Earlier this year singer/pianist Champian Fulton was touring Spain as part of a quartet (tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton, bassist Ignasi Gonzalez, and drummer Esteve Pi) for Blau Records. Their first concert together, recorded live in April, became The Things We Did Last Summer, the group’s debut release for the label. In performance, Fulton is as much a pianist as a singer, and she takes the time on this recording to give each talent its due. Rather than dominating the tunes, her warm vocals frame the instrumental sections; she and Hamilton engage in an exciting musical repartee on standards like “I Cried For You” and “The Very Thought Of You.” Four of the tunes on the album, including the track that gives the album its name, are completely instrumental, underscoring Fulton’s impressive skills as an ensemble player. Fulton will join her New York quartet (with her father, Stephen Fulton, on flugelhorn, Dor Samoha on bass, and Fukushi Tainaka on drums) at Smoke on Sep. 7.
In 2005, melodically gifted pianist/composer Fred Hersch debuted one of his defining works, Leaves of Grass, a jazz setting of Walt Whitman’s stirring poetic masterpiece about the transcendence of nature. Hersch’s composition, originally funded by a 2003 Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship, comprises an eight-piece ensemble plus two voices. Singers Kurt Elling and Kate McGarry will join Hersch in reprising their roles from the original production on Sep. 15-16 at JALC-Appel. These concerts will be the capstone on a banner week for Hersch: his 11th solo album, Open Book (Palmetto), drops on Sep. 8 and his memoir, Good Things Happen Slowly: A Life In and Out of Jazz (Crown Archetype), releases on Sep. 12.
Katie Thiroux’s debut album, Introducing Katie Thiroux (BassKat Music), drew a flurry of attention in 2013 for the musician’s masterful way with a bass and her ease with a vocal line. Her second album promises to solidify her standing as a rising star. (Being the artist in residence for Quincy Jones’ new jazz club in Dubai doesn’t hurt, either.) Off Beat (Capri) includes tunes by bassist Ray Brown, Duke Ellington, Frank Loesser, and Benny Carter; the title track, a witty up-tempo borrowed from June Christie’s 1960 with the same title, shows off Thiroux’s vocal dexterity and strong rapport with her band. Thiroux and sax player Ken Peplowski will officially launch the CD in New York at Birdland on Sep. 10.
Berklee grad, American Idol finalist, winner of the Montreux Jazz Fest, and Postmodern Jukebox regular Aubrey Logan doesn’t fit neatly into any box. As a singer she’s more pop, but as a trombonist she’s more jazz. What’s for sure is that she’s a musical powerhouse. To figure it all out, you can see her live at Rockwood Music Hall on Sep. 9, when she unveils her new album Impossible (Fuel Music).
(Reprinted from the September issue of The New York City Jazz Record.)