For the last two years, Maria Schafer has been touring the world with the Glenn Miller Orchestra, a gig perfectly suited to the golden timbre of her voice and the clean lines of her delivery. In her hometown of L.A., though, you’d be more likely to catch her with a small group than a big band, and this is the sound that she brings to her newly released album, To Know Love (Marsch Music). This knockout debut features a guitar-based quartet on a dozen familiar standards—but don’t expect to hear the same old, same old. Schafer’s clever phrasing will take you by surprise and her cool confidence across a variety of feels—especially on tricky medleys like “’S Wonderful/They Can’t Take That Away From Me” and “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To/Alone Together” —will leave you wondering what she can’t do. To Know Love hits the streets on Jan. 19.

The Canadian-born Schafer recorded her album in New Orleans in the same studio where the Preservation Jazz Hall Band records. Like the Glenn Miller Orchestra, the PJHB does an extraordinary job of tending the roots of jazz and keeping its early traditions in bloom. And with her latest album, Hot Three! (Justin Time), also recorded in New Orleans, Alex Pangman, another Canadian-born singer, contributes her bit to the task of jazz preservation. In an effort to figure out why early recordings have the “energy that they do,” she used some throwback audio techniques to lay down the seven Dixieland classics on Hot Three!, recording directly to an acetate 78 rpm disk on a 1930s portable Presto lathe (whatever that is). No effects, no pitch adjustment, no isolation booths. Each of the tunes sounds raw and real, in both medium and message: They’re “of the hot and bawdy sort one might expect from a one-room studio at the side of the road in New Orleans,” Pangman writes in the liner notes. Remarkably, the heat of that old-timey one-room studio is only a click away.

The “LouLou material” is meant to uplift, asserts German singer Lisa Ströckens and bassist Stephan Goldbach, the duo behind the JazzHausMusik release, LouLou und Die Heerscharen der Verfluchten. (Roughly translated, LouLou and the Legions of the Accursed.) If you go for pithy monologues and artful vocals that alternate between the dramatic and the whimsical, then LouLou accomplishes Ströckens’ aim. Ströckens moves so adroitly between vocal styles (opera, avant garde, pop) that no one mood settles for very long—it’s best to listen to this exciting record without any ideas of what might happen next. “Let yourself be surprised,” Ströckens suggests. Good advice.     

In 1967 the iconic jazz powerhouse Mark Murphy was at the height of his vocal powers and performing prolifically throughout Europe. That year Murphy recorded Midnight Mood (MPS) with the eight-person Kenny Clarke/Francy Boland Big Band in Cologne, Germany. Newly remastered and re-released, this album captures Murphy in some of his more contemplative and subdued moments (“My Ship” and “Hopeless,” for starters). Don’t be surprised if you find yourself wondering about the backstory to every song in this collection.   

Two recent releases from Scandinavia exemplify the diversity of vocal jazz talent that derives from the Baltic capitals. At one end of the spectrum is Denmark’s Lilly-Ann Hertzman with Tenderly (Gateway Music), a recording of relaxed, romantic standards (“Skylark” and “First Song”) backed by spare guitar accompaniment. Lilly’s sure but gentle approach to each melody makes the listener lean in so as not to miss a syllable. At the other end is Sweden’s Anna Lundqvist, a singer who writes surrealistic compositions for her jazz quintet; on her fall release Mewe (Prophone), Lundqvist’s wordless singing is just one instrumental line in the eclectic mix of digital and electronic elements. The group’s driving, experimental sound is Lundqvist’s way of challenging traditions, rules, and standards in vocal jazz, she says. Her work just might leave you breathless.  

Back home: WinterFest 2018 brings some leading jazz singers to NYC stages on Jan. 12-13, among them the swing group Duchess, Sara Serpa, Fay Victor, and NEA Jazz Master Sheila Jordan. Jordan then joins vocalists Roseanna Vitro and Bob Dorough at Kitano on Jan. 16 in Sing a Song of Bird, The Music of Charlie Parker. Finally, The Baylor Project, nominated for two 2018 Grammys (Best Jazz Vocal Album, Best Traditional R&B peformance), will play Jazz Standard on Jan. 9-10. 

(Reprinted from the January 2018 issue of The New York City Jazz Record.)