Sheila Jordan, the musical descendent of icon Charlie Parker and an ever-burning flame among jazz singers, pioneered the bass-voice duo in 1977 with the SteepleChase album Sheila, in collaboration with bassist Arild Andersen. She went on to solidify the bass-voice exchange as her signature sound, most notably with Harvie Swartz (Harvey S) and Cameron Brown, producing multiple recordings and scores of performances throughout the ensuing decades. Today, the heir apparent of these musical duo explorations is singer Kavita Shah.
In February Shah released her second album, Interplay (Dot Time Records), a gracious, informed nod to Jordan’s legacy. Jordan had become a mentor to Shah after a chance meeting on the subway during a time when Shah was considering her life’s options. The subsequent friendship between the two women seems to have tipped Shah toward a life in music—good news for the music world. (In addition to performing, Shah researches and writes about musical traditions the world over.)
On the record Shah partners with bassist François Moutin on a mix of 11 standards (“You Go To My Head” and “La Vie En Rose”) and originals (“Auigue Marine” and “Coming Yesterday,” both with pianist Martial Solal). Her skilled jazz phrasing and clear, deep voice distinguish her among new singers on the ascent—what a way she has with a tune, be it a songbook favorite or a wordless vocalese. Jordan puts in a guest appearance on the recording, reprising her own classic, “Falling In Love With Love,” the opening track from her 1963 debut album, Portrait of Sheila (Blue Note). On Shah’s version, the two singers trade choruses and fours, sometimes on the lyrics, sometimes scatting, each in her own vocal style—related, but not imitative. With this album Shah, firmly planted as a jazz singer at the center of many cultural influences, reveals how deftly she can change directions. Whatever the direction, however “I want to be radically myself,” Shah says in the album’s release video.
Amy Cervini, a founding member of the sensational vocal trio Duchess, adds to her impressive line-up of releases with No One Ever Tells You, her third album for Anzic Records and her fifth as a solo artist. With this album Cervini offers up a simmering pot of blues tunes, with some heartfelt gospel and a moody ballad or two thrown in for good measure. The blues seem to come naturally to Cervini: the growling melodies in tunes like the opener, her original “I Don’t Know,” and the title cut “No One Ever Tells You,”sit easily in her seductive alto register and invite the listener to lean in. Jesse Lewis on steel string guitar and Gary Versace on Hammond organ enhance Cervini’s spot-on vocals. The CD release concert at Subculture on June 15 will reconvene several of the album's players—Cervini, Lewis, and pianist Michael Cabe—and include some of Cervini’s other musical compatriots—bassist Ike Sturm, drummer Mark McLean, and Duchess co-founders Hilary Gardner and Melissa Stylianou.
Singer Barbara Dane, whose music influenced the work of such popular singer-songwriters as Bob Dylan and Bonnie Raitt, certainly deserves more recognition as a blues, jazz, and folk artist than she’s received. To remedy the situation, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings has pulled together an audio chronicle of her life through song. Barbara Dane: Hot Jazz, Cool Blues and Hard-Hitting Songs culls the best of her work with artists such as Doc Watson, Pete Seeger, and Memphis Slim, among others. The two-CD set contains 38 tracks, 14 of them never-released, in-depth liner notes, and a gallery of photos. Dane will kick off the album with a show at Joe’s Pub on June 21.
In 2008, pianist Helen Sung first met poet Dana Gioia when they were seated next to each other at a White House-sponsored state dinner. A creative collaboration ensued, resulting in “Sung With Words,” Gioia’s poetry set to Sung’s music. Sung will perform the arresting piece at St. Paul’s German Evangelical Church as part of the Chelsea Music Festival on June 16, with vocalists Christie Dashiell and Alina Engibaryan.
June gig alerts: A quintet of major vocal jazz headliners is passing through town this month. You can catch Gregory Porter at Sony Hall June 3-4; Stacey Kent at Birdland June 5-9; Manhattan Transfer at Sony Hall June 20; Cassandra Wilson at Blue Note June 29-July 2; and Jazzmeia Horn at Central Park Summerstage June 30.
(Reprinted from the June 2018 issue of The New York City Jazz Record.)
Photo: Jason Gardner