While students at Bard College, pianist Ran Blake and vocalist Jeanne Lee (1939-2000) formed an experimental jazz duo that took top prize at the Apollo Theater’s Amateur Night once in 1961. Blake brought to their collaboration an open, spontaneous comping style; Lee brought a poet’s sensibility to her interpretation of a vocal line. From that auspicious beginning, the two went on to become one of the 20th century’s most influential pairings in modern vocal jazz.
This month, a few days shy of what would have been Lee’s 80th birthday, A-Side Records joins the Ran Blake Foundation and the New England Conservatory of Music in launching The Newest Sound You Never Heard, almost three dozen never-released songs recorded in Belgium in 1966-67, when the duo was on tour there. This record serves as a welcome corollary to their 1962 debut, The Newest Sound Around (RCA Victor), on which the two musicians explore reharmonizations and free interpretations of 15 standards and traditional tunes. The repertoire from this latest album covers a lot of the same compositional ground, with selections by Ornette Coleman, Thelonius Monk, Charlier Parker, The Beatles, Ray Charles, Cole Porter, Billie Holiday, George Gershwin, and on. What a find. A discordant “Honeysuckle Rose.” A winding, wildly improvised “Take the A Train.” An eerie, hollow “Lonely Woman.” A-Side unveils this important album on Jan. 25.
Vocalist Karin Krog, one of Norway’s pre-eminent jazz singers, marked her own 80th birthday last year with the release of a six-disc retrospective of her illustrious six-decade career, The Many Faces of Karin Krog (Odin). This year she follows this near-comprehensive work with a compilation album of her recordings with British R&B artist Georgie Fame—On A Misty Night (Odin), a dozen tunes by American bop composer Tadd Dameron arranged by Norwegian pianist/composer Per Husby. This reissue culls tracks from two albums recorded in the mid-1980s: Gemini Records’ If You Could See Me Now and Hot Club Records’ Dedications, both featuring Fame and Krog with the Per Husby Orchestra. (The latter release won the Norwegian equivalent of the Grammy, the Spellemannprisen, in 1985.) The vibrant, big band swing arrangements on this recording stand in intriguing contrast with Krog’s avant garde compositions with saxophonist John Surnam—Krog go on to win two more Spellemannprisen for this later work (in 1999 and 2013). Two of the tracks here are not reissues; these outliers are the oldest tunes on the disc. On “Fountainbleu Trane,” recorded in an Oslo studio in 1983, and “That’s The Way It Goes,” from a live performance at the Molde Jazz Festival in 1984, Husby’s arrangements seem to melt around Krog’s rich alto. Luscious.
Singer/composer Anne Hampton Calloway would sing the arrangements for her new album, Jazz Goes to the Movies (Shanachie Entertainment) to her mother, who was “in her last days, battling pancreatic cancer,” Calloway writes. Calloway’s mom, a pianist, singer, and vocal coach, had had a strong influence on Calloway’s career and that of her sister, Broadway musical theater star Liz Calloway. The album, a representative collection of vocal music-making in early 20th century film, is a fitting homage to her memory. The covered tunes stretch back to the beginning of cinematic history with Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies,” from the first talkie film ever, The Jazz Singer, in 1927, through Herman Hupfeld’s “As Time Goes By” from Casablanca in 1942, to George Gershwin’s “’S Wonderful” from An American In Paris in 1951. These beloved tunes—and Calloway’s voice, as warm and golden-hued as ever—remind us just how far the reach of Tin Pan Alley was. Calloway will perform from the new release at Birdland on Jan. 22-26.
When she was well into adulthood, singer/composer Tessa Souter found out that her father wasn’t who she thought he was. This discovery prompted Souter’s subsequent search for her roots, a journey that yielded a new identity for the accomplished artist and an album of touching material and heartfelt performances. No spoilers here, though. To hear Souter tell the story behind Picture In Black And White (NOA), catch one of her two release shows this month, at Mezzrow on Jan. 8 or 55 Bar on Jan. 11.
On social equity: Singers Sara Serpa, Imani Uzari, and Jen Shyu—members of the We Have A Voice Collective—will participate in a panel discussion on “Creating Safe(r) Spaces in the Performing Arts” as part of the Jazz Congress at JALC Jan. 7-8.