It’s that time of year!
Kate Mills – “Each Bittersweet Drop“ Kate Mills Music
I must imagine releasing a debut album can be a bit unnerving. Filled with trepidation, it is a natural question to wonder if everything was done as best as it could have been. And of course, what will the buying public think? Kate Mills was a social worker in New York with the continued feeling that her true calling was music. “Bittersweet,” the title of her debut work, is a collection of songs that represent her life. Finely crafted, well written with very listenable arrangements, each song is, as she put it, a “reckoning; often with one’s self, but also with grief and love.” This work is mostly country with a folk vibe but also, and for me happily, most tracks are pretty upbeat. I found myself tapping my toe to the music more than once. I cannot say how adept Mills was as a social worker, but as a singer / songwriter her first release was an excellent effort.
Betty Fox – “Peace In Pieces“ Self-Released
Recorded at the legendary Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, AL, the new work of blues / rock tracks by Betty Fox is both powerful and also soulful. Her voice has that “gravely” quality that is almost required for blues singers. And she displays a considerable amount of power and emotion on the fourteen tracks. I noticed that an organ and sometimes a synth kept showing up. That would be the legendary Fame Studios organist Spooner Oldham whose work is intricately woven with the Fame horn section. All of this makes for a great blues CD and “Peace” is certainly that. In keeping with the blues actually being about the blues, Fox inputs a certain amount of personal tragedy in her music. “Sweet Goodnight,” Track 9, is about her Father’s untimely death from Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Her presentation is well suited to the blues and has sort of a Beth Hart quality about it. “Peace” is a great blues work. It encompasses all the required elements – personal struggles, emotion, great music. All in all, a superior effort.
The Seth Weaver Big Band – “Truth” Outside In Music
Is it Big Band or is it Jazz? Sometimes, it might be acceptable to ask if there is really a difference. Weaver is a NYC trombonist who heads a seventeen-piece swing band that has been making considerable waves in the Empire State’s swing / jazz scene. “Truth” is his debut release and he guides the orchestra through what I came to determine was a very Nelson Riddle-esque orchestration effort. Five of the nine tracks are originals and the remainder covers. Weaver is an accomplished trombonist originally from Franklin, TN with a music degree in Jazz from the University of Texas. Like Big Band is really supposed to be, this is a work of BIG music. For the most part, the tracks are high energy but not always. There are moments of lush orchestration in a more subdued presentation scattered throughout the entire work. This is a fine work of big band styled music. Or perhaps, a fine work of jazz styled music. Either way, fine music is an accurate description.
Master Music – “Jazz Vocal Audiophile Collection” Harmonix
I would say it is a given that audiophiles care as much about sonics as the music itself. It is fine enough to enjoy a song, but when the song, and the quality of the recording are both exceptional, it is a real plus. That moves the needle for the average audiophile. Such is the case for the latest Master Music Audiophile selection. I have reviewed works using this mastering process on several occasions. Those previous reviews have been all classical in nature. This marks the first time I have been able to enjoy a high quality XRCD Master Recording in the jazz genre. Mastered and produced in Japan using the JVC extended 24-bit mastering process, the sonics are excellent. They, in fact, merit as much attention as does the music. That said, the tracks are mostly covers by noted singers such as Amanda McBroom, Hellen Merrill and Jean Frye Sidwell. All twelve tracks are traditional, vocal, jazz selections and are very enjoyable. All are the kind of music one can settle into an easy chair and become lost. Equally notable are the quality of sonics which, by any measure, are as welcomed as the music itself. These Master Music selections are available from Elusive Disc
Wayne Alpern – “Standard Deviation” Henri Elkan Music
Originally born in Detroit, NYC resident Wayne Alpern was surrounded from an early age by Motown. His considerably impressive musical education includes University of Michigan, City University of New York, Yale, Harvard and Julliard. Oh, and he holds a Yale Law degree and was a litigator for twenty years. He has also taught music at several universities in the Northeast. On his latest release, “Standard Deviation,” Alpern harkens back to his Motown roots with jazz-oriented covers of classic tunes like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and the internationally classic Temptations hit, “My Girl.” Yet he also, perhaps improbably, covers the rock-oriented Journey hit “Don’t Stop Believin.” Being fair, there is also a cover of the country tune, “Ode To Billie Joe” by country performer Bobbie Gentry. Halpern did all of the arrangements and each of the ten tracks are done exceptionally well. I first reviewed another Alpern work, “Skeleton” on January 3rd. Like that release, “Deviation” is not so much of a deviation at all. Like the earlier one, it is jazz oriented music of non-jazz works. And also like the earlier one, I thought this one was excellent.
Bob Baldwin – “Henna” CITY SKETCHES, INC.
Bob Baldwin’s career hardly stood a chance. His Father was a noted jazz pianist and his cousin, Larry Willis, was a pianist for Blood, Sweat and Tears. Baldwin’s career not only includes his efforts as a recording artist, he’s also a successful writer, producer, composer and author. He has worked with legendary artists such as The Four Tops, Grover Washington, Jr., Paul Brown and Richard Elliott to name a few. His first release, “A Long Way To Go,” debuted in 1988. “Henna” is his thirty first release. In it, he makes a fairly extensive use of percussion and the transients they offer makes the music interesting. This might be best classified as traditional jazz. However, it is done in an upbeat, funky style. French born guitarist U-Nam adds his considerable talent on a few tracks, as does the ever upbeat smooth jazz artist Marion Meadows. He even has a contribution from one of my favorite smooth jazz performers, British pianist Oli Silk. Meadows makes a real impact on #10, the 10:50 track titled “Club Life.” Meadows even wrote the track originally. I had that one really cranked up during the review. Bob Baldwin has a triumph of a work in “Henna.” Jazz oriented, funky oriented, upbeat, stylish, slick, cool – use any of those descriptions you like. They all apply.