Tides of Yesterday - Carolyn Leonhart with Wayne Escoffery (Savant) - This is the second full recording by the married couple (they tied the "knot" in 2006), featuring a similar lineup to 2008's "If Dreams Come True" (Nagel-Heyer), with Donald Edwards on drums (instead of Jason Brown or Carl Allen.) Ms. Leonhart has a fine, flexible, voice, she inhabits lyrics fully and there's a soulful edge to her readings. Highlights include the double-edged take on Richard Rodgers' "The Sweetest Sound", a track that starts with a long, slow, voice and guitar (Adam Rogers) intro before heading into hard-bop with strong solos from Rogers and Escoffery (on tenor.) "Never Never Land" is a truly pretty tune with a sweet vocal and atmospheric tenor sax. "The Harbor (Poppy's Song)" is an original tune (music by Joe Martin, lyrics by Leonhart) and has a Latin feel, sparkling piano from Todu Dodo and "popping" percussion from Edwards and guest Jeff Haynes. Escoffery moves to soprano sax and Rogers to acoustic guitar for sweet take of Charles Mingus's "Eclipse." Tenor and voice open the fiery version of Lee Morgan's "Infinity" that closes the disk. The duo stay together on the melody line before moving aside for Dodo's driving solo. They dig deep into "Big Noise, New York", written by Donald Fagen (from Steely Dan, the group that Ms. Leonhart sings background vocals on the band's post-Millennium releases and on tour.) It' a smoky, bluesy, ballad with great drumming from Edwards, a funky electric piano solo and fiery tenor sax but it's Ms. Leonhart's soulful vocal that enlivens the tune. She and Dodo create a contemplative setting for their duet on "You Must Believe in Spring", a rendition without a wasted note.
There's not a weak track on this fine recording and it's the sort of program you can put on repeat. Escoffery plays with great fire and also shows quite a melodic side. The rhythm section is tight and responsive. Ms. Leonhart is part of the band, she's an articulate vocalist (no lyrics lost to "showboating") with good musical instincts. For more information, go to www.carolynleonhart.com or www.escofferymusic.com.
Initiation - Erica Lindsay and Sumi Tonooka (ARC) - This fine collection of original tunes (5 each by Ms. Lindsay and Ms. Tonooka) continues to grow on me. The music is fairly "straight-ahead" but not "neo-con", with blues influences in both composers' works - best part is that it's not just a "blowing" session. The songs have complete melodies, the solos grow logically out of the thematic material, and everyone plays well. Ms. Lindsay, who works with Bakaida Carroll, the Oliver Big Band and is on the faculty of Bard College, is a gutsy tenor saxophonist and her compositions show an affinity for the music of John Coltrane. Ms. Tonooka, a native of Philadelphia, has worked with Kenny Burrell, Little Jimmy Scott, Red Rodney, Benny Golson, and David “Fathead” Newman while maintaining a busy solo career for the past 2 decades. Her longtime collaborator Rufus Reid (bass) and the late Bob Braye (drums, who passed in 2007, 3 years after this session was recorded) make up the solid rhythm section.
Among the highlights is Ms. Tonooka's elegant ballad "Mingus Mood." Lindsay does a smoldering yet controlled reading of the theme before Reid's long and melodic bass solo. The composer's solo is emotional, heartfelt and grows in power yet never gets lost in technique. Starting off in a "Moondance" groove, "South Street" is another evocative blues that builds upon Braye's active drum work and Reid's booming bass lines. Ms. Lindsay's "Serpent's Tale"opens with an out-of-time tenor/bass dialogue that lasts several minutes before the piano and drums enter. The tenor solo stays mostly in the middle-range, not fiery yet both muscular and poetic.Ms. Tonooka's touch is gentle and assertive throughout; she never tries to "force the action" and her ballad work is so melodic ("The Gift" is a sweet present, a track on which all the parts fit so well, one could not ask for better.) Ms. Lindsay's "Yes" ends the program on a high note, literally bursting out of its seams from the opening moment (Braye and Reid are stalwarts, really propelling the soloists forward.)
"Initiation" is 70+ minutes of mature creative music that is quite joyful and rewarding. Recorded nearly 6 years ago, the music is fresh and impressively devoid of cliche. To find out more, go to www.ericalindsay.com or www.sumitonooka.com.