Monday, January 30, 2012

Amy Sings Blossom + Soul Ballads + Cafe Music

Blossom Dearie (1924-2009) first arrived in New York City in the 1940s but really began her career in the early 1950s.  After several years in France as a member of singing groups, she began her solo career recording in a small group setting where she played piano and sang.  As opposed to blues belters or melismatic scat singers, Ms. Dearie has a soft, girlish, voice - she drew the listener in by telling "stories" in her songs.  A whole generation of kids in the 1970s grew up on her voice when she sang Bob Dorough's songs "Figure Eight" and "Unpack Your Adjectives" for ABC-Television's "Schoolhouse Rock."

"Digging Me, Digging You" (Anzic Records) is Amy Cervini's 3rd CD and is dedicated to the music of Ms. Dearie.  Ms. Cervini opened her previous release "Lovefool" with "Bye Bye Country Boy", a song Ms. Dearie recorded on her final studio Lp in 2000.  The title of Ms Cervini's recording comes from a song Ms. Dearie wrote after meeting John Lennon - that track, "Hey John", is a lilting, medium-tempo piece featuring the sensitive percussion of Matt Wilson, the bluesy piano of Bruce Barth and fleet bass lines of Matt Aronoff, the trio who supply the heartbeat of the CD. Arranger Oded Lev-Ari adds a horn section of a number of cuts and it's quite a lineup.  Anat Cohen (clarinet), her brother Avishai (trumpet), Jeremy Udden (alto saxophone), Josh Sinton (baritone sax), and Jennifer Wharton (bass trombone) create a handsome orchestra on "Once Upon A Summertime" and swing like mad on "Everything I've Got" (Anat really digs in  right after guitarist Jesse Lewis - who appears on 5 tracks - gets a "hot" chorus.) Avishai's muted trumpet shines on "Down With Love" as he picks up on the Art Tatum-esque spot from Barth.  Lewis's gentle guitar flows sweetly (sans accompaniment) behind Ms. Cervini on the opening verse of "Tea For Two", which is given a lovely ballad setting and has a handsome alto saxophone solo from Udden. Lev-Ari (Ms. Cervini's husband) replaces the rhythm section with a cello choir for "Figure Eight", creating a lovely backing that gives the mathematics lesson the feel of a love song.

I had never heard Cole Porter's "The Physician", a comic love song he composed for Gertrude Lawrence's 1933 "Nymph Errant" but it's a hoot (loving a woman for her interior as opposed to "outer" attributes  makes for a fascinating twist.)  "Rhode Island Is Famous For You" comes from the pens of Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz and was written for the 1948 Broadway show, "Inside USA" - the puns in the second half of the song always raise a smile as well as a groan.  "My Attorney Bernie" is a portrait of a hip lawyer from the pen of Dave Frishberg.  For this version, Wilson's dancing drums and Barth's swirling piano lines enliven the piece.

To her credit, Amy Cervini does not try to imitate Blossom Dearie nor does she (or arranger Lev-Ari) rein in the musicians. The majority of the solos are short and quite sweet - considering the program was recorded in 1 day, nothing sounds rushed or incomplete. From beginning to end, "Digging Me, Digging You" will make you smile - if this recording does not brighten your day, seek outside help.  For more information, go to

I spoke with Amy Cervini for my Sunday radio show and you can hear it here (sans music) -

Trumpeter-composer Jeremy Pelt continues his impressive run of CD releases with "Soul" (HighNote Records).  It's his 4th recording with the group of J.D. Allen (tenor saxophone), Danny Grissett (piano), Dwayne Burno (bass) and Gerald Cleaver (drums), all leaders on their own yet they have forged a group sound that rivals any working unit on the scene today. The majority of the pieces are ballads with 6 of the 8 cuts Pelt originals.  What makes this music so successful is that the front line is so strong and the rhythm section equally so.  Burno and Cleaver know how to support as well as incite the soloists; the percussive storm on "The Tempest" opens the door for the soloists to dig in while the active "walking" bass on "What's Wrong Is Right" sets a pace that pushes Pelt and Allen to react in kind. Grissett's spare yet dramatic piano opens "The Ballad of Ichabod Crane", with handsome unison work from Allen and Pelt.  The latter's muted solo creates a pensive mood, one that carries over (after the harder-edged "The Tempest")  to "The Story", with its languid melody leading to a ruminative tenor statement. No one rushes yet the piece never drags.  Joanna Pascale adds her highly expressive voice to "Moondrift" ( from the team of Sammy Cahn and Bela Malcsiner) - the piece is fairly short (3:45) but the interaction of the voice with the trumpet and tenor sax is excellent.

A recording that is mostly ballads by a group that is known for its highly charged work may put off some fans but "Soul" more than lives up to its name. Jeremy Pelt and company create strong moods throughout and the attentive listener has much to dig into. This music does not overstay its welcome; in fact, one can hit the "repeat" button and savor these sounds all night long.  For more information, go to

The Cornelia Street Cafe, 29 Cornelia Street in New York City, continues its impressive lineup of poetry and jazz with events most nights every week.  Go to to check out the offerings - the music listings are especially impressive. Now, the Cafe has a podcast that features songs from recent performances.  Right now, you can find music from Tim Berne's Los Totopos, drummer Tom Rainey's Trio (with guitarist Mary Halvorson), bassist Michael Bates' Outside Sources, legendary saxophonist George Garzone & the Australian Connection and others (12 separate performances "up" at the moment.) The site is - if you like contemporary creative music, a visit to this page will whet your appetite.     

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