Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Ms. Jazz Master, Sam He Is, BG Speaks + Hello Bill Lowe

 Whenever I listen to Sheila Jordan, her voice mesmerizes me.  It's easy to enter her musical world, easy to sit and listen as she tells her stories through song.   Just last month, the National Endowment for the Arts honored her life's work by naming her one of the 2012 Jazz Masters.  Honestly, what took so long?    

Her latest CD, "Yesterdays" (HighNote), features Ms. Jordan alongside bassist Harvie S.  Recorded live in concert circa 1990, the tapes turned up one day and we are so lucky they did.  The duo recorded 3 Lps/CDs in their decade+ association but none with the warmth, the experimentation and the musicality that this program.  All of their recordings are worth hearing but this one is a necessity.  Bassist S manages to be an "orchestra" behind the voice, his thick tones and fleet lines serving as both support and equal partner. They "rock" out on "It Don't Mean A Thing"  then make "Mood Indigo" a very deep hue of the blues. Their playful take of "The Very Thought Of You" moves beyond the lyrics into a personal story of the singer being told by critic Leonard Feather taking her task for not singing the melody.

There is so much to like here, from the title track that opens the CD as a longing paean to "olden days, golden days" (Harvie S's bass chords are wonderful) to the "Fred Astaire Medley" that closes the program.  The duo blaze through "Let's Face The Music and Dance" before their playful take of "Cheek to Cheek" ending with an absolutely jovial (and operatic!) version of "I Could Have Danced All Night";  Ms. Jordan collapses in laughter at the end, a splendid exclamation point to an excellent set.  

If you don't own a Sheila Jordan recording and claim to be a fan of jazz vocalists, you should be ashamed.  "Yesterdays" is one of her best and a good place to start. To find out more, go to

 "From Sun to Sun" (Origin Records) is the second CD pianist/organist Sam Yahel has recorded with bassist Matt Penman and drummer Jochen Rueckert - PosiTone Records released the first, "Hometown", in 2009.  Yahel, who many listeners first encountered as an organist on numerous CDs, has worked with Joshua Redman, Norah Jones, Bill Frisell and Peter Bernstein (among others), surprised many people with the excellence of his piano playing on the previous CD and this new one (recorded in May of 2010) is equally as pleasing.  The 3 musicians are quite comfortable with each other and don't play it safe.  Their work on "A Beautiful Friendship" sounds effortless yet is filled with emotional and melodic richness.  The shifting tempos of "2 Pilgrims" allows for shimmering cymbal sounds, pleasing counterpoint from the bass and piano figures that move from swinging jazz to mellifluous classical phrases (check out Yahel's left hand..very nice.) 

One hears traces of Americana in the melody of the title track (Rueckert's drumming is pleasingly interactive) while the trio's version of Cole Porter's "So In Love" is a musical celebration of a fiery romance.  Here, Penman's bass pushes the piece forward, spurring the pianist on to one of his more "high-energy" solos.  There is plenty of playfulness in this music, whether it's the bluesy, Ornette Coleman-like, melody of "By Hook or By Crook" to the funky sprint through "Git It" (again, Rueckert's drumming is quite a joy to listen to.)

The sounds emanating from the minds, hands and feet of Sam Yahel, Matt Penman and Jochen Rueckert is a true pleasure.  "From Sun to Sun" is bright and joyous music, well worth exploring.  To find out more, go to  FYI, Sam Yahel sits with Josh Jackson on the 1/31 edition of "The Checkout" and plays the "iPod Shuffle" - check it out at by clicking here

The same show features a long, very enjoyable, conversation with saxophonist/composer Benny Golson. Golson, composer of "Whisper Not" and "Killer Joe" (and lots more), turned 83 on January 25 and continues to compose, perform and record.  A 1996 NEA Jazz Master, the stories he tells to host Jackson are filled with humor, wisdom and joy.  There are moments when Golson drops into a whisper, effectively drawing the listener into his world.  Check it out at

Bass trombonist and tuba player Bill Lowe has performed with a slew of fine musicians over his 4+ decades as a musician.  He's also spent many years as an educator at Wesleyan University, Northeastern, Columbia and, most recently, at Brown University. Professor Lowe has recorded and toured with Henry Threadgill, Bill Dixon, James "Jabbo" Ware's Me, We & Them Orchestra, and currently is a member of Taylor Ho Bynum's Sextet.  Along the way, he's worked with Dizzy Gillespie, Eartha Kitt, Mercer Ellington and Bill Barron (that's only 4 out of many.) He's composed work for small ensembles, orchestras and for theater productions. 

Bynum, his former student and long-time friend, has assembled recordings and radio broadcasts for the fine music blog, "Destination Out."  Part 1 is up now - it's a well-deserved (and long overdue) look at the man, his music and fascinating journey.  Give a look and listen at

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