Thursday, July 30, 2015

Love, In Many Shapes, In Many Dreams

Love songs, one imagines, are as old as the spoken word, as old as religion, old as other music.  In his plays, William Shakespeare wrote about love in its many guises. In the work of great painters, such as Michelangelo and Renoir, one could view the physical aspects of love. Rodin, in his sculptures, and Ansel Adams, in his natural images, showed love.  But, a good love song gets inside one's mind and can stay there forever (for this writer, John Lennon's "In My Life" made a great impression on first listen and still, after 50 years, has great power).  As opposed to "lust" songs (everyone has his or her favorite), love songs deal with emotions that are hard to categorize and even harder to shake.

This post looks at 3 new recordings, all of which have love at its core.

While there are plenty of love songs written every year, if you are an adult and you like "pop" music, well-written love songs usually end up on Broadway.  For her 11th recording (10 under her name and "Fourteen" with Stephanie Trick), Lorraine Feather has created her first album entirely made up of romantic songs.  Judging by the title - "Flirting With Disaster" (Jazzed Media) - this is not an album filled with "pie-in-the-sky" true love ditties. Instead, these are songs about who take chances even if there is a possibility of being burned.

Working with her impressive band of co-writers that include Russell Ferrante, Eddie Arkin, Shelly Berg, and Dave Grusin (all but Grusin have been involved as composer and/or musician with Ms. Feather's music for the past 5 albums and he showed up on 2013's "Attachments"), she has created 11 impressive songs, each with its own strength and beauty. If you're a fan you already know to expect the unexpected.  The violin of Charles Bisharat makes several appearances and his distinctive sound blends so well with the voice. On "Off-Center", the violin acts as a counterpoint while, on the title track, he wraps his tones around the active rhythm section of bassist Michael Valerio and drummer Michael Shapiro. Guitarist Grant Geissman appears on 3 tracks; his rolling phrases and blues-drenched riffs adds depth to "Big Time" while his acoustic rhythm guitar bounces along ever-so-Brazilian on "Wait For It."

  Ms. Feather has always had a playful side.  It's here on pieces such as the funky ditty "Muse" where Berg's piano and Bisharat's violin take turns riffing around the vocal choruses. The song is a sexy plea for a splendid melody and what the vocalist is willing and not willing to do. There's a more than a touch of salsa on "I'd Be Down With That", even a bit of rap that helps to take the piece out (drummer Shapiro really shines on this track playing off the vocal and Ferrante's montuno.) Her background vocal arrangement stands out on "Off-Center" (sounding a bit Beatles-esque on the opening section).

EyeShot Jazz 2012
However, the ballads on this recording are just stunning.  "Feels Like Snow" starts slowly, light piano notes dropping down on a quiet bed of synthesized strings.  The delicate vocal, the gentle piano (Ferrante - pictured left - composed the music and plays all the parts), and the emotions in the lyrics all build to an ethereal finish. Arkin composed and arranged "The Last Wave" yet the guitarist used Ferrante's sweet piano as the only instrument to support the vocal.  "Disastrous Consequences", composed and arranged by Ferrante, has uses rapid-fire circular piano lines to frame the voice with the violin playing counterpoint and the atonal chords give the piece an ominous feel (but do refer to the title.)  The program closes with "The Staircase";  here, it's just composer Berg on piano, Valerio's bowed bass, and Bisharat's exquisite violin lines that frame and support the vocal.  The lyrics attempt to explain the multitude of emotions that love can create within the mind and body of a person coming to terms with dedicating herself to another.

"Flirting With Disaster" is adult music, music that does not pander to or look down upon its audience but allows listeners to revel in the creative process, how musicians, composers, lyricist, and singer work together to illuminate the complexities of their lives. All of us have had these emotions, have been unable to express them or done so clumsily - that's life. Lorraine Feather continues to grow as a lyricist, vocalist, arranger, performer and human being.  Her music not only resonates but also brings joy.

For more information, go to

Composer and vocalist Kat Reinhert, a native of rural Wisconsin, has studied with Ken Schaphorst at Lawrence University, with vocalists Peter Eldridge and Jane Monheit at the Manhattan School of Music in New York City and earned her Masters in Music/Jazz Pedagogy at the University of Miami. She has released 2 previous CDs in 2001 and 2009 under the name of Kat Calvosa.  After returning to New York City several years ago, she formed a band with Perry Smith (guitar), Sam Minaie (bass) and Ross Pederson (drums); they are featured throughout her new recording "Spark" (self-released), an impressive collection of 13 songs (all original save for a splendid rearrangement of Rush's "Limelight") produced by David Cook (who appears throughout on piano and keyboards).

It's obvious from the opening notes of "Walk Into The Rain" that these musicians have put time in on this music.  The interaction of bass and guitar push the piece forward while Pederson dances beneath. Cook's electric piano adds quiet colors but Ms. Reinhert is the focal point. She makes sure you hear each word, articulating her story.  There are moments when the music has an airy feel, such as on the country-ish "My Arms" (1 of 3 tracks that feature Julia Pederson on electric bass) but, if you listen closely, the vocalist gives credit to her parents for teaching how to be an adult. The playful nature of "Naked" is not just about nudity but also shows the artist's strength to be her own person.  Cook take a brisk solo over the thick bass lines but it's Smith's crackling guitar that underpins the vocals.

A touch of Americana and psychedelia enters into the mix of "Little Compartments", a track that features the 2 bassists and a trio of background vocalists that include Ms. Reinhert's contemporaries, Jo Lawry, Shayna Steele and Sarah Tolar. The vocal trio returns on on "Without A Fight", a sweet ballad that opens with just voice and guitar.  Nudity enters this track as well but the piece is really about what one really wants out of life.  The angelic voices appear on the top of each chorus.  Ms. Lawry is the only "extra" voice on "Paper Bag", yet another reminder of how hard it is to get through certain day and how one needs to dig deep.  Cellist Jody Redhage makes the first of her 2 appearances on the track strictly in a supportive role beneath the voce on the chorus.  Her "deep" tones are more noticeable on "Prison", blending with the stark piano chords and synth moans.  The "country" feel of the piece comes from the fine slide guitar work of Smith.  He's the unsung hero of the program - Cook's keyboard work is quite good as well but the guitarist often is the one who creates or interprets the mood of the song and of the vocalist.  Minaie and Pederson is the rhythm section Smith worked with on his 2013 debut on BJU Records so the familiarity breeds freedom (knowing the musicians have each other's backs).

Over the course 13 tracks, Kat Reinhert reveals much about the lot of a contemporary artist as well as how one deals with relationships in hectic lives.  One of the strengths of this album is that one has to listen a number of times to hear the stories, the intelligent arrangements, the plethora of fine solos (bassist Minaie stands out as do the afore-mentioned Cook and Smith), and the fine vocals. Though the sparkler Ms. Reinhert holds out on the CD cover will burn out quickly, the music contained on "Spark" will last much longer.

The album hits the streets o 8/21/15 - for more information, go to

Vocalist Mark Christian Miller is a new name to me but seeing that pianist Josh Nelson is on the CD and arranged or co-arranged 7 of the 11 tracks plus the fine vocalist Judy Wexler produced the recording (along with Miller), all that piqued my interest. "Crazy Moon" (Sliding Door Jazz Productions) is his 2nd CD as a leader (the first was released in 2000 under the name Mark Miller plus he released a duo disc in 2011 with fellow vocalist Betty Bryant).  The program is mostly standards, with a few surprises, played by a top-notch group of Los Angeles musicians including Nelson, bassist Dave Robaire and drummer Sammy Miller (no relation) plus guests Larry Koonse (guitar), Ron Stout (trumpet), Billy Hulting (percussion) and Bob Sheppard (bass clarinet).

While the leader does not have a "big voice", he has a friendly approach to the music.  That makes some of the music seem impersonal.  Yet, there are a number of pleasant surprises. "Cheek to Cheek" dances in on the brush work of Miller the younger but pay attention to what Nelson does in the background and on his solo.  His adventurous nature gives Robaire his wings for his solo.  There is a dynamic version of Artie Shaw's 1939 hit "Moonray", arranged by pianist/vocalist Jamieson Trotter, (1 of his 4 on the CD) with Koonse and Nelson standing for the original version's orchestra. Another excellent choice is "Twilight World", the Marian McPartland composition that Johnny Mercer added lyrics to.  Hulting's percussion rises out of the rhythm section while Nelson lays down the fundamental chords. This is one of Miller's best performances as he inhabits the lyrics, trying to convince his lover to make the most of their time together.  Koonse's splendid solo takes its cue from the vocal.  In fact, throughout the album, Miller's alto voice sounds better in its higher ranges.  His bluesy turn on Andre Previn's "Second Chance", ably abetted by the sensitive rhythm section and the whiskey-smooth tones of Ron Stout's trumpet is still another highlight.

"Crazy Moon" is a solid and smart debut enlivened by the strong musicianship and good choice of material.  At times, it sounds like Mark Christian Miller should have had an audience for these performances because the enthusiasm of an audience for good songs often adds adrenalin to the performers. Give a listen below:

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