NANCY ERICKSON’S SWEET SHARP MAGIC

Nancy Erickson

At the end of 2015, a friend suggested I listen to the singer Nancy Erickson, who had collaborated on and sung NEW YEAR’S EVE, appropriate to the season.  I did listen — several times — and was entranced, as you can read here.  Not only was it a well-constructed song, it was rare in celebrating devoted long-term emotional fidelity rather than the brief infatuation, the searing heartbreak.

And Nancy Erickson’s voice and vocal style made their own lasting impression:

Her voice is dark and rich but her approach breathes its own naturalness, so I never find myself listening purely to her “vocal instrument,” but rather the ways in which it conveys the emotional and musical message — now somber, now light-hearted, her diction always clear but never an elocution lesson, her pitch accurate without being mechanical.  She subtly improvises on melody, lyrics, and rhythmic patterns, but her embellishments light the way rather than dynamiting the original’s intent.

To me, she beautifully balances drama and subtlety, intensity and delicacy.  And this may seem an odd thing to write, but in this era of heightened artifice, Nancy comes across as a human being with great sensitivity, rather than someone attempting to act the part of a.h.b.w.g.s.

I closed my December post by writing that I eagerly looked forward to her new CD.  It came; I’ve listened to it multiple times; it’s wholly gratifying.  The cover alone will tell you that Nancy Erickson follows her own splendidly surprising impulses.  The “photography and compositing” is by Steve Korn, but I sense Nancy’s inspired whimsy here as well:

Nancy Erickson cover

I know: somewhere you might hear the muffled tinkle of a convention falling off the kitchen counter and smashing on the floor.  Isn’t an attractive woman singer supposed to be draped alluringly — on a divan, in a doorway, hair blowing out of a convertible — so that the Fifties male audience can purchase the cover without giving much thought to the art?  For me, I’ll take what looks like a giant goldfish suspended in mid-air, with Nancy patting it nicely (“Gooooood fish!”) any time as an alternative.  Inside the CD there’s another variation on the cover, offering surprise rather than pastoral complacencies.

But the witty cover would mean nothing if the music was dull, predictable, inept. Not to worry.  And if  you would like to jump ahead, here you can both listen and purchase.

Nancy’s songlist tells a good deal about her range and intelligent approach to the often-constricting “Great American Songbook”:  NEW YEAR’S EVE (which Nancy says is inspired by the story of her mother and father — another delightful change from the twenty-first century formula); WHILE STROLLING THROUGH THE PARK ONE DAY; IF MUSIC BE THE FOOD OF LOVE; PERDIDO; PRELUDE TO A KISS; SUMMER DAY (Nancy’s original); I JUST DROPPED BY TO SAY HELLO (a duet with Clipper Anderson); THAT OLD BLACK MAGIC; THE WHIPPOORWILL SONG (Nancy’s original); LA VIE EN ROSE.  Purcell, Ellington, Piaf — now there’s a heady mix.

Take the title song for an example.  WHILE STROLLING THROUGH THE PARK ONE DAY is quite venerable — 1884 — and thus both popular as a kind of Victorian love-anthem and the subject of parody in the best Chuck Jones manner.  Nancy offers her own angle on it — beginning with a percussive vocal vamp echoed by the rhythm section, then moving into a loose reading of the original lyrics (with “a pair of roguish eyes”).  But before we know it, we are in Nancy’s own sweetly hip romantic lyrics of the singer’s delight in a handsome fellow who has crossed her path at the fountain in the park.  Then an expert trombone solo over the crisply swinging rhythm section gives way to Nancy’s bridge (where she alternates her own lyrics and an imagined orchestral riff) — and the track returns to the original percussive pattern, stopping abruptly but well.  IF MUSIC BE THE FOOD OF LOVE marries Purcell to rocking boppish accompaniment (and a tenor saxophone solo that looks to the present but also back to Buddy Tate), and when Nancy tells us “Sing on!” we know the urging comes from her heart, to herself as well as to us.

PERDIDO and PRELUDE TO A KISS have been done and perhaps overdone — but Nancy’s version of the first is firmly and endearingly Fifties: is it a cha-cha? I don’t know, but the slightly goofy lyrics and the retro-rhythms work perfectly. PRELUDE starts on a high note — both emotionally and technically — and Nancy offers a reading that is classically lovely yet deeply felt.  SUMMER DAY seems like the best poetic folk opus — in a world where taste ruled, it would become a hit, both evocative and elusive.  The vocal duet on I JUST DROPPED BY TO SAY HELLO — for bassist / singer Clipper Anderson and Nancy — is not imitative, but it affectionately honors the great male / female pairings of popular song without “attempting to be” Louis and Ella, Ray and Betty, Billy and Sarah — the two singers splendidly convey the emotions of this tender, hopeful, rueful song.  What it says about me I don’t know, but I kept returning to this track.

THAT OLD BLACK MAGIC has often been buried under emotional hyperbole, but Nancy takes it lightly, at a conversational pace, savoring melody and lyrics but never in capital letters.  Her brief scat interlude in MAGIC seems entirely organic (and it’s expert) rather than an obligatory inclusion.  THE WHIPPOORWILL SONG seems to borrow some of its mournful nature from SAINT JAMES INFIRMARY, but that’s a worthy homage to a sad ancestor.  And the closing LA VIE EN ROSE is a touching, entirely affecting duet with bass — arco on the verse, pizzicato for the chorus.

Nancy’s musical colleagues are loving and wise players: they surround her with the best sounds.  I commend them: Darin Clendenin, piano; Clipper Anderson, string bass / vocal (7); Ken French, drums; Jay Thomas, flute, flugelhorn (4 and 6); David Marriott, trombone (2); Alexey Nikolaev, tenor (3 and 9); Jeff Busch, percussion (4 and 9); Jacqueline Tabor, vocals (9).

The CD avoids monotony by making sure adjacent tracks have enough spice, so that a performance with a trombone solo gives way to one with a tenor chorus, to one with flute.  Tempos, moods, and approaches change — but not so much that one feels a shock from track to track.

With this CD, I think Nancy Erickson deserves our very close attention as a fully-formed artist, one of our best contemporary singers — full of feeling, wit, affection, reverence for tradition and a thoroughly winning originality.

You can subscribe to Nancy’s YouTube channel here, but you will learn more about her here.  And even here.

May your happiness increase!

MERRILL CHEERS MASSACHUSETTS (February 18, 2016)

The engaging trumpeter, singer, and composer Bob Merrill has a Boston gig I think you would like.

Bob Merrill CUTU

It’s at the Regattabar on February 18, 2016 — beginning at 7:30 PM: details here (order tickets, etc.) as well as a nice writeup of Bob and the band if they are not familiar to you.  It’s a CD release show for CHEERIN’ UP THE UNIVERSE, and the band is a fine one: Bob, trumpet / vocals; Russ Gershon, reeds / flute; Freddy Bryant, guitar; Laurence Hobgood, piano; John Lockwood, string bass; George Schuller, drums; Vicente Lebron, percussion.

Here’s a charming audio-visual sample:

and Bob’s YouTube channel is here.

When Bob’s CD came out, I enjoyed it and wrote this.  So if you are in the Boston area or plan to be, consider joining Bob for an evening of his particular light-heartedness.

May your happiness increase! 

“WHEE!”: DAN BARRETT, DUKE HEITGER, BRIA SKONBERG, TOM FISCHER, DALTON RIDENHOUR, SEAN CRONIN, DARRIAN DOUGLAS at the 2015 ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY

Tom Lord, in his well-known online jazz discography, lists 749 versions of THAT’S A PLENTY, beginning with Prince’s Band / Orchestra in 1914, which might not be the same as this song (which most of us associate with the New Orleans Rhythm Kings).  The title seems to have been a slangy catchphrase at the start of the last century, so there are several songs with that title but different music and lyrics.

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Here’s another version, quite elevating, from April 17, 2015, with Dan, trombone, leadership, and comedy; Duke Heitger, Bria Skonberg, trumpet; Tom Fischer, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Dalton Ridenhour, piano; Sean Cronin, string bass; Darrian Douglas, drums.

CONDON WHEE

WHEE! (When you begin to watch the video, all will be revealed):

It’s a wonderful song, a riotous performance, and a fine advertisement for the 2016 Atlanta Jazz Party.

May your happiness increase!

 

WARM AND SWINGING: AN EVENING WITH BILL CROW and FLIP PETERS (PROJECT 142: January 28, 2016)

BILL CROW

On January 28, 2016, I had the rare privilege of seeing / hearing / recording a duo session (under the aegis of project142) featuring the eminent Bill Crow — at 88 still a peerless string bassist, engaging raconteur, and surprisingly effective singer — and his friend and colleague, guitarist / singer Flip Peters.  (Thanks to Scot Albertson for making this all possible!)

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Here, in six parts, is that evening, one I won’t ever forget for swing, elegance, humor, feeling, and the joy of being alive, the joy of playing music.  And here is what I posted about the evening as prelude — don’t miss Flip’s beautiful words about Bill.

Bill describes his childhood immersion with music — all the way up to hearing Nat Cole for the first time:

Bill’s sings and plays SWEET LORRAINE for Nat Cole; his arrival in New York, memories of Birdland, Lester Young and Jo Jones, of Charlie Parker and Stan Getz:

More about Stan Getz, Claude Thornhill, Terry Gibbs, and the Detroit players: Billy Mitchell, Paul Chambers, Curtis Fuller (with a wicked cameo by Miles Davis) — then Bill and Flip play YARDBIRD SUITE:

Working with Marian McPartland and with Gerry Mulligan, and a swinging vocal from Flip on NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT:

Studying with Fred Zimmerman, a concert with Duke Ellington, then (in tribute to Duke) ROSE ROOM / IN A MELLOTONE:

Bill on his writing career, tales of Zoot Sims and Al Cohn, and a touching bonus, his vocal rendition of a forgotten 1936 swing tune, SING, BABY, SING:

I hope some person or organization, seeing these videos, says, “Let’s have Bill and Flip spend an evening with us!”  You know — for sure — that they have more music to offer and certainly more stories.  And their rich musical intimacy is wondrous.  To learn more about Bill, visit www.billcrowbass.com/.  To find out about booking the duo, contact Flip at flippeters@gmail.com or call him at 973-809-7149.  I hope to be able to attend the duo’s next recital: watch the videos and you will know why, quickly.

May your happiness increase!

NOT GOOD, BUT GREAT: SCOTT ROBINSON, DAN BLOCK, EHUD ASHERIE, NICKI PARROTT, HAL SMITH (CLEVELAND CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY, SEPTEMBER 11, 2015)

Jon-Erik Kellso, Dan Block, Scott Robinson at Jazz at Chautauqua 2011

Jon-Erik Kellso, Dan Block, Scott Robinson at Jazz at Chautauqua 2011

Jon-Erik Kellso is a crafty bandleader — in the fashion of his idol Ruby Braff — and he concluded his Saturday-night set at the 2015 Cleveland Classic Jazz Party (the party formerly known as the Allegheny Jazz Party) not with a rouser-complete-with-drum-solo, but by letting two of the prime lyrical players in the world, people who happen to play reed instruments, create something beautiful with just the rhythm section.

The creators here were (and are) Dan Block, Scott Robinson, alto and tenor saxophones respectively; Ehud Asherie, piano; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.  In another context, this might have been cause to howl and wail — think of LESTER LEAPS IN, JUMPIN’ AT THE WOODSIDE, FOUR BROTHERS, or other notable climaxes that would have had the audience on its feet.  But no.  They had decided on the lovely Ellington ballad, I GOT IT BAD (AND THAT AIN’T GOOD) and here are the tender results:

I especially warm to this performance — not only for Dan’s soaring Hodges-lyricism, but for the way Scott leads what we might expect in new directions.

I offer here the story that I might have heard first from the source, Richard Hadlock, reedman, scholar, writer, and broadcaster.  Richard was teaching a kindergarten class in the early Sixties and he brought his friend — the heroic pianist Joe Sullivan — to play for the children.  Sullivan told the children that he was going to play I GOT IT BAD (AND THAT AIN’T GOOD) and either before or after he did so, one of the little scholars raised his hand and told Sullivan that using “ain’t” was wrong.  Sullivan politely thanked the child and said he would mend his ways.  Let that be a lesson to all of us.

Information about the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party — which will be held September 15-18, 2016, can be found here.  Unless two-ton cupcakes fall from the sky and render me senseless, I’ll be there.

May your happiness increase!

“MOONSHADOW DANCE”: REBECCA KILGORE, ELLEN VANDERSLICE, and MIKE HORSFALL

I’m delighted to tell you about a new Rebecca Kilgore CD, delicious and new. I’ve repeated NEW in the first sentence for a reason: MOONSHADOW DANCE is not only a new plastic artifact in a new cardboard sleeve, but it contains new music — songs by Ellen Vanderslice, Mike Horsfall, and Rebecca herself.

MSD_Cover

The idea of the singer-songwriter is such a familiar one in the last half-century that I won’t make a fuss about it.  However, our Rebecca has made her wondrous reputation by singing “the Great American Songbook,” which in most cases has meant songs from the late  Twenties to the late Fifties, with some exceptions. And for most CD-buyers and audience members, that has meant a certain amount of comfort.  Rebecca is a happily curious Songhound — she searches out deserving songs whether they are rare or familiar, and they glisten when she sings them.  But at a concert, for instance, I can almost feel the audience sigh with pleasure when Rebecca finishes the verse of a Rodgers and Hart song and tenderly makes her way into the chorus.  “A beloved friend,” is our unspoken response, our happiness at hearing something we have the most tender feelings for.

It is of course possible and even delightful to devote one’s career to singing or playing the familiar.  Louis never got tired of WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH, and Hot Lips Page is reputed to have said, “The material is immaterial.” But the great pleasure of this new CD, MOONSHADOW DANCE, is that almost every song is a new creation by Vanderslice, Horsfall, and Kilgore.

But before any reader panics and snorts, “New songs?  Why doesn’t anyone sing any of the great old songs anymore?” and reaches for a familiar sheaf of 78s . . . here’s some pleasing evidence that “new” doesn’t have to mean “loud,” “coarse,” or “postmodern,”when the songs are written by the masterful Ellen Vanderslice, Mike Horsfall, and our Rebecca:

Not only do you hear Rebecca’s silken voice, but the melody and lyrics are beautifully crafted — no cliches, either musical or lyrical — but with a certain fresh flair, so that a listener doesn’t think for a moment, “Wow, that turn of phrase must have been the cat’s meow or the cat’s pajamas in 1929.”  Rather, this song and the fifteen others on this disc are musically substantial but not imitations of older songs, and the lyrics sound the way an elegant, witty speaker of this century might talk.

A digression about the video: words and music by Ellen Vanderslice, music by Mike Horsfall.  Musicians are Rebecca Kilgore, vocal; Randy Porter, piano; Tom Wakeling, string bass; Todd Strait, drums; Dan Balmer, guitar; Mike Horsfall, vibraphone / arrangement.  The wonderful dancers are Rachel Lidskog-Lim and Jack Lim.  (I am a literal-minded type, so I was relieved that the pasta did not get overcooked and gummy and that Rachel and Jack — unlike me — can cook so neatly that they don’t mess up their formal clothes.)

Back to the CD.  On it, you’ll hear wry portraits of contemporary life (a blues about the civilization and its discontents) that are mildly reminiscent of Portland’s master viewer-at-a-slant, Dave Frishberg, but there are plenty of songs about songwriters’ favorite subject: love.  There’s ONE LITTLE KISS, AEOLIAN SHADE, I’M NOT SUSCEPTIBLE TO LOVE, UM MINUTO A MAIS (ONE MINUTE MORE), TO HAVE, TO HOLD, TO LOVE, ONE MORE TIME TO SAY GOODBYE, and the even more emphatic THAT’S IT!  There’s also what I believe is the first recorded performance of Rebecca’s multilingual fantasy, THE DAY I LEARNED FRENCH.  And I already have found myself humming BIRTHDAY SONG, GENERIC, which has a hilarious punchline.

The instrumental accompaniment from Randy Porter, Tom Wakeling, Todd Strait, Dan Balmer, Israel Annoh, Steve Christofferson, Marco DeCarvalho, David Evans, Mike Horsfall, Tim Jensen, Mike Horsfall, John Moak, and Dick Titterington is first-rate: singer Susanna Mars joins in on YOU MAKE IT LOOK SO EASY.

It’s a very rewarding CD, full of small sweet / tangy surprises.  I predict that some of the “new” songs” will become memorable friends in one or two listening.

Now — if you live in Portland, Oregon, and are reading this early on Sunday, January 31, 2016, you have a special opportunity to enjoy this music in an experience larger than your earbuds: a concert from 2-4 PM, with Rebecca, Randy Porter, Todd Strait, Tom Wakeling, Mike Horsfall and other musicians, as well as dancers Rachel and Tim from the video above.  Details here at the bottom of the page.  Also on that same page you will find links to help you purchase the CD as a disc or download.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to get dressed up and cook some pasta.  And MOONSHADOW DANCE will be the entirely fitting soundtrack.

May your happiness increase!

KINGS OF SWING: ALLAN VACHÉ, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, JOHN COCUZZI, PAUL KELLER, DARRIAN DOUGLAS at the 2015 ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY (April 18, 2015)

ALLAN VACHE

Allan Vaché knows what swing is all about, and when you get him on a bandstand with a good rhythm section, floating jazz improvisations happen.  And that was the case at the 2015 Atlanta Jazz Party — when he and Rossano Sportiello, piano; John Cocuzzi, vibraphone; Paul Keller, string bass; Darrian Douglas, drums, took their happy way through three Charlie Christian / Lionel Hampton riff tunes that have been associated with Benny Goodman for seventy-five years.

I’m amused that one title seems to refer to air travel (more of a novelty in 1939 than now), one to Benny’s clarinet, one to shooting craps.

FLYIN’ HOME:

SOFT WINDS:

SEVEN COME ELEVEN:

Yes, we certainly could lament that this is no longer our popular music, and occasionally I myself dip into that pit of despair, but the music that these five people made and still make is a true cure for any sadness.

And here is the information you’ll need about the 2016 Atlanta Jazz Party, April 22-24.

May your happiness increase!