Tag Archives: Larry Koonse

NOT ONLY BUT ALSO: ROBERTA PIKET, “WEST COAST TRIO”

When I taught freshman composition, some of my best students had grown up speaking a language not English.  They were often far more perceptive than the local talent whose radius of exploration was fifty miles. But the “ESL” crew occasionally had trouble with English idioms that native speakers take for granted.  One, memorably, was “not only but also,” and perhaps its apparent negation becoming affirmation was too much to digest at first.

While I was listening to pianist-composer Roberta Piket’s new CD, WEST COAST TRIO, the expression came back as a perfect way to describe her work, a great compliment.

If you don’t know Roberta’s work, you will want to scamper ahead to the video to hear it; she is also, not surprisingly, quietly eloquent about how she perceives what she does, and where she’s come from: here is a recent interview.

But to the music: in a landscape of artists who equate modernism with abstraction, Roberta always remembers that the heart of music is song, so her work, even when she is exploring, is always melodic and soulful, free from cliche, welcoming us in.  And whatever meter or tempo she chooses, her music has the pulse of a heartbeat.  To some, swinging improvisation is no longer relevant.  From the first measures of MENTOR, the first song on the disc, I was bobbing my head: for me, very good evidence of enjoyment.  The result can be innovative or technically sophisticated, but it’s mobile and warm, never chilly.

Here is the behind-the-scenes look at the session, extremely valuable because not only does it provide a tasting menu of the music, but also we see and hear Roberta speaking about it:

and here you can listen to longer samples of the music, download it, or purchase the actual disc — the last of which I recommend because Thirteenth Note Records’ products are superb, and Bob Bernotas’ liner notes equally so.

One of the other things to love about this CD is it shows off Roberta’s wide range of musical affections: standards by Legrand, Rodgers, and Donaldson (MY BUDDY is aimed right at our hearts), compositions by Shearing, Corea, Hicks, and two originals by Roberta.  Beautiful recorded sound and beautiful playing by Joe La Barbera, drums; Darek Olszkiewicz, string bass, with telling cameo appearances by Larry Koonse, guitar; Billy Mintz, drums.  There’s great variety: some performances seem dreamy, musing; others are superb dance music.

When I’d played the disc the first time, I wanted to hear it again.  You will, too.

May your happiness increase!

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JUDY WEXLER SINGS, AND WE ARE GLAD

I don’t know if everything happens for a reason, or that the cosmos is a series of accidents, some dreadful, some blissful.  But I can report on a happy encounter at the always-rewarding jazz club Mezzrow on West Tenth Street earlier this summer, when a nicely-dressed cheerful couple sat down next to me.  We began to speak (like my late father, I am not reticent when the mood seems right) and I met Judy and Alan Wexler.  I’d not encountered Judy in my California travels, but she told me she was a jazz singer; soon this CD arrived in the mail: JUDY WEXLER

I wouldn’t be writing these words were I not seriously impressed.

WHAT I SEE isn’t a brand-new disc: Judy and her wonderful musicians recorded it in 2013, but all that means is that I came late to the party.  (It’s her third disc for JazzedMedia, with good sound and liner notes.)  Her instrumental crew is Jeff Colella, piano; Larry Koonse, guitar, ukulele; Chris Colangelo, string bass; Steve Hass, drums; Ron Stout, flugelhorn, trumpet; Bob Sheppard, bass clarinet, also flute; Scott Whitfield, trombone; Billy Hulting, percussion.

The songs were not all familiar to me, but I was pleased and impressed with the breadth of Judy’s repertoire and the light-hearted conviction she brings to her material: a few classics associated with Louis, Billie, and Blossom, alongside lesser-known delights by King Pleasure (his lyrics to a Stan Getz solo), Benny Carter, Dory and Andre Previn, John Williams and Johnny Mercer, and songwriters new to me: TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY / THE MOON IS MADE OF GOLD / CONVINCE ME / THEY SAY IT’S SPRING /  A CERTAIN SADNESS / THE LONG GOODBYE / JUST FOR NOW / FOLLOW / ANOTHER TIME, ANOTHER PLACE / A KISS TO BUILD A DREAM ON / LAUGHING AT LIFE.

Before I begin to write about Judy’s singing style, perhaps you should hear her for yourself: one of the songs on this disc:

The first thing I note is Judy’s distinctive — and pleasing — voice.  She has a beautiful technique but one is never drawn to pure vocal effects; rather, she puts herself at the service of the song.  I’d call her vocal timbre bittersweet, which fits the material — the voice of someone essentially romantic who knows that it’s necessary to look all four ways before crossing the street.  You wouldn’t mistake herself for another singer, which is a great thing.  She neatly balances emotional intensity and a swinging ease.  Her music woos; it doesn’t insist.  On other performances, such as TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY, her improvising skills are even more gratifyingly evident: she sings three choruses and her elastic variations from chorus to chorus are never stark — she never obliterates the composer’s intent — but one delights in her playfulness.  She sings with an irresistible conversational ease, and on some songs I feel as if she is wryly smiling.  That’s very good medicine for us in this century.

Here’s another:

Judy Wexler does everything right: she sings rather than dramatizes, she knows how to swing, she respects the melody and the words, and you know it’s her. What more could anyone want?  (Nothing, except perhaps a new CD to listen to.)

See what happens when you go to the best jazz clubs and strike up conversations?  Your life is enriched.

May your happiness increase!

SONG LIKE GENTLE RAIN: DIANE LINSCOTT and LARRY KOONSE

dianelinscott

I had not heard or heard of the beautifully emotive singer Diane Linscott until recently.  My loss!  From the first warm notes of her CD, YOU ARE THERE, it’s evident that she inhabits her songs, not in any artificial way, but with the words and music coming from her heart’s core.

I don’t mean that she “acts” or “emotes,” but each phrase, lyrical or musical, is lit with deep feeling and deep understanding.

It doesn’t surprise me that her comments on her CD begin with lines from Cavafy.

Nor does it surprise me her work has been applauded by musicians — among them Dick Hyman and Dan Barrett.

You can hear for yourself here.

Diane is a mature artist — and I don’t mean that in terms of chronological numbers.  But for her these songs are texts of experience, of loss and elation, of romance attained and romance elusive.  No bitter wryness for her, no ironic distance from her choices.  And we could expect no less from an artist who drove across the United States to work and record with her sole accompanist on this CD, the quietly majestic guitarist Larry Koonse.

They intertwine and dance with great melodic honesty and gentleness on NOBODY’S HEART / MY IDEAL / THE GENTLE RAIN / ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE / I’M ALWAYS CHASING RAINBOWS / YOU ARE THERE / LIKE A LOVER / THE LIES OF HANDSOME MEN / I CAN DREAM, CAN’T I? / TOUCH ME IN THE MORNING – SOFTLY, AS I LEAVE YOU / WHERE DO YOU START? / WHERE IS LOVE? / YESTERDAY I HEARD THE RAIN.  Beautifully recorded, too.

YOU ARE THERE is a rare musical experience — a series of thoughtful, heartfelt performances assembled into a CD that feels deeply authentic all the way through.  To learn more about Diane — artist / photographer as well as singer, visit here or her Facebook page.

May your happiness increase.