Tag Archives: Mark McLean

CATHERINE RUSSELL BRINGS IT BACK, INDEED

We’re glad that there is a Catherine Russell, and she’s generously offered us another delicious helping of the heartfelt swing she and her colleagues create — in a new CD, called BRING IT BACK:

CATHERINE RUSSELL: BRING IT BACK (Jazz Village JVS 97001) Bring it Back; I’m Shooting High; I Let A Song Go out of My Heart; You Got To Swing and Sway; Aged and Mellow; the Darktown Strutters’ Ball; Lucille; You’ve Got Me Under Your Thumb; After the Lights Go Down Low; I’m Sticking With You Baby; Strange As It Seems; Public Melody Number One; I Cover The Waterfront.

Catherine Russell is a marvel: a great star and entertainer who gives herself utterly to the music, the rhythm, the words, and the emotions. She could have been a true rival for any of the great singers of the past, but she sounds utterly like herself.

She doesn’t have a gravelly voice or carry a handkerchief, but she embodies the warm, vibrant spirit of Louis Armstrong. That isn’t surprising, because her parents were Armstrong’s long-time pianist and musical director Luis Russell and singer / bassist Carline Ray.

BRING IT BACK continues her series of energized yet subtle CDs that draw on little-known tunes from an earlier era (composers from her father to Fats Waller, Harold Arlen, Jimmy McHugh, and Ida Cox) and blues-based material associated with Esther Phillips, Al Hibbler, Wynonie Harris and Little Willie John. The disc is emotionally satisfying, because Russell proves herself an adult who brings a consistent understanding to the emotions of each song. When the CD is over, it seems as if it’s just begun — and that’s not a matter of timing but of our pleasure: we want to hear more!

Russell’s voice is a pleasure in itself, with a high clear cornet-like attack when she chooses to croon an optimistic love song or romp through a swing fiesta such as SWING AND SWAY or PUBLIC MELODY. (At times she sounds like Ray Nance. Is there a higher compliment?) She takes on the dark rasp of a tenor saxophone when she sings the blues: Ben Webster, feeling low-down and grouchy, awakened too early.

Whatever the material or tempo, her intonation and time are splendid; no faux-Holiday lingering behind the beat for her. Russell’s energy comes through whole on BRING IT BACK, just as audiences worldwide have seen her dancing around the stage, a woman giving herself to rhythm.

On this disc, she is surrounded by a limber medium-sized band of New York swing stars: Mark Shane, piano; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; John Allred, trombone; Andy Farber, Dan Block, Mark Lopeman, reeds; Lee Hudson, string bass; Mark McLean, drums; Brian Pareschi, trumpet; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Glenn Patscha, Hammond B-3 organ. The band evokes but doesn’t copy swing and rhythm and blues from the last century, encouraging Russell to be inspired, never derivative. The CD moves from jitterbug extravaganzas to dark midnight blues without a letup. I found myself playing my favorite tracks over and over.

Louis would be proud.

May your happiness increase!

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APRIL IS THE COOLEST MONTH, or NEW YORK JOYS (2013)

Every time I get ready to declare, “OK, I will spend the rest of my life happily in California,” New York crooks a dainty finger at me and whispers, “Not so fast, fellow.  I have something for you.”

ny skyline

These are some of the musicians I was able to see, hear, and video during April 2013 — an incomplete list, in chronological order:

Svetlana Shmulyian, Tom Dempsey, Rob Garcia, Asako Takasaki, Michael Kanan, Michael Petrosino, Joel Press, Sean Smith, Tardo Hammer, Steve Little, Hilary Gardner, Ehud Asherie, Randy Reinhart, Mark Shane, Kevin Dorn, James Chirillo, Brian Nalepka, Dan Block, Danny Tobias, Matt Munisteri, Neal Miner, Catherine Russell, Jon-Erik Kellso, Lee Hudson, Lena Bloch, Frank Carlberg, Dave Miller, Billy Mintz, Daryl Sherman, Scott Robinson, Harvie S, Jeff Barnhart, Gordon Au, John Gill, Ian Frenkel, Lew Green, Marianne Solivan, Mark McLean, Dennis Lichtman, Tamar Korn, Raphael McGregor, Skip Krevens, Andrew Hall, Rebecca Kilgore, Dan Barrett, Scott Robinson, Pat O’Leary, Andy Brown, Giancarlo Massu, Luciano Troja, Rossano Sportiello, Randy Sandke, Harry Allen, Dennis Mackrel, Joel Forbes.

And I saw them at the Back Room Speakeasy, the Metropolitan Room, Smalls, the Bickford Theatre, the Ear Inn, Symphony Space, the Finaldn Center, Jazz at Kitano, Jeff and Joel’s House Party, Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola, Jalopy Theatre, Casa Italiana, and Zankel Recital Hall.

T.S. Eliot had it wrong.  Just another average jazz-month in New York.

P.S.  This isn’t to slight my California heroes, nay nay — among them Marc Caparone, Dawn Lambeth, Carl Sonny Leyland, Clint Baker, Jeff Hamilton, Chris Dawson, Marty Eggers, Katie Cavera, Kally Price, Leon Oakley, Mal Sharpe, Tom Schmidt, John Reynolds, Melissa Collard, Ari Munkres, GAUCHO, PANIQUE, Bill Carter, Jim Klippert, JasonVanderford, Bill Reinhart, Dan Barrett . . . .

May your happiness increase.

CATHERINE RUSSELL SWINGS! WE SWAY (April 25, 2013)

We hold these truths to be self-evident.  Catherine Russell is a serious creator of joy — part of the pursuit of happiness.

She proved it again last night in her first set at Dizzy’s Club Coca C0la (part of Jazz at Lincoln Center, high above the Manhattan panorama).  Catherine had four of her friends in sweet support: Mark Shane, piano; Matt Munisteri, guitar and six-string banjo; Lee Hudson, string bass; Mark McLean, drums.  Their hour-long performance was varied, satisfying, light-hearted, and deep.

Much of her repertoire comes from two places: the blues, naughty, sad or springtly, from the Twenties to the Fifties; swing tunes from the great golden age.  So Catherine gave us the blues by singing songs associated with Lil Green, Little Willie John, Dinah Washington, Wynonie Harris (ROMANCE IN THE DARK, I’m STICKIN’ TO YOU, MY MAN’S AN UNDERTAKER, and WHISKEY ON THE SHELF), moving from deep intimacy to mock-threat to a Dionysiac rent party.

In her swing mode, she romped through SHAKE THAT THING, EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY, invited us into a cab for DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM, made the room tilt with Ida Cox’s YOU GOT TO SWING AND SWAY and the Ellington-Strayhorn I’M CHECKIN’ OUT, GOOM-BYE.  (Had Catherine been born a hundred years ago, she would be one of the deities of the Swing Era.)

But there’s a third side to Catherine that might be overlooked — that she is a peerless singer of love ballads — whether the object of devotion is a landscape (the touching EV’NTIDE by Hoagy Carmichael for Louis Armstrong) or a person (LUCILLE, written by Catherine’s father, pianist Luis Russell, for Louis to sing about his wife).  In these songs, we heard a deep vein of tenderness, of love without irony being conveyed directly through Catherine’s voice.

And what a voice!  She moves from a dark lower register to a trumpetlike delivery, rising to gospel / rhythm ‘n’ blues drama at her top.  It’s a delight to hear her deliver a melody, apparently as written, but with subtle reshapings that deliver it anew, improvising in ways that always serve the song.  Catherine’s swing quartet was simply delightful — starting the evening with a rocking yet leisurely exploration of ROSETTA — masters at play.

Here she is in March — with the Bohem Ragtime Jazz Band in Hungary and the great trumpeter Herbert Christ — offering us the NEW CALL OF THE FREAKS (reaching back to father Luis Russell’s searing hot band of 1929-30.  students of lyric poetry will also want to memorize the refrain: “Stick out your can / Here comes the garbage man,” words to live by:

Catherine is a treasure.  Her stint at Dizzy’s is from Thursday, April 25, to Sunday, the 28th.  She turns timid, quiet audiences into swing enthusiasts — in the most delicious subtle ways.

May your happiness increase.

CATHERINE RUSSELL, SWING SUPER-HEROINE

Catherine Russell

I don’t know how the singer and ebullient force of nature Catherine Russell would do in combat against Lex Luthor or a fleet of intergalactic starships.  But I do know that she is the sworn enemy of Gloom and Dullness, a tireless fighter for Joy and Swing.

She proved this again last night at Symphony Space in a concert sponsored by the Sidney Bechet Society.  With her were some of her usual comrades-in-arms: Matt Munisteri (guitar and musical director); Mark Shane (piano); Jon-Erik Kellso (trumpet); Dan Block (clarinet and tenor); Lee Hudson (string bass); Rocky Bryant (drums).

Catherine is not only a splendid singer, with an unerring internal pulse and gift for melodic invention; she moves easily through a variety of moods in the course of an evening.  In addition, she is a happy embodiment of living swing: flashing a gleaming smile, joking with the audience, and dancing all over the stage.

She truly has a good time, and it never seems artificial.

Rather, she is delighted to be there to make music for us and her pleasure comes through, whether she is picking just the right tempo for a bluesy slow drag or spontaneously interacting with an audience member.

After an instrumental exploration of BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME, Catherine came on to offer a varied program.  A special pleasure was observing a mature artist who has fully internalized a variety of influences — from the fierce women blues singers to Motown queens, from the dancers at the Savoy Ballroom to gospel choirs, all these influences seamless and fully developed within her own personal style.  Listening to Catherine, one never feels, “Now she’s becoming this performer or this one; now she’s acting out that recorded / seen performance.”  No, the result is fully in blossom — homage to the great influences before her but also singularly her own.

When she approached an early-Twenties blues, SHAKE THAT THING, it owned property in several universes — not only the kind of music one would grind to in 1923 Chicago but a sultry call-to-shake entirely appropriate ninety years later.  Her other blues performances — one about financial distress (the concert was, after all, held on April 15), her own evocation of Esther Phillips’ AGED AND MELLOW, and Dinah Washington’s ominious MY MAN’S AN UNDERTAKER — were just as dramatically compelling.  She wooed us with AFTER THE LIGHTS GO DOWN LOW and then hilariously dismissed us with I’M CHECKIN’ OUT, GOOM-BYE.  Other classics that Catherine has made her own — an encore of KITCHEN MAN, WE THE PEOPLE, standards SOME OF THESE DAYS and DARKTOWN STRUTTERS’ BALL — had their own joyous light.  In twenty songs, she turned herself and her personality to the light as many ways, but each time we recognized her essence: soulful, experienced, thoughtful, deeply feeling and deeply amused.

Visit Catherine’s websiteFacebook page or Facebook music page.

And for the immediate future . . .

CAT DIZZY'S

Catherine will be appearing with Mark Shane, Matt Munisteri, Lee Hudson, and Mark McLean at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola (Jazz at Lincoln Center) for four nights — Thursday, April 25, through Sunday, April 28 — with shows as 7:30 and 9:30 PM.

Come and be amazed by Catherine Russell, performing superhuman feats of humanity, humor, creativity, and swing, as if they were easy to do — which for her, they are.

May your happiness increase.

DON’T MISS THIS: MATT MUNISTERI PLAYS WILLARD ROBISON at JOE’S PUB (July 10, 2012)

I know that I am not the only person who has been waiting for the first CD to document Matt Munisteri’s heartfelt study of composer Willard Robison’s music.  The disc is finally here — STILL RUNNIN’ ROUND IN THE WILDERNESS: THE LOST MUSIC OF WILLARD ROBISON, VOLUME ONE.  To listen to tracks from this disc, please click here.  But we now have an occasion where all the pieces come into delightful alignment: a CD release show at Joe’s Pub in New York City on July 10, 2012, beginning at 7:30 PM.  Matt will be joined by Matt Ray, piano; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Danton Boller, bass; Mark McLean, drums.

I’ll have more to say about the CD itself — one of the most rewarding efforts I have on my shelves — but here’s Matt on Robison:

During the mid 1920′s Willard Robison was working as a pianist and arranger with many of the stars of the new jazz vanguard when he went into the studio and recorded a string of startling recordings which almost certainly made him the prototype for the American 20th century’s most abundant and everlasting artistic archetype: The singer/songwriter.  Before the deluge – before there was Hoagy, or Johnny Mercer, or Randy Newman, or Mose Allison, or Brian Wilson, or Van Dyke Parks – Willard Robison wrote, orchestrated, conducted, and sang his own utterly unclassifiable music and lyrics in a series of pioneering and timeless recordings between 1924 and 1930.  His songs told of odd rural loners, wild open landscapes, revival camp meetings, preachers, and the devil (always the devil) and employed a complex and surprising harmonic and melodic language which, while referencing the new jazz – along with classical, ragtime, blues, and even old time country music – emerged at once as a fully realized and completely original American voice.

Yet, in the years since 1930, and in the 42 years since Robison’s death, not one of these ground-breaking recordings has ever been re-issued after its initial release as a 78 record.  Robison is virtually alone among seminal and much-recorded American musical innovators: the LP era passed him by; the CD era passed him by; the digital download era has thus-far passed him by. As Robison slipped deeper into alcoholism and an increasingly itinerant life the big companies who owned his music subsequently shelved these strange “unmarketable” works to the vaults, where they remain to this day.  But this could soon change, and Matt Munisteri’s new CD “Still Runnin’ ‘Round in The Wilderness” may prove a catalyst for a long overdue interest in this timeless body of work.

Lauded for his fiery guitar chops, literate humor, and “pre-war heart” (The New Yorker), the likewise unclassifiable ace guitarist, singer, and songwriter, Matt Munisteri has spent over a decade hunting down, transcribing, and performing these lost masterworks, refracting them through his own individual prism of 20th century American music.  In the process he has not only finally brought these tunes to light, but has imbued them with an organic and riveting beauty in which jazz improvisation, folk traditions, and popular song co-mingle.

Matt Munisteri has worked with many notables across the jazz and roots-music spectrum, including Mark O’Connor, Steven Bernstein, Loudon Wainwright, Jenny Scheinman, “Little” Jimmy Scott, Catherine Russell, and Geoff Muldaur. His 2003 release “Love Story” won the number two slot in Amazon’s Best Jazz CDs of The Year.  Recognizing a rare kindred spirit, Munisteri became obsessed with Robison’s music around 2000, and the hunt for old 78s, worn tapes, acetates, and sheet music over the past decade has produced as many remarkable stories as the songs themselves tell.  With a crew of top NYC musicians he has re-imagined Robison’s songs, culled from their original recordings, as a body of work rightfully freed from the trappings of era or idiom.

The music was recorded live over two days, with all the musicians in a 15X18 foot room, with no isolation by John Kilgore – this is truly “Live” live, with nowhere to hide, and the resultant interplay among these master improvisers is the listener’s gain.  The musicians include: Matt Munisteri – guitar, vocals, banjo; Ben Perowsky – drums; Danton Boller – bass; Matt Ray – piano; Scott Robinson – C melody sax, clarinet; Jon-Erik Kellso – trumpet; Will Holshouser – accordion; Rachelle Garniez – guest vocals.

What Matt has done with and for Robison’s music is startlingly rewarding.  It would have been one thing for him to consider his role as musical archivist only: find the obscure sheet music and 78s, and present them, either as cleaned-up copies of the original discs OR as reverent recreations in 2012 by musicians interpreting Robison as if he were Dvorak.

That in itself would have been a splendid project, because listeners like myself would have been able to hear Robison songs they didn’t know (in addition to the “famous” ones: A COTTAGE FOR SALE; T’AIN’T SO, HONEY, T’AIN’T SO; LITTLE HIGH CHAIRMAN).  But Matt knows that archival reverence has its limitations, so both the CD and his live performances have successfully gotten at the heart of Robison’s music creatively.  Another artist’s deference to “the material” might have made it seem distant — museum pieces behind glass.  Munisteri’s Robison, imbued with the force of two strong personalities, comes into the room and demands our attention.  Now.

I know that “re-imagining” makes some listeners nervous: will the original music that they know be stretched out of shape by artists eager to impose their own personalities on it?  Will SUNSET CAFE STOMP reappear to a samba beat with sampling?

Matt’s imagination is deep but nothing of the sort has happened here.  What he has done is to present Robison’s music through his own lens — wry, soulful, amused, sad — presenting it by singing and playing, alone and with congenial musicians.  The result is a new window into a series of intriguing worlds, where ethical truths are offered with sly wit, where deep feelings have sharp edges.  The CD is masterful and repeated playings have only shown me its expanding vistas.  And I’ve learned so much about Robison from Matt’s incisive writing in the notes.

I propose that anyone who can go to the show and buy the CD: both will be rewarding experiences.  And if we send out the right sympathetic vibrations, perhaps Volume Two will follow soon.

May your happiness increase.

CATHERINE RUSSELL WELCOMES US IN!

Photograph by Richard Conde

The Beloved and I were in the presence of magic at the Allen Room (Jazz at Lincoln Center) last night when singer Catherine Russell welcomed us in.

I don’t mean that she just began her show by saying, “I’m glad you are all here,” as artists usually tell an audience.

But from the first phrase of her opening song, I’M SHOOTING HIGH, she turned the Allen Room into something warm, making us feel both as if we were in her own magically cozy space.  Although she was stylishly dressed, in front of a ten-piece band, with the great New York street scene viewed from above, none of this distracted her from her great purpose: to lift us up through sweet swinging music.

She is such an expert performer that she made her art — clearly the result of great attention to detail — seem natural and intuitive, as if she and the band had just gotten together to have a good time.

Her delight in being with us was genuine.  When a couple, arriving late, made their way to their seats down front, Catherine beamed at them and said the most encouraging thing, “Welcome, welcome!” — and we relaxed even more, knowing that she meant it.

What she was welcoming us to was a musical evening of the most gratifying kind.  It was inspired by Louis Armstrong, for one, always a good start.  Most of the songs she and the band offered were connected to Louis, but she remained herself: no growl, no handkerchief, no mugging.  Rather she understood and demonstrated what Louis was all about — deep romance, great fun, rocking rhythm, daring improvisations.  Love, whether eager celebration or brokenhearted lament — was her theme.  And there was another man inspiring her performance: Louis’ friend, pianist, and musical director for many years: Luis Russell, who (by the way) happened to be Catherine’s father.  Pops and Daddy, if you will.

She drew most of her material from the great period of the Louis / Luis collaboration — 1935-42, the songs now collected on the great Louis Mosaic box set, so we got to exult with her for I’M SHOOTING HIGH (“Got my eye / On a star / In the sky”), dream along with I’M IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE, swing out on I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE, mourn to I COVER THE WATERFRONT, laugh out loud to PUBLIC MELODY NUMBER ONE.  Catherine’s vision of Louis reached back to the Twenties for STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE, SUGAR FOOT STRUT (now, finally, I know what the lyrics are talking about!), and a romping EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY.

And it expanded to include BACK O’TOWN BLUES and LUCILLE, songs with which she had a very personal connection.  The first of those two — written by Louis and Luis — was the flip side of Louis’ 1956 hit, MACK THE KNIFE.  For some, that fact would be only a jazz-fiend’s winning Trivial Pursuit answer.  But for Catherine it was so much more.  The royalties from BACK O’TOWN BLUES enabled her parents, Luis and Carline Ray (Catherine’s mother had been in the audience for the first show) to purchase their first new car — a two-tone blue 1956 Mercury.  Even from row N, the Beloved and I could see how much that car had meant to the Russells from Catherine’s very warm retelling of the story.  And the very touching LUCILLE had been written by Luis in 1961 for Louis to try — a loving tribute to Lucille Wilson Armstrong . . . and, not incidentally, a beautiful song, now fully realized by Catherine.

She also showed her great emotional range in a dark reading of NO MORE, a sultry evocation of ROMANCE IN THE DARK, a hilarious I’M CHECKIN’ OUT, GOOM-BYE (evoking Abbey Lincoln, Lil Green, and Ivie Anderson, respectively).

Catherine is also an astonishing singer, if you haven’t guessed by now.  She has a perfectly placed voice, with power and depth but a kind of reedy intensity (she can sound like an alto saxophone but more often she reminded me of a whole reed section coming out of her long lithe frame).  Her sound is sweet yet pungent.  She has great dramatic intensity but she never seems as if she’s “acting.”  From somewhere inside the song, she lights the way, matching her readings of lyrics and melody exactly to the emotions . . . making familiar songs feel roomy and new.  And rhythm bubbles up through her — she was always in motion, rollicking around the stage, expertly dancing, embodying joy in person.

And the band was just as delightful: let me write their names here again to celebrate them: Matt Munisteri, Mark Shane, Lee Hudson, Mark McLean, Jon-Erik Kellso, Dave Brown, John Allred, Scott Robinson, Andy Farber, Dan Block.  New York’s finest!  Each one of them had something deliciously incisive to bring, from McLean’s saucepan-percussion reminding us of Zutty Singleton on SUGAR FOOT STRUT, Allred’s plunger-dialogue on GOOM-BYE, Scott Robinson’s soprano taragota on NEW CALL OF THE FREAKS (a whole surrealistic play in itself, with the horn section picking up their paper parts to read the unforgettable Dada poetry: “Stick out your can / here comes the garbage man. . . . “).  Kellso, once again, became the Upper West Side Louis, and Matt swung us into bliss — to say nothing of the eloquent gents of the sax section, Mister Brown to You, the reliable Hudson keeping it all together, Mark Shane pointing the way — Jess Stacy to Catherine’s Helen Ward.  The brilliant arrangements by Matt, Jon-Erik, and Andy gave us a rocking big band distilled to its essence.

The Beloved and I enjoyed every note.  We would be there tonight if we could.  If you can, stop reading this post right now and get a pair (or more) of tickets for the Saturday night shows — 7:30 or 9:30.  Or if that’s not possible, do what I did and buy Catherine’s latest CD, STRICTLY ROMANCIN’ — it has some of the same songs and almost the same band.

Miss Russell will welcome you in, too!

May your happiness increase.

COMES IN LIKE A LION, SWINGS OUT LIKE A CAT

We have delightful plans for this Friday night — March 30, 2012: we’ll be at the Allen Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center to hear the remarkable singer Catherine Russell and her all-star band:

Our Catherine’s pedigree is impeccable — daughter of pianist-composer-bandleader Luis Russell and string bassist-bandleader Carline Ray, she grew up with the music (how about childhood acquaintance with one Mister Armstrong?) and she keeps swinging with a big heart.   And her new program will not only connect with her CD, STRICTLY ROMANCIN’ but will focus on Louis and Luis — lifelong friends.  The concerts will take place on Friday and Saturday, March 30 and 31, 2012, with two shows nightly (7:30 and 9:30), located on Broadway at 60th Street in New York City.

And Grammy-winner Miss Russell is wise enough to know that a great singer deserves a great band — with new arrangements.  The sterling fellows onstage will be  Matt Munisteri, guitar, arranger, musical director;  Mark Shane, piano;  Jon Erik-Kellso, trumpet, arranger;  John Allred, trombone;  Dan Block, saxophones, clarinet;  Andy Farber, saxophones, arranger; Lee Hudson, string bass;  Mark McLean, drums; Dave Brown, trumpet; Scott Robinson, whatever he likes.   For tickets visit the JALC Box Office at Broadway at 60th, or www.jalc.org — or call Center Charge at 212-721-6500.  The Beloved and I will be there — I’ll be making notes on a pad to tell you what happened . . . be sure to get there on your own!