I knew the fine singer Petra van Nuis and her husband, the splendid guitarist, Andy Brown, from their appearance at Jazz at Chautauqua a few years ago — and they’ve been favorites of mine: musicians who know what it is to let the music flow through them to us — whether on a sweet ballad or a hot uptempo number. I’ve written here about their duet CD, FAR AWAY PLACES, but now there’s even more good news. Petra’s been “the girl singer” with a swinging Chicago-based small band, whimsically yet candidly calling itself Petra’s Recession Seven, and they’ve been playing gigs regularly. That in itself is excellent news for people who can get to Chicago. For those of us who don’t get to make the trip, Petra’s Recession Seven has issued its new CD, LIVE IN CHICAGO.
The musicians who surround Petra are well-known players: Art Davis, trumpet; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Russ Phillips, trombone; Andy Brown, guitar; Joe Policastro, bass; Bob Rummage, drums.
“But how do they sound?” I would be asking at this point.
Here’s the opening track of the new CD — RUNNIN’ WILD — accompanied by photographs of the band by veteran jazz photographer Bill Klewitz.
Convinced? To purchase the new disc, or Petra’s other recordings, click here.
All art thrives on the balance between contrast and restatement. Petra’s Recession Seven is always moving in t the same direction, no matter what the tempo, with lovely melodic embellishments and admirable team playing over a rocking rhythm section. Their ballads have their own rhythmic energy, and the fast tunes romp. And even though the band is characterized as “trad/early swing,” there’s not a striped vest within ten miles of their bandstand. Rather, their jazz is a kind of hot Mainstream that looks back to the great Thirties recordings of Billie and Mildred (and the later incarnations by Barbara Lea) but their musical cosmos is large enough to encompass the wider harmonies that made their way into the jazz vocabulary in the Forties. In short, this is timeless music, where the songs themselves are honored and the improvisations are concise and memorable.
Having Petra as part of the band only enhances the collective pleasure. She’s not a coloratura or Broadway belter who has come to jazz as a sideline; she feels the music in her bones and her delight in the pulse and the repertoire is obvious. Her voice is lovely on its own, but I take special delight in her handling of lyrics. Without dramatizing, she makes it clear that the words in the lyrics have something to tell us, and her phrasing subtly reveals their meaning. Some singers, performing I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME, follow the notes, so that “I’ll never be the same / There is such an ache in my heart,” bounces along as if someone were ordering Thai takeout over the phone. Petra has spent time, it’s clear, choosing songs that mean something to her and considering what the words and the notes have to tell us in 2012. She and the band make familiar songs seem fresh; we hear their depth and spontaneity.
And the recording itself is beautifully done — with fine notes by jazz scholar and enthusiast Perry Huntoon.
About the band title (and here I quote): “Many have asked Petra, ‘What will you do when the recession is over? The band’s name is cute, but it is quite topical and we surely hope the band continues long after the recession ends.’ This is when Petra smiles and reminds them that whatever happens to the economy in general, the jazz recession continues! And they play on….”
I don’t know. I think of “recession” in the older sense of returning — the way the grade school orchestra plays a Recessional so that all the sixth-graders can file out of the gymnasium at the end of the ceremony. Petra’s Recession Seven is, for me, a glorious return to the great principles of swinging jazz: “sweet, soft, plenty rhythm,” and “play yourself, “tell your story.”
May your happiness increase.