Tag Archives: Xavier Davis

THE TRUE SPARK: MARIANNE SOLIVAN’S NEW CD

MARIANNE SOLIVAN

Thanks to the splendid pianist Michael Kanan, I am very proud that I was captivated by the singer Marianne Solivan as far back as the spring of 2011. Here are Ms. Solivan and Mr. Kanan in performance then:

Notice her delicate intensity, her strength of conviction — authentic rather than put-on-for-effect — her witty tenderness, her elastic yet perfectly respectful phrasing . . . Marianne is a model of joyously inventive improvisatory singing, her sweet candor transforming any song.

Her belief in the lyrics, her immersion in the emotions of the song, her courageous yet friendly bending of the original melodic line — all of these virtues make her singing entrancing.

Here is a later Solivan-Kanan medley about enduring romance:

I followed Marianne to a number of gigs at Smalls and Iridium in those years, and I continue to take pleasure in her first CD, PRISONER OF LOVE.  Here is the title track (a song I love, thanks at first to Lester Young and Russ Columbo):

You might not initially notice that the “new” verse, perfectly appropriate and deeply felt, is Marianne’s own composition — which points to another talent.

Hearing these venerable songs, treated as if they were new, one might be tempted to assign Marianne her own little cubbyhole: “She sings the Great American Songbook with a twist.”  But she is and does more than that.  (Although I have heard her perform Annie Ross’ TWISTED, which may count for something in the imagined taxonomy.)

SPARK

This year, she created and produced her second CD, SPARK (Hipnotic Records) — compelling yet light on its feet.  Here’s a video that will give you a taste of the disc’s riches.  One of the songs is THE HUMDRUM BLUES, but nothing about this effort is in the least monotonous.

Although I’ve heard Marianne favor dark, pensive songs, SPARK is lively and energized.  She has power, but it’s never being wielded against an audience.

SPARK starts off immediately at a high level — with the title song, which Marianne created, words and music.  Unlike many singer-songwriters, she is not attempting to fit words and notes into a conventional box.  Her songs sound much more like conversations with an audience — or the listeners — or someone being wooed.  Her lyrics might use conventional phrases, but they are always arranged in new ways, without formal reliance on end-rhymes.

The song SPARK depicts the heady beginning of a romance; FIRST DESIRE (Marianne’s setting for the Lorca poem) is a rumination, full of images and evocations, music and lyrics evoking exalted states.  IF I WERE TO LOVE YOU is a paean to love’s magic in the natural world, although voiced in the subjunctive.  ON A CLEAR NIGHT meditates on a love affair tenuously balanced between past happiness and present erosion. THE DOVE, a collaboration between Marianne and pianist Xavier Davis, seems a twisting, intense carpe diem — don’t neglect love!  Marianne’s compositions do not reveal themselves immediately, but each re-examination offers new levels of emotion and intelligence.

The other songs on this disc are wonderfully varied. There’s Oscar Brown, Jr.’s sharp-edged HUMDRUM BLUES (which has a touch of hope if one gets through the complaints of the lyrics); Francesca Blumenthal’s darkly ambivalent THE LIES OF HANDSOME MEN.

Marianne also gives her own singular transformation to songs associated with others: the sardonic modern folk song TENDER AS A ROSE (Abbey Lincoln), which sits somewhere between an unwritten PORGY AND BESS song and FRANKIE AND JOHNNY; I WANNA BE AROUND (Tony Bennett) which has a violent swinging energy, suggesting that Marianne could be dangerous if crossed, although she’d never diminish her rhythmic energy in the midst of taking revenge; a very brisk THIS IS NEW, rescued from those singers who have turned it into a moony dirge in opposition to the exultant lyrics.  Ruben Blades’ EL CANTANTE (THE SINGER) is beautifully sung in Spanish — truly evocative — and Marianne explains the lyrics in part in the video.

Singing Loesser’s WHAT ARE YOU DOING NEW YEAR’S EVE? she rescues this song and brings a tender sweetness to the title — making the question vibrant yet fragile.  OOH, WHAT’CHA DOIN’ TO ME, by Timmie Rogers, is a Forties trifle that offers Marianne the opportunity to play — she never copies Billie, early or late, but I think of WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO as the only parallel to Marianne’s evident delight.

SPARK is buoyed by Marianne’s joy in the music, but also by the evident joy in the studio, as Marianne and her working band take pleasure in creating together. They are Xavier Davis, piano; Matthew Parrish, string bass; Gregory Hutchinson, drums.  The instrumental settings are fresh: one never thinks of “singer plus rhythm trio,” but rather of four musicians on an equal footing.  The CD is splendidly recorded by Joe Marciano and Max Ross, with excellent liner notes by drummer Lewis Nash.

SPARK is never formulaic, but it is not oddly or whimsically “innovative” in offputting ways.  Marianne’s inventiveness is refreshing throughout, but her music will not scare anyone off.  She always sounds like herself, which is delightfully reassuring.  I am happy to experience her blossoming creativity, and I look forward to more surprises.

SPARK is available in all the old familiar places: CDBaby, Amazon, iTunes, but I suggest you begin your investigation here — you can learn more about Marianne, keep up with her schedule, perhaps take a class with her (she is a most respected and beloved teacher of singers), and more.

Here and here are Facebook pages where you’ll find Marianne . . . but the best way to experience her magic is to buy her CDs and meet her at a gig.  Whichever comes first or is more convenient is the one I recommend to you.  Don’t wait until she is booked into huge concert halls and the security prevents your getting close to the stage . . . catch her now.

May your happiness increase!

ALTERNATIVE ENERGIES: ANDY FARBER’S SEXTET at SMALLS (May 5, 2012)

Saxophonist / composer / arranger / bandleader Andy Farber looked at me quizzically when I told him I was calling this blogpost ALTERNATIVE ENERGIES, but I’m sticking by it.

In this exhilarating session at Smalls (May 5. 2012), he casually proposed that we move the birthplace of jazz some eleven hundred  miles north and east (New Orleans to Detroit, according to Google Maps), and the energies that his Sextet generated were powerful and lovely.  Andy’s originals are meaningful — not just wanderings or new lines over very familiar chord changes.  He also gave some very pleasing attention to the compositions that his uncle, Mitchell Farber (more about him below**) — wrote for Donald Byrd.

The players were Andy, alto and tenor saxophones; Dominick Farinacci, trumpet; Vincent Gardner, trombone; Xavier Davis, piano; Michael Karn, string bass; Ali Jackson, drums.  The rhythm section was delicious — three players listening to one another and to the horns.  I reserve my highest praise for Ali Jackson, who absolutely lifted me out of my seat through his wit, animation, and enthusiasm.  Had I not been anchored to my video camera, I would have been standing and cheering.  You’ll see why (especially on RECIPROCITY).  On both horns, Andy managed to offer a neat lyricism (with Pete Brown / Ben / Rollins grittiness) but he kept reaching forward to suggest phrases that were absolutely new but once heard, entirely comfortable.  Dominick can nimbly maneuver in the manner of Clifford Brown, but I also heard Harry Edison and Clark Terry — as well as a sweet yearning pathos on PENSIVE LEANING.  I knew Vincent Gardner from his intermittent appearances with David Ostwald at Birdland, and he did occasionally reach back into his own version of J.C. Higginbotham’s insistence, but more usually he took a rhythmic or melodic phrase and turned it up and down, delighting in it, having a wonderful time playing.

It is an extraordinary band, caught live, fresh, and vigorous in what I think is an extraordinary performance.

Andy began by calling WEST OF THE PECOS, a composition by altoist Sonny Red [Kyner]:

Then he tried out a new piece — a premiere! — with a title that has variant spellings, CHOTCHKES (meaning “trivial little things,” or “gewgaws” in Yiddish) — music for a hard-bop Tevye, perhaps:

Next, the blues!  But not the ordinary kind — no, this is a thirteen-bar blues in Eb minor, written by Mitchell Farber.  I think it has a distinct Middle Eastern flavor as well — illuminated from within by Vincent’s questions and implorings:

The first set closed with another of Andy’s originals, ROUTE 9A NORTH — the road you take to get to his house, although he didn’t provide more specific directions:

When the band returned, Andy pointed them into his own SCHMOOZEFEST, whose title is, I hope, self-explanatory (with fiery drumming from Ali).  Is it my fault that the opening motive reminds me of CARNIVAL IN CAROLINE?:

Mitchell Farber named EL DORADO for the Cadillac, not the far-off land, and wrote it for Donald Byrd.  Notice Michael’s double-stopping behind Andy, and the way these soulful performances come to resemble small symphonies, with a lyrical outing from Dominick.  You’ll hear Andy say that he and the band had decided that jazz really was born in Detroit.  A new idea, but the music certainly validated it for me:

Then, an absolute high point — not just for this session but perhaps for my recent years of live jazz experience — the eighteen-minute RECIPROCITY, delightfully propelled by Ali.  Mister Jackson is joyously ebullient, not afraid to be loud, but every accent and knocking-at-the-door has meaning and pleasure surrounding it.  I was watching his face — mobile, pleased, surprised, and thought, “He’s writing the punchlines to the jokes other players in the band start.”*  What Ali and Vincent create together is marvelous, and that’s not to take anything away from a wondrous Dominick – Michael duet.  Hear and see for yourself:

And Andy closed this glorious session with his own — quite relevant — question, OLIVE OR TWIST? (I didn’t get the pun until sometime today and that’s because Ricky Riccardi pointed it out to me):

If you don’t know why I proposed ALTERNATIVE ENERGIES as a title, your assignment is to go back and listen / watch very closely one more time.  The hints are this: 1) Detroit, and 2) if there’s ever an electrical outage in New York, I’m going to call Andy and ask him to get the guys together.  Wow!

May your happiness increase.

*A few more words about my new hero, Mr. Jackson.  At the end of the second set, I caught him for a moment — he was still wearing his hand-tied neat bowtie — and said, “I’m going to write a blogpost about this and put up the videos.  What do you think of this title: ‘ALI JACKSON COULD SWING THE DEAD BUT I HOPE HE NEVER HAS TO’?  And it amused him, too.  I also said, ‘My heroes are Sidney Catlett and . . . ‘ and before I could name anyone else, he said, most enthusiastically, ‘Mine too!'”  More than any other drummer I’ve heard these days, he suggests what it might have been like to sit eight feet in front of Big Sid — which is a splendid thing.

**About Mitchell Farber, from his nephew — the brilliant player who leads this Sextet.   “Mitchell Farber is my uncle, my father’s kid brother born in 1944.  He was a jazz saxophonist in high school where he spent his summers at jazz camp with people like Randy Brecker, Dave Sanborn, and Vinnie Ruggerio (the late drummer from upstate New York who was a Philly Joe Jones disciple).  Mitch met Donald Byrd at a summer jazz camp and worked with him on and off from the mid 1960s through the late ’70s. Donald recorded two of his tunes, “Eldorado” on Blackjack BLP 4259 (1967) and “The Uptowner” BST 84319 (1969).  In the 1960s, Mitch began to lean toward composition and studied with George Russell and Nadia Boulanger at Fontainebleau.  Mitch wrote and produced albums for Jackie McLean, Red Garland, Mark Murphy, Morgana King, Richie Cole, Pepper Adams, Walter Bishop Jr., and many others.  Some of his credits may be found here.  (Ignore the credits for guitar as that is another “Mitch Farber,” a guitarist in Florida.)   Mitch began a career in TV commercial underscore and jingle writing that lasted from the early 70s through the late 80s. He also wrote and/or orchestrated film scores with no credit or the wrong credit.   In the late 1990s he began teaching music is Ridgefield CT where he’s in his last year.   He recorded on album under his own name for Muse Records in 1983.”

Obviously someone we should know!  Talent, thy name is Farber.

TONIGHT, TONIGHT! (May 4, 2012)

To anyone who grouses about jazz being moribund, I would offer these bits of late-breaking evidence.  Perhaps only New Yorkers will be able to take advantage of these beauties, but they exist and are heartening. 

Tonight, from 5-7, the wonderful pianist / composer Michael Bank (a student of life and of Jaki Byard) will be leading a septet — his Big 7 — at Somethin’ Jazz at 212 East 52nd Street between Second and Third Avenues.  Michael tells me that the fare will be originals — which I look forward to!

And I am going to get in a cab and rush from the Upper East Side to Greenwich Village, to Smalls (183 West 10th Street) to hear the always-gratifying saxophonist Andy Farber lead a sextet: Dominick Farinacci, Vincent Gardner, Xavier Davis, Michael Karn and Ali Jackson. “New music and some older stuff that my uncle Mitch wrote for Donald Byrd and Jackie McLean.”

I can’t wait.  Come join me!

May your happiness increase.

MARIANNE SOLIVAN: IN BLOOM

I did not know the singer Marianne Solivan before hearing her at Smalls last year (in duet with Michael Kanan).  I was a believer — convinced of her artistry — a few minutes into the first song.

Her debut CD, PRISONER OF LOVE, is just out — perhaps timed to coincide with the end of winter.

It is a wonderfully accurate representation of what she creates in performance, and I do not say that casually about many recorded works.

If you find the disc’s title is off-putting, I will reassure you: Marianne Solivan is a brave, free artist — a prisoner of nothing, as far as I can see.  In fact, she has written her own powerful verse to the title song, evidence of talents beyond her singing voice.  On this disc, Marianne embraces a wide variety of emotions and textures in her work without being bound to any one of them.

Through intuition, taste, and experience, Marianne has avoided the traps that catch eager “jazz singers.”  She surrenders herself to the song, both lyrics and melody, rather than insisting that the song bend itself to her will.  This is not to say that she is excessively respectful, bound by the written manuscript, quarter note by quarter note.  No.  In fact, she takes her own liberties — subtly reshaping the original melody and words as she goes — but her little bends and pauses, elevations and turns, leave me with the feeling that I have heard, for example, a reading of I GUESS I’LL HANG MY TEARS OUT TO DRY that is what composer and lyricist aspired to create.  She is just that successful in her sweet inventions.

Although Marianne never “sings like a horn player,” shorthand for someone pretending that written melody, cadence, and lyrics are to be tossed around vigorously, she does remind me of horn players — of late Lester and mid-period Ben, of Jimmy Rowles and early Miles.  The singers who stand behind her are (among others) Sinatra and Betty Carter, but she has managed to make her own path around the intense pathos of one and the sharp dismissive edginess of the other.

And what Marianne does with the lyrics is uniquely rewarding.  If you consider a sheet of music and lyrics, the words and syllables are often tied so tightly to individual notes that to sing them as written would be like reading a Keats sonnet, accenting every other syllable up and down to a metronome — thus obliterating meaning rather than enhancing it.  Marianne doesn’t “speak” her lines — her voice, cello-rich and powerful, will not be ignored — but she gives the lyrics a speech-like naturalness, as if she were discovering the words and the sentiments for the first time.  Great acting without an actor’s artifice: no self-pity, no drowning in pathos.

PRISONER OF LOVE is illuminated from within by intelligence, restraint, and headlong emotion.  Marianne’s producer is the fine jazz trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, who appears on one track; she and he have the best taste in musical colleagues, including Michael Kanan, Christian McBride (showing himself a fine writer in addition), Peter Bernstein, Xavier Davis, Ben Wolfe, Johnathan Blake.  The musicians are enthusiastic but never get in Marianne’s way: indeed, the eleven selections seem like a series of small playlets, of perfectly poised improvisatory conversations.

Here is a video memento of that evening at Smalls when I first heard Marianne — listen closely to her witty, amused, romantic recasting of THERE’S A SMALL HOTEL, where she is sometimes intimate, sometimes annunciatory:

As much as I admire that performance from July 2011, I can hear that Marianne has matured in the half-year since then . . . so imagine her at even higher levels of grace and casual splendor.

To hear her — only a few days ago — both singing and talking to John Schaefer of WNYC, click here.

Marianne’s CD is available at Amazon (for antiquarians like me who prefer the tangible disc and sleeve) and at iTunes for those who believe that music can be sped invisibly through the air: click here for the Amazon link.

And the best news is that the remarkable Miss Solivan will be performing in the next few months not only in New York City, but in Boston and Washington, D.C.  To learn all, visit her website here.

I am most excited about another duet performance that she and Michael Kanan will be creating — delicate magic in our ears — at Michael’s studio, “The Drawing Room,” a large, quiet, white-curtained room with a fine piano.  It’s at 70 Willoughby Street (# 2A, one flight up and follow signs on your left) in downtown Brooklyn — between Lawrence Street and Bridge Street, this coming Saturday, March 24, 2012.  There will be two sets, beginning at 7:30 PM.  And, since space is limited (seating for 50!) I recommend that you let Michael (at mpkanan@gmail.com) or Marianne (at her website) know that you will be there.   Admission is only $10, and there will be a cash wine bar.  Even for people like myself who are moderately challenged by Brooklyn, The Drawing Room is not difficult to get to: a variety of subway lines graciously come there:   N,R,Q,B,F,A,C,E, 2,3,4,& 5 trains.

Marianne says, “Working in duo with Michael has been one of the most inspiring and challenging experiences in my life.  I love the feeling of flight that I have with him in a song.  I get so many musical ideas from him and I am challenged to be creative and honest.  The feeling is amazing, I enjoy every minute of making music with him.  We will be playing some songs from my new CD, Prisoner of Love, as well as some of our other favorites.  Breathing new life into melodies that will never get old.   I hope you can come out and share this with us.”

May your happiness increase.