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Cecile Mclorin Salvant, Phil Woods Quartet, Townes Van Zandt, Ella and Louis Record Reviews

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Cecile Mclorin Salvant – Womanchild 180 Gram Vinyl, 2LPs

Cecile Mclorin Salvant - Womanchild 180 Gram Vinyl, 2LPs
Side 1
St. Louis Gal
I Didn’t Know What Time It Was

Side 2
Le Front Cache sur Tes Genoux
Prelude/There’s A Lull In My Life
You Bring Out the Savage in Me
Baby Have Pity on Me

Side 3
John Henry
Take It Right Back
Mean To Me

Side 4
Jitterbug Waltz
What A Little Moonlight Can Do
Deep Dark Blue

WOW! Pretty much sums up my comments about Cécile McLorin Salvant’s second album and her debut album for Mack Avenue Records. In 2010 she walked away with first place in the jazz world’s most prestigious contest: the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition. She was not only the youngest finalist, but also an unknown.

She was born in Miami to a French mother and Haitian father. Her first language is French. She started in the classical music tradition, before she turned to jazz. At the age 5 she started playing piano and became a member of the Miami Choral Society at age 8. She went to Aix-en-Provence in France instead of college, where she continued to develop as a singer, but with an emphasis on classical and baroque vocal music, as well as jazz. It was there in France that she really discovered jazz. On this album, Salvant sings songs spanning three centuries of American music. She says, “I like to choose songs that are a little unknown or have been recorded very few times.”

I particularly like here rendition of the folk classic “John Henry.” The instrumentation is light and breezy while her vocals are deep and powerful. It is a very interesting contrast with a great bass line. Harry Woods’ 1934 classic “What a Little Moonlight Can Do” is one of Becky’s favorite songs, but I had never heard it sung with so much passion, and that includes Billie Holiday’s famous version.

You would never, I mean never guess she was so young, her phrasing and timing are so solid yet flow in an amazing supple and interesting way; her range seems unlimited. You don’t have to wait long to know this album is something special. For me I was hooked about 30 seconds into the opening number “St. Louis Gal,” a song Bessie Smith recorded ninety plus years ago and that’s not even the oldest song on the album. It has been a good year for LP releases and this is one of the very best. Oh by the way the recording is far better than most audiophile recordings and the vinyl was dead quiet.

Phil Woods Quartet – Woodlore (mono)

Phil Woods Quartet - Woodlore (mono)

Limited Edition 200g Vinyl Mono
Pressed at Quality Record Pressings
Plated by Gary Salstrom
Mastered by Kevin Gray
Mastered by Van Gelder from org. master mono tapes

1. Slow Boat To China
2. Get Happy
3. Strollin’ With Pam
4. Woodlore
5. Falling In Love All Over Again
6. Be My Love

Phil Woods, alto sax
John Williams, piano
Teddy Kotick, bass

Recorded November 25, 1955

It’s recordings like thisethat sometimes make me wonder why we ever thought there was a need for stereo. Now don’t get me wrong I love stereo, would miss it greatly and I have no intention of going all mono. Still, with a small intimate trio like this one, there is something very magical about a really great mono recording.

What continues to amaze me about a great mono recording is the space and stage it portrays. No, it’s not like a stereo soundstage. Yes, everything is pretty close together, but in no way do the three instruments occupy the same space. Woods’ sax is more upfront, the piano seems farther back, the drums have their own space and the cymbals seem to float above it all.

There are some mono recordings that sound big, but this is a small intimate recording. It sounds like I’m in a small club listening to a great jazz trio. The music is everything I expected from Phil Woods though I had never heard a recording from this early in his career. This was his second recording as the leader of his own trio. He had just turned 25 when this recording was made and he seems in really good form. I heard him as a special guest at Yoshi’s a few years back and while he was good he no longer played with the vitality and freeness I hear on this recording. Highly recommended!

Townes Van Zandt – In The Beginning

Townes Van Zandt - In The Beginning

Side A:
1. Black Widow Blues
2. Maryetta’s Song
3. Hunger Child Blues
4. Gypsy Friday
5. Waitin’ For the Day

Side B:
1. Black Jack Mama
2. When Your Dream Lovers Die
3. Colorado Bound
4. Big Country Blues
5. Black Crow Blues

Finally we have this great recording on vinyl! If you know and love Townes Van Zandt you will be like me: thrilled to have this great music on vinyl. If you don’t know him you need to. He is considered by many songwriters and singers such as Emmylou Harris and Willie Nelson as one of the greatest songwriters of his generation. The Fat Possum label has releases “In the Beginning” a collection of ten recordings from his first Nashville recording sessions produced by Jack Clement in 1966. Recorded almost two years before the original release of “For the Sake Of the Song” this is Townes in his original element and already writing about drifters, losers and gamblers.

Most of the recordings are just Van Zandt playing solo on his guitar. The numbers are quite revealing oh his giftedness with lyrics and his guitar playing abilities. It’s obvious he was a considerable flatpicking talent and has a Lightin’ Hopkins’ stutter shuffle as well.

A lot of this album is simply the blues. For example on the set’s opening track “Black Widow’s Blues,” one of two songs recorded with a full band, you can hear his classic blues moan. On other song you can hear the influence of Hank Williams.

I love the music and while the recording is dripping in reverb and not an audiophile recording or pressing, it still sounds amazingly alive, vibrant, and the vinyl is as quite as most so called audiophile pressings. I want to give a big thanks to Fat Possum for giving us this great music on vinyl.

Ella and Louis’ Porgy & Bess

Ella and Louis' Porgy & Bess
Speakers Corner (Jazz)
180 gram vinyl
Mastered by Ryan Smith at Sterling Sound from the original master tape
Plated by Gary Salstrom at QRP and pressed at Pallas in Germany
Double LP features gatefold jacket and booklet

LP 1
I Wants To Stay Here
My Man’s Gone Now
I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin
Buzzard Song
Bess, You Is My Woman Now

LP 2
It Ain’t Necessarily So
What You Want Wid Bess
A Woman Is A Somtime Thing
Oh, Doctor Jesus
Medley: Here Come De Honey Man / Crab Man / Oh, Dey’s So Fresh & Fine
There’s A Boat Dat’s Leavin’ Soon For New York
Bess, Oh Where Is My Bess?
Oh Lawd. I, On My Way!

Speakers Corner has brought a nice reissue of the 1957 Norman Granz-produced jazz concert version of the George and Ira Gershwin opera Porgy and Bess. with Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong providing all the vocals. And, yes it was recorded in stereo. It isn’t quite the complete opera, but most of the well-known songs are here.

I have to admit that I’m kind of a Porgy and Bess junky. I have seen it performed live many times; I made a trip to New York to see the new Broadway version. I have many different recordings of it as well. That includes the original of this recording. To me this is great music, great jazz, and very emotional music.

So how does this reissue hold up to the original? I can tell you the original is much warmer, less detailed, and more rolled off in the upper midrange and treble. This results in the orchestra sounding much more listenable on the original and the vocals sounding much more alive and better in every way on the Speakers Corner reissue. This leaves me wanting someone to do it again and see if we can hit a happy medium between the two. Still, I enjoyed this LP very much, but for what they are charging for it, I had hoped for more.

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