Disc of the Day: Plucky Strum (Sheryl Bailey & Harvie S), “Departure”

plucky strum

Plucky Strum (Sheryl Bailey & Harvie S), “Departure” (Whaling City Sound)

Harvie S first came into my view in the mid-’80s, when he was releasing albums as a leader on Gramavision, and had already built an impressive resume of performances and recordings with practically every major jazz artist you could name.  I was fortunate enough to catch him twice in Greenwich Village — with a group at the old Seventh Avenue South, and in a duo performance with singer Sheila Jordan at the Public Theater. That week, we chatted for a feature I wrote for DownBeat magazine.

The artist formerly known as Harvie Swartz hasn’t slowed down. In recent years, he put together Plucky Strum, a duo with well-traveled guitarist (and Berklee College prof) Sheryl Bailey. For their first, self-titled 2015 release, Bailey stuck to acoustic guitar. This time, she adds electric guitar, sometimes with effects and overdubs, to the mix.

The results are uniformly appealing, and it’s a pleasure hearing the two in a stripped-down sonic setting, each instrument projected with great clarity, with great wood-and-strings aural intimacy.

The program is characterized by intuitive interplay and fluent improvisations, starting with the tricky bebop-esque unison and harmony head of opener “Sublime,” one of three tunes here penned by Harvie. His “Now I Know” is a lush, laidback ballad, with a pretty melody sounded by bass, and “Good Ole Days” is a mid-tempo ditty built on steady walking bass.

Bailey’s “Old and Young Blues” is reminiscent of the kind of folkish pieces Charlie Haden wrote, with the two taking turns leading the theme, and the bassist turning in a typically probing, searching solo, followed by Bailey’s relaxed but rangy improvisation. Bailey also contributes the Latin-flavored, slowly shifting “Sabado Con Mi Amor”; the starting-stopping riff tune “What She Said,” which hints at Wes Montgomery and offers another stunning workout by Harvie;  the bluesy “Cranshaw,” built on a slow-grooving bass line and topped with overdriven, wah-edged guitar; and poignant ballad “Alone,” the disc’s closer.

All that, plus breezy, creative takes on Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young hit “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” and Joni Mitchell‘s “The Hissing of Summer Lawns,” the latter complete with acid-washed six-string. Here’s to more from Plucky Strum.

Jaco Pastorius, “Modern American Music … Period!” (CD review)

(originally published in JazzTimes)

Jaco Pastorius, “Modern American Music … Period! The Criteria Sessions (Omnivore)

Modern American Music … Period!, released on CD, multicolored vinyl and via download, offers the unfettered 1974 Miami demo sessions for bassist Jaco Pastorius’ 1976 solo debut. These recordings, previously unissued in full, unedited form, have been in the possession of Jaco’s brother Gregory, as Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo, a co-producer of the project, explains in the liner notes.

Jaco, at the time, was 22 and playing R&B with Wayne Cochran and the C.C. Riders, jazz with saxophonist/trumpeter Ira Sullivan and big-band music with Peter Graves. Within two years, he would make his first appearance on a Weather Report album and play on recordings by Pat Metheny and Joni Mitchell. Modern American Musicsuggests that nothing would stand in the way of his becoming, as he put it, “the world’s greatest bass player.”

For the demo, Jaco was joined by drummer Bob Economou, pianist Alex Darqui, steel drums players Othello Molineaux and Sir Cederik Lucious and percussionist Don Alias. “Donna Lee,” the jaw-dropping first track from the Epic debut album, is here in not dissimilar form, although it’s completely absent of Don Alias’ congas, which added urgency and interaction to the final version, and it closes with a long harmonics fade-out rather than that familiar segue to “Come On, Come Over.” Several other songs—or concepts for songs—would also reappear on the debut: The beautiful ballad “Continuum” is here twice, once as a stand-alone and once connected to “Havona,” which later landed, in a version with more sharp edges, on Weather Report’s Heavy Weather. There’s also “Kuru,” punchy and hyperactive and without the strings heard on the debut, and “Opus Pocus (Pans #2)” (called simply “Opus Pocus” on the debut), a blast of Caribbean-tinted groove music largely given to the whirling sounds of Molineaux’s pans. The stately, somber “Forgotten Love” here, unlike on the debut, is all Jaco.

The new-to-us tunes don’t quite trump any of the material that made it onto the final 1976 album. “Balloon Song (12-Tone),” with its tricky, speeding piano-bass unison melody, hard-driving groove and loads of open space for the leader’s soloing, comes in two versions, and has Jaco touching on the kind of harmonics derring-do that later came into play on “Portrait of Tracy.” “Time Lapse” is essentially an extended fusion jam, with Jaco madly slamming a riff in tandem with Alias’ churning congas, driven by Economou’s urgent drumming and topped with Darqui’s inside-and-outside Rhodes playing.

Is Modern American Music the holy grail of Jaco recordings? Maybe. The collection does provide revealing, once obscured views of a not-so-secret talent in bloom. It also makes another case—if we needed one—for the degree of influence Jaco exerted on Weather Report, as composer, colorist and rhythm-section driver. And, of course, as a barrier-breaking musical virtuoso.

Denise Moore: “A Jazz History,” tonight at the Palladium

Tampa singer Denise Moore brings her new jazz-history show to the Palladium tonight. I’ve known Denise since her days with Paul Wilborn & the Pop Tarts, and I’ve had the opportunity to sub in her bands on a few occasions. I’ve also connected with Denise and her husband Alex Spassoff in and around Jazz Fest in New Orleans.

I recently spoke with Denise for a feature published today in the St. Petersburg Times. Click here to see the story online in the Times. Or read the expanded version, below.

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Tampa singer Denise Moore grew up listening to jazz – Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, Brazil’s Flora Purim and such jazz-influenced vocalists as Joni Mitchell.

But the Georgia native, who grew up in Melbourne, Florida, took her time stepping up to the mic in front of a jazz group. She sang with a band in the swing-folk-country mold of Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks while she was a student at the University of Georgia in Athens. Later, she sang R&B, pop and blues with Tampa Bay area bands Paul Wilborn and the Pop Tarts, and the Women’s Blues Revue.

“I really didn’t get this going until I was 40,” Moore said. “A friend said, ‘You need to have your own group.’ I said, ‘I can’t do that.’ But I did. And I went to what I love — jazz. I love this music. It feels good to me.”

Fifteen years later, she’s made up for lost time. Her band, Denise Moore & Then Some, has become a regular on the Tampa Bay area jazz scene, and she released a debut CD, Nothing Standard.

Fans of the singer can play a part in her new project: Moore’s next CD will feature music recorded live tonight at the Palladium Theater. The concert is part of the St. Petersburg venue’s Side Door Jazz series.

Moore, joined by pianist and arranger Billy Marcus, saxophonist David Pate, bassist Alejandro Arenas and drummer Stephen Bucholtz, will play an ambitious program, “A Jazz History,” covering everything from early New Orleans jazz to smooth jazz.

The group will play about 20 tunes, including Fats Waller‘s “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” Wes Montgomery‘s “West Coast Blues,” Antonio Carlos Jobim‘s “No More Blues” and Anita O’ Day‘s version of “Let’s Face the Music and Dance.”

“We’ll start off with some ragtime and go all the way up to smooth jazz, and also do bebop, free jazz, swing, standards, and Brazilian music,” Moore said. “We’re doing the music in chronological order.”

Moore’s jazz history project, funded with a grant from the Arts Council of Hillsborough County, includes more than the concert and the recording, which are being engineered by WMNF, 88.5 FM station manager Jim Bennett. The singer is creating an educational web page, on her own web site, which will offer information on various jazz songs and styles, accompanied by audio clips taken from the concert. In addition, the concert will be aired on Bennett’s “In the Moment” show on jazz station KCSM-FM in San Mateo, California. She also plans to perform the program for audiences at public schools in Hillsborough County.

“We just want to give an overview of jazz for people that don’t know about all of it,” Moore said. “We’re saying, ‘Here’s a whole menu – you can select what you like, and you can decide if you want to taste that or maybe explore it more.”

When not working on her music, Moore stays busy as co-owner, with her husband Alex Spassoff, of the Suncoast Massage Therapy Center, a business that opened 20 years ago. She also teaches yoga, for the city of Tampa and privately.

“I did a workshop at the Homemade Music Symposium two years ago, on breath work for singers and horn players,” she said. “The idea is to help sustain the breath and calm the musician down. It’s a tool for stress relief and also expanding lung capacity. I feel like I’m a healing artist – with music, massage, and yoga.

Moore’s understanding of yoga and concepts related to relaxation and breath control directly feed into her approach to jazz singing, she said.

“You want to leave everything else behind and just become present. It is really one of the only times when you are present — you re totally in that moment and everything else is gone.”

Madeleine Peyroux’s New Single: A Cross Between Billie Holiday and Hall & Oates?

peyroux1Madeleine Peyroux has often — and somewhat accurately — been described as a singer who channels Billie Holiday.

Her way laidback style of singing is sometimes quite expressive, albeit on other occasions her voice is paired with music that is deadly lethargic.

Marc Silver, in a piece on NPR, says that “You Can’t Do Me,” a single from Peyroux’s forthcoming CD, makes him feel “as if  Holiday and the self-proclaimed ‘rock and soul’ boys (Hall & Oates) had a musical moment.”

To my ears, the tune sounds more like Steely Dan, not Hall & Oates, is in the mix. That makes sense, given that Walter Becker co-wrote the song.

Madeleine Peyroux, \”You Can\’t Do Me\”

Read Silver’s review here.

The song was co-written by Peyroux, Becker, and album producer Larry Klein (Joni Mitchell, Herbie Hancock, Holly Cole). The CD, Bare Bones is due for release March 10.

Silver’s review:

“Madeleine Peyroux Finds Rock And Soul

In the secret labs of music collaboration, where deceased singers are
matched with living partners, has anyone ever tried to bring Billie
Holiday and Hall & Oates together? Probably not, but when Lady Day
enthusiast Madeleine Peyroux sings “You Can’t Do Me,” it’s as if
Holiday and the self-proclaimed “rock and soul” boys had a musical
moment.

The song, from Peyroux’s new album Bare Bones, starts with an insistent
piano chord — very “Rich Girl.” In her silkily melancholy voice,
Peyroux tells her lover he can’t “do” her the way he did before,
because when he does, it makes her feel “bust like an Internet
millionaire / boom like a Lebanese belly dancer / bang like a new
year’s firecracker.”

The droll list goes on, colored with a jaunty wah-wah guitar, organ
trills and Peyroux’s own delicate touches, such as the way she colors
the word “blue” with aural shades of indigo. But instead of sounding
like a vintage jazz singer, the way she usually does, Peyroux traffics
more in rock and soul. Hall & Oates would be proud.”