Sharel Cassity: Lover Man

My mind (ears too!) is always wide-open when it comes to new music. That's makes it all the more frustrating and embarrassing when I have the “Uh oh...” reaction upon seeing a jazz record with a nicely done photo of the female leader. It's years of those tricky smooth jazz cover shots that have done it to me. The first track kicks in and I'm just waiting for that drum machine.

None of this is Sharel Cassity's fault. In fact, I almost skipped mentioning the issue because it felt like an indirect slight on her talents: which are many. While her fairly straight reading of “Lover Man” doesn't break any knew ground, it does put on display her ability to breath emotion into a piece. Sure, this classic does carry with it its own romantic qualities, but they can easily be rendered flat in the wrong hands. Not so here. Cassity effortlessly blends twisty solo passage with slower, more bluesy lines. Combine this with the stellar work of pianist Adam Birnbaum and you have a satisfying and smoky listen.

...and no drum machines!

June 17, 2009 · 0 comments


Robin McKelle: Lover Man

Featuring a decidedly funky bass solo by Mike Velario to start things off, Robin McKelle tackles the song made famous by Lady Day. In McKelle's version, the tempo is a bit more robust than the classic Holiday version, while the vocal expression plays nicely off the punctuating big band sound.

McKelle sings with confidence as she modulates her voice through the turns of this torch song with great aplomb. She has a strong instrument that is softened by her fine improvisational expressiveness and amazing control. She wisely shows restraint in not using her voice too gymnastically, though one can sense that she has the goods to compete for a gold medal if so inclined.

Alain Mallet takes a nice turn on a bluesy piano solo, while pumping trombones and crassly played trumpets expertly punctuate with authority in classic big band style. Mallet and McKelle should be applauded for their arrangement, which distinguishes this performance from most treatments of the song.

It is satisfying to hear a singer who can stand up to the muscular presence of a big band and more than hold her own. Robin McKelle effectively puts her mark on this song. While it will never replace Lady Day's, it is a fine addition to the standard's discography.

January 28, 2009 · 0 comments


Lee Konitz: Lover Man

The remarkable professional relationship between saxophonist Lee Konitz and pianist Martial Solal dates back to 1968's European Episode, from whence this track came. Much of that album is "out" in varying degrees. "Lover Man" is one of the more straightforward performances on the record, although it's in no way a conservative reading of the jazz standard. Konitz uses an Octavoice (or multivider) on his horn, an electronic device that adds a lower octave to his sound. Today it seems almost criminal that he would electronically alter his tone—one of the most personal in jazz—especially when playing a ballad. Yet while it may now seem gimmicky, back then it was a noble experiment.

By 1968, Konitz had become one of the free-est improvisers over standard chord-based structures. He uses that ability to stretch the changes most effectively on "Lover Man." He's utterly unpredictable. His melodies resolve in places you'd least expect; his rhythms are impulsively elastic. Solal shares that gift for spontaneity, exuding like Konitz unfettered freedom. He obliterates any conscious obligation to form and structure, yet almost subliminally maintains a sense of order. Bassist Henri Texier and drummer Daniel Humair lend the flexibility that suits Konitz and Solal so well. The band seems easily familiar with both the materials and each other. Their obvious kinship results in some especially beautiful music.

October 16, 2008 · 0 comments


Giants of Jazz: Lover Man

I chose this cut to review from this all-star gathering because it features Kai Winding's trombone exclusively. It isn't very often one gets to write about a trombone fronting a performance. This is especially true when the band is made up of the jazz legends this touring band was.

In the liner notes, producer George Wein talks openly of the difficulties of getting this band of giants together and its uneven performances over the course of two years. In my opinion, this band does suffer from what I call "too many all-star cooks." Wein alludes to this in his comments about Thelonious Mink not taking any solos. When you have so many great players around, you tend to pass the ball rather than take the shot. All that said, even these guys' passes are beautiful to behold.

Trombonist Winding plays the ballad "Lover Man" with the skill and taste of someone who intimately knows music and the emotions connected with it. Sparse accompaniment is offered, but Winding doesn't need any more help to get his point across. The trombone in the hands of such past and present players as Winding, J.J. Johnson and Hal Crook can be as expressive an instrument as any other. To hear it beautifully played is just further proof positive.

May 29, 2008 · 0 comments


Lee Morgan (with Bobby Timmons): Lover Man

Prior to his official membership in the Jazz Messengers with 1958's Moanin', Lee Morgan released some of his most revered early sessions as a leader, from City Lights to Candy to this late-'57 release, The Cooker. The unique baritone/trumpet front line combined with the exceptional rhythm section makes this a must-listen. At the top of his game, Morgan could improvise some of the most complete, structured solos the genre has ever heard, and his solo statement over this classic ballad demonstrates that gift.

March 06, 2008 · 0 comments


Charlie Parker: Lover Man

Recorded in Hollywood for Dial during a West Coast trip, "Lover Man" marks a turning point in Parker’s career. High as a kite on narcotics, Parker was barely able to squeeze off the tune’s notes. Yet despite Parker’s self-destructive streak, his playing here was still far more impassioned than musicians who were sober. Listen as Bird misses the intro but then manages to turn in a heartfelt effort. The same is true of "The Gypsy" from the same date. Following this session, Parker returned to his hotel, set fire to the room, was arrested and placed in Camarillo State Hospital’s psychiatric ward, where he remained until January 1947.

March 04, 2008 · 0 comments


Billie Holiday: Lover Man (1944)

According to her autobiography, Billie Holiday begged Decca Records to let her record "Lover Man" with strings. "People don't understand the kind of fight it takes," she wrote, "to record what you want to record the way you want to record it." She got her way, but it was a Pyrrhic victory. What ever made Billie think that she and schmaltz would be well matched? Her singing is amazing as always. But Toots Camarata's syrupy fiddles and lugubrious tempo diminish Billie's dignity, not enhance it. "Sometimes," Billie conceded, "it's worse to win a fight than to lose." Amen to that.

November 09, 2007 · 0 comments


Sonny Rollins & Coleman Hawkins: Lover Man

Sonny Rollins’ avant-garde period – culminating in East Broadway Rundown – was in full bloom when the 33-year-old recorded with his boyhood idol, Coleman Hawkins. On “Lover Man,” Rollins’ boisterous tenor is at its most expressive – jarringly rhythmic in the low end, feeding off the more subdued statements of Hawkins. The two trade inspired choruses before Hawkins restates the melody under Rollins’ screeching, sustained altissimo counterpoint. A thrilling performance.

November 05, 2007 · 0 comments


Betty Carter: Lover Man (1993)

Betty Carter’s final 10 years brought her uncompromising style to Verve records and a wider audience. Her unorthodox treatment of this Ram Ramirez standard shows she hadn’t budged from her iconoclastic ways. She is the primary soloist over the ostinato figures the band delivers throughout. The amazing swing of this ensemble is unquestioned, but it’s a staid performance for the most part. Not a weak track, per se, but overshadowed by the ‘Fire’ of the rest of this live recording.

October 25, 2007 · 0 comments


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