Ann Hampton Callaway: Skylark

As a bird, the skylark is indigenous to Europe, Asia and Africa. Yet, the bird is well known to the rest of the world due to the many poems that praise its song. A skylark's song can be heard on the ground even when the bird is flying 2 or 3 miles high. I don't know whether Hoagy Carmichael or Johnny Mercer ever heard a skylark in person, but their song "Skylark" is one of the masterpieces of American music. The melody seems to float over the time, so much so that even the most convoluted section of the bridge doesn't bring the melody back to the ground. The wistful lyric, in which a lover asks a bird for advice of the heart, is one of Mercer's finest creations.

Ann Hampton Callaway's stunning recording brings all of the elements of this standard to life. Bill Charlap's exquisite introduction brings on Callaway, and the two work as a duo for the first 16 bars of the opening chorus. In rubato time, Charlap ripples below as Callaway soars above on the melody. Callaway's rich, velvety voice envelops the melody, and her interpretation of the lyric starts conversationally and seamlessly moves into longer phrases. When the rest of the band enters on the bridge, Andy Farber provides a lovely accompaniment on tenor sax. Charlap plays a delicate solo in single lines with fine interaction from Peter Washington on bass. When Callaway returns, she makes a few well-chosen deviations from the melody, but we never lose the sense of the original line. At the coda, Callaway and Charlap are together again, and she brings her rendition full-circle by returning to the conversational interpretation where she started.

October 09, 2009 · 0 comments


Lionel Loueke: Skylark

The song may be by Hoagy Carmichael, but the attitude here is clearly in the world fusion camp. Lionel Loueke grew up in Benin in West Africa, and he incorporates a number of distinctively African elements into his interpretation of this 1942 standard. I like his bright guitar voicings with their open, spacey sound, and his melodic sensibility, closer to Ali Farka Touré than to bebop or fusion. Other jazz players tend to take these old songs and try to make them more complicated, but pop tunes from the golden era had lots of sophistication built into them at the factory; so it is often more effective to bring a more streamlined, diatonic sensibility to this material, as Loueke does effectively here. This artist has a fresh sound, and it will be interesting to watch his career develop to see how far he can take it.

March 23, 2008 · 0 comments


Clusone 3: Skylark

"Rara Avis" (Latin for rare bird) is indeed what the Clusone 3 were. Their group name comes from the Italian festival where they met in 1988, and from then on till they disbanded ten years later this Dutch/American trio was one of Europe's most original bands. That was essentially due to the strong personality of each member and, on this record, to their repertoire, devoted to songs about (rare) birds. The strangest thing here is certainly that the Clusone 3 treats "Skylark" quite simply, focusing on the melody and on their trio sound: cello plucked in bass-like style, sparse brushes on the toms, crystal-clear alto sound. A beautiful and surprisingly economical rendition, played by usually much more extroverted musicians.

February 27, 2008 · 0 comments


Sara Jones (with The Young Brothers): Skylark

Here is another gem from the bins of the self-produced. This disk is even out of stock at CD Baby, so you know it won't be easy to find. But thank heavens for (legal) downloads. Jones was first place winner of the 2004 Billie Holiday Vocal Competition, and it's easy to hear why. She has great intonation, impeccable phrasing and sings with deep feeling. She is helped along by Tim Young's smart and sensitive piano work —his comping shows a great knack for reharmonization. Some singers might be thrown off their game by all the intricate passing chords he tosses out, but Jones is not to be deterred. She grabs hold of this song's inner life and makes it her own. Many celebrated vocalists have tackled "Skylark" over the decades, but Jones can withstand comparisons with these past masters. A talent this large deserves a bigger stage.

February 14, 2008 · 0 comments


Sonny Rollins: Skylark

Sonny begins unaccompanied sounding like he's introducing a calypso, but then subtly moves into a slow-tempoed sweet reading of the standard. After Cables's heartfelt solo, Sonny soars at his creative best with surging, extended lines, capped by a long cadenza to die for. The highlight of Sonny's first album after his second "retirement" of six years, this superb track alone announced that he was back for keeps, although his studio recordings--as opposed to live performances--would continue to remain uneven.

January 28, 2008 · 0 comments


Mark Murphy: Skylark / You Don't Know What Love Is

How many singers have performed at this high level in their seventies? Aspiring jazz vocalists should not just listen to this recording - they need to study it. There is not a single facile or uninspired phrase in this six-and-a-half minute performance. Murphy floats behind the beat or hurries ahead; he bends the notes both ways, and measures the tolerances in microns. He coos and whispers and even howls, crazy like a loon; sometimes sighing sweetly, like a nightingale serenading the moon. And though you will marvel at the vocal, don't ignore producer Till Brönner, a trumpeter and flugelhornist of real distinction. Even if (like me) you already own a stack of Murphy CDs, find a place in your collection for this release.

October 31, 2007 · 0 comments


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