Clifford Brown-Sarah Vaughan: September Song

Sarah Vaughan met and heard Brownie while he was a member of Chris Powell and His Five Blue Flames, and claimed to have ‘discovered’ him at the Apollo Theater. She broached the topic of recording together, Powell recalls, but the session didn’t take place until this date two years later while both were part of EmArcy’s artist roster. Brown’s widow LaRue always noted how much Clifford admired and listened to Vaughan and owned many of her records. That comes as no surprise when you hear Clifford play a ballad or interpret a melody, always eliciting a vocal approach.

Here, Vaughan gives special treatment to Kurt Weill’s show tune “September Song.” A beautiful introduction with flute, tenor saxophone and cup-muted trumpet over a bowed bass approximates a morning sunrise, setting up Vaughan’s solo melody entrance. She portrays the lyrics perfectly, displaying a quick vibrato (which can take some getting used to for a few listeners), impeccable pitch, and occasional use of her deep, rich low-register notes, all accompanied empathetically by “Vice Prez” Quinichette on the tenor saxophone far in the background. Her playfulness with the intonation, seeming to ‘get there’ at just the right time, also helps her to massage certain melody notes and bait the listener to lead them right where she so chooses. Clifford enters with a rare recorded cup-mute solo, conjuring up at once ‘Fats’ Navarro and a bluesy Charlie Parker. His phrases seem to dance through the tune, barely ever touching the ground. His melodic quotient is so high that the solo seems pre-composed and his emphatic delivery makes one feel every piercing note. Brown often slips effortlessly into double-timing and his syncopations are sometimes suspended rhythmically across strong beats and bar lines. It is a monumental solo. Mann takes eight on the flute and really does not know what do to with the tune, sounding rather lost. In his defense, I would not be envious of anyone who had to follow Clifford’s initial statement. Brown comes back for eight more, and, at the conclusion of his solo, Vaughan enters with a melismatic display so fresh that it is the highlight of the song, if not the whole album. She finishes the tune leaving the listener with a sense of great optimism.

History has called this session one of Sarah Vaughan’s finest. LaRue agrees—she was there. She remembers the moment she broke into tears when the romantic Clifford cocked his head and pointed at her as Vaughan began vocalizing “I’m Glad There Is You.”

July 03, 2009 · 0 comments

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Mark Winkler: lowercase

On Joshua Redman's "lowercase," Mark Winkler demonstrates his smooth and undulating vocal style. He sings the self-penned lyrics in perfect cadence with the song's musical meter. With a tip of his hat to vocalist and apparent inspiration Mark Murphy, who wrote the liner notes in true hipster style, Winkler is at once derivative yet original. Much like Murphy, he chooses challenging and unique material, with lyrics that bring a sly smile to your face for somehow being in the know. As an educator, he has taught songwriting classes at UCLA; so it's no surprise that he has a way with fitting just the right words to compelling music. His nonchalant delivery is deceptive because of the ease with which he modulates his voice. The musicians are first-rate, and complement his lead with understated elegance and impeccable time. Bob Sheppard is particularly effective with his fine tenor work that feeds off Winkler's vocal direction. After solos by pianist Jamieson Trotter and Sheppard, we return to the melody before the tune closes with a repeating refrain from Trotter that fades into a rolling drum solo by Steve Hass. This is vocal jazz at its best.

February 04, 2009 · 0 comments

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Mark Winkler: Cool

With the smooth swagger of Gene Kelly dancing through the wet streets in Singin' in the Rain, Mark Winkler exercises his lyrical and vocal chops on "Cool." He is joined in duet by an icy-hot Cheryl Bentyne trading lines to this decidedly chilled piece of "hip" music. With the snap of his fingers to the time of the laid-back beat, and Dan Lutz's smoky basslines coming up the rear, Winkler slyly makes reference to (Henry) Mancini and (Chet) Baker in his lyrics as examples of cool. With the wink of someone in the know, saxophonist Bob Sheppard takes the clue and interjects a line from the Mancini Pink Panther songbook to punctuate the matter. A nice bass solo by Lutz leads into a Getzian-cool tenor solo by Sheppard that accentuates the mood of unabashed indifference yet somehow still cooks. Bentyne does some fine vocalizing at the end, showing her range. Winkler plays creatively with the whole concept of what is cool and what is not, and creates a very enjoyable piece of music. Mark Winkler, to take a line from your lyrics, "You're swimming-pool cool."

February 04, 2009 · 0 comments

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