Ann Hampton Callaway: What Is This Thing Called Love

Ann Hampton Callaway is a graceful performer equally at home in the worlds of jazz and cabaret. In addition to many classic pop songs, her repertoire includes several of her own compositions which reflect and expand on the legacy of American Popular Song. Originally, I had planned to discuss one of her original songs, but this version of “What Is This Thing Called Love?” is a superb example of Callaway in a pure jazz vein.

Over a sinuous vamp figure, Callaway wraps her velvety alto voice around Cole Porter’s lyrics, making subtle variations to the melody. After the first chorus, Callaway yields to a piano solo, and one might think that the vocalist would be absent until the last chorus of the track. But Callaway keeps herself involved in the arrangement and after a chorus of piano, she’s back for a George Shearing-styled shout chorus which introduces short solos by bass and drums. Then, backed by only bass and drums, Callaway sings a bop-flavored scat solo that shows that she has learned equally from vocalists and instrumentalists alike. Indeed, Callaway is a pianist herself and like many of her contemporaries, her scatting is informed by her knowledge of chords and scales, and guided by her fine ear.

April 02, 2009 · 0 comments


Kelsey Jillette: Medley – Hot House / What Is This Thing Called Love?

Every time I hear a version of Tadd Dameron's "Hot House," my eyes and ears return to the one-of-a-kind video clip of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie putting the tune through its paces. Though the "Hot House" heard here is a lifetime and galaxy away from beboppers Bird & Diz, it is born of the same spirit. Kelsey Jillette sings the melody vocalese-style above a throbbing bassline provided by organist Brad Whiteley and guitarist Hiro Honma. Soon, the lyrics from "What Is This Thing Called Love?" are coming from Jillette's lips. She owns some well-honed pipes and the emotive powers to use them effectively. The tune takes on a slight Latin feel even as the music becomes denser. Jillette eventually adds a touch of Latin scat herself. Interestingly, the arrangement catches a deep groove but is still somewhat at odds with itself. This tension is explored even as Jillette's voice stays above the fray. Absent her voice, this performance would still make a good jam-band number, given how talented these players are. Yet together, vocalist and musicians creatively transform historic material into an engaging modern mode. This is what playing the standards should be all about. You know, making the music your own. Such distinctive arrangements and performances help make jazz the timeless music it is.

March 17, 2009 · 0 comments


Bob Albanese: Friendly Fire

Bob Albanese is Ben Vereen's pianist. I hope Mr. Vereen knows how lucky he is. On "Friendly Fire" (the pianist's tune based on both the melody and changes to "What Is This Thing Called Love"), Albanese proves himself a consummate mainstream/modern improviser who's absorbed the lessons of such post-bop masters as Herbie Hancock and Keith Jarrett. Albanese possesses a variable touch and lissome manner of phrasing, and he's a remarkably sensitive and creative accompanist. He's joined by an old master, saxophonist Ira Sullivan, who's long seemed content to do his thing within the confines of Florida, to the disadvantage of the jazz world at large. Sullivan possesses the old-school virtues of spontaneity and non-contrivance—qualities which are often at a premium among a younger set of straight-ahead players. Tom Kennedy is a hard-swinging, extraordinarily agile bassist, and drummer Willard Dyson inherits all the best musical characteristics of the late Tony Williams. A fine, energetic performance by a first-rate collection of musicians.

March 04, 2009 · 0 comments


Curtis Fuller: What Is This Thing Called Love

Curtis Fuller was the first and longest standing trombonist featured in the Jazz Messengers, and was a member of some of that band's most famous front lines. He shared the bandstand most notably with Freddie Hubbard and Wayne Shorter on recordings such as Mosaic, Buhaina's Delight, Caravan and 3 Blind Mice Vol. 1 and Vol. 2. On this pre-Messengers track, Fuller and Hank Jones overshadow Red Kyner and the solid yet imperfect Latin-to-swing transitions by the rhythm section over the head of this classic tune. A fine Doug Watkins solo is answered by Fuller's brief yet exceptional second improvised statement at the tune's conclusion.

March 06, 2008 · 0 comments


Antonio Faraò: What Is This Thing Called Love

Antonio Faraò's dry touch and brisk, authoritative phrasing suggest that he's not really interested in the melody of this standard. His right-hand single-note lines played at medium tempo are impressive, and the rhythm team feeds him dense support. After more than two minutes, the left hand comes adds harmonic relief and the tempo slows down a bit, giving way to some feeling. But the virtuoso mood – with two hands this time – soon takes over again. One can admire the performance from a technical point of view, but it's a bit frustrating for those who are looking for "... this thing called Love."

February 26, 2008 · 0 comments


Ahmad Jamal: What Is This Thing Called Love

At the club he then owned, Jamal and his partners give one of their classic performances of the late '50s and early '60s, maintaining constant suspense with a song everybody knows by heart. First, they don't clearly quote the melody before one minute, after having circled it in many ways. Then they carry on this hide-and-seek game until there's no resting place for the ears of those who've grasped that anything can happen at any moment. This trio is a real orchestra, and Jamal acts as an arranger. Or should one say a stage director, who dispatches sound effects. Who could believe that in those days some called Jamal a lounge pianist?

February 12, 2008 · 0 comments


James P. Johnson: What Is This Thing Called Love

Only a few months after Cole Porter launched this tune as part of his 1929 musical Wake Up and Dream, James P. Johnson records this cover version in a stride adaptation. Johnson aims to transform Porter's minor key lament into a boisterous rent-party number. Jazz fans who are familiar with these chord changes as a springboard for bop pyrotechnics will find this Harlem piano version of the song a bit strange. "What Is This Thing Called Love" is not the best example of James P. Johnson's artistry -- check out his "Carolina Shout" or his classical works if you are new to this artist -- but even this track demonstrates the pianist's ability to put his own personal stamp on a popular standard.

December 08, 2007 · 0 comments


Clifford Brown & Max Roach: What is This Thing Called Love

Clifford Brown had it all—all the range a trumpeter could wish for, a powerful and rich tone and infallible technique. He was as fiery at breakneck tempos as he was tender on ballads. Tragically, he had not yet realized his full potential when he died in a car accident at the age of 25. Brown is heard here at his peak, explosive yet under constant control. His lines unfold effortlessly and cohesively with natural momentum and his ideas are projected with unparalleled clarity. A true gem and a necessity for any jazz enthusiast.

October 24, 2007 · 0 comments


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