"TURNED TO BLUE"
The title tune's lyrics are from the poem by Maya Angelou, "My Life Has Turned To Blue." Vocal stylist Nancy Wilson uses her magnificent phrasing and dramatic sensibilities to bring it to musical life.
It's just one of several album highlights. An obscure tune, "Knitting Class," has a touch of irony.
Wilson is at her seductive best on "Be My Love." She gets a major assist from flutist Hubert Laws. She uses various combinations of players on the 11 cuts. Included as special guests are saxophonists Tom Scott, Andy Snitzer, Jimmy Heath and James Moody.
Her all-star big band provides a pleasant change of pace on "Taking a Chance on Love" and "Take Love Easy," and she uses pianist Billy Taylor and a seven-piece string section on "I'll Be Seeing You."
"BECAUSE OF YOU: FREDDIE COLE SINGS TONY BENNETT"
Freddie Cole, one of the few living balladeers remaining, recreates some of the songs made famous or identified with another like soul, Tony Bennett.
As one listens, the question becomes: Would the songs have become as popular had Cole gotten to the material first? My recommendation is forget comparisons — just get into the music and enjoy an elegant musical ride.
The songs are time-tested winners such as "If I Ruled the World," "Because of You," "Blame it on My Youth," "You're My Thrill" and more. His accompaniment is superb, with tenor saxophonist Houston Person contributing neat little touches in the background as well as his soulful bluesy solos.
A prime example of both occurs on "You're My Thrill." Pianist John Di Martino, bassist Peter Washington, drummer Kenny Washington and percussionist Steve Kroon dispense the rhythm in just the right amounts. This could be Cole's finest-ever recording.
Alto saxophonist Frank Morgan, an early disciple of Charlie Parker, is still blowing with that impeccable tone.
That and the fact he is still alive is a welcome relief from the passing of so many of those bebop pioneers. Years of heroin use landed him in California prisons for much of his early adult life. Finally, in the mid 1980s, he got his life back on track and has recorded 17 albums in the past 19 years.
We hear him here on eight tracks without a waver or a slipped note, true to his ear. He is beneficiary of an excellent rhythm section of pianist Ronnie Matthews, bassist Essiet Essiet and drummer Billy Hart. "Love Story," a somber ballad, holds special meaning to Morgan; he played it at his parents' funerals. Here, he draws the sheer majesty of its melodic lines in the clear language of love.
However, this is not a memorial album. Miles Davis' "Walkin' " is the opener, and is in the company of other jazz standards like "Solar," "Blue Monk" and "Monk's Mood." His ballads include "Out of Nowhere," "I'll Be Around" and "Crazy He Calls Me."
"OLD THOUGHTS FOR A NEW DAY"
BEN ADAMS QUINTET
"There's not enough good vibes players anymore," you say. Hang on a moment, there's a fairly new name — Ben Adams — that you should seek out.
Adams leads his quintet through nine fine tracks of restrained yet polished jazz. His combination of trumpeter Erik Jekabson and tenor saxophonist Mitch Marcus — with their interwoven harmonies — along with his vibes, set this apart from most quintet recordings. They let the melodies prevail and exploit them beautifully. They never lose the melodic essence with hard blowing or solos detached from the stated theme.
Adams has a comforting delivery, whether he is soloing or playing underneath the horns, solo or together. His program, although smooth-flowing, is nowhere near the smooth jazz category.
Bassist Fred Randolph and drummer Sameer Gupta are key with their rhythmic approaches, always complementing the work of the other. No standards are included — just nine excellent originals.