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CD of the Month: Jeanne Gies – Howard Alden – Window

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My favorite album at the moment comes from Jeanne Gies and Howard Alden and is called “Window”. It features nine original compositions from from Brazilian songwriter Manu Lafer. All the lyrics come from vocalist Jeanne Gies and the arrangements are by guitarist Howard Alden. The album was recorded 2016 in Brazil.

Jeanne Gies and Howard Alden are the only musicians on the album, so this is music at its core, no extensive sound painting, just a singer and a guitar. Both musicians have a lot of experience in this setup and know how to make a diversified and entertaining album.

I met Jeanne Gies some weeks ago at a jazz workshop in Bozen, Italy where she was teaching the vocalists’ class while I was trying to improve my guitar playing (here is a picture of her together with Si Wages).

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I had the chance to listen to her basically every evening after dinner singing jazz standards accompanied by one or two guitars, and I think this is one of her favorite setups. In this constellation she has the freedom and the space to fill a room with her unique swinging and extremely precise voice. The lyrics are always clear to understand and are an important part in her singing. Her voice is light as a feather, only with a rarely used light vibrato and her phrasing is pure jazz.

Howard Alden on the other hand is also no stranger to me. I saw him around a year ago live in Bern together with Andy Brown. Accompanying a singer is for me the perfect role for him. He plays usually a Benedetto 7-string guitar which allows him to produce a full and well-balanced sound including lower frequencies where a bass player is typically found.

Manu Lafer is a composer, singer, and pediatrician from São Paulo, Brazil. He has composed more than 300 songs, more than 100 of which have been recorded. Manu worked with some of Brazil’s most respected composers, arrangers and singers. He initiated this project by approaching Jeanne and Howard about recording his music as a duo and he gave complete freedom to both of them to realize this album. In the booklet of the CD he writes: “Jeanne Gies adds her own lyrics (to my songs), in the same fashion that the Brazilians used to write words to American songs they cherished”.

The album starts with the song “Journey”, no pick-up, no intro, first note comes from Jeanne Gies. The song has a catchy melody and comes fresh and easy. Howard adds a solo on his tenor banjo and Jeanne sings openly at the end.

The second tune is called “Soul Tree”. The inspiration for the lyrics came from a bottle of wine in an Indian restaurant in Brazil. This time Howard Alden plays a solo on the guitar without overdubbing.

The third song “Gypsy” sounds like a Jazz-standard with classic love song lyrics and a second guitar recorded on top of the rhythm guitar. The extra guitar playing in a higher range fits perfectly and matches the setup I experienced during evening sessions at the workshop in Italy.

“Crime”, the next tune is according to Jeanne the “most challenging to write due to the melodic complexity, yet ultimately, one of the most satisfying artistically”. The complexity is however not noticeable, it is absorbed and resolved completely by the artistry of both musicians.

The next song is the title song of the album. “Window” is a ballad where the melody and the singing of Jeanne Gies are harmonically so clear and so distinctive that I would not need a guitar at all.

“Ta Shema”, the sixth song on the album, is an exception, because Lafer wrote it for his sister. Lafer prepared a detailed translation and wanted Jeanne Gies to “keep as close to the spirit of his lyrical intent as possible”. This is my favorite song on the album and Howard Alden managed to translate the original arrangement with its rich instrumentation into its quintessence without losing the spirit of the song.

The album continues with “Sky” another slow tune, harmonically and melodically rather demanding. Howard Alden plays a wonderful solo and Jeanne’s singing makes us longing for the “sky overlooking the ocean”. Very nice.

“Translation” is the next song and continues with the spirit from “Sky”, full of desire, but this time shifting to the inside.

“Account”, the last tune of the album sounds very traditional and is again recorded with a rhythm guitar and a second overdubbed solo guitar. The lyrics of this tune also make it clear, that the “Journey” we started has come to an end and “the truth that was hidden revealed in miraculous ways”.

Miracles happen, and this album is one of them, but they came here not unexpected because we see two experienced masters of this duo-setup inspired by fresh and rich compositions from a different culture. The result is a unique mélange of modern Brazilian and American music, perfectly arranged for an unplugged setup of guitar and vocals.

One way to see Jeanne Gies live is to look out in New York, where she is quite actively performing. The other option is to come to the workshop in Italy, which I attended. The workshop is organized by German luthier Stefan Sonntag. He already announced the new dates for April 2019 (and Jeanne Gies will be again the teacher for the vocalists’ class). If you sing or play guitar, keep an eye on Stefan’s website for the inscription to this event.

Here is a review of this years’ workshop:
http://www.sonntag-guitars.com/english/Event/index.php?DOC_INST=27

And finally a playlist of the album on iTunes:

Charlie Rhyner: The First Second

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The album which I would like to present today comes from Charlie Rhyner, a guitarist from the New York area. “The First Second” is his second album and it features six originals from Charlie plus three cover songs.

The official release date is June 1st, 2018, but you can already buy and download the album.

Charlie started playing guitar as a teenager and focused always on writing and recording songs (to all parents: please buy a house with a basement, so your children have an area to do such things). He studied classical and jazz guitar and works now as a music teacher at a public school in New York.

He told me that his inspiration came initially from people like Neil Young or Tom Petty, but later he listened also to Miles Davis, Phish or Cream. The guitar players he admires are John Scofield, Mike Stern or Pat Metheny.

The album was recorded in April 2018 and the songs have been written in the last year. The musicians on the album are:

Charlie Rhyner – guitar, compositions
Mike Roninson – bass
Graciliano Zambonin – drums
Imraan Khan – saxophone
Dan Schnapp – piano

Charlie explained to me that he plays a lot with Mike Roninson and he met Graciliano and Imraan by lucky circumstances at a jam session.

The album starts with “Jethiya” one of the six originals from Charlie. The melody is played by sax and guitar, with fine rhythmic changes. Imraan takes the first solo and Charlie the second one. Bass and drums provide a solid and stable layer for the soloists.

“Golden Cuffs” is the second original. Instrumentation is guitar trio only featuring Charlie and Mike. A soft tune, played nicely and dynamically.

The third song is called “Pat’s Print” and is a blues with solos from all musicians.

“Nardis” by Miles Davis is the next tune on the album. For me the album starts to take off with this tune. The first three songs are what you call in ice skating “short program” but the “free skate” begins here.  Charlie told me that he really “likes and identifies” with this song, but also Mike Roninson plays a great double bass solo.

The next song is called “Boozy Dough” and was recorded at Charlie’s house. It’s like an interlude with just some guitars and a little bit of percussion. Gives you a little bit of a break before we continue with “Juju” by Wayne Shorter. This is also one of my favorite songs and Charlie, Mike and Graciliano know how to play it. Very well done.

“Breakdown” by Tom Petty is next.  We had Tom Petty before as inspiration and so Charlie took the chance to arrange this song after seeing Tom Petty live last summer. It is very well arranged with a killer piano sound.

“Handsome  & Healthy” comes with a steady beat and again a great bass solo.

The album closes with “Black Daniels” a song that starts soft and easy.  According to Charlie “the song falls apart in the middle” where the band moves into a steady groove allowing Imraan and Charlie to improvise freely.

As a summary I have to say that the album is very well done, the sound of the instruments is brilliant. The musicians play excellent and Charlie has done a great job in composing and arranging the material.

Charlie and his comrades are also active performing musicians in the NYC area, so check out the link below and you might have a good chance to listen to some of the songs live.

You can listen or download the album on bandcamp:
https://charlierhyner.bandcamp.com/album/the-first-second

Charlie with his Gibson 335:
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If you want to know more about Charlie please check out his website:
www.charlierhyner.com