Tag Archives: 2019

Judy Wexler: Crowded Heart

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Vocalist Judy Wexler has released her fifth album “Crowded Heart” on May 31st and it hit #1 in Jazz on iTunes and Amazon in its first week. The press release said that the album is featuring outstanding songs by current-day jazz composers. So I had an interesting baseline when I started to listen to the album. The first impression of the album was extremely positive, Judy has a clear and precise voice and is able to transmit complex lyrics in an easy and natural way to the listener. The arrangement on the album are all excellent, played by great musicians and here and there are nice surprises for the listener.

All songs have been chosen by Judy Wexler and she took her time to find the combination of great melodies and lyrics with a compelling story. The Great American Songbook has a lot of songs with beautiful melodies but sometimes the lyrics are a little bit silly and more like a vehicle for the melody than a story to tell. Judy’s approach is definitely different and more challenging but I can imagine also more rewarding. In addition she looked for timeless modern jazz compositions written by contemporary songwriters.

The album was produced by Alan Pasqua and Judy Wexler, all arrangements are from Alan Pasqua, who plays the piano on all songs.

The other musicians on the album are:

  • Larry Koonse – guitar
  • Josh Johnson – alto sax
  • Bob Sheppard – alto flute
  • Darek Oles – bass
  • Steve Hass  – drums
  • Aaron Serfaty  – percussion
  • Stefanie Fife  – cello

The album starts with “Circus Life” by Luciana Souza, Larry Klein and David Batteau, a lively samba about the stresses and general insanity of modern life. A nice surprise comes at the end of the tune where Alan Pasqua decided to add a fun whistling improvisation.

The second song “Parisian Heartbreak” is my personal favorite on the album. No surprise since the song was composed by Richard Galliano who used to play with my favorite guitar player Sylvain Luc. I found an instrumental version of this song called “Spleen” with Richard Galliano and Sylvain Luc. Judy’s version keeps the melancholic mood of this musette-tune and Alan Pasqua adds an incredible solo on the melodica.

“Crowded Heart” the title song of the album comes next. It was composed by Judy’s good friend Sinne Eeg, a Danish vocalist and songwriter with an international following. Eeg’s compatriot Mads Mathias wrote the lyrics about the end of an affair with a married man.  This song was one of the first songs she selected for this album. Convincing Steve Hass on drums is responsible for the open but pushing groove.

“Painted on Canvas” was the only tune where I knew the original version. Gregory Porter released it on his 2012 album “Be Good”. Gregory Porter’s version stays in an open mood and I always was hoping that it picks up the 6/8 meter, which it never does. Judy Wexler’s version is much more straight here with a rather heavy funky groove. Josh Johnson on alto sax plays an outstanding solo.

The next song “Stars” was composed by pianist Fred Hersch, whose original instrumental version is called “Endless Stars.” The lyrics are from British vocalist and lyricist Norma Winstone. The melody has challenging intervals which are mastered with assurance.

“The Last Goodbye” is a sad song about a lost love with excellent lyrics by British vocalist Georgia Mancio, who has become a valued online friend to Judy Wexler through their exchange about music. Bob Sheppard on alto-flute is responsible for the unique and distinct sound of this song.

The album continues with “Take My Breath Away” by American songwriter and jazz vocalist René Marie, who started her career as Jazz singer with 41 years. A clever piano riff dominates this song and Larry Koonse plays a fine solo on his acoustic guitar.

“I Took Your Hand” by Italian pianist Enrico Pieranunzi is the next song. The original instrumental version was titled “Fellini’s Waltz”. The version of Judy Wexler comes with a pushing groove and a great alto sax solo. The melody is also quite complex with interval jumps that are all managed with ease.

“It’s Only Smoke” by Larry Goldings and lyrics by Cliff Goldmacher is the song where I have the feeling that Judy Wexler enjoys to have complex lyrics that ask for an intellectual mind to interpret them. This song is real brain food and I like it very much.

The album ends with “And We Will Fly” by Alan Pasqua with lyrics by Kurt Elling and Phillip Galdston. It originally appeared as an instrumental called “Highway 14″ on Pasqua’s 2005 CD, “My New Old Friend”. This love song has a beautiful intro by Larry Koonse and modulates nicely between major and minor in an easy Latin-style.

Judy Wexler still does release concerts for this album and you can check on her website when and where she will perform:
http://judywexler.com/

Judy did some crowd-funding for this album and produced a nice video which I would like to share with you:

Thanks to the information from Judy I was able to compile a nice playlist with the version from the album and the original version of each song. I hope you enjoy this comparison.

 

Alex Hitchcock Quintet: All Good Things

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Today’s album comes from London-born saxophonist and composer Alex Hitchcock who is one of the rising stars of the UK jazz scene. He leads his own quintet, the Alex Hitchcock Quintet that gained a lot of recognition in 2018 after releasing the live EP “Live At The London And Cambridge Jazz Festivals”. The quintet won the first price in the Conad Jazz Contest at the 2018 Umbria Jazz Festival and toured quite intensively in 2018. The momentum and spirit from this period led to the album “All Good Things” which was released on May 31 by the Spanish contemporary jazz label “Fresh Sound New Talent”.

The line-up of the quintet is:

  • Alex Hitchcock – tenor saxophone
  • James Copus – trumpet/flugelhorn
  • Will Barry – piano/keyboards
  • Joe Downard – bass
  • Jay Davis – drums

All songs on the album have been written by Alex Hitchcock. All pieces have been thoroughly “road tested” at festivals and gigs throughout Europe in 2018 and the musicians had a chance to get inside each composition and to improvise freely within them.

The first song on the album is called “Hamburg 2010″ and starts with a rather simple melody with long notes from which the saxophone solo develops over a complex bass and drums groove. Will Barry on piano takes over with a second solo that forces bass and drums to much more dynamics. After an intensive interlude dynamics go back and James Copus plays a beautiful trumpet solo initially accompanied only by piano.

“Mobius” the second song begins with a pushing bass intro over which sax and trumpet play a polyrhythmic melody. The solo-part is a dialog between trumpet and saxophone. Hitchcock comments that: “James is a really inspiring musician to play alongside – one of his explosive solos can lift an entire gig to another level – and I wanted to write a cyclical form that we could trade on and overlap seamlessly while playing on alternate sections”. The song ends with a fantastic drums solo.

“Mint” brings new sound elements. Will Barry is on keyboard and the drums are played rather minimalistic, the horns have a melody mostly in unison with long notes. This song features Alex Hitchcock in laid-back style.

“Adjective Animal” has a simple and beautiful piano intro. One characteristic element of the compositions of Alex Hitchcock are melodies played by the horns in unison with long notes. This song is no exception, but the surprise comes at 2:15 minutes. Groove and sound change and the horns play a much more complex melody. This song features drummer Jay Davis.  Alex Hitchcock has some details: “Jay always finds new ways to approach the same material over the course of a run of performances, making sure the texture and feel of the music is always fresh and original”. The song has also a fantastic keyboard solo and more groove changes towards the end with some interesting drum fills.

“A38″ features Joe Downard on bass, he gets the first solo and we can clearly hear him singing and playing his improvised melody, very nice. The second solo goes to James Copus on flugelhorn. I like his playing very much and this solo is definitely one of my highlights on the album.

“Sorry Not Sorry” comes next and starts with a steady bass and drums groove over which the horns play a twisting melody. Will Barry adds some funky keyboard sounds. James Copus has another chance to pull out all the stops and Will Barry is able to convince us with his keyboard solo.

“Context”, the last song on the album begins with a beautiful piano intro, the melody however is in big contrast to the perfect harmony of the piano. Alex explains: “I wanted the dissonance of the melody to pull the listener’s ear in different directions across a repeated bass line”. The song features Will Barry on piano, he plays an excellent solo on this tune.

An interesting album with excellent musicians, especially James Copus and Will Barry are really impressive. All songs are performed very well and you feel that the musicians have been playing that material for quite some time. The band has a distinct sound and the compositions follow an individual path.

The quintet has received great feedback for its live performances. Please check for yourself with the attached video.

The Alex Hitchcock Quintet is currently on tour in the UK. You can find tour dates on Alex Hitchcock’s website: https://www.alexhitchcock.co.uk/

And again a playlist on Spotify: