Tag Archives: Singer

Gary Williams: Treasure Seeker

BOS6824-cover-small

Almost exactly a year ago I presented the Gary Williams album “At The Movies”. In the meantime I saw Gary last October in London at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club and met him afterwards.  He came with an excellent band and I had an unforgettable Sunday lunch in this club.

Gary has just released (officially yesterday on September 19) a new album called “Treasure Seeker”.  What makes this album quite remarkable is the fact that it has only originals on it, so this is the debut album of the singer-songwriter Gary Williams. Together with pianist Jon Nickoll (who is the resident pianist at the Savoy Hotel’s American Bar) twelve songs have been written, arranged and recorded for this album (the song “When Sunday Comes” is found twice in different arrangements, so the album has a total of 13 songs and a playtime of 44 minutes).

Gary presented some of the songs yesterday in London and I had the chance to attend this event. The picture shows Gary Williams and Jon Nickoll after performing together.

DSCF9153

There is some constancy and some evolution from the last album, the constant part is the band, the arranger Phil Steel and the Kenilworth studios, where the album was recorded. The evolutionary part is the songs, music that we have never heard before, songs where Gary put his feelings and his experience of life into words.

Some more background information can be found in this very entertaining video about the making of the album:

The album starts with the song “The Next Big Thing”, with the horn section at full tilt and a nice twist between the title of the song and the lyrics , because Gary sings “I don’t need to be the next big thing”. A short and crisp song to launch this album.

“Never Say I Love You” has been pre-released as a single on Spotify and is a beautiful soft song, not too slow, not too fast, with an excellent piano solo and again this extra wink between the title and the lyrics: “You can never say I love you too much”.

The album continues with “Kiss Me On A Rainy Day”, a slow love song with a superb big band arrangement played with great dynamics. This is just one of those tunes where Gary shows his coolness, regardless what the band does, he stays soft and relaxed.

“When Sunday Comes” starts with a nice acoustic guitar intro and we hear another soft and easy song, this time in Latin style, with the clear advice to “turn off the phones till Monday”. One of my favorites on the album, the steady groove comes from the acoustic guitar with some percussion. The Fender Rhodes sound is anyway something I just can’t get enough of.

“Don’t Trust A Wink” shows the hard swinging Gary Williams. Accompanied by an outstanding big band, this tune is another highlight of the album. The praise goes to Phil Steel, the band and especially Graeme Blevins on saxophone.

“One Second To Decide” is another big band tune, this is time much more old-fashioned, but played straight and without frills. Also very nice. The following video shows an unplugged version of this tune:

The album continues with “Growing Pains”, a ballad with just Matt Regan on piano and Gary Williams on vocals in a very intimate setup.

“I Blame The Moon” sounds like a traditional folk song (or like a song from the soundtrack to “Lord of the Rings”), with the flute playing the intro and interlude and the acoustic guitar picking arpeggios, a very soft and romantic song, supported by strings and a harp.

“Don’t Talk About Time” is next, a nice pop-song, again featuring Graeme Blevins on saxophone.

“The Dreamer” brings back the big band sound, this time with a jazz blues. It reminds me of songs like “Route 66″. We hear solos by Graeme Blevins on saxophone, Clive Dunstall on piano and Tommy Emmerton on guitar and again the incredible brass section that consists only of Malcolm Melling on trumpet and Chris Traves on trombone (who is also the studio engineer).

The album continues with “Our Love Grows Stronger”, a soft love song arranged in an easy Latin-style with an acoustic rhythm guitar, Fender Rhodes and saxophone, pleasantly laid-back and relaxed, this is the kind of song that you typically associate with Gary Williams.

The title song “Treasure Seeker” is the “last” song on this album. Gary asks us here: “Did I entertain you?” The simple answer is “Yes, indeed”. The longer answer is: “You entertained me and you impressed me at the same time.  This album is of outstanding excellence, beautiful melodies, lyrics that sometimes open the door to your inside, your experiences, sometimes have a little twist and I always enjoy English rhymes. The arrangements are fabulous and the band plays very, very good. So please, let us hear one more song.”

The encore is a Boogaloo version of “When Sunday Comes”, this version has teeth compared to the Latin groove before. The band shows again how precise and accurate it can play and Graeme Blevins on saxophone is one more time the soloist.

Unfortunately, that’s it. But the good things is that you can hear Gary live in London. The show on September 30 at Ronnie Scott’s is sold out, but tickets for his Christmas shows are already on sale. Alternatively, just book Gary for your next birthday party, you won’t regret it.

More details can be found on his website:
http://www.garywilliams.co.uk

 

 

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

268x0w

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).

IMG_2483

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: