CD Round-up: The New and Notable

By Marilyn Lester . . .

There’s no shortage of recorded music being released these days, and so much of it is deserving of at least a mention in the absence of a full-scale review. Here’s a rundown of several CDs that are well worth exploring:

Allan Harris: Kate’s Soulfood (Love Productions). Vocalist/guitarist/composer Allan Harris’ 12th CD as a leader is an homage to his home of Harlem. In 10 tracks of original music, Harris’ songs deliver an evocative portrait of personal experience, rhythmically rich and beautifully rendered in his sure baritone. A key element of that experience and his own musicality is Harris’ Aunt Kate, whose popular luncheonette Kate’s Home Cooking, on the corner of Frederick Douglass Boulevard and 126th street, was often frequented by musicians. This and other touchstones of childhood and youth inform the whole. Tracks such as “I Grew Up,” “One More Notch (Put Down Your Gun),” “Wash Away My Sins,” “99 Miles,” and more, are soulful and truthful. The collection weaves a tapestry of life painted in vivid musical pictures. Backing Harris on Kate’s Soulfood are crackerjack musicians Arcoiris Sandoval on piano, Nimrod Speaks on bass, Shirazette Tinnin on drums, Grégoire Maret on harmonica, David Castañeda on percussion, Curtis Taylor on trumpet, Alex Budman on alto saxophone, Keith Fiddmont on tenor saxophone and Ondre J Pivec on organ. Harris plays guitar throughout the album, with the exception of “Color Of A Woman is Blu”, which features Tonga Ross-M’au in his place. Producer and arranger, Kamau Kenyatta, has done an exquisite job of maximizing every aspect of Harris and company’s musical contributions.

Loudon Wainright III with Vince Giordano: I’d Rather Lead a Band. Singer-songwriter Wainright, long a staple of the folk world, teams with jazz master Vince Giordano, leader of The Nighthawks and purveyor of music of the 1929s and ‘30s, for a fling into jazz vocalizing. The result is a rewarding partnership in swing. Among the 14 tracks are well-known standards, such as “I Thought About You,” (Jimmy Van Heusen/Johnny Mercer) and “Ain’t Misbehavin,” (Fats Waller/Harry Brooks/Andy Razaf), as well as a few lesser-known gems, including “(I’m Tellin’ the Birds, Tellin’ The Bees) How I Love You,” (Lew Brown/Cliff Friend) and “So The Bluebirds and The Blackbirds Get Together,” (Harry Barris/Billy Moll). Wainright’s pleasant vocal timbre meshes well with the unobtrusive, yet completely accomplished Nighthawks.

Steven Feifke: Kinetic (Outside Music). Pianist/arranger/composer Feifke has assembled his big band, featuring a lineup of premiere New York musicians including Jennifer Wharton, Alexa Tarantino, Alex Wintz, Ulysses Owens and Benny Benack III, for this debut album as a leader. Special guest, vocalist Veronica Swift adds a delightful track to the nine others, with a rich “Until The Real Thing Comes Along” (Sammy Cahn/Saul Chaplin/L.E. Freeman). Kinetic offers plenty of swing, creative improv and musical virtuosity in a fresh, trad style.

Joanie Pallato: My Original Plan (Southport). Jazz singer Pallato has produced and arranged 14 very agreeable tracks of her own compositions, featuring the renowned guitarist Fareed Haque. Pallato has long been a notable fixture in Chicago music circles, and this CD, while not especially jazz-oriented is none the less a compilation of excellent musicianship combined with smart lyrics. It’s a mellow compendium with tunes such as “Open Your Eyes,” “A Simple Time” and “Lucky to Belong to You” making for pleasant listening. Pallato is in fine voice and her musicians, including Juan Pastor on congas and Steve Essen on flute add texture to the whole. There’s even a vocal appearance by Pallato friend, actor Bill Nolte.

Lauren Lee: The Queen of Cups (Ears and Eyes Records) Vocalist-pianist-composer Lauren Lee’s third album was born of the covid pandemic and social distancing, which gave her time to reflect on “feelings of sadness, inadequacy, mania, gratitude, disassociation, ambivalence, hope, and strength.” The result of her musing is ten tracks of original music, with Lee performing vocals on piano and keyboard. Sometimes harmonious, sometimes dissonant, the result of her stylings are consistently original in approach. The music includes titles such as “Mad House,” “Unity Village,” “Another Reality” and “Cocoon,” all of which make strong statements reflective of universal experiences and states of mind.

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