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Lovely Day: Aretha, Sly, Andy, Marvin and Billie Headline “The Brazil Connection”

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Brazil ConnectionWell, summer is officially upon us! Already there’s talk about which songs will be anointed the perfect summer jams for 2014 – songs by artists like Ariana Grande, Iggy Azalea and the ubiquitous Pharrell Williams. If those names don’t set your pulse racing, however, Legacy Recordings has an alternative that’s bound to conjure up images of tropical sunsets, refreshing drinks and summer breeze. Studio Rio Presents The Brazil Connection makes over 12 pop classics from the Sony vaults by melding the original vocals with new bossa nova and samba arrangements written and/or played by some of Brazil’s top musicians including Torcuato Mariano, Paulo Braga, and bossa legends Marcos Valle and Roberto Menescal. The artists represent a cross-section of genres such as R&B (Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye) to jazz (Billie Holiday, Dave Brubeck and Carmen McRae), and traditional pop (Andy Williams, Mel Torme). The Brazil Connection arrives in stores today, just in time to coincide with the 2014 World Cup being held in Brazil.

Producers Frank and Christian Berman’s Studio Rio aggregation is successful in retaining an organic sound for most of these familiar recordings in their new, chill Brazilian settings. One can fairly question the practice of grafting new productions around vintage tracks – especially from deceased artists, whether Williams, Holiday, Gaye or Brubeck, just to name a few – but these Rio de Janeiro-made recordings are fun, tasteful and faithful to the spirit, if not the style, of the originals.

Most radical – and one of the album’s undisputed highlights – is the transformation of Sly and the Family Stone’s 1971 chart-topper “Family Affair” from lean, dark funk to soft and sensual tropicalia. Gone are the electric piano, bass and early drum machine; in their place is a lush and mellow complement of guitar, piano, bass, drums, flugelhorn, tenor and alto saxophones and trombone. The Isley Brothers’ “It’s Your Thing” and Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” both get rousing, lively reinventions from co-arrangers Mariano and The Berman Brothers. (“It’s Your Thing” is also featured on Sony’s official World Cup 2014 album, One Love, One Rhythm.) Another R&B great, Bill Withers, sees his 1977 “Lovely Day” shorn of its sleek R&B rhythm and replaced with a brassy yet contemporary Brazilian groove. One misses the iconic original backing of Johnny Nash’s 1972 No. 1 hit “I Can See Clearly Now,” though the new, cheerful backing is a perfect match for the song’s lyrical sentiments.

Unsurprisingly, Aretha Franklin’s 1964 recording of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “Walk on By” lends itself well to the treatment here. One of the Queen of Soul’s Columbia tracks that most anticipates her soulful direction at the Atlantic label, “Walk on By” thrives in Roberto Menescal’s alluring arrangement, as Latin rhythms are in the DNA of a Bacharach melody. Similarly, Mel Torme’s 1965 rendition of Cole Porter’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” is a natural for Studio Rio, with arranger Mario Adnet seemingly channeling Claus Ogerman’s work on the seminal Sinatra/Jobim collaboration between another great American singer and Brazil’s answer to George Gershwin. Marcos Valle turns in a fun chart (and also plays Fender Rhodes) on Andy Williams’ hard-swinging “Music to Watch Girls By.” Williams was no stranger to Valle’s music, making this a particularly inspired choice. Roberto Menescal joins Valle on guitar for this upbeat samba.

We have more after the jump – including the complete track listing and order links!   Read the rest of this entry »

Starbucks Goes Hip and Jazzy On Venti Release Slate

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Music for Little HipstersIf you’re looking for a little music to go with your grande toffee nut latte, Starbucks has recently unveiled a number of new audio offerings to kick off 2014.  In addition to its annual Sweetheart disc – an anthology of new(ish) artists playing old(ish) love songs including, this year, songs by John Lennon, Bob Dylan and Harry Nilsson – the coffee giant has curated a selection of Music for Little Hipsters, sets dedicated to Women of Jazz and When Jazz Meets Guitar, and an Opus Collection volume for the one and only Dusty Springfield.  Here, you’ll find the scoop on the first three of those releases; watch this space for our all-Dusty special coming soon touching on four new releases from the late soul queen!

Music for Little Hipsters is one set that’s as intriguing as its title.  Its sixteen tracks share in common a childlike sensibility that crosses generational and genre divides; hence, Devo’s upbeat if ironic “Beautiful World” sits alongside The Free Design’s sunshine pop confection “Kites are Fun.”  The Beach Boys’ “Vegetables” (in its Smiley Smile recording) comes a few tracks after Booker T. and the MG’s “Soul Limbo,” appropriate for both adults and children on the dancefloor!  The compilation also showcases lesser-known “hipsters” from France (Franck Monnet’s tasty “Goutez-Les”), The Netherlands (Arling and Cameron’s ode to the “W.E.E.K.E.N.D.”), Florida (The Postmarks’ “Balloons”) and Seattle (Caspar Babypants’ “Stomp the Bear”).  A couple of tracks here have found a following on Nickelodeon’s offbeat Yo Gabba Gabba, including “Balloons” and I’m From Barcelona’s “Just Because It’s Different Doesn’t Mean Scary.”  The loopy, eclectic Music for Little Hipsters isn’t the usual coffeehouse fare.  On the reverse of its track-by-track liner notes you’ll find puzzles and word finds; a set of stickers is also included in the digipak.

When Jazz Meets GuitarWhen Jazz Meets Guitar is a more straightforward set, with thirteen tracks representing undisputed guitar greats such as Charlie Christian, Django Reinhardt, Wes Montgomery, John McLaughlin and Pat Metheny.  As each of these gentleman’s styles is singular, the disc serves as a Jazz Guitar 101-style primer.  Christian, Reinhardt and Les Paul represent the early practitioners of the art form, with “Solo Flight,” “Anniversary Song” and “Somebody Loves Me,” respectively.  Barney Kessel, a versatile member of the famed L.A. studio “Wrecking Crew,” offers up Henry Mancini’s “Something for Cat” from the score to Breakfast at Tiffany’s.  Grant Green and Kenny Burrell also represent the swinging sixties with selections from Blue Note Records outings.  Two of producer Creed Taylor’s trademark pop-jazz amalgams appear via the legendary Wes Montgomery’s “Bumpin’ on Sunset” and Montgomery disciple George Benson’s reinvention of The Mamas and the Papas’ “California Dreamin’.”  The underrated Joe Pass is heard on “How High the Moon” – popularized by Les Paul and Mary Ford – and tracks by modern masters including Pat Metheny and John McLaughlin show how the art form has developed while still building on the foundation laid by heroes of the past.  Steven Stolder provides informative track-by-track notes.

After the jump, we’ll take a peek at Women of Jazz!  Plus, we have track listings and order links for all three titles! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

February 17, 2014 at 14:28

In A Sentimental Mood: Pablo Expands Sarah Vaughan’s “Ellington Songbooks”

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Sarah Vaughan - Sophisticated LadyOver a long recording career encompassing roughly ten labels and 45 years, “Divine One” Sarah Vaughan (1924-1990) followed her muse wherever it led.  That meant she might record an album of poetry by Pope John Paul II one day (1984’s The Planet is Alive…Let It Live!) and bossa nova with Sergio Mendes the nest day (1987’s Brazilian Romance, recently reissued as part of Legacy’s Complete Columbia Albums Collection, or a Beatles anthology (1977’s Songs of the Beatles, belatedly released in 1981) followed by a couple of volumes of The Duke Ellington Song Book (1979 and 1980).  Whether jazz, blues, soul, or pop, however, Vaughan created music that was distinctly “Sassy.”  Those tributes to Edward Kennedy Ellington (1899-1974), originally released on Norman Granz’s Pablo label, were in the tradition of past salutes to George and Ira Gershwin (1957), Irving Berlin (1957), Henry Mancini (1965) and Michel Legrand (1972).  Granz surrounded Vaughan with the jazz elite plucked from Pablo’s roster and elsewhere, including Joe Pass, Zoot Sims, Bucky Pizzarelli, Jimmy Rowles, Grady Tate, Frank Wess, Frank Foster, and Andy Simpkins.  The Duke Ellington Song Books One and Two have been brought together for Pablo’s 40th anniversary series as Sophisticated Lady: The Duke Ellington Songbook Collection, and as a bonus, the new 2-CD set includes six tracks from a previously unreleased session arranged by the great composer and multi-instrumentalist Benny Carter.

In the exemplary and comprehensive new liner notes by Tad Hershorn, Gary Giddins’ 1978 review of Vaughan’s Pablo release How Long Has This Been Going On?  is quoted: “It will be interesting to see if she continues to work with producer Norman Granz, because if he parades the entire Pablo stock company through her sessions (including one hopes, a set of Benny Carter arrangements), he will be mining the most valuable lode since Ella Fitzgerald discovered songbooks.”  That set of Carter arrangements is finally here, premiering for the first time on Sophisticated Lady.  It seems that Vaughan began work on the project with Carter but refused their release allegedly because Granz hadn’t included space for her then-husband, trumpeter Waymon Reed, to solo.  During the same August 15, 1979 Hollywood session during which she recorded the Carter charts, Vaughan recorded three of the same songs (“Solitude,” “Day Dream” and “Sophisticated Lady”) in arrangements by trombonist Billy Byers, also a Broadway orchestrator of some note (City of Angels, A Chorus Line).  Recording continued in August and September 1979 in Hollywood and New York, with Vaughan alternating between Byers’ orchestra and a small group, concluding in January 1980 with two small group dates.  Vaughan tackled many of the most famous songs in the Ellington canon during these sessions – among them “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing),” “I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good),” “In a Sentimental Mood,” “I Didn’t Know About You” and “I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart.”

Hit the jump for more details, including the full track listing and order links! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

October 14, 2013 at 10:30

Holiday Gift Guide Reviews: Etta James and Sarah Vaughan, “Complete Albums Collections”

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Etta James - Complete Private Rock BoxEtta James and Sarah Vaughan: by any and all accounts, two formidable women of song.  Now, these late legends are both receiving the deluxe treatment from Legacy Recordings on two box sets as part of the Complete Albums series.

Though Etta James’ most enduring recordings were made during her sixteen years (1960-1976) at Chess Records, including her oft-imitated but never-topped perennial “At Last,” the former Jamesetta Hawkins recorded for over fifty years in a variety of genres for a variety of labels.  Modern, Warner Bros., Elektra, Island, Fantasy, RCA, Verve: tenures with all of those labels yielded memorable music from the woman dubbed the Matriarch of the Blues. But one of James’ most lasting label affiliations was with Private Music, where she remained for roughly a decade between 1994 and 2003.  At Private, James explored two parallel artistic avenues, recording in both the idioms of jazz and blues/R&B.  With Legacy’s The Complete Private Music Blues, Rock ‘n’ Soul Albums Collection box set (88691 90589 2), a line of demarcation has been drawn between James’ two differing styles explored at the label.  The box collects seven albums in which she brings her life experience to songs by titans of all three named genres: blues (Willie Dixon, Robert Johnson), rock (Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, Bob Dylan) and soul (Otis Redding, Al Green), and everything in between.  A future box set will likely collect the remainder of James’ Private recordings including her acclaimed sets of popular and jazz standards.  But this 7-CD box (containing two Grammy Award-winning discs) makes a compelling case that this elder stateswoman of music didn’t lose any of the fire or adventurous spirit that marked her incendiary tenure with Chess.

How to separate Etta James’ turbulent personal life from the music she created?  Indeed, her third Private studio album (and the first included in this box set), 1997’s Love’s Been Rough on Me, has a number of song titles that would apply in an autobiographical sense: not just “Love’s Been Rough on Me” itself, but also “Cry Like a Rainy Day,” “Don’t Touch Me,” “If I Had Any Pride Left at All.”  Even the last album in this set, the “bonus disc” Live from San Francisco (recorded 1981, released 1994), finds Eagles favorite “Take It to the Limit” recast soulfully by a singer who took life to the absolute limits for as long as she possibly could.

The blues form figured prominently even in the titles of these torrid albums: Life, Love and the Blues (a holy trinity if there ever was one for Ms. Etta James), Matriarch of the Blues, Blues to the Bone.  James may have been exorcising her considerable demons in song, but she did so with power, dignity and control.  She even self-produced or co-produced more than half of the albums here.  On the first album in this box to be recorded, the 1981-vintage Live from San Francisco, she imbues that Glenn Frey/Don Henley hit with more fire than the California cowboys likely ever imagined, growling its familiar words.  There’s also the opportunity here to compare that 1981 concert to a 2001 Hollywood gig preserved on Burnin’ Down the House.  With her Roots Band, James covers some of the same songs, bringing another twenty years’ of life experience to Willie Dixon’s “I Just Want to Make Love to You” and Ellington Jordan and Billy Foster’s “I’d Rather Go Blind.”  She also revisits “At Last” in 2001, older and wiser, and with a certain amount of affection.  (She sounds grateful and without judgment when she introduces the standard with a simple “Every time somebody gets married, they say, ‘Sing ‘At Last.’”  The audience applauds when she complies, naturally.)

Etta James BoxThroughout the albums collected on the box, James connects with songs both expected and out of left field.  So comfortable in so many genres, she melds Rodgers and Hart to Al Green in an epic medley from Burnin’ Down the House of the Reverend Al’s “Take Me to the River” and “Love and Happiness” with the venerated Broadway team’s “My Funny Valentine.”  One of the most diverse LPs here, 2000’s Matriarch of the Blues, is also the most rocking.  It brings sassy, brassy southern soul to Bob Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody,” another finely-chosen selection for an artist intimately acquainted with both the devil and the Lord, as the song goes.  In her hands, the Rolling Stones’ “Miss You” loses its disco sheen, its famous riff reinterpreted by a smoking horn section and Mick Jagger’s “woo-hoo-hoo” squeal reinvented as a guttural “Whoa-oh-oh.”  Surely the Glimmer Twins were pleased with their heroine’s recording.  Another rock legend, John Fogerty, gets the Etta treatment with her funky take on his “Born on the Bayou.”

In a decidedly less contemporary vein is 2004’s Blues to the Bone, with songs from Willie Dixon, of course, plus Robert Johnson (“Dust My Broom”) Jimmy Reed (“Hush, Hush”), Elmore James (“The Sky is Crying”) and one-time Chess labelmate Howlin’ Wolf (“Smokestack Lightnin’”).  The bands were generally small, tight, and sympathetic to each particular album’s requirements; on Blues to the Bone, the arrangements are stripped-down and no horn section is present.  Somewhere between these two extremes is Life, Love and the Blues (1998), with Willie Dixon’s “Hoochie Coochie Man” (here, “Hoochie Coochie Gal”) and “Spoonful” sitting comfortably alongside songs by classic southern soul men including Joe Tex, Brook Benton, William Bell and Al Green.  The most adventurous choice, though, hails from Detroit: Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler).”

There’s more on Etta, plus a look at Sarah Vaughan’s Complete Columbia Albums box set, once you hit the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

December 14, 2012 at 10:06

Brownie Box, Ruffin Reissue Are Latest from Hip-O Select

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Two new releases from Hip-O Select are on the horizon: one closing the book on a trumpeting legend at a beloved jazz label, and one reissue spotlighting one of Motown’s most underrated voices.

First, the Motown news: David Ruffin’s self-titled, unreleased LP is coming back to the CD format. David was intended for release in 1971 and featured songwriting and production from the brightest stars on the roster at the time, including Henry Cosby co-writes “Each Day is a Lifetime” and “I Can’t Be Hurt Anymore,” Smokey Robinson-aided composition “Dinah,” and covers of The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back,” Stevie Wonder’s “Heaven Help Us All” and Tony Joe White’s “Rainy Night in Georgia.”And yet, the passionate David was surprisingly shelved in favor of a duet album between David and his brother Jimmy.

Outside of two singles from the album sessions, David wouldn’t see a release until 2004, when the original 12-track album, four single mixes and seven session outtakes were released by Select. That release sold out its original pressing of 3,500 copies; due to popular demand, another 2,000 units of the expanded program is finally being repressed to CD with all the same notes (the only packaging difference is the original digipak being replaced with a standard jewel case). Special thanks to super reader Jonathan Peters for the tip!

After the jump, take a look at Select’s latest project for Clifford Brown, featuring the vocal talents of Sarah Vaughan, Helen Merrill and Miss Dinah Washington!

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Written by Mike Duquette

October 1, 2012 at 15:33

From “Sassy” to “The Matriarch of the Blues” and Beyond: PopMarket Offers New Complete Box Sets in August

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Though it may be summer vacation for many of us, the folks at Sony’s PopMarket have been too busy to take much of a rest!  They’ll be releasing three more Complete Albums boxes from a triumvirate of artists who blurred the lines between jazz, R&B, pop and rock.  Box sets for The Brecker Brothers, Etta James and Sarah Vaughan will arrive at general retail as well as at PopMarket.com on August 28.

Though most genres have been benefitted from the comprehensive Complete Albums series, jazz fans have been particularly lucky.  These three latest titles follow up the first 19 box sets in the series, and a cursory glance at that list reveals some of the most enduring names not only in jazz but in popular music: The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Stanley Clarke, Miles Davis (2009), George Duke, Stan Getz, Dexter Gordon, Billie Holiday, The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Wynton Marsalis, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Return To Forever, Woody Shaw, Wayne Shorter, Grover Washington Jr., Weather Report 1971-1975 and Weather Report 1976-1982 (all on Columbia/Legacy); and Paul Desmond and Nina Simone (on RCA/Legacy).

For those not familiar with the Complete Albums series, the compact boxes contain every album released during a particular period of an artist’s career.  Each CD is packaged in a mini-LP sleeve replicating the original album’s front and back artwork, and many of the albums include bonus tracks.  Bonus discs have also been included in a number of the sets.  Booklets always contain discographical annotation and often contain new essays penned specifically for these sets.

The Brecker Brothers’ Complete Arista Albums Collection offers eight albums released between 1975 and 1981 from the duo of Randy Brecker (trumpet, b. 1945) and Michael Brecker (tenor saxophone, 1949-2007) on Clive Davis’ legendary label.  None of the albums in this set have ever appeared on CD in the U.S. before, making its release a particularly monumental one.  The Brecker Brothers have made their mark both individually and collectively with countless appearances on some of the best records of the day, from artists including Blood, Sweat and Tears, Paul Simon, Todd Rundgren, Rupert Holmes, James Taylor, Bruce Springsteen, Frank Sinatra and Frank Zappa.

But they’re still much-loved for their Arista output as headline artists, during which time they crossed genre lines from jazz to funk to rock and back again.  At Arista, Michael and Randy were joined by an array of familiar musicians with equally-impressive credentials including guitarists Bob Mann, Steve Khan, Barry Finnerty, David Spinozza, and Hiram Bullock; bassists Will Lee, Neil Jason, Marcus Miller, and Tony Levin; keyboardist Don Grolnick; and drummers Harvey Mason, Chris Parker, Steve Gadd, and Steve Jordan.  George Duke and Luther Vandross also made vital contributions.  These albums showcase the Brothers’ winning combination of pop melodies, pure jazz improvisation and memorable compositions, as well as a mastery of the musical forms of the day likely honed during their time as ace session men.  Though the Brecker Brothers broke up in 1982, they reunited in the early part of the next decade as both touring and recording artists.  Randy Brecker contributes new liner notes to the box set.

We explore the sets for Etta James and Sarah Vaughan after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

July 13, 2012 at 13:38