You’d never know that jazz is America’s least popular musical genre based on the number of recent releases that have crossed my desk. Here are four:
The most intriguing of the lot is from a young singer named Violette. To say her background is eclectic is an understatement. She was born in Paris and eventually studied at the Parisian Academy, though she spent most of her youth on Ars-en-Ré, a small island about 5 miles offshore in the Poitou region of France. Then she came to Boston’s Berklee College of Music, and now lives in Brooklyn. Her self-produced CD Falling Strong is a bilingual effort produced by Brian Bacchus, who also produces Nora Jones. Like Jones, Violette isn’t terribly concerned about genres. She’s in the chanteuse tradition of jazz, but her inspirations include everyone from Edith Piaf and Jacques Brel to Ella Fitzgerald and Michael Jackson. Among her dozen original compositions are ones that blur pop/jazz borders (“All My Life,” “I Heart New York”), those with Fitzgerald-like heavy staccato (“Falling Strong”), small combo numbers (“Coming to You”), and those with Brel-like fragility (“Annabelle”). It’s also an album of two distinct moods. When Violette sings in English she’s competent and confident, but when she switches to French, the emotions pop through with more drama. You can hear this in the swingy “Moi Pour Moi,” the catchy “Envol,” and the bouncy “Musique d’Amérique.” The English pieces are bon, but the French are trés bon.
I’ll call Concetta Abbate a jazz artist simply because she plays in jazz venues, but there really isn’t any clean category for her Falling in Time (Waterbug). She’s a classically trained violinist, but she calls this14-track selection “pocket-sized songs,” which is both intriguing and enigmatic—like her music. There’s nothing on this album longer than 4 minutes and several are two or shorter. In addition to her violin, Abbate also performs on harp, charrango, homemade box percussion, and glockenspiel. Guests add viola, cello, guitar, piano, bass, percussion, and trumpet. Her songs are frequently poetic and sometimes downright weird. I can’t promise you’ll love everything on this CD, but you’re unlikely to be bored!
Abbate gives us a Latin flair, but Gino Sitson is a voice of Africa (Cameroon). More precisely, Africa is among his voices. His VoiStrings (Buda Records 4707155) is aptly named and Sitson’s is a four-octave voice that can be as smooth as burnished wood or as taut as a violin string tuned to its breaking point. The band behind him is generally centered on piano, though double bass, percussion, cello, and viola help construct polyphonous arrangements that serve whatever Sitson pulls from his bulging bag of vocaltricks: scat, falsetto, wails, wounded cries…. Some of the tracks border on experimental, others pulse with African soul, and along the way we hear influences from gospel, the blues, and maybe some Papa Wemba and Bobby McFerrin.
Members of the rock band Steely Dan love the songs of jazzman Bill Gable and his album No Straight Lines (Autograph 502) explains why. As the title suggests, this is an album of departures and curves. It’s laid-back, but you name it and Gable weaves it into a song for his trademark counter-tenor voice: flamenco, pop, world jazz, Caribbean influences…. His lyrics don’t mince either: “Everybody sees/what they want to see/Every sinner finds his god/At the end of the day/no one comes to show us the way/No one gives a nod or a hand/judgment isn’t rendered/Bodies lie in state/overwhelmed by fate.”