I've been traveling quite a bit lately, so my CD discoveries have been piling up. Finally, this past week, I had some time to write about the new albums I love...
Pete McGuinness Jazz Orchestra—Strength in Numbers (Summit). A solid, tasteful big-band album arranged by McGuinness whose writing constantly wriggles the orchestra in and out of interesting places. The combination of flutes and bass clarinet matched against gorgeous trombones that sound like French horns make for a big band recording with a delicate, bold sound.
Abdullah Ibrahim—Mukashi (Sunnyside). The South African pianist-composer taps into his love for Japanese music, combining Asian melodic themes and jazz chords. The result is a captivating and delightfully sensitive solo piano work. Mukashi means once upon a time" in Japanese, and there's certainly a story-telling feel to each original composition. Now add cellos and woodwinds here and there, and you have one of the finest piano albums of the year thus far.
Rozina Pátkai—Você e Eu. This Hungarian singer delivers sensual renditions of bossa nova classics, including the title track, Desafinado, Chega de Saudade and more. Her surfy nonchalance and passionate lyricism are supported by a superb Rio-like backup group, most notably Balázs Pecze on trumpet and flugelhorn, and Mátyás Tóth on guitar. Hard stuff to sing convincingly, but Pátkai breaks through like the sun after a summer downpour.
Stacey Kent—The Changing Lights (Warner Bros). Talk about stunning. I missed this album when the CD came out in February but I'm so glad I finally caught up with it. Kent has a delicate, take-charge sound, and on bossa nova material she delivers the perfect ratio of girlish innocence and womanly savvy. There are well-known tracks here (One Note Samba and How Insensitive) but plenty of discoveries (The Summer We Crossed Europe in the Rain and The Changing Lights). Just sample Marcos Valle's The Face I Love, which the late Sylvia Telles made famous, and you, too, will be smitten with Kent. By the way, Marcos told me last week that his album with Kent, recently released in Japan, will be out in the U.S. later this year from Sony. I can't wait.
Paulinho Garcia—Beautiful Love. This Chicago-based singer-guitarist sounds a long way from home. If I put this on for you, you would swear you were listening to someone serenading an audience at a Rio coffee bar. Garcia sings Brazilian ballads and songbook standards supported only by his solo acoustic guitar, with Chet Baker-like ease and abandon. What's more, his chord voicings are positively insane—dig Like Someone in Love, That Old Feeling and Bluesette. Music that makes you take a deep sigh.
Bayeté—Worlds Around the Sun (Omnivore). Back in 1972, pianist Todd Cochran (known then as Bayeté) released a fascinating jazz album that was steeped in San Francisco's pungent radicalism. Long-form bands like Sly and the Family Stone, Jefferson Airplane and Return to Forever dominated while political action groups advocated for change and the hippie movement embraced environmentalism. This album is the essence of all three combined and features Bobby Hutcherson on vibes and Oscar Brashear on trumpet. There's plenty of wah-wah and soul choir work as well. Songs like Free Angela and Njeri will make you want to slip on a pair of sandals, hop in a van and tune-out. Highly spiritual jazz that holds up well more than 40 years later. This is the album's first time on CD.
The Essential Sade (Sony). We work, the years pass and the next thing we know artists and albums are decades old. I recently popped on this double compilation CD and was thunderstruck by how well Sade's savory music holds up. The British singer may have hit in the 1980s, but she still sounds like she's singing from an unmade bed, and her songs resonate as if recorded last week. Smooth Operator, Love Is Stronger Than Pride and King of Sorrow all have a hypnotic quality that gently pulls you in and forces you to listen up. Every single track on this set is worthy, which is a testament to Sade's timeless quality.
Rod Stewart—Tonight's the Night, Live 1976-1998 (Warner Bros). Say what you will about Rod Stewart, he remains one of rock's finest tawny singers. His warm, sandy voice has a way of simultaneously excoriating and vamping a song. From Maggie May, Pinball Wizard and Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay to Infatuation and Do Ya Think I'm Sexy, Stewart finds a way to stand up on a song and tip it back and forth like a canoe. This four-CD set works, largely because Stewart never rushed a song in concert, consciously holding material in a groovy place.
Carlos Franzetti—In the Key of Tango (Sunnyside). Pianist Franzetti's Argentine classicism is rousing and soaring. This album isn't a traditional tango album but more of a jazz interpretation of tango themes. Songs soar and dive, and pause and move forward with haste. Fortunately it doesn't grind. Instead, it has all the charm of a ballet dancer, as Franzetti moves through songs on solo piano. The delight and zest that Franzetti sustains sweeps you up in the drama.