88 Seventh Avenue South
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Celebrating The Release Of His New CD
Avenue of the Americas
Beamtide BT 1013
Street Date: June 20, 2006
Tom Lellis's latest release, Avenue of the Americas, is a satisfying assortment of jazz, Brazilian and popular music, showcasing the critically acclaimed vocalist/multi- instrumentalist's considerable talents as a lyricist, composer and arranger. Joined by a talented cast of accomplished musicians, including guitarist Toninho Horta, bassist, Richard Bona, pianists Gary Fisher, Kenny Werner and Dave Kikoski, and flautist Jeremy Steig, Lellis sings with a vivacious spirit throughout the disc. It features his lyrics to contemporary jazz songs by Pat Metheny, Keith Jarrett, Donald Brown, the Yellowjackets and Horta, as well as his own compositions and classics from the Beatles, Ashford and Simpson and the Great American Songbook. A uniquely personal venture, Avenue of the Americas imaginatively blends the music of many worlds into a unified sound that belongs to Tom Lellis alone.
The opening track, For Better Days Ahead" features Lellis's lyrics to the popular Pat Metheny composition from the guitarist's Letter From Home album. A joyous ode to optimism, Lellis sings his upbeat words to Metheny's infectious melody, over a swinging samba rhythm buoyed by Horta's guitar and Bona's bass with Cliff Almond's drums and the leader's percussion adding an authentic Brazilian flavor. Voice and piano blend as one and keyboards further enhance the orchestration bringing out the best of his rhythmically articulated vocal.
The (Suite) Norwegian Wood" is a tapestry of melodies from the Lennon/McCartney songbook in a cleverly woven arrangement by Lellis. After a prelude of solo piano merging Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" with Here Comes The Sun", Lellis enters singing the title tune with the self-assurance of a seasoned storyteller over a Brazilian 6/8 rhythm. He smoothly introduces excerpts from Eleanor Rigby", Hey Jude", Baby You Can Drive My Car", Come Together", A Little Help From My Friends" and Get Back", 16 Beatles songs in all, into this performance, which also features the airy flute of Steig.
Lellis and Fisher arranged the standard Baubles, Bangles and Beads" (inspired by the Russian composer Alexander Borodin) as a beautiful bossa nova featuring the leader's relaxed reading of the lyric combined with Cole Porter's I Get A Kick Out Of You", sung as a countermelody. Horta's acoustic guitar sets the romantic mood and Steig's high flying flute finely complements Lellis's sensuous interpretation of the two songs.
The festive Brazilian outing Olinda Wind" features Lellis's words to Horta's musically flowering writing that flows from rhythmic to melodic and is driven by the powerful trio of Fisher, Bona and Almond. The masterfully crafted lyrics are sung with celebratory abandon by Lellis as his cuica and Amorim's triangle keep the Bahian rhythm bubbling. The closing wordless unison melody breaks off with solos by Horta and Fisher in homage to one of Brazil's most renowned party towns.
The potent words of For Wisdom", the Yellowjackets' song co-written by the group's pianist Russell Ferrante and bassist Jimmy Haslip, speak to the power of the mind and its ability to bring about positive change. Lellis sings his insightful lyric with commanding authority accompanied by the first class straight ahead rhythm section featuring pianist Dave Kikoski, bassist Tony Marino and drummer Tommy Campbell, whose brushwork sets the composition's thoughtful tone. Lellis scats a swinging solo and Kikoski's solo shines in between choruses of Tom's words.
Lellis ably accompanies himself on acoustic guitar (his guitar debut on CD) and percussion in a manner reminiscent of Tom Jobim and Joao Gilberto on his dreamy bossa treatment of Pure Imagination", playing it together with Horta's pretty Waiting For Angela. The singer's effortless smoothness is complemented by Steig's whimsical flute and further enhances the mood.
River of Light", with Lellis's words and Gary Fisher's music, slowly builds from piano and voice. Using space and mood to convey the philosophy of the lyrics, the piece develops into an uplifting gospel-tinged orchestral arrangement by Fisher, featuring Bona, Horta and Almond and ending with Bona's fretless bass, Fisher's piano and Tom's voice in haunting unison.
Lellis's A Choice Of Fates" is a tour de force with music and words by the leader that showcase his piano and keyboard skills along with his voice. A Brazilian berimbau rhythm played by Lellis keyboard marimba drives the socially conscious, anti-war song's sense of urgency with percussionist Frank Colon joining Tony Marino and Tommy Campbell in laying down the insistent groove over which Lellis sings and Steig solos with compelling mastery.
Isle Awhile" features Lellis's lyric to a lovely jazz waltz (a.k.a. Waltz for Monk) by one time Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers' pianist Donald Brown. Pianist Kenny Werner joins Marino and Campbell in the rhythm section, while Lellis' keyboard vibraphone shadings accompany his alluring vocal evoking the nature of romance on an island beach.
On his intricate interweaving of Ashford and Simpson's classic Ain't No Mountain High Enough" and U2's Joshua Tree" hit I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For", Lellis overdubs vocals and accompanies himself on piano, acoustic guitar and percussion. Fusing a McCoy Tyneresque jazz modality with R&B, while singing the bass part, Lellis displays the broad range of his musical tastes and talents.
The disk closes, as it began, in sing-able optimism with Lellis's signature song Lucky Southern, reprising, with a twist, his lyrics to the Keith Jarrett composition that he first recorded twenty-five years ago on his now re-issued debut record (with Jack DeJohnette, Eddie Gomez and the returning Jeremy Steig) And In This Corner. This encore performance, with a twist, features the singer's lighthearted whistling arrangement and acoustic guitar accompaniment, as well as his Portuguese, while intertwining Dorival Caymmi's equally breezy, Maracangalha".
Avenue of the Americas further demonstrates the artistry of Tom Lellis the vocalist, a singer's singer who is always adding new facets to his music, but also as an instrumentalist / lyricist-composer and arranger with a unique world vision of music and a story to tell that is all his own.