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Jessica Molaskey: Portraits of Joni (Ghostlight)

If you’ve been fortunate enough to catch Jessica Molaskey and husband John Pizzarelli during their annual autumn residency at Manhattan’s Café Carlyle, you know how deep their joint affection is for Joni Mitchell. Two years ago, Molaskey more fully explored the Mitchell songbook at Lincoln Center as part of its Great American Songbook series. Now, … Read More “Jessica Molaskey: Portraits of Joni (Ghostlight)”

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Katie Thiroux: Off Beat (Capri)

Following 2015’s impressive Introducing Katie Thiroux, consider the vocalist-bassist’s Off Beat youthful promise wonderfully fulfilled. For this 10-track outing—nine covers and one original—Thiroux, a Berklee grad and semi-finalist in the Monk Institute’s 2015 International Jazz Vocals Competition, fronts a trio featuring pianist Justin Kauflin and drummer Matt Witek. Ken Peplowski, alternating between tenor saxophone and … Read More “Katie Thiroux: Off Beat (Capri)”

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Allegra Levy: Cities Between Us (SteepleChase)

It is unfair to dub a talent as singular as Allegra Levy the “next” anyone. Still, listening to Levy’s exceptional new album—confirming the intense promise of her previous release, 2015’s Lonely City—it’s hard not to be reminded of Stacey Kent: same bell-like clarity, same emotional honesty, same light yet dexterous touch. Levy continues to build … Read More “Allegra Levy: Cities Between Us (SteepleChase)”

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Sarah Partridge: Bright Lights and Promises: Redefining Janis Ian (Origin)

The songbooks of Dylan, Lennon and McCartney, Paul Simon, Tom Waits, Joni Mitchell and Laura Nyro have all been well-mined by jazz artists. But Sarah Partridge is the first to excavate the equally rich Janis Ian oeuvre. Partridge met Ian in an online group of Grammy voters and ignited the idea. Thrilled with the prospect … Read More “Sarah Partridge: Bright Lights and Promises: Redefining Janis Ian (Origin)”

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Cécile McLorin Salvant: Dreams and Daggers (Mack Avenue)

It seems safe to posit that Cécile McLorin Salvant is not only the most successful female jazz singer to emerge since the turn of the millennium but also the most dynamically skilled, an opinion that this double-disc set of live recordings solidifies. On board are her regular bandmates—drummer Lawrence Leathers, bassist Paul Sikivie and, the … Read More “Cécile McLorin Salvant: Dreams and Daggers (Mack Avenue)”

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Nat King Cole Trio: Swiss Radio Days Jazz Series 43: Zurich 1950 (TCB)

Four years ago, for the 33rd entry in its sterling assemblage of vintage concert broadcasts, the Swiss Radio Days series unearthed a rare 1960 teaming of Quincy Jones’ big band with Nat King Cole. Now, 10 installments later, the series dials Cole back a decade for a trio date at Zurich’s Kongresshaus on Oct. 19, … Read More “Nat King Cole Trio: Swiss Radio Days Jazz Series 43: Zurich 1950 (TCB)”

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Various Artists: The Passion of Charlie Parker (Impulse!)

It is impossible to fully appreciate great art in one sitting. Repeat exposure, no matter how frequent, reveals new layers, fresh insights and previously missed nuances. The Passion of Charlie Parker is such a masterwork. It’s tempting to call this brilliantly realized tribute a vocal album. It does feature a remarkable assortment of singers, including … Read More “Various Artists: The Passion of Charlie Parker (Impulse!)”

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Patti LaBelle: New Jazz Attitude

Patti LaBelle was just 18 when her 1962 cover of “I Sold My Heart to the Junkman” set her on the path to stardom. Fifty-five years on, there’s little that Patti LaBelle hasn’t accomplished. Hailed as the “Godmother of Soul,” she’s been a disco pioneer, a cornerstone of the Philadelphia Sound and a mainstream chart-topper. … Read More “Patti LaBelle: New Jazz Attitude”

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Lizz Wright: Grace (Concord)

Though still a few years shy of 40, Lizz Wright has reached a musical maturity—stylistically, interpretively, emotionally—that places her at the forefront of American jazz vocalists. On Grace, her sixth studio album, Wright raises her richly burnished voice heavenward for an inspired exploration of spiritualism. Joined by five top-tier bandmates—keyboardist Kenny Banks, bassist David Piltch, … Read More “Lizz Wright: Grace (Concord)”

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Barbara Morrison: I Wanna Be Loved (Savant)

For the past few years, Barbara Morrison, now 67, has been touring with I Wanna Be Loved, her one-woman—and one-man, with Jay Jackson guesting as Brook Benton—tribute to Dinah Washington. This album could be considered a quasi-soundtrack. It omits Washington’s trademark hits, her Top 10 duets with Benton and the raunchier numbers that were her … Read More “Barbara Morrison: I Wanna Be Loved (Savant)”

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Billy Porter: The Soul of Richard Rodgers (Sony Masterworks)

Richard Rodgers was notoriously picky about reinterpretations of his compositions. When asked his opinion of Peggy Lee’s transformation of “Lover” from dreamy waltz to thundering foreplay, he replied, “I don’t know why Peggy had to pick on me when she could have fucked up ‘Silent Night.’” One can, then, only imagine Rodgers’ reaction to Billy … Read More “Billy Porter: The Soul of Richard Rodgers (Sony Masterworks)”

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Jenna Mammina & Rolf Sturm: Begin to Dance (Water Street)

Established more than two decades ago, the union of vocalist Jenna Mammina and guitarist Rolf Sturm finally bore fruit two years ago with the eclectic, sweetly satisfying Spark. This welcome re-teaming proves equally diverse, mellow and sublime. Sturm, mentored by such jazz masters as Joe Pass, Bill Frisell and Jim Hall but as richly steeped … Read More “Jenna Mammina & Rolf Sturm: Begin to Dance (Water Street)”

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Mark Winkler: The Company I Keep (Café Pacific)

How do you keep the music playing? So wondered Mark Winkler after the death of Richard Del Belso, his partner and husband of 35 years. Winkler’s solution: count on the support of musical friends. Result: his most richly accomplished album to date. Several of the participating pals are fellow singers. To open, he teams with … Read More “Mark Winkler: The Company I Keep (Café Pacific)”

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Giacomo Gates: What Time Is It? (Savant)

In Mark Murphy’s wake, there are two contenders for coolest, sharpest male vocalist around. One, Kurt Elling, is a household name, at least within jazz circles. The other, Giacomo Gates, deserves to be. Gates, now 67, waited until his 40s to pursue music full-time, but quickly emerged as a deeply insightful vocal acrobat, preternaturally skilled … Read More “Giacomo Gates: What Time Is It? (Savant)”

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Dominique Eade & Ran Blake: Town and Country (Sunnyside)

Close to four decades have passed since Dominique Eade transferred to the New England Conservatory expressly for the opportunity to study with Ran Blake. And it’s been six years since Eade and Blake issued Whirlpool, their first collaborative album and a masterpiece of voice-piano legerdemain on par with Blake’s classic 1962 union with Jeanne Lee. … Read More “Dominique Eade & Ran Blake: Town and Country (Sunnyside)”

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Mark Murphy: Wild and Free: Live at the Keystone Corner (HighNote)

June 1980: Mark Murphy arrives for a gig at San Francisco’s landmark Keystone Korner. He’s savoring what is arguably the most satisfactory tract of his five-decade career. The days of hidebound labels trying to shoehorn him into a Sinatra or Andy Williams mold are a distant memory; his rollercoaster recording history has settled into a … Read More “Mark Murphy: Wild and Free: Live at the Keystone Corner (HighNote)”

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John Pizzarelli: Sinatra & Jobim @ 50 (Concord Jazz)

In 1964, when Getz and Gilberto ignited the bossa-nova craze across America, vocalists of all stripes—from Perry Como to Mel Tormé to Sarah Vaughan—quickly went Latin. Sinatra was a tad late to the party, teaming with bossa’s global exemplar for 1967’s Francis Albert Sinatra & Antônio Carlos Jobim. Speculation was that Sinatra, then at the … Read More “John Pizzarelli: Sinatra & Jobim @ 50 (Concord Jazz)”

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Brandi Disterheft: Blue Canvas (Justin Time)

Brandi Disterheft’s Blue Canvas might simply have been an extraordinarily coalescent trio album. The Canadian-born, Harlem-based bassist is in stellar company, teaming with pianist Harold Mabern and drummer Joe Farnsworth for a studio session that followed their performance at the 2015 Montreal International Jazz Festival. Six of the 10 tracks focus squarely on the tight … Read More “Brandi Disterheft: Blue Canvas (Justin Time)”

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Judy Niemack with Dan Tepper: Listening to You (Sunnyside)

Marking the 40th anniversary of her stellar, if too slender, recording career, Judy Niemack, 63, remains one of the most dynamic, inventive jazz singers around. Blending the interpretive smarts of Mark Murphy and the cool snap of Anita O’Day—with scat skills worthy of either—plus the winsome sass of Blossom Dearie, Niemack’s vocal brew is at … Read More “Judy Niemack with Dan Tepper: Listening to You (Sunnyside)”

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Jazzmeia Horn: A Social Call (Prestige)

It is fitting that the serendipitously named Jazzmeia Horn, winner of the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition in 2013 and the Thelonious Monk Institute jazz competition in 2015, opens her debut album with “Tight,” a Betty Carter signature. Just 25, the Dallas-born Horn emerges as a fully realized stylist and a first-rate scatter whose … Read More “Jazzmeia Horn: A Social Call (Prestige)”

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Marilyn Scott: Standard Blue (Prana)

Though there are many solid jazz singers with a paucity of recordings, Marilyn Scott figures among that breed’s finest and most interesting. Across four decades, Scott, 67, has released just 12 albums and earned a lone chart hit, for her disco-era reading of Brian Wilson’s “God Only Knows.” Her discography is peppered with selections from … Read More “Marilyn Scott: Standard Blue (Prana)”

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Jacqui Naylor & Art Khu: Q&A (Ruby Star)

Vocalist Jacqui Naylor and pianist/guitarist Art Khu represent one of the most compelling, if underappreciated, partnerships in jazz. To date, however, Naylor and Khu have typically performed and recorded as part of a quartet, often alongside bassist Jon Evans and drummer-percussionist Josh Jones. At last, they deliver their first album à deux. Nor is the … Read More “Jacqui Naylor & Art Khu: Q&A (Ruby Star)”

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Alice Babs & Duke Ellington: Serenade to Sweden (Real Gone)

Ellington fans will recognize Alice Babs as the principal vocalist on his late-career landmark, 1968’s Second Sacred Concert. But there was another Ellington-Babs collaboration five years earlier, a sterling Paris session that resulted in Serenade to Sweden, widely considered the rarest album in the Ellington catalog, never reissued until now. Age 39 at the time, … Read More “Alice Babs & Duke Ellington: Serenade to Sweden (Real Gone)”

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Diana Krall: Turn Up the Quiet (Verve)

The album title is lifted from Paul Williams’ English lyric for Ivan Lins’ “Love Dance”—not one of the 11 standards filling Turn Up the Quiet, but an utterly fitting sentiment for this cashmere-soft collection. Playing and singing on all tracks and reunited with co-producer Tommy LiPuma, who died weeks before the project’s release, Diana Krall … Read More “Diana Krall: Turn Up the Quiet (Verve)”

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Somi: Petite Afrique (OKeh/Sony Masterworks)

The section of Harlem along and around West 116th Street is known as Little Africa—or, in French, Petite Afrique—a vibrant jumble of African immigrants, their cuisine, their craftsmanship, their struggles, their joys. Though not African by birth—she was born to African parents in Illinois—vocalist-composer Somi was raised from ages 3 to 9 in Zambia before … Read More “Somi: Petite Afrique (OKeh/Sony Masterworks)”

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Eliane Elias: Dance of Time (Concord Jazz)

Two years ago, pianist-vocalist Eliane Elias musically recommitted to her homeland with the elegant, intelligent Made in Brazil, a Grammy winner for Best Latin Jazz Album. The equally gratifying Dance of Time can reasonably be considered its sequel: again recorded in Brazil with Elias-shaped arrangements; same blend of Brazilian gems—this time from such masters as … Read More “Eliane Elias: Dance of Time (Concord Jazz)”

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José James: Love in a Time of Madness (Blue Note)

The press release for José James’ Love in a Time of Madness, his seventh album and fourth for Blue Note, posits, “James is reborn as a powerful voice in contemporary R&B.” Fair enough, though James has, since his emergence a decade ago, always ranked among the most protean of musicians, continually blurring the lines between … Read More “José James: Love in a Time of Madness (Blue Note)”

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Chet Baker: Live in London (Ubuntu)

Few, if any, jazz artists have recorded in live settings as frequently as Chet Baker. His catalog includes dozens of live albums (under his and others’ leadership), the lion’s share from the “comeback” decade, 1978-88, preceding his death. Mostly on small labels, the majority captured in European venues, the sound and/or performance quality ranges from … Read More “Chet Baker: Live in London (Ubuntu)”

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Theo Bleckmann: Elegy (ECM)

He is the Zelig of jazz … and cabaret, vocal harmony, installation art and theatre: as comfortable opposite Laurie Anderson as he is Steve Coleman, and as skilled at exploring the louche vivacity of a Vegas floorshow as he is the bracing avant-gardism of Charles Ives. So it’s hardly surprising that vocalist Theo Bleckmann fits … Read More “Theo Bleckmann: Elegy (ECM)”

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