Nick Bewsey from ICON Magazine has some great jazz CDs to tell you about from Kenny Barron and Dave Holland, and Alicia Olatuja.
Alicia Olatuja: Timeless. The Brooklyn-based singer/vocalist Alicia Olatuja is a classically trained mezzo-soprano, but her heart is deeply invested in jazz and soulful pop tunes. Timeless is her refreshing, modern recording that wraps her warm, friendly voice in a blanket of exceptional sound; bassist Christian McBride, pianist Christian Sands and saxophonist Jaleel Shaw each make impressive appearances. This star-turn of an album has the substance of Stevie Wonder's early records and, like him, Olatuja pins her recording with a keen assortment of styles and rhythmic moods.
Listen to Alicia Olatuja's "Battle Hymn of the Republic" solo at the 2013 Obama Inauguration with the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir:
Vocally, Olatuja has a salt-of-the-earth voice and genuine embrace of the lyric—she's like a rebooted Lizz Wright, but with her own sense of majesty. There’s her gospel soul combined with riveting storytelling style that pours joy, heartache and optimism into spellbinding originals like "Truth In Blue" and "Speak The Words" co-written by her husband, Michael Olatuja. She crushes on the ethereal arrangement of Michael Jackson’s "Human Nature," by adding a slo-mo emotional twist that takes that song into new territory. She even covers Wonder’s heartfelt ballad “Stay Gold” and lifts it anew with a graceful reading amplified with arresting accompaniment by harmonica player Gregoire Maret.
But Olatuja shines brightest on the dazzling samba tune “Serrado,” a vocal and percussive tour-de-force. Timeless is a consistently great album. Doubtless, some singers would unravel interpreting these gorgeous, challenging songs, but Olatuja keeps the vocal somersaults under control along with her confidence. Also with pianist Jon Cowherd, guitarist David Rosenthal and drummer/producer Ulysses Owens, Jr., whose contemporary beats blend elegantly with Olatuja’s brilliantly knowing voice.
Kenny Barron and Dave Holland: The Art Of Conversation. Two superior musicians, pianist Kenny Barron and bassist Dave Holland, have a beguiling rapport on The Art Of Conversation, a lively and hauntingly beautiful duo recording that elicits not only good feeling and intimate swing, but also a profound, seemingly effortless grasp of why melody and rhythm matter. It also makes for a fun listen.
Their lead track, Holland’s "The Oracle," sets a tasteful mood and thrums with a breezy pulse, but each song is a lesson in tuneful improvisation and pace—Barron and Holland play as they breathe, their solos unfold as poetic cadenzas that flow with endless ideas.
Both are distinguished leaders with long careers, born of the same generation (Barron is 71 and Holland is 69) and they smoothly weave medium tempo tunes and smoky ballads into a seductive blend on Conversation. Barron contributes three originals and Holland four, with welcome jazz standards popping up by Charlie Parker (the tricky, off-kilter “Segment”) as well as Monk (the finger-popping “In Walked Bud”).
Among the originals, Barron’s “Seascape” has a percolating, head-bobbing flair. And there’s something about Holland’s swirling ballad, “In Your Arms,” that’s transfixing and illustrates how the bassist can be as graceful here as he is assertive on his own projects.
The pair couldn’t have chosen a better ending—their styles melt together on the delicate Strayhorn-Ellington ballad “Daydream,” a harmonic convergence that drifts by like slow clouds in the sky.
This article is from the November 2014 edition of ICON Magazine, the only publication in the Greater Delaware Valley and beyond solely devoted to coverage of music, fine and performing arts, pop culture, and entertainment. More Information.