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Quickies: Cassandra Wilson, Larry Vuckovich Trio, Peter Calandra

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For this episode of Quickies, we stick mainly with the jazz genre with a couple of diversions to other styles found here and there. These new releases all start with traditional jazz, but our protagonists each put their own little twist on it.

Our first entrant is a well-known quantity in jazz circles and I've even alluded to her on other people's reviews in the past. The last two aren't as familiar sounding but are no less talented. And both have cinema on the brain.

We'll start this Quickies with the more familiar one…

PhotobucketCassandra WilsonLoverly
Cassandra Wilson is regularly categorized as a "jazz" singer, but since 1993's Blue Light 'Til Dawn, Wilson has been just as likely to delve into the blues, folk, country, pop and even a bit of hip-hop. Her deep, smoky voice already makes her a bit distinctive amongst so-called jazz singers, but she's always been more interesting when she steps outside that stereotype and tackles standards of all styles with originality. Much as Lizz Wright is prone to do.

After 2006's dabble into loops and programmed drums on Thunderbird, Wilson more or less returns to her regular self for Loverly. All but one tune are jazz or blues standards. But this is a slow starting record; the first three tracks are straightforward renditions where Wilson appears to be just going through the motions.

Beginning with "Gone With The Wind," though, it begins to get more diverting; the samba approach on this selection works well. "Caravan" brings the musical journey from Brazil to Cuba. Coupled with Marvin Sewell's 12-string, "Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most" is given the Tuck and Patti treatment. Robert Johnson is also covered by Wilson, with a sassy, spirited rendition of "Dust My Broom."

Perhaps the common element across most of the selections is the organic, imaginative West African rhythms employed to propel these songs beyond run of the mill covers. The lone original "Arere" seems to be built entirely around such a rhythm that's particularly spellbinding.

Released on June 10, Loverly isn't a top-echelon Wilson album, but there's plenty of enjoyable moments to make it worthwhile for anyone who's a fan of her music.

PhotobucketLarry Vuckovich Trio – High Wall: Real Life Film Noir
Longtime jazz pianist Larry Vuckovich has described his follow-up to the acclaimed Street Scene CD as another "tribute to the classic film noir genre." Maybe it's because Barry Adamson used the same stated theme for Back To The Cat and took it much closer to heart, but High Wall doesn't evoke any images of classic era films in my mind.

What High Wall is, however, is an assemblage of consistently high quality jazz trio performances, ranging from the "Afro Blue"-inspired "Afro 6/8 Minor Blues" to the elegant ballad "View From Telegraph Hill." Other highlights are Vuckovich's creative reworking of Joaquin Rodrigo's classic rubato "Concierto de Arajuez," and a Gene Harris-styled acoustic rendering of the old Crusaders funk-jazz gem "Put It Where You Want It."

The title track was written by Bronislaw Kaper, the great composer who gave the world "Invitation" and "On Green Dolphin Street." "High Wall" is an extremely obscure composition, as it's taken from the score of a 1947 flick of the same name. It's a beautifully doleful tune, supplemented by bongos providing just a touch of a Latin feel. The CD wraps up with the bonus of a couple of live recordings, including Coltrane's "Locomotion."

Supported superbly by either Larry Grenadier (bass) and Eddie Marhsell, or Paul Keller (bass) and Chuck McPherson (drums), Vuckovich's light touch on the ivories presents a different scene with each song. High Wall might not sound quite as themed into cinema as the title suggests, but the entertainment is well worth the pair of movie tickets of the CD price.

High Wall: Real Life Film Noir went on sale this past June 17.

PhotobucketPeter CalandraOriginal Motion Picture Soundtrack: Jellysmoke/Unknown Soldier
Larry Vuckovich imagined his album as a companion of sorts to classic film; Peter Calandra's latest offering on the other hand is a real soundtrack to a modern movie. Actually, two movies.

Jellysmoke was an award-winning drama from 2005 directed by Mark Banning. As a bonus, Calandra's score for Unknown Soldier, a movie from the prior year, is thrown onto the same disc, too. I can't vouch for the flicks themselves since I haven't seen either of them, but for the interested, here are the IMDB links for Jellysmoke and Unknown Soldier.

The music, however, I can describe. It's not the kind of soundtrack where already-made songs — usually familiar ones — are pulled from the shelf and cobbled together into a "various artists" compilation. No, this music was specifically scored for the movies. Using a base configuration of piano/bass/drums/trumpet/saxophone, and occasionally supplemented by strings and electronics, Calandra's low key original pieces range from noir jazz, samba, ambient, and new age.

Without the benefit of knowing the movies to get proper context, I can still get a sense that Calandra had woven some interesting, soft motifs to blend into the story. Standout tracks are the commencing, spiritual "Jacob's Theme," the classically noir "Just Like That," and the soul-jazzy "City Biking." The problem is, just as soon as these songs get going, they end. Only three of the thirty-five tracks run longer than three minutes, and about half last less than two. It's hard to blame Calandra for that, he was commissioned to make the music to fit the film, not vice versa.

Listeners will have to keep that context in mind to appreciate the music better.

Until last month, these soundtracks could only be heard by watching the movies with which they are associated. Thanks to Mikael Carlsson and MovieScore Media Sweden, they're now combined on one CD. Getting Peter Calandra's scores by themselves, even with the overly perfunctory selections, is worth the three year wait.

"Quickies" are mini-record reviews of new or upcoming releases, or "new to me." Some albums are just that much more fun to listen to than to write about.

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