“This is the album I always wanted to make.” It is “[p]ure, raw, real. My heart, my soul. Expressed. Out loud. Unapologetic.” The album is Edgewalker and it is due for a May release. The “heart” and the “soul” – not to mention the opening quote – belong to vocalist Phyllis Blanford, and if raw and real is what she was looking for, with Edgewalker, she found it. She pours her soul into the emotional honesty she brings to the music, in the passion of the spoken word sections she adds to the album’s opener, Carmen Lundy’s “Blue Woman” and its final piece “You Don’t Know What Love Is.”
Working on dynamic material like Abbey Lincoln’s “Throw It Away” and Buddy Johnson’s “Save Your Love for Me,” as well as tried and true classics like “Come Rain or Come Shine” and “Night and Day,” Blanford walks to the very edge. Her interpretations of “When Sunny Gets Blue” and “Speak Low” breathe new life into them. With a 10-piece ensemble featuring highlight solo work and ornamentation from trombonist Vincent Gardner, trumpeter James Gibbs, Stefon Harris on vibraphone, and producer-arranger-musical director Don Braden on sax and flute, her performances are arresting.
For something more radical also scheduled for a May release, there is A Balm in Gilead from soprano Tiffany Jackson. She sings with the trio of Rex Cadwallader (piano), Mike Asetta (bass), and Arti Dixon (drums). Described as a fusion of the traditional spiritual with free jazz, the liner note calls it “a new music, a new genre, vital and fresh, filled with the passion and joy of the creative and the created.”
Featuring traditional pieces like “Deep River,” “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,” and “Every Time I Feel the Spirit,” the album is likely to have conservative traditionalists tearing their hair out, while free jazz aficionados nod their approval. Although, it would seem that the musical soundscape on this album, perhaps somewhat tempered by the flavor of the spiritual, is not quite as freewheeling as that of some free jazz practitioners. Even in five instrumental tracks called “Trialogues No. 1-5,” the trio seems more subdued.
That said, Jackson has a gorgeous voice and makes every note holy. She sings “Here’s One (Talk About a Child That Do Love Jesus)” and “Every Time I Feel the Spirit” as if she’s saving her share of sinners.
Keeping It Simple, vocalist Judy Philbin and guitarist Adam Levine’s duo album, was self-released in January of 2014. As the title indicates, this is an album that foregoes ornate production values in favor of pure vocals accompanied by stylish guitar lines. The layering of guitar tracks on some tunes is about the only concession they make to elaborate production. Simplicity works. Philbin and Levine – not to be confused with Maroon 5’s Adam Levine – have put together a varied set of a dozen songs that make for some very fine listening.
Their repertoire runs from jazz classics like “Skylark” and “Moonglow” to pop hits not normally meant for a jazz album, like the rock and rolling “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” from Frankie Lyman and Roy Orbison’s “Blue Bayou.” There are a number of original pieces including a noir, bluesy “Don’t Be Easy on Me” and an impressive Django Reinhardt pastiche, “Django’s Delight.”
Philbin sings with bell-like clarity, doing full justice to a song’s lyric while avoiding artificial theatrics, while Levine’s guitar work is often tinged with wit. I especially like what they do with the Oklahoma chestnut, “Surrey with the Fringe on Top.”