Midnight Jazz

David Hansen expresses personal heartaches on fusion CD

September 23, 2008
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Reviewed by Vivian Fields

David Hansen/All That I Could Give

David Hansen certainly gives his all on this intimate and hopelessly romantic album; every track was written, produced, and arranged by himself. Hansen juggles several styles here – contemporary classical, jazz, New Age, Adult Contemporary, and world music – and manages to stitch them together in the context of moving ballads and spunky instrumentals. Snappy drums and upbeat keyboards produce a playful groove for the opening piece, “Armada.” The synthesized rhythms have a somewhat ’80s flavor that might remind you of fusion efforts from that era.

On the title track, we can hear Hansen’s voice for the first time; it is soulful and deep, not too different from Peter Gabriel’s. A tale of lost love, Hansen’s melancholy lyrics blend well with Joel Hips’ smooth-jazz riffs, increasing the pensive emotions of the piece. “Love in Three Days” thematically seems to be a continuation of it with Bob Mathis’ tropical flute adding an island flavor to the song. There has to be a personal heartache behind these compositions. Throughout the record Hansen balances the experimental tendencies of New Age with the fine craftsmanship of contemporary classical and the unguarded feelings of pop; whether he’s expressing himself wordlessly or through the warm glow of his singing, Hansen has us in the palm of his hands.



Peggy Judy escapes from ’60s time capsule, delivers wicked humor with jazz standards

September 21, 2008
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Written by Vivian Fields

With her theatrical singing voice and flamboyant, wildly engaging personality, Peggy Judy is a bracing alternative to much of the blandness milking all of the color from a once hip and vibrant jazz world. She is a woman out of time, flashing back to the time when jazz vocalists were also entertainers and had a sense of humor. Dean Martin would have adored her.

Vivian Fields: You haven’t aged at all since your ’60s heyday – what’s the secret to your eternal youth?

Peggy Judy: Peggy’s secrets: Oil of Olay.  Laughing and singing daily.  Latin boyfriends.

Fields: How did you become involved with Elvis Presley movies?

Judy: It’s the funniest thing. I was a student at Hollywood High back in the old days, doing some bit parts at the studios.  They wanted to groom me to be the next Stella Stevens, but a singer, too, of course.
Contract player stuff.  Anyway, one day I’m on the lot hanging out by the Coke machine. This really sexy guy walks up and says in a Southern drawl, “Hey darlin’…you hungry? How about we hop on my private jet and head out to memphis with my mafia, grab us some chili cheese fries and see the sights.” I said, “You’re on.” Had some greasy fries and next thing you know, I’m cast in Viva Las Vegas. Crazy! I was gonna get the Ann Margaret part, but she had bigger hair. I learned my lesson. After that, my hair became gravity defying! Those were the days.

Fields: Live at the M Bar. What was the inspiration behind putting out this record?

Judy: I overdosed on the old Ed Sullivan shows as a kid. Great stuff. Comedy records:  Bill Cosby, Firesign Theatre, Mike Nichols and Elaine May. Monty Python. Cher, of course!  Also, Judy Garland. I remember seeing her on Ed Sullivan as a kid–she’d become a tragic figure, and it was all there in her face and her voice.  Real genius.  All those elements. Throw in some Stella Stevens and Joey Heatherton, a million nightclub shows in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Palm Springs, put it in a blender, and it’s Live at the M Bar.

Fields: What’s harder, doing comedy or singing?

Judy: For me, singing is harder, but when you’re in the zone, it flows and it’s wonderful. Doing live shows is just heaven when it all comes together, especially when you’re working with people you love, and the gang
on the M Bar CD, top-notch people the whole way. Comedy has always come naturally for me. It’s just sort of there. I was a natural singer since I was a child, but I have really had to work on singing technique. It’s really important if you want to go the distance. The voice is a delicate instrument, and you have to train it and take care of it. It involves your whole body, obviously; it’s not just a guitar you can take out of a box and play.

Fields: Do you think there’s still a market for relatively clean humor in these raunchy times?

Judy: Yes, I do.  All the legends I mentioned, they all worked clean. Amazing. You know, if it was good enough for them. As comedy has gotten raunchier and raunchier, and comedians have to get more outrageous to get attention, maybe the most outrageous thing of all is to just work clean. I have the pleasure of being friends with Peter Bergman, of the legendary Firesign Theatre comedy group. He was talking about the state of comedy, and all the “no holds barred” material out there, and he said, “maybe it’s time to ‘hold the bars for God’s sake!'”


Deborah Wyndham covers standards ‘Tenderly’ on latest CD

August 21, 2008
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Written by Vivian Fields

Tenderly is the name of pianist Deborah Wyndham’s latest release, and it could also describe her playing as well. The lovely Wyndham never gives less than an inspired performance on the album, covering such classics as “Blue Moon” and “As Time Goes By” with genuine emotion and succulent beauty.

Vivian Fields: How did you select the covers on the Tenderly CD? Were they personal favorites of yours?

Deborah Wyndham: Yes, they were personal favorites and I felt that they were my best arrangements from my repetoire of that genre of music. Those particular arrangements nicely evolved on their own over the course of a couple of years.

Fields: What initially inspired you to play the piano?

Wyndham: I think I was coerced by my mother into taking lessons, but my real love for playing the piano started when I discovered ragtime music a couple of years later (which was how I got onto the wrong side of the tracks, according to my then 82-year old English classical piano teacher).

Fields: Were your parents supportive of your decision to become a musician?

Wyndham: Yes, they’ve been very supportive of me throughout my life, but I actually wasn’t really planning on becoming a musician as I didn’t follow the traditional path towards a music profession, but piano has always been a passion.

Fields: What artists have had the biggest influence on you?

Wyndham: I don’t have any influences in particular. People sometimes say I sound like this pianist or that one, but some of these pianists I’ve never even heard since I don’t listen to a lot of piano music. I like to come at it from all angles and have an eclectic taste in what I listen to. My music has evolved from that as well as the various styles I’ve played. I like variety. My early classical training plays a big part as well, as my music is actually more classical sounding to most people than jazzy.

Fields: How did you learn to play two time signatures simultaneously?

Wyndham: That happened by accident. When I decided to start playing out, I only could play a few songs and didn’t know any modern jazz techniques, just some traditional jazz styles. I quickly learned a lot of standards, but couldn’t improvise melodically. So, I think to compensate, I started playing with the rhythms, bending and layering them according to what I felt was right. I play a lot by intuition, and that’s how it happened, I guess.


Gentle, soulful piano playing reflects the quiet heart of composer Bryan Rowe

August 16, 2008
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Written by Julian Wilson

Bryan Rowe seems to have a quiet heart; you can hear that in his gentle, soulful piano playing. It is a soft-spoken personality whose fingers grace the keys, but one that has endured turmoil as well. His album, Songs of the Soul, is a contemporary classical piece with the evocative air of a soundtrack. However, it is not cinema that Rowe’s compositions conjure, but the reels of memory, unspooling in the deepest recessions of our imagination.

Julian Wilson: The depth of emotion in your work is quite extraordinary and, in the stuffy world of classical music, quite a departure. When you compose music, do you write from the images in your mind?

Bryan Rowe: As a composer, I create music, the melody being the most important, which reflects events that I have personally lived through or an event which has particular meaning to me that someone else has experienced.  This can be somewhat risky because the emotion that is involved in creating and playing this music exposes me to the listener.  Though risky, I have this hope that what I have experienced can relate to the listener’s life experience through my music.

Wilson: What are some of the things that move you as a pianist? Name one or two of your pieces that are especially close to your heart.

Rowe: The piano to me is such an intimate instrument.  The ability to let the piano play itself is an experience that I have when I play.  By this I mean that the piano is my conduit: the music simply pours from my being into the keys.  The ability to caress each key on the piano strikes me – this allows me to not only create evocative melodies but couple the music with emotion and sensitivity. Two pieces of my own that quickly come to mind are pieces I have written for certain people who have touched my life:  “Laura’s Dance” and “Nocturne in a,” both from the CD Spiorad.  Two pieces from the classical world would definitely include Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata  and Chopin’s “Ballade in G Minor,” both pieces I frequently play in concert.

Wilson: How did it begin, such unbridled passion for the melodic and sublime?

Rowe: Playing the piano began at age four when my dad brought home pieces of a piano and put it together in our basement.  I began playing by ear.  I mention this because the music I hear in my head as my own lives there for a while until I sit down and play it.  I would be remiss if I did not mention that I believe I have been given the gift for creating melodies which evoke emotion.  Knowing something of mathematics, it is easy for me to analyze why certain melodies have an effect on the psyche and heart.  However, I do not use mathematics in my creation of melodies.  These come naturally to me; I do not sit for hours at the piano and try to come up with tunes which I think will touch people.  A recent experience was the creation of music for my daughter’s wedding.  I created a suite of three pieces for the ceremony, each of these incorporating tunes which focus on the love and devotion that I have for my daughter.  Again, the music takes on a personal, autobiographical nature that others can relate to.

Wilson: What artists, classical and otherwise, do you feel embody your elegant sense of taste?

Rowe: As a composer, I am, of course, influenced by the sounds of others that are not my own.  These find their way into my psyche, and together with my gift of melody, music is born which is emotional and, as you put it, sublime.  I would have to say that some predecessors would include Johann Sebastian Bach, Frederic Chopin, Maurice Durufle, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Samuel Barber, and Eric Korngold.  Through their film scores, contemporaries would definitely include Ennio Morricone and John Barry.  

Wilson: How often do you compose music? Is it a spontaneous process or something that is more thought out?

Rowe: Though I work best under pressure when I know I have a project to complete, I compose music when it has lived in my head long enough before I sit down at the piano and play it. To me, it is like the performer of any piece who plays or sings in public in a concert or recital venue; living with the music long enough is an essential part of composing and/or performing music. However, I am a lover of improvisation;  I am able to, at any time, compose a piece which is based on a spontaneous melody. I have been improvising since I was 4 years old.  Of course, the melodies have become more sophisticated yet economical in the use of notes. The additional component of living through more life experiences has had an integral effect on the creation of my music.


‘Vol. 2’ showcases live chops of Portland jazz quintet PDXV

July 24, 2008
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Reviewed by Vivian Fields

PDXV/Vol. 2

The Portland, Oregon-based jazz quintet PDXV shows off their live chops on this consistently mesmerizing disc. Recorded at Jimmy Mak’s in Portland on February 9, 2007, Vol. 2 could be used to teach young jazz musicians on how veteran cats cut it in front of an audience. The band is a delight to listen to, and the superlative sound recording captures each instrument’s distinct personality from Dave Captein’s thumping bass lines on Thelonious Monk’s “Trinkle Tinkle” to Randy Rollofson’s robust percussion on Nicolas Folmer’s “Rhythm Form” to Greg Goebel’s scenic piano on Fred Hersch’s “Rain Waltz.”

Whether or not you’re familiar with these compositions (the album consists of all covers), it doesn’t matter; if you have a serious appreciation for jazz, you will be thoroughly entertained by how PDXV weave through these intricate grooves. Some cuts, like “Rhythm Form” and Joe Henderson’s “Our Thing,” are bursting with energy; while others, such as Folmer’s “I Comme Icare,” have the laid-back soothing textures of a warm summer wind.


Movin’ Melvin Brown will leave you swooning on ‘Love on My Mind’

July 17, 2008
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Reviewed by Vivian Fields

Movin’ Melvin Brown/Love on My Mind

Movin’ Melvin Brown is not Al Green, and neither is he Otis Redding. However, at times you might not be able to tell the difference. It’s not that Brown is consciously imitating those soul legends; he’s just coming from the same state of mind. Who knows how musicians such as Brown are able to sing so beautifully, to project their feelings in such a powerful way that we are left swooning. “My Summer Love” is a poem set to music, a slow, relaxing groove which allows Brown the freedom to make his voice soar, reaching the heavens above. Wow.

This is one of those CDs that, upon hearing it, you want to see the artist perform live. Can Brown sing like this in concert? Most likey as there doesn’t seem to be any studio trickery here. For more authenticity, Brown is actually from the tail end of the soul-music years that he is paying homage to here. During the ’70s, Lionel Richie and the Commodores used to open for Brown’s show band. Imagine that! At 14 tracks, and nothing dipping below the four-minute mark, this album is a genuine bargain, and Brown is one of a kind, definitely.


Tonia Tecce’s ‘What a Wonderful World’ is ‘immaculately produced…timeless, classic’

July 14, 2008
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Reviewed by Vivian Fields

Tonia Tecce/What a Wonderful World

What a Wonderful World is not the kind of album you’d expect from an unsigned artist. Usually a record such as this – immaculately produced, lushly arranged, backed by real orchestras including the Philly Pops, the New Jersey Pops, and the Newark Symphony – stems from an ambitious dream that only major labels can fulfill. I won’t even attempt to guess how expensive this CD was to create. But, when you’re handling a class talent with a stunningly beautiful operatic voice like Tonia Tecce, there shouldn’t be any holding back. That isn’t hyperbole, either; this is a woman who has performed at Carnegie Hall.

The orchestral sweep of “It Could Happen to You” and “Dream Medley” takes you into another realm, a world of beauty and wonder; Tecce’s uplifting soprano becomes one with the instruments, as if she is carried by their winds. At times, her singing reminds me that of Julie Andrews but with a more operatic flair. On “O Mio Babbino Caro,” Tecce’s voice is so haunting that I feel like I’m listening to vinyl from a half-century ago; you can almost imagine the snaps and pops in the tune. It’s a tie for who has the most powerful instrument on What a Wonderful World: Either Tecce and her vocals or the tools of the symphonies who are supporting her here.

Fabulous, timeless, classic.


Hailing from Pittsburgh, the Soiree Band makes Big Band music with a sweet voice

June 24, 2008
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Written by Vivian Fields

One of the year’s most delightfully charming surprises in the jazz field is the wonderfully titled No One Claps for the Low Notes by the Soiree Band. Based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the Soiree Band is Big Band jazz with a powerhouse vocalist,Christina Cataldo, who has a sweetly intoxicating voice that leads, rather than follows, the army of instrumentalists surrounding her. Drummer Reid Hoyson spoke to Midnight Jazz about this special unit.

Vivian Fields: Your vocalist, Christina Cataldo, has a strong, soulful voice that seems to have stepped right out of the ’40s. How did you find her?

Reid Hoyson: I had been looking for a singer for a while and she was referred to me by another singer in the Pittsburgh area.  Christina at the time had just graduated from Point Park University in Pittsburgh, as a music theater major.  Maureen Budway, who suggested I contact her, is a very good singer as well, and said that she was ” the real deal.” So I couldn’t wait to hear her sing, and when I did I just loved her. She is young but can sing any style with ease. Unfortunately for the band, she moved back to New York to try theater performance. She is only in her 20s so I expect we will be hearing about her.

Fields: Just how big is the Soiree Band? How many members in all?

Hoyson: The new CD has two sections, the larger big band and then material with rhythm and five horns and a vocalist. The group started as a trio with myself on drums, Bruce Wallace on bass and Victor Garzotto on piano.  We brought in various guests to play on our first CD, Soiree.  That was in 1998. We now have added Ray Defade, Sr. on sax and flute, who also does a great job of arranging for the band. He is definitely an important part of this whole organization. I had always wanted to do a big band project, and I knew Ray could do the writing. “Soul Searchin'” is an original of his.

Fields: When the Soiree Band performs live, do you have this large ensemble?

Hoyson: We usually can get away with seven pieces. Every once in a while we can add two more horns and go out with nine people. But for the most part we use two horns, trumpet and sax and rhythm with guitar also. It is really hard to find clients to pay for that many musicians.  In the jazz clubs, of which there are not many in Pittsburgh, we can go with only five pieces. We do private functions as well and play all kinds of music, as you can hear on the CD. But whatever we do, the arrangement are good, the tunes are good, and we always leave plenty of room for improvisation. We all have strong jazz backgrounds, so that is important to all. But I still think you can go out and do a private function and play some great music for people, even if it isn’t a jazz gig.

Fields: How did the group get together?

Hoyson: I had gotten to the point where I wanted to have the opportunity to have some input as far as what music was to be played, and we all know the way to do that is to have your own band.  So with our little trio, as I mentioned earlier, as our basis, I began to expand the size of the band and build a nice book of arrangements with Ray Defade’s help. Ray writes the arrangements so that they work with any number of horns. How flexible we all must be in today’s music world. The next step was this recording, which I did at
Audible Images in Pittsburgh. I waited for a year for the completion of the studio, but I think you will agree it was worth the wait. They have a great facility and are producing Grammy winners every year.

Fields: When did you first become interested in jazz? Who or what provided the inspiration?

Hoyson: I think I was born with the desire to play drums and was immediately interested in all kinds of music. I had a music teacher named Gus Dolfi who had a big band, and he made sure I could read and play all styles. He had me learn all the Latin rhythms which I love playing to this day. And how to kick a big band. He would have me sit in with his big band when I was in high school.  I played rock & roll because I grew up in the ’60s, loved the Beatles and soul music.  Then it was Bill Evans and jazz trios. I played with three great Pittsburgh piano players, with upright basses and real pianos when I was young. That’s really hard to come by these days. I loved to watch Buddy Rich play. Influenced by Harvey Mason, Airto, Peter Erskine,
Mickey Roker.


Laura Pursell’s ‘Somewhere in this Room’ is ‘meticulously crafted and classically arranged’

June 2, 2008
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Reviewed by Vivian Fields

Laura Pursell/Somewhere in this Room

Laura Pursell’s Somewhere in this Room is too beautiful to be categorized as Adult Contemporary. Given that the genre has embodied too much cheese the past couple of decades, laying the Adult Contemporary tag on this meticuously crafted and classically arranged project is too superficial. The first five or so minutes of Somewhere in this Room, the opening “Overture,” is a sweeping instrumental piece that’ll leave you breathless and in awe with its waves of lush violins and evocative piano. Pursell doesn’t even sing on it; it isn’t until the second track, “When You Come Down,” that Pursell is introduced, seducing us with a fragile voice as sweet and warm as Karen Carpenter’s in her prime.

From “Overture” you get the impression that Pursell will pursue chamber-pop on the rest of the CD. Not at all. Pursell veers from the bluesy regrets of “Not Much to Lose” to the bossa nova charms of “When You Smile” to the orchestral masterpiece that is the title cut. Producer Andrew Bonime does an outstanding job of keeping the record consistent even when Pursell strays from one genre to the other. The album is not meant to be sliced into pieces on an iPod; it must be experienced from beginning to end, letting its various parts melt into each other to produce a massively satisfying and hauntingly pretty whole. Somewhere in this Room is nothing less than a work of art.


Luiz Simas left successful career in Brazil to find new life in America

May 30, 2008
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An Interview with Luiz Simas

Written by Vivian Fields

Luiz Simas represents the best in Brazilian jazz; on his new album Cafuné, Simas not only displays his mastery over Latin rhythms but manages to impress with his lyrical skills as well, telling stories that cross language and cultural boundaries, unifying all of us.

Vivian Fields: What does Cafuné mean?

Luiz Simas: Cafuné is a soft, affectionate stroking on the top of somebody else’s head. In Brazil, you can ask someone else to do a cafuné on you by saying “Me faz um cafuné.”

Fields: In 1989, you left a successful musical career in Brazil to relocate in the United States. How difficult a transition was that for you? Did you fear that you were not going to be able to achieve that kind of fame in America?
Simas: It was a very difficult and long transition, but I never had that kind of fear. I’m really driven by faith, positive thinking. Plus, my main objective has never been fame per se but just to be able to compose and perform and share my music with everyone.

Fields: Where did you learn how to sing?
Simas: My singing evolved naturally over the years. When I was very young I went to Rio’s music conservatory and had music theory classes, which included solfeggio (reading and singing). After that I participated in a choir in Rio, and when I was 18 I was an exchange student in the U.S. (in Lakewood, Ohio), and participated in the high school’s choir too. Besides, being in Rio during bossa nova times in the ’60s meant I was always singing, either at the piano, or accompanying myself on acoustic guitar (which I used to play a little).

Fields: Cafuné has Portuguese lyrics with English translations in the booklet. Have you ever considered recording a CD in all English?
Simas: In fact, I have already recorded a CD almost all in English, Recipe for Rhythm. It’s available online. I wrote all the music in that CD as well, but the lyrics were written by an wonderful American lyricist, Ellen Schwartz. But yes, I would like to record a CD with my own lyrics in English someday. That’s a plan in the back of my head for the near future.
Fields: Brazilian jazz is so timeless. Why is that this style has aged so well over the decades?
Simas: I think it’s because it combines some elements which have universal appeal: gorgeous melodies and harmonies, sophisticated rhythms, and a relaxed, free attitude to singing and playing.


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About author

Julian Wilson, Editor, has been writing about different genres of music, from jazz to techno, for nearly two decades in print.