Daily jazz blog, Marlbank

Rickie Lee Jones, Pieces of Treasure, Modern ***

Another commercial hitmaker does a standards album - sound familiar? Been there heard that you might think. Yes, while you might shudder at the thought of yet another Rod Stewart-like romp through the much put upon Great American Songbook that's …

Published: 19 Apr 2023. Updated: 15 months.

Another commercial hitmaker does a standards album - sound familiar? Been there heard that you might think. Yes, while you might shudder at the thought of yet another Rod Stewart-like romp through the much put upon Great American Songbook that's not the case here - what a game effort. There's an incredibly atmospheric version of the Jule Styne, Betty Comden and Adolph Green 1950s classic 'Just in Time.'

But this far more intimate and certainly ultra smoky take on the standard from singer Rickie Lee Jones also lands in a stimulating dialogue with the erstwhile Steps Ahead vibes great Mike Mainieri. The 'Chuck E's in Love' hitmaker's latest is produced by Russ Titelman famed for his work with Randy Newman and Stevie Winwood who goes way back with Jones to the end of the 1970s and the singer's self titled debut and also includes Kurt Weill, Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer songs. It was recorded at New York's Sear Sound studio.

The album personnel in addition to Mainieri includes pianist Rob Mounsey, guitarist Russell Malone - excellent on the finger clicking 'They Can't Take That Away From Me' - bassist David Wong and drummer Mark McLean who comes out swinging on the Gershwins' classic introduced to the canon in the 1930s by Fred Astaire.

''Leftover dreams'' song 'Here's That Rainy Day' is best of all, a superbly halting rhythm section accompaniment adding tasty undertones topped by an inimitable ache in Rickie Lee's voice that gives such gravitas to the Johnny Burke lyrics. And yet Carmen McRae doing the song in all quietude and soaring mystery on 1964's Bittersweet is in another league entirely. Because when you are in the land of the Great American Songbook jazz greats of McRae's stature cast a giant shadow still. That is the sheer scale of the challenge anyone faces in this very demanding domain. Those ''leftover dreams'' need the daylight of poetry shone on them.

And yet the Pieces of Treasure approach is more than valid. Three singles are streaming ahead of release: 'Nature Boy,' 'Just In Time' and 'September Song' and on the last of these the way she enunciates ''waiting game'' in the Maxwell Anderson lyrics to the Kurt Weill classic here is very much the way you'd imagine Bette Davis say the words.

Overall a more than decent trot through a lot of tried and tested favourites. Rickie has a wonderful voice, can sing the phone book and has nothing to prove which provides a certain freedom in this approach. Pick up the receiver to dial in when the album is out on 28 April.

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Pablo Held, Buoyancy, Hopalit ***1/2

A German and English affair Buoyancy - album of the week on German radio station NDR at the moment - you won't be surprised to know demonstrates the dazzling resource and consistency all over the record of pianist/keyboardist Pablo Held. There are …

Published: 18 Apr 2023. Updated: 15 months.

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A German and English affair Buoyancy - album of the week on German radio station NDR at the moment - you won't be surprised to know demonstrates the dazzling resource and consistency all over the record of pianist/keyboardist Pablo Held.

There are three other massive plus points at least here on a release of eight tracks, including five pieces written by Held himself. Firstly and most significantly (and ironically given this isn't overall a vocals album) is an instant classic in both the precarious and unsettling melody and the post-modern almost E. E. Cummings'- like lyrics and very spooky vocal of Norma Winstone on the stunning 'Underwater Rendezvous'.

Secondly and more quirkily Buoyancy factors in an ingenious and engrossing - despite the massive familiarity of the melody - take on John Williams' 'Star Wars' which unfolds ahem without getting ahead of ourselves at all or spoiling any plot like a phantom menace particularly the opening minutes. Thirdly, what about the fun version of the Jan Johansson classic children's song 'Here Comes Pippi Longstocking'? Covered in more recent years in a far more middle of the road version by Jan Lundgren this provides an excellent if less usual reminder of how significant an influence on a distinctly European jazz aesthetic the dreamy Swede remains decades after he left us in 1968.

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Englishman Percy Pursglove who works in the NDR Big Band in Hamburg is Kenny Wheeler-like on flugel and given Winstone's presence however fleetingly works from a curatorial level. Kit Downes - quite ubiquitous lately on a rash of fine records especially Lucia Cadotsch release AKI - plays less of an obvious role than usual but roogalates away when he needs to purring contentedly on (non-pipe) organ and Buoyancy is an opportunity for audiences beyond Germany to discover the lower profile drummer Leif Berger. Held, who was taught by Winstone's former husband, the revered English pianist and composer John Taylor (in the classic mainly 1970s & 80s ECM band Azimuth with Winstone and Wheeler), on the Winstone track on mellotron is miraculous at times as a colourist and so much more. As for that eerie vocal dance to the music of time - the effect is occult. SG

The Buoyancy band l-r: Leif Berger, Pablo Held, Kit Downes and Percy Pursglove photo: Steven Haberland. Norma Winstone, photo: press

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