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Ron Leshnower, “Ma Tovu”

30 Mar, 2015 Kelly O'Neil

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Electronic music has made tremendous strides in the last fifty years.  The enhancements and modernizations it offers have made a remarkable impact on the music industry and has become an undeniable asset to composers.  Ivy League musician Ron Leshnower has utilized the EastWest/Quantum Leap software for Symphonic Orchestra and Symphonic Choir with amazing results.

 

The pianist has composed “Ma Tovu” based on the traditional Jewish prayer worshipers recite when entering the synagogue.  The first line comes from Numbers 24:5 where Balaam, a non-Jewish sorcerer, is overcome with awe of the Israelites’ tents of worship that he goes against his king and blesses them.   “Ma Tovu” translates to “O How Good” from Hebrew and the remainder of the song features additional verses regarding God’s sacred places of worship.

 

As the dirge slowly begins heavy in low strings, Leshnower’s delicate attention to detail is immediately evident.  The balance and blend of the instrumentation is of such quality that the fact it is all a computer is virtually forgotten.  An ascending flute glissando moves the piece forward without a hint of synthesized sound.  A despondent yet rich solo violin plays joined subsequently by cello.  After a brief caesura the melody continues ornamented with finger cymbals.  Anon the entire orchestra begins to fill out sounding brilliant.

 

Singing in Hebrew, the first voices heard are the tenors.  They lack truly realistic vibrato which may be alleviated if a few baritone voices were added.  The female voices are strikingly more believable.  Quick violin and clarinet snippets are delightful both in how fantastic they sound and how stylistically apt their presence is in Judaistic music.  The song swells as the message of admiration for God’s sacred worship places is sung culminating in a false ending where after a brief pause the forte voices are heard against a spiraling backdrop of descending strings and brass.  A trilling flute heralds the close of this section as the coda quietly finishes the piece in the same mysterious hushed vein as it began.

 

“Ma Tovu” is a beautiful and remarkable achievement that is an excellent showpiece of the brilliance of modern electronic music composition.

 
Reviewers Name:        Kelly O’Neil
Rating:    5 stars

 

 

 

Daniel Roure, French Kiss

31 Oct, 2014 Kelly O'Neil

danielrourefrenchkissThe brilliant follow up to French musician Daniel Roure’s Le Temps d’un Jazz is the romantic collection French Kiss.  Once again surrounded by a bevy of immensely talented instrumentalists and fellow countrymen, not to mention Roure’s own fantastic piano skills, the familiar love songs on the album are given a French twist with amorous inflections and tight jazz synchrony.

Cole Porter’s “C’est Magnifique” features a fun and jovial aside conversation with the piano and alto saxophone as Roure sings the first half in French and the second in English.  Translated “It’s Magnificent” from the 1953 musical Can-Can, the drummer does a phenomenal job of keeping a relaxed steady beat throughout the noodling instrumental solos.

“When You’re Smiling” was thrice recorded by Louis Armstrong so it is apt that award-winning musician and professor Jean François Bonnel play a clear and tasteful trumpet solo in the bridge.  Francesco Castellani once again collaborates with Roure on trombone and together the brass and rhythm section produce a neat and tidy coda.  Bonnel began his career as a woodwind player and lends his saxophone work to the album as well.  He does however deliver absolute perfection with his clarinet solo in “Candy”.  Accompanied by Roure on the keys, the range on the reed instrument is elegant and expertly played.

The true epitome of the instrumental prowess on French Kiss is evident in “Que reste t’il de nos Amours” translated “What Remains of Our Love” also written in English “I Wish You Love”.  Roure opens in musing French, while Paul Pioli quietly plays guitar.  Then the full jazz combo enters and numerous solos are thrown about between all involved.  The entire section is well balanced and structured.  The soloists play off each other’s stylistic melodies but no one ever gets flashy.  It is an extremely satisfying instrumental break with drums adding a few splash cymbals among the rim hits, the saxophone refraining from sounding too garish and the trombone remaining subdued.  The familiar cute ending is delightful.

Roure and his colleagues do attempt to make a unique imprint on these well-known tunes.  “As Time Goes By” famously heard in the movie Casablanca is known for its reserved nonchalance, but Roure’s version is even more subdued with free form guitar lacing his quiet French accented vocals.  It is an interesting take on the familiar standard.

These nuances do not work on all of the pieces on the album though.  The scant abstract arrangement of “Fly Me to the Moon” is devoid of any swing resulting in an easily forgotten song.  Edith Piaf’s “La vie en Rose” also fails to fully engage the listener.  The romantic lyrics of “Summer Wind” famously sung by Wayne Newton and then Frank Sinatra in the 1960’s lack any vocal range or depth as Roure whispers his recitative.  Once the remainder of the instruments enters, there is nothing indistinguishable about this piece than another other jazz standard.

Fabien Giacchi provides a steady walking bass to guide “These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You)” with slight piano remarks peppered throughout.  This andante low key number is thrown for a loop when the guitar solo plays a superfluous amount of notes that fail to complement the easy jaunt of the piano and vocals.

Romance can abound when music and French ambiances combine, however finding a perfect balance between the two takes special care.  Roure and his compatriots manage to create this effect most of the time and those songs are well worth a listen.

 

Reviewers Name:        Kelly O’Neil
Rating:     4 stars

Dwight Townsend, Finale: Omega to Alpha

08 Oct, 2014 Kelly O'Neil

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Life has a habit of catching up to even the most ambitious.  Despite having spent the last fifteen years re-igniting his passion for singing and songwriting, baritone Dwight Townsend is releasing his final double disc collection aptly titled Finale: Omega to Alpha.  Fittingly he includes the Alpha number, a 1955 recording from Townsend’s time at Yale University where he sang with the prestigious a cappella group The Whiffenpoofs.  Singing lead on “Without a Song” from the musical Great Day the young baritone interestingly displays the same vibrato and inflections as he does at eighty years old, albeit with a deeper range.  The Omega is the last song Townsend ever recorded 58 years later for this collection entitled “Are You Having Any Fun”.  The jumpy number encompasses the satisfied senior’s outlook on life with the lyrics, “Have a little fun / You’re not gonna live forever”.

Not showing much sign of decay, Townsend’s booming voice is in good form on his last project.  “I Got Plenty of Nothin’” from Porgy and Bess is well done in all its show tune regalia and he sounds extremely comfortable enveloped by strings in the Frank Sinatra hit “Young at Heart”.  Townsend also excels at the Doris Day ballad “When I Fall in Love” and Stephen Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns” laced in cello from A Little Night Music.

The retired Floridian exerts creative control by inserting his own original epilogue and prologue to The Wizard of Oz’s signature “Over the Rainbow” with a jazzy saxophone accompaniment.  In Irving Berlin’s “It’s a Lovely Day Today” Townsend adds snippets from another of the composer’s works, “Blue Skies” amidst lively woodwind arrangements.   The baritone adds lyrics to the classical Czech composer Antonin Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” in “Going Home” concluding with a grandiose horn statement.  Extra lyrical embellishment is also added to Louis Armstrong’s hit “What a Wonderful World”.  Townsend includes an extra verse musing, “Look and you’ll see a memory.”  Additions aside, the song sounds completely different from the original with Townsend’s engaging, articulate voice.

His timbre is not the best fit however for the silky smoothness of Nat King Cole in “Unforgettable”.  Townsend’s version sounds more like a testimony or a decree and there is a slight crack in his voice.  He also is mismatched in “Feelin’ Good” lacking the swank needed to ignite the song.  Townsend does however excel in the moving and climatic “Fanny” and the heartfelt wholesome love song “You’re My Girl”.  The best vocal performance on the album is the dramatic “Another Autumn” with its genuine bitter sweetness a perfect fit for his mature voice.  The piano work on the piece is equally gripping from the open bars to the lovely nuanced bridge solo.

Once again, Townsend has enlisted the talents of members of the Dallas Symphony to provide additional instrumentation and is undoubtedly suburb.  The alto saxophone in the 1957 Sinatra hit “All the Way” plays with a lovely tone and cool smoothness with graceful falls and expert timing.  There is an exciting, lively flute solo in “’s Wonderful” from Funny Face, stunning violin work on the Charlie Chaplin melody “Smile” and romantic trumpet in “Long Before I Knew You”.

Another tune pulled from the soundtrack of the musical Bells Are Ringing is the high-stepping “The Party’s Over” with full orchestration.  A more jazzy selection is the fun 1936 Benny Goodman hit “The Glory of Love”.  A more diverse piece is the samba “Yesterday I Heard the Rain” penned by Mexican composer Armando Manzanero.  Townsend’s confident vocals are embellished with copious strings and jazz guitar counterpoint.

The well traveled baritone has amassed a considerable collection of works in the sunset of his life and the musical community is all the better for it.

Reviewers Name:        Kelly O’Neil
Rating:    4 stars

Daniel Roure, Le Temps d’un Jazz

28 Aug, 2014 Kelly O'Neil

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Relying on the linguistics of music as the international language is not entirely necessary to fully appreciate Daniel Roure’s Le Temps d’un Jazz.  The Marseille native has been immersed in jazz and French music his entire life.  It is no surprise that his composing and performing prowess feels completely natural.  Roure surrounds himself with a bevy of other talented Europeans who also share his enthusiasm and profundity for jazz.  Other Marseille inhabitants include bassist Fabien Giacchi and drummer Alamel Gilles, both whom demonstrate stellar abilities to keep the strictest relaxed tempos.  A huge asset to Roure’s collaboration is trombonist Francesco Castellani.  The Italian born horn player has exquisite tone and is extremely lyrical and versatile on his instrument.  Roure provides the vocals and piano work on the album as wells as penning half the music.  His brother Jacques is the lyricist and arranger.

The opening title track, loosely translated, “Time to Jazz” immediately transports the listener to a quiet outdoor café day-dreamily sipping an espresso whilst a clove cigarette smolders in an ashtray on the table.  Roure imbues his warm mature voice into the easily flowing tune.  His first piano solo is bright but not flashy, nicely complimenting and dancing around the melody.  Guitarist Paul Pioli plays the second solo imitating Roure’s style.  “J’ai Vu” or “I Saw” features well executed noodling by the piano and guitar cleanly aligning with the walking bass.

A testament to Roure’s talents is his inclusion on the Vintage France album produced by Putumayo World Music, with the song “Les Baleines Bleues” or “The Blue Whale” featuring considerable range from both the vocals and trombone.  “Un Petit Bateau” or “A Small Boat” is a pictorial song where an image is musically conjured from the opening falling whistle, like a swooping bird, to the calm clear tones of the trombone elucidating open water, to the jumping melody of the tossed little boat.  The piano and vocals sing the chorus in a tight staccato and is joined by the trombone in the final recapitulation.

The Roure brothers have also creatively tried their hand at arrangements of classic American Jazz Songbook compositions.  Irving Berlin’s “Cheek to Cheek” is emanated in “Déjà”.  The stand up bass is finally given a solo in this number.  Another early 1930’s tune “Rosetta” is reworked into “Je Lis Là” where the lively influence of swing music is apparent.  Roure effortlessly scats around a cute little syncopated piano ditty.  He repeats this same musical idea on the ivories in “Que Faisaient Nos Professeurs” taken from “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love”.  A drum solo is heard bolstering the guitar in Henry Mancini’s “The Days of Wine and Roses” in the Roure’s reworked “Sais Tu”.  Ending on a high note is “Dans Les Bois” from Duke Ellington’s 1931 hit “It Don’t Mean a Thing” featuring Roure adroitly jumping around the quick familiar melody.

Le Temps d’un Jazz is a fun work of nostalgia that holds dual affinities to both jazz and world music lovers.  Daniel Roure and his compatriots are an absolute joy to listen to.

Reviewers Name:        Kelly O’Neil
Rating:     5 stars

 

Linda Wood, Return

17 Mar, 2014 Kelly O'Neil

Australian songstress Linda Wood’s anticipated sophomore album Return of the Female Species      may be a misnomer.  It is not an album of women empowerment songs as the title might perhaps infer.  The production is top notch, her songs are well structured, however the content is geared more towards the thoughts and emotions of teenage girls.  Wood is an excellent singer who plays upon her vocal strengths and knows her limitations.  This collection of songs however runs the gamut from school bus romance to married copulation.

Wood’s sweet, innocent voice relates the immature “A Kiss I Will Remember” from the school yard that would be more suitable for a made for TV movie on the Disney Channel than an adult contemporary piece.  Many of Wood’s songs reference dancing and these social occasions are important pinnacles in the life of a teenager.  “My Turn” is about a timid dancer watching her partner delight on the floor.  It has a captivating sway with the sizzling energy of Center Stage and other similar choreographed films.  The vocal fall ending the line, “I know I’m right where I want to be,” into the keyboard interlude is weak putting a damper on the energy of the song.  This unfortunate road bump occurs again in the coda.  Lacking the patient confidence the heroine in the previous songs finds is “Pretty Baby,” a light jazz piece about a different girl at the dance who is afraid to stand out from the crowd.

Lots of descriptive words make up Wood’s lyrics which in turn make it easy to imagine these songs fitting appropriately onto a soundtrack.  One of the best songs on the album is “Your Love Makes Me Beautiful” with its accessibility from pre-teens to young ladies incorporating many different musical ideas from quiet thoughtfulness to an electric guitar jam, yet Wood fits them together nicely.  The companion piece to this could be the catchy “Nothing to Wear”.  This could be the grand sing-along number of the movie featuring the pretty heroine dancing around her bedroom flinging garments about complaining, “My cupboard’s full of clothes / But I’ve got nothing to wear”.

What makes Return of the Female Species a strange listen is that these delightful juvenile pieces are then paired up with more mature adult songs.  The single “Shut Up and Dance” is a flirty romantic samba with acoustic guitar and hand percussion.  The trumpet work adds a sensual tingle as the literally titled piece finds the couple on the dance floor communicating without words.  The second single, “Boat and Sail,” while also for a mature audience, is a lumbering uninteresting love song.  Its dullness might be overcome if more tender instrumentation were applied.  “You Liked It” is a truly personal account of Wood’s own relations with her husband from the mundane to the intimate.

Wood’s songwriting skills are credible, but she needs to hone in on her intended audience.  Musically her songs are highly listenable but lyrically they either appeal to the young or mature, not both simultaneously.    

Reviewers Name:             Kelly O’Neil
Rating:      4 stars