Singer/Songwriter Amy Fairchild has reached that point in her musical maturation where if this stone-cold roots-pop beauty doesn’t catch on, it’s everybody’s else’s fault, not hers. On her self-titled self-released fourth album, she sings not unlike Sheryl Crow and writes the most personal kind of introspective wordplay this side of Joni Mitchell. Taking the premise of her 1994 “She’s Not Herself” debut, her sound has flowered abundantly to include folk strains and the kind of universal heartland Americana that should resonate profoundly to anyone with an ear. True, she’s blunted her razor-sharp lyrical content in an effort to be less literal. Now, her observations on life, love and living in this crazy world are, for the first time, open to interpretation. This New Yorker, though, is still honest enough to say, “this record almost killed me…” (I’d want to hear it for that reason alone.)
The Mack Avenue Superbandis led by bassist Rodney Whitaker and the premise of this project–“Live From The Detroit Jazz Festival 2013”–couldn’t be juicier: what if you took the leaders of an action-packed jazz roster and put them all on stage at the same time in front of thousands. One wonders why this isn’t done more often because the results are truly spectacular. The label is Mack Avenue. The CD was recorded at last year’s Detroit Jazz Festival. It’s an ensemble of leaders. Trumpeter Sean Jones, guitarist Evan Perri, pianist Aaron Diehl, drummer Carl Allen, sax man Kirk Whalum and vibraphonists Warren Wolf/Gary Burton join Whitaker, who says the mutual respect was palpable: “you could feel it in rehearsals.” Highlights abound. Jones plays the most mellifluous flugelhorn solo you’ll ever hear on “Of Mars And Venus.” Diehl tickles the ivories with Wolf on vibes for “Blue Nude.” “Chick’s Tune”–from a 1964 Blue Mitchell album–features the legend Burton, who’s also on hand for Corea’s “Senor Mouse.” Guitarist Diehl tackles some complex Django Reinhardt chording on a bolero by the late pioneering gypsy. Gospel, funk, blues, bop and swing are referenced but if you held a gun to my head, I’d go with the closing “Two Bass Hit” as the evening’s pinnacle. It’s an exercise in Dizzy-ness.
“Inventio” (ECM) by Jean-Louis Matinier and Marco Ambrosini is the strangest, most otherworldly oddball sound of the year and, as such, is as delectable as waking up from your black’n’white humdrum world into a field of brilliantly colored flowers for as far as the mind’s eye can see. It takes some getting used to (I almost turned it off after 10 minutes) but if you stick with it, its pleasures manifest into the Land of Oz…with no wicked witch to spoil the trip. Look closely at the instrument Ambrosini (left) holds in his hands. It’s a rare ax called a nyckelharpa that has now been liberated from the confines of Swedish folk music. The 50-year old Italian is one its few masters after 31 years of study. Frenchman Matinier, 51, for his part, has taken the accordion “far beyond any `folkloric’ frame-of-reference,” according to producer/label-head Manfred Eicher (who’s been wonderfully confounding adventurous music listeners for years). “Inventio” comes from Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Invention #4.” Forget any notions you may have going in about improvisation, arrangement, composition or any other restrictive musical guideline. Cast yourself to the shifting sands of this atmospheric mind-meld. Surrender. It’s good for you.
Add the soul-grabbing, groin-tugging (me, not her), blues-belting red hot Liz Mandeville to the rapidly growing list of 2014 female torch mamas as diverse as Etta Britt, Ute Lemper, Davina Sowers, Dana Robbins and Colleen Rennison (all of which I’ve been championing of late). Mandeville is pure Chicago, baby, the kind of blues belter who would’ve fit right in with Muddy himself. She wrote, produced, played guitar and sang on all 11 of the blistering tracks on “Heart Of Chicago,” her ode to one of this country’s great music towns. Her anthem, “Why Would A Woman Sing The Blues” features her own solo but boy, does she have some bigtime help. You just cannot make this kind of joyous noise by yourself. The 11 musicians herein elevate her art into the stratosphere.It’s a party. Don’t be late.