Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Vanessa Rubin & Don Braden. Full Circle.

Vanessa Rubin & Don Braden.  Full Circle.
Creative Perspective Music, 2013.  Vanessa Rubin:

We’re reviewing this album because Vanessa Rubin is a Clevelander, getting her start in the city with the Blackshaw Brothers and working with the Cleveland Jazz All-Stars before moving to New York back in the 80s.  We are always amazed at the number of fine artists that grew up in the region.  This is her ninth album (if I’ve counted correctly), and she’s made a fine career for herself as a jazz vocalist.  We will talk about Mr. Braden too, who’s had his own long and outstanding career, even though he’s from Kentucky & Cincinnati (Joking--I love the guy.)  I think it’s wonderful that these two artists have teamed up, and I am sorry that I missed their recent show at Nighttown.  The vocalist/saxophonist pair-up is a long-standing tradition in jazz (think Billie Holiday & Lester Young), and this album continues it in fine form.

Rubin’s voice is a soulful alto, lower than Sarah Vaughan’s, perhaps closer to Cassandra Wilson in range but different in other ways.  She can use it to great effect in almost any style, whether singing Broadway tunes or getting down and bluesy, but never gets too wild, usually singing in a relatively controlled manner.  Braden is a consistently excellent tenor sax player in the hard bop tradition.  I’ve enjoyed several of his many previous albums (I haven’t heard them all), with my favorite being Fire Within. The two have assembled a great band around them.  The addition Kyle Koehler on organ gives the album a strong classic feel, and Dave Stryker on guitar adds both beautiful solos and variety.  Two tracks are instrumental only, “Day Play” and “Twister,” where the band can unwind and do extensive soloing.  Everybody swings well together and Cecil Brooks III keeps everybody in line as well as providing a cool drum solo.

The songs they’ve chosen for the album include originals as well as tunes by Tad Dameron (another Clevelander), Michel Legrand, and Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson.  They start off with “Are You Ready for Me,” a swinging blues tune that ignites the album.  The strong swing component continues in “I Can’t Wait,” “Lover Man,” and especially the closer, “Hold It Right There,” with Rubin at her bluesiest.  On this last one, Koehler is particularly strong on organ.  Of course, there are several ballads interspersed, which feature Rubin’s voice and Braden’s sax, or alternatively his flute work.  These include “Never Let Me Go,” “You’re a Joy,” and one of my favorite tunes, “Hey There.”  I really enjoy the interplay between Rubin and Braden.  The only song I didn’t care for is “Pure Imagination,” not because of their performance, but simply because I don’t like the tune.  Can’t win them all.

As you may be able to tell, I am very pleased with this album.  It has fine performances, great variety, and a sophistication I enjoyed through multiple listenings.  When I was younger, I was mostly into jazz instrumentalists.  As I have matured (or just aged), I’ve come to appreciate vocalists more and more.  Vanessa Rubin is one of the reasons for that.  She is remarkable, and I strongly recommend her work on this album as well as her others.  Don Braden is a fantastic musician as well, and together they have made a very satisfying album.

Personnel:  Vanessa Rubin (vocals), Don Braden (tenor sax, flute, alto flute), Dave Stryker (guitar), Kyle Koehler (organ), Cecil Brooks III (drums), Kahlil Kwame Bell (percussion).
Tracks:  Are You Ready for Me, Love Makes the Changes, I Can’t Wait, Day Play, Never Let Me Go, Lover Man, Reveries Do Come True, Hey There, You’re a Joy, Twister, Pure Imagination, Hold It Right There.

The Grand Wazoo

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