After enjoying accolades while singing, performing and touring with icons in numerous genres as a support artist, La Tanya Hall re-emerges as a multi-faceted jazz vocalist and interpreter extraordinaire with her first full-length album in a decade.
Though her gorgeous, emotionally intuitive vocals take center stage, the expansive collection is, at heart, a collaborative effort with Unison, a newly formed NYC trio led by Hall’s husband Andy Milne on piano, featuring John Hebert on bass and Clarence Penn on drums. Say Yes was produced and arranged by Milne, a distinct and respected voice at the heart of NYC’s creative jazz scene for over 20 years.
While Say Yes is technically a follow-up to La Tanya’s 2009 recording, It’s About Time, she sees Say Yes as the first project that is a true reflection of her artistic spirit. Fans wondering why it took her so many years to return to the studio can look to her busy schedule touring these past seven years with Steely Dan – and her 10-year career as an instructor, passing along her experience and expertise to the next generation of singers as Associate Professor of Jazz Voice at Oberlin Conservatory and at The New School in NYC.
Over the years, La Tanya’s versatility in a multitude of genres has made her a first-call vocalist for some of music’s most celebrated artists, including Diana Ross, Bobby McFerrin, Harry Belafonte, Michael McDonald, Burt Bacharach, Quincy Jones, Aretha Franklin, Rob Thomas, Patti Labelle, Michael Feinstein and Steve Tyrell. Developing her solo artistry, she has performed in recent years at some of New York’s most renowned venues, including Jazz at Lincoln Center, Birdland, Symphony Space, Iridium, and Feinstein’s/54 Below. In addition, she has appeared as a soloist with the American Composer’s Orchestra, The Colorado Symphony, the Jefferson Symphony and the St. Louis Symphony.
“I have been busy singing with everybody else,” La Tanya says, “and even though my first album received critical acclaim, it featured arrangements that I couldn’t fully immerse myself in vocally and as an artist. So, with Say Yes, I was eager to present material that would support and showcase my disposition and broad range of musical tastes. Working so closely with my husband afforded me a trusting, collaborative dynamic that allowed me to sing as fully and as freely as I could."
Besides her exquisite vocal tone and Milne’s elegant arrangements and piano work, the most remarkable aspect of Say Yes is La Tanya’s unique choices of material – a set list that truly reflects her deep musical curiosity, spanning generations and many genres. She reaches outside the jazz realm with lush re-imaginings of folk-rocker Jonatha Brookes’ “Because I Told You So” (which the singer calls “the most personal song on the album to me”) and Joni Mitchell’s “The Fiddle and the Drum” – a Vietnam era tune whose poetry resonates perfectly in response to today’s intense socio-political climate. Another remarkable theme that La Tanya develops with this recording is the decision to re-interpret classic jazz pieces that originated as instrumentals before lyrics were added later. These include “All You Need To Say,” which first appeared as the instrumental “Never Say Yes” on Cannonball Adderley’s 1961 album with Nancy Wilson; Benny Golson’s “Whisper Not,” whose lyrics were added later by Leonard Feather; “Pannonica,” Thelonious Monk’s tribute to elusive “patron saint of jazz” Pannonica de Koenigswarter, with lyrics added later by Jon Hendricks; another Monk-Hendricks classic, “Well You Needn’t”; and Clare Fischer’s “Pensativa,” whose lyrics were later penned by Norma Winstone.
In addition, La Tanya reaches back to 1944 and revamps Cole Porter’s classic, “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye,” incorporating a Pablo Neruda poem which adds new life to the already powerful lyrics, to 1942 for a fresh, bourbon-soaked spin on Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz,” and to 1916 for the Raymond Hubbell tune “Poor Butterfly,” – the latter of which is a part of La Tanya’s Sarah Vaughan tribute show.
Blue Canoe artist, Hiroe Sekine, is back in the spotlight with her fourth release, "Hiroe's Spirit". With this bold effort, Ms. Sekine brings fresh, unique arrangements to jazz and classical songs in a very original way.
A native of Japan, pianist Hiroe Sekine has been living in the Los Angeles area since 1993, performing at many venues, festivals, and others, including the Jazz Concert Series at Los Angeles County Museum of Arts (LACMA) in 2014 and 2016. Ms. Hiroe studied jazz at University of Southern California Thornton School of Music. In 2010, Ms. Sekine's debut album, "a-mé", was named by "All About Jazz" as one of the 25 best albums of the year. Ms. Sekine's long-time musical relationship with Russell Ferrante of the YellowJackets continues on "Hiroe's Spirit" and the result is a classical crossover stunner. Over the years, she has worked with musical greats such as Bob Sheppard (Chick Corea, Steely Dan, Michael Brecker, Joni Mitchell), Tony Dumas (The Manhattan Transfer, Chick Corea, Etta James, Mariah Carey), Peter Erskine (Weather Report, Pat Metheny, John Scofield,) and Abraham Laboriel (Al Jarreau, George Benson, Quincy Jones, Ray Charles) to name a few.
"Hiroe's Spirit" opens with a dramatic rendition of “Pavane pour une infante défunte” by French composer Maurice Ravel. It begins with Ms. Sekine hinting at the melody with her strong piano phrasing against a simple drum beat. Bob Sheppard floats to the front with his sax and takes over melodic duties before the listener is drawn in by spirited accompaniment with Michael Valerio (bass), James Tate (drums) and Akira Jimbo (shaker). Together they reach the summit with dramatically soaring sax ringing triumphantly in the end.
Another very original take on Spirit is Ms. Hiroe's version of Ave Maria. She chooses a very upbeat approach with riveting drum and bass intro. The great Abraham Laboriel contributes both electric bass and vocals in this unique approach to the standard. The changes in rhythmic patterns throughout the interpretation keep the listener engaged as Ms. Hiroe falls in with a breathtaking piano solo that will leave an audience wanting for more. At the end, all come together in a force of rocket-paced bass groove along with subdued vocals that magically just works. Creatively divine, indeed!
"Hiroe's Spirit" is an intelligent, stand-out creation that will not be matched this year. Take a ride with Hiroe Sekine's "Hiroe's Spirit" today....this one is not to be missed.
EJ Hughes is back in the light with his riveting Blue Canoe Records release "The Emotional Vampire Sessions" a followup to his 2005 release on Blue Canoe "Something to Say". The Saxophonist has traveled extensively performing in many genres with a passion and deep-rooted training in Jazz, Classical, and Contemporary music.
Mr. Hughes has taught, performed, and recorded in New York, Georgia, Florida, New Hampshire, and Singapore as well as extensive cruise ship work traveling to over 20 countries. He has spent much of his life as an educator working with students from elementary school to high school to college and beyond. Mr. Hughes is a current instructor at Music and Arts and has helped Georgia State University’s RYJO high school jazz program. In the past, EJ was the instructor of jazz saxophone for Emory University and also taught Advanced Improvisation and Jazz applied saxophone for Georgia State University before returning to his hometown in New Hampshire to be the band director and general music instructor. Hughes has performed with the likes of Grammy award winner Joe Lovano, Grammy-nominated Sam Rivers and two time Grammy winning hip-hop collective Speech & Arrested Development. Says Sam Rivers, "EJ Hughes is a talented musician who understands the beauties and intricacies of the music, an artist destined to make a valuable contribution to this art form".
"The Emotional Vampire Sessions" (recorded and mixed by John Marshden) leads off with ghosts rather than Vampires with "Ghosts in the Machine". Kevin Bales (Wynton Marsalis, Sam Rivers, and Nat Adderley, Rene Marie) breaks the silence emphatically with the thematic piano groove and makes way for Mr. Hughes’s soaring saxophone and energetic melody. Hughes bounces around the theme with improvisational licks that are familiar yet unique. As drummer Marlon Patton (John Patitucci, Randy Brecker, Rufus Reid, Wycliffe Gordon) pulls and pushes playfully with the rhythm, Mr. Bales takes the helm mid-way through and shows improvisationally mature lead playing that slides away to a Billy Thornton (Dominick Farinacci, Christian Tamburr, Doug Carn) bass solo that continues to intertwine with Mr. Bales injections as the song builds and fades.
The album's title track opens with a sweet, touching piano intro that points the listener to an emotional ballad that one imagines an old crooner from the early 1950s will join. Just as the audience is ready for this sultry voice, Mr. Patton enters with a strong snare lead that explodes into rock-like keyboard interplay. Eventually, Mr. Hughes comes in and exploits the solid foundation that has been laid and the improvisational exploration is awe-inspiring. The vampires are emotional, indeed!
"The Emotional Vampire Sessions" by Atlanta sax-master EJ Hughes is a stunning sophomore release that brings something unique with each listen. The veteran players bring fresh and extraordinary perspective to these modern, straight-ahead jazz expressions. This release is not to be missed.