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Friday, 4 July 2008

KRIS GAYLE - 8.00 am: Album review

After seeing Kris Gayle perform recently ( see Local Hero(ine)s) I was keen to get my hands on her latest CD and review it for this blog. The album arrived a couple of days ago but I haven't had a chance before now of sitting down and giving it my full attention. Now that I have I can say that it was well worth the wait. Here's a 'blow by blow' account.

1. Blue in Green (Bill Evans - Cassandra Wilson).
From the opening bars one has an immediate sense of musical authority. This track has a great contemporary feel and Kris's voice slides effortlessly through a high-tech arrangement that exploits synthesis to the full but, paradoxically, never loses its sense of organic centre. An excellent bass solo from Damian Rodd puts the icing on the cake of this track.
2. Watch What Happens (Michel Legrand).
A crisp conga beat sets up a latin feel and as the album progresses I have to keep reminding myself that this is a Cornish product! The horn arrangements are excellent and Marc Hadley delivers a fine tenor sax solo. The word 'effortless' springs to mind for the vocal - but that is, of course, 'the art that conceals art'. The next word that comes to mind is 'sublime'.
3. It Never Entered My Mind (Richard Rogers - Lorenz Hart).
This is one of my favourite songs by my all-time favourite song writing team. Kris gives a beautiful reading of the oft-omitted verse, before sliding into the main body of the song like oiled silk. Most of the great jazz singers have performed this song, Ella Fitzgerald particularly making it her own and influencing many versions, but Kris, as I have observed before, really inhabits a song. If this gets enough airplay it will, in turn, influence many singers to come.
4. I'm All Smiles (Michael Leonard - Herbert Martin).
A jazz waltz with a lovely relaxed feel that features a nice synth solo from Viv.
5. Sermonette (Julian 'Cannonball' Adderly - Jon Hendricks).
This 'soul jazz' classic is delivered here with a slowed down, lazy groove, nice horn arrangements, a piano solo from Viv and some tasteful harmonica from Alex Cockle - all good stuff but my least favourite track so far. I feel that it's a little bit too busy and slightly overproduced. In this case, less would be more.
6. All Blues (Miles Davis - Oscar Brown Jr).
This track is everything that the previous one is not. There is a beautifully 'spare' feel to it - a great sense of space appropriate to the classic Miles tune. Kris delivers the lyric with great authority. To paraphrase the late Lord Buckley - "When she lays it down it stays there!". This is an outstanding track with great contributions from Paul Heywood's soprano sax and Damian Rodd's bass.
7. 8. 00 am (Viv Rodd - Kris Gayle)
This original composition sits extremely comfortably with the rest of the more well known numbers and features a thoughtful tenor solo from Marc Hadley. If there is any justice the song will be pounced upon and covered by any singer looking for great material that hasn't already been done to death by other artists. I'd like to hear Meredith d'Ambrosio's take on this one, which is not to say that this performance isn't exquisite!
8. The Song is You (Jerome Kern - Oscar Hammerstein II)
This is taken at a cracking pace, reminiscent of the Jimmy Giuffre Three version from the eponymous 1957 album. Kris's voice is as assured as ever, but I'm not quite so certain about the bass line and, for me, the synth solo doesn't work. There's nothing wrong with the choice of notes but I feel that it would have worked much better with a more percussive sound. It has a 'muscular' quality to it that I associate with pianists like Eddie Costa from Tal Farlow's 1957 line-up.
9. Gravy Waltz (Ray Brown - Steve Allen)
By contrast this next track is a totally relaxed and swinging performance, with Viv's 'Hammond Organ' playing perfectly matched to Kris's voice.
10. Bird Tribute (various).
This Charlie Parker tribute opens with a terrific piano and voice duet on Leonard Feather's 'I Remember Bird' which is unequivocably world class - the communication between Viv and Kris seems almost telepathic. When the count-in takes the tempo up for the arrival of Paul Heywood's alto sax on Charlie Parker's 'Ornithology' it comes as quite a shock to the system, as indeed Bird was to the musical establishment of his day. 'Ornithology' segues into 'How High the Moon' (Morgan Lewis - Nancy Hamilton), with Kris scatting the line in unison with the sax before returning to 'I remember Bird' for the conclusion. An excellent arrangement by Kris's husband, Goudie Charles.
11. Some Other Time (Leonard Bernstein - Betty Comden - Adolph Green).
We're back in lush ballad territory and as always with Kris, you recognise that it is the song that is the important thing to her. She breathes life into a lyric in a way that only very few singers can. Viv's arrangements and piano solo really shine here.
12. I'm Old Fashioned ( Jerome Kern - Johny Mercer).
The last track is a swinging mid-tempo version of this classic song and Kris gives a faultless reading of it. Viv's synth 'big band' is augmented to good effect by Paul Heywood and trumpeter Monty Ray.
Overall this is a great album that demonstrates quite conclusively that we have a pair of world class talents in Kris Gayle and Viv Rodd. Why aren't they better known? Maybe 8. 00am is the breakthrough album. Go and buy it now: you know it makes sense! ****½
8. 00 am is on the Big Milk label. It was produced and mixed by Damien Rodd.
Kris's website is http://www.krisgayle.com/
Viv Rodd's web site is http://www.trurojazz.com/
Damien Rodd is at www.myspace.com/damianrodd