Sunday, June 7, 2009

Artist: Matt Criscuolo
CD Title: Melancholia
Label: Self-Releases

Personnel: Matt Criscuolo: alto saxophone; Larry Willis: piano, string arrangements; Billy Drummond: drums; Phil Bowler: bass; Dave Teggar: cello; Rachel Golub: violin; Whitney LaGrange: violin; Julie Goodale: viola.


Reviewed By: Jeff Becker
Purchase Link: CDBaby.com

Melancholia, Matt Criscuolo’s third CD embraces the jazz genre sprinkled with contemporary seasonings. Criscuolo self-titles it as top shelf progressive, but I would have to disagree. The CD is way too subdued and introspective for the progressive entitlement.



His credits include work with David Murray, and Etta James, and he counts among his influences Murray, Charlie Parker and Ornette Coleman. For Melancholia, named for a Billy Eckstine composition covered here, Criscuolo is accompanied by pianist Larry Willis, bassist Phil Bowler and drummer Billy Drummond. A small string ensemble joins the quartet on a few selections.
"Pensivity" is one of two Criscuolo originals. The rhythm section creates a subtle backdrop for the altoist to lay his subtle unobtrusive tone over. Criscuolo’s strong suit is pensive pieces, hence why this original cut portrays his understated style so eloquently. His tone is smooth, crisp and cuts through the track. There are brief moments where he reaches for low tones, but overall he keeps it in a comfortable range. Pianist, Larry Willis takes an extended solo, supported by bassist Phil Bowler and punctuated by the cymbals and rim shots of Billy Drummond. Even though the sax wails freely at the end of the cut, Criscuolo never really digs in the way you would hope this free moment would allow him too.



"Ethiopia," a Willis original, is a place where Criscuolo shines the brightest, his melancholy tone suits this cut and creates an ominous quality; the addition of strings gives the piece an almost symphonic overtone. In general, this seems to be the best suited cut for Criscuolo, his ability to shape a note and color it with beautiful tones is truly his strong point as an altoist.
Overall, I sit on the fence about this CD, I have heard other recordings by Criscuolo and while he certainly is improving with each release, I wasn’t sold on the strings and I would love to hear a real up-tempo burner come out of Criscuolo maybe even two. This CD is suited for a dinner party setting and will not offend in anyway for a background concept.

A Teardrop of Sun Creates a Bright Light


Artist: L'Tanya Mari
CD Title: A Teardrop of Sun
Label: Falconeye Records
Personnel: L'Tanya Mari (vocals), Harry Appelman (piano), David Jernigan (bass), Tony Martucci (drums), Alejandro Lucini (drums/percurssion), Paul Wingo (guitar), Lyle Link (tenor, soprano sax).




Reviewed By:
Jeff Becker
Purchase Link: iTunes and CDBaby.com

With a plethora of jazz vocalist CDs being released everyday especially lately, how does one go about choosing a worthwhile CD to add to their collection. This brings me to my introduction of a Virginia based vocalist by the name of L’Tanya Mari’. You know so many times there is an assumption that because a vocalist is on a major label that somehow that CD will be head and shoulders above the rest of the pack. That is completely not the case in many circumstances and especially not lately. The major labels keep throwing CDs out to the industry and seeing what sticks and what doesn’t. Well, this lady sticks, so much so, you will find her sticking to each rib like a satisfying meal that you have waited for all day for, while it was cooking in the kitchen.

The meal begins with a classic Bill Evans cut “Very Early.” L’Tanya’s vocal command is demonstrated clearly in her beautiful negotiation of the two-octave melody, easily navigating over the multiple keyed harmonic platform.

My next favorite course was “I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues” a show piece for L’Tanya’s wide vocal range and rhythmic command. Her command is in full display as she never losses the sultry blues feeling through-out the 5:27 minute steamy selection.

The meal ends with a perfect dessert. The rapport between guitarist Paul Wingo and L’Tanya is evident in “You Go to My Head.” The two make this duet setting breath with life, L’Tanya’s falsetto notes are always richly supported by Wingo’s thoughtful voicings. It is a treat to hear L’Tanya’s voice exposed so that one can appreciate the clear warm tones she is able to invoke from her sweet voice, her vibrato on this selection is very reminiscent of the great Billy Holliday.

Mari studied with the celebrated drummer-singer Grady Tate who influences (the artist’s bio states) inclined her phrasing, urging her to always connect with an audience by really feeling the lyrics.

A Teardrop of Sun may only be a debut release but it comes across as a Junior outing the minute you pop it into the player. A disc worth adding to your jazz collection by any means but, be sure it has its own special place not thrown in with the rest of the vocal CDs on your shelf being pumped into the market lately. Place it by Vaughn or Holiday and it will truly be among its piers.