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GARY SMULYAN/Smul's Paradise: In which we find a sax man that's in love with organ trio jazz so he does the only thing he can do, serve up a real smoker. The sax and the organ are given equal weight and a big tip of the hat underlies the proceeding in giving some new love to Don Patterson, the organ man who made his bones with Sonny Stitt, himself at the edge of a renaissance. With old man jazz coming back to the fore because of things turning public domain in England and being finally re-released by the pound, Smulyan is in the vanguard of a back to the future movement. An absolute gasser, even the originals take you back to the day. Killer, hard hitting jazzbo stuff that just doesn't quit.

LISA CASALINO/Introducing: What Carl Jefferson was to Concord, Matt Domber is to Florida jazz, even if this isn't an Arbors release. Hell, it does have the tent poles of the Arbors sound all over it, with Harry Allen added for good measure. Casalino has become the proverbial big fish in the smallish pond as it seems she gotten herself into everything locally jazz over the last 15 years in the Tampa area. The pomo twinkle in her eye and voice tell you she's certainly a jazz singer, but she doesn't bring any of the diva or clip joint thrush vibe to the proceedings. This is a girl that likes a good time and knows how to share it. Mixing some originals with the standards, her long over due debut recording is a nice mixed bag where everything is served well done. Yep, one seriously fun, tasty treat is on tap here from start to finish.

RANDY THOMPSON/Collected: A roots rocker that's no stranger to the road and the roadhouse, he might be a guitar slinging singer/songwriter at heart, but this distillation of his last 15 years shows he knows how to amp it up. A collection of fan favorites, don't tell me people don't know what they like because this plays like a cohesive statement as opposed to a stew pot of moments. A very direct writer that knows how to stop and appreciate Utah Phillips and Steve Gillette as well, if you want something off the beaten path that you can venture into fearlessly, this set has some shrink wrap waiting for you to crack open. Check it out.

JANICE FINLAY/Anywhere but Here: Hey, look, we all know about jazzy people from Canada, but compared to Finlay, the other jazzbos are performers working at being a star. Finlay is Canada's mistress of the sax and being a jazzbo is more important to her than being a star. It must be or else I would have heard about this queen of the Canadian jazz scene before now since she's been racking up the accolades for years now. A killer contemporary jazz set that reaches back for some old man jazz vibes but stays firmly in the moment, Finlay is someone you've got to get to know better if you think there's nothing new that will float your boat and nothing new that will perk up jaded, adult ears. A killer set from start to finish, I don't know how this got funded by arts council money but what ever is in the water up there should be piped to the committee members intravenously when it's time for another grant to come rolling around. What a great start to the jazz new year.

LORRAINE FEATHER/Tales of the Unusual: Our fave jazz cutie pie isn't content to go home with just a Grammy nomination and pushes the envelope farther out this time around. With a load of first call jazzbo pals on board as players, co-writers and co-producers, Feather turns art jazz on it's head delivering a wonderful set that's sounds like it's never been near a church basement but sets new standards for hipness. Whether or not this set tops the charts or not is irrelevant, it's a killer outing that anyone with a brain would envy. A delightful out of the box/out of the ordinary set that finds the sweet spot where Kurt Weill, jazz period Joni Mitchell and Dave Frishberg would have collaborated. Simply a mind blower.

JANIE FRICKE/Country Side of Bluegrass: This is a sweet bit of entertainment for the new paradigm. She had her turn as a major label artist that racked up awards of all sorts, but Fricke's main bread and butter was jingles and background vocals. As such, this is a great impulse purchase from a gift shop kiosk where you'll get he immediate gratification you wouldn't get from an Amazon purchase. The backing crew are a load of crack players. Fricke's pipes are still in top shape. The song stack is familiar country hits given a bluegrass lite treatment with nary a Jesus on the cross track in ear shot. A nice record to spread across a wide demographic. The kind of set that could be an under the radar sales hit, Fricke doesn't come across here like the damaged goods that singers of a generation back looked like when their records wandered off the reservation (think Laserlight circa early 90s). A nice, easy welcome back from someone that's never really been away.

BILL EMERSON & SWEET DIXIE/The Touch of Time: Now that Steve Martin has unleashed an interest in bluegrass that New Grass Revival only once touched on, there are some killer bands that have been working the back 40 now making their mark. A dandy slab of old school bluegrass with a new grass drive, this bunch knows how to trade licks, trade vocals and deliver performances that make old faves new all over again. A sweet little sizzler that can't help but bring a smile back to your beaten down by the times face. Well done.

GINA FORSYTH/Promised Land: A solid old school folkie with a double shot of Malvina Reynolds in her soul, this well traveled throughout the South singer/songwriter masters the trick of sounding and feeling old school without falling into the fantasy. And she's pretty much singing about what's going on now. Probably the entire New Orleans folk scene by herself, Forsyth isn't afraid to do some genre splicing, keeping it basically folkie, and delivers the kind of set that'll send too many pretenders back to their day jobs at law and accounting firms. Proof that you really have to live it to make it work. Killer stuff and a flat out must hear for real folkies looking for real substance over self indulgent mush mouthing. Check it out.

Volume 35/Number 69
January 8, 2011
830 W. Route 22 #144
Lake Zurich, IL., 60047
CHRIS SPECTOR, Editor and Publisher
Copyright 2012 Midwest Record

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