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GREGOIRE MARET: You can't argue with the grandeur Toots Thielemans has brought to the harmonica. While there have been some pretty hot practitioners over the years, Toots seems like he had a lock on being a once in a lifetime player. Now he shows up on Maret's debut as a guest and to pass the torch to the next life time of harmonica music. A mind blowing adult jazz date, the admiration of him from the jazz elite is enough to stop you in your tracks right there. A non-commercial feeling date, this one hit's the target by coming right from the heart. Maret will be the name on everyone's lips when it comes to jazz harmonica for the next 60 years. Check it out. This record takes you to places you've only heard in dreams

MARIANNE SOLIVAN/Prisoner of Love: Whoa, produced by Jeremy Pelt with the backing crew having all the top, contemporary jazzbo on board? Where did this come from you ask? Certainly out of left field. This top shelf jazz vocalist and her pals take on old tunes that were once standards that have pretty music been left behind by time making the repertoire new because it's mostly new to you. Simply a killer jazz vocal date that sweeps you off your pins before you know what hit you. A must for sophisticated listeners looking for classy music to make them fell like grown ups. Killer stuff.

CLARA PONTY/Into the Light: Ponty's past instrumental records were all technically proficient but there was always a soulfulness missing. Maybe it was the listeners expectations judging her as the child of Jean Luc Ponty? Maybe not. It's hard to imagine daddy Ponty being a slave driver bastard so maybe the kid was too hard on herself. While she was striving to be the next Vladimir Horowitz, she really wanted to sing. So here we find young Ponty having her "Risky Business" moment and pushing forward as a singer/songwriter, with her background and poppa in tow, and coming in with pleasing results. Certainly not the stuff that top 40 successes are made of, this is the kind of record that was made in the old days when an artist had the luxury of artist development and they could sow the seeds that would connect with the core fans. Easily mastering sunshine pop, Ponty has a fun album on her hands that's as positively sunny as the upbeat album cover pic of her. Fun stuff that everyone mourning the Monkees will get immediately. Check it out.

EMMA JOHNSON-JOHN LENEHAN/Clarinet Sonatas: No matter what's going on in the world, it's good to know there are still artisans that don't pay lip service. They prepare, appreciate their craft, appreciate what has come before and are sincere in leaving their mark. Johnson, renown throughout Europe, is such a clarinet player. Not recording certain pieces until she was ready to do them proper justice, Johnson and Lenehan sound like a whole room full of sound as they deliver sparkling performances from three august composers that gave them a great deal to work with. Whether finding beauty in Brahms' sadness or bringing out the playfulness in Mendelssohn and Schumann, Johnson loves her work and we love her for it. A classical record that has the juice to crossover because you have to be stupid not to recognize the grandeur here, this may not be the last word on these pieces but it certainly is a crystalline definitive statement. Hot stuff.

BRIA SKONBERG/So Is the Day: What do you do when you encounter a record that's so beautiful it makes you say ‘ouch'? Skonberg has been in New York for 18 months, leaving behind a Canadian farm, and has made her mark on the town. A singing trumpeter that's taken everything about jazz since Louis Armstrong seriously as she internalized it, this date has it all on the ball. Infusing the music with humor, bringing Dixieland and funk together with a first call crew aiding and abetting, this may seem like a mix mastered date at first blush, but Skonberg is taking and making jazz on her own terms. A real MVP that seems like she can play any position, Skonberg that the artist to keep an eye and ear on this year. She's got it all going on. If this wasn't her second record, we'd all it an auspicious and delightful debut.

HAPPY FEET TWO: Remember now, the original won an Academy Award. This one has the same director coming back for more and celebrity voices that are all actors at the top of their game and their craft. And now the Antarctic pops in 3-D. At it's core, it's a well-worn tale of problems with the generation gap. And then it takes wing. Really. Mumble's kid doesn't want to dance and he hooks up with a penguin that can fly. Hoo boy, does this make a mess of things at home, but the plucky Mumble brings together the entire penguin nation to set things right in their universe again, and no one even offers them a casino. Classic fun for kids of all ages, you really don't have to be pint size to get into this heart warning/heart tugging pic. The blu ray package with packed with all kind of bells and whistles that show bringing home a dvd ain't what it was 10 years ago. A winning package throughout.

Volume 35/Number 134
March 3, 2011
830 W. Route 22 #144
Lake Zurich, IL., 60047
CHRIS SPECTOR, Editor and Publisher
Copyright 2012 Midwest Record

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