Archive for March 19th, 2010

Nnenna Freelon – Homefree

In our mobile culture, the notion of “home” conjures up comfort, relaxation, the congenial touchstone of the soul. “There’s no place like home,” intones the young Judy Garland as Dorothy in the classic 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, while troubadour Paul Simon pines for the familiar in the 1966 Simon & Garfunkel hit, “Homeward Bound.”

As the saying goes, home is where the heart is, which is the sensibility behind esteemed jazz vocalist and multi-Grammy® nominee Nnenna Freelon‘s latest recording, Homefree, her seventh Concord Jazz album as a leader and first studio outing since 2005. It’s a soulful, swinging homegrown CD, recorded at Sound Pure Studios in Durham, North Carolina, which, she says, “has been my home base for 28 years.” The album is an 11-track collection that Freelon calls her “home brew,” comprised largely of tunes that have been road-tested by her stellar touring band as well as a new original (the witty, playful and poignant “Cell Phone Blues” composed by the singer) and spirited arrangements of two anthems (the gospel treasure “Life Every Voice and Sing” and the national hymn “America the Beautiful”) that close the CD.

“When you travel, you have to expend a lot of energy to set up shop and get yourself comfortable,” says Freelon, who has been crisscrossing the globe over the last several years. “So, I decided that rather than record my new album away from home to do it here, surrounded by all the things that help to shape me as a person and as a singer.” She notes that 10 years ago, such a luxury was implausible. But given the technological advances in recording, “the playing field has been leveled,” she says. “People are even recording great music in their basements. But I feel fortunate that we now have a world-class recording studio in Durham, which is where we recorded this project.”

So, instead of exporting her operation for Homefree, she imported from New York recording engineer Josiah Gluck, who recorded most of her Concord Jazz albums, and from the San Francisco Bay Area producer and Concord VP Nick Phillips, who along with Freelon, co-produced her previous Concord Jazz recording, the Grammy® nominated Blueprint of a Lady: Sketches of Billie Holiday (Freelon jokes that this time Phillips had to travel, but he didn’t have to sing). In addition, home played an important role in the musicians whom Freelon recorded- Freelon enlisted North Carolina-based artists that she calls “heroes” who have deep roots in the community and music of the region. “There are wonderful artists here who always bring their best and honest intention,” Freelon says. As a result the three days of recording sessions in her hometown proved to be relaxing and fun.

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Yukiko Matsuyama – Crème Brulée

The koto, a 13-string zither or harp like instrument, originated in China and came to Japan in the 7th-8th century. Today, it is the national instrument of Japan. The koto isn’t unknown in the world of smooth jazz. The most popular band with the koto as lead instrument is certainly Hiroshima.

Osaka, Japan born Yukiko Matsuyama was classically trained in this instrument from age 9. Since 1993 Yukiko lives in Los Angeles and was influenced by Western styles like jazz, new age, pop and world music. Although her music runs under the label world music, she is melting these styles with the traditional Japanese koto music.

Yukiko presents on her album Crème Brulée ten original compositions. She is supported by Diana Dentino (piano & keyboards), Greg Vail (sax & flute), Vince Van Trigt (bass), Mike Bennett (drums & percussion), and furthermore Daniel Mulliken (cello), David Brock ( violin & viola), Chris Darrow (guitar), Dave Wood (guitar), and Michael Kotzen (cajon).

Stimulated by her own self-effacing humor Yukiko introduces into her music with the title What Is Zat? Don’t await scaring Asian hymns. Yukiko’s instrument is integrated into smooth jazz and performed in a truly American style.

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