It is time to step back from all the fun I have been having with my home theater system and talk about some recordings from some young jazz artists I have been enjoying recently and one from an artist not known for jazz. These artists are Samara Joy, Ben Paterson and Amos Lee.
Samara Joy is quite frankly a treasure and is only 22 years all. She will only continue to get better. The best way I can describe her voice is as a perfect combination of a young Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald. This is appropriate given that at age 19 she won the prestigious vocal competition that is named after Sarah Vaughan There has been a plethora of young female vocalists to take the jazz world by storm in the past few years such as Cecile McLorin Salvant to name just one. As much as I enjoy them all, my favorite has to be Ms. Joy. As the expression goes, there is no school like the old school, and Ms. Joy takes me to days gone by. To be a master of the craft and the great American songbook at such a young age is astonishing. It is frankly astonishing that Ms. Joy didn’t begin to sing jazz until she was 18 years of age. She started out singing in church before tackling jazz. Not surprisingly. Ms. Joy comes from a musical family, her father being a bass player playing jazz, funk and R&B as well as playing in church. In fact her parents and grandparents had a group the Savettes of Philadelphia where they would ride around Philly in a painted van dubbed the Godmobile where they would stop at random corners and play church music. I bet it was some rousing church music at that. You will no doubt note a Philly theme in this article.
Ms. Joy has two solo albums to date, the first being a self titled album (Tidal, Qobuz) and the most recent release Linger Awhile (Tidal, Qobuz) released on Verve. Both feature mostly jazz standards but with different musical backing. Her initial release features the Pasquale Grasso Trio and the latter Ben Paterson on piano, Kenny Washington on drums, David Wong on bass and the aforementioned Pasquale Grasso on guitar. These two albums really swing. On the first the silky smooth vocals of Ms. Joy come shining through., with plenty of texture, range and heft. Both of these. releases are well recorded although by no means reference in quality. My only quibble with Linger Awhile is that the vocals are slightly recessed compared to the initial release. The musicianship on both recordings is excellent. As a bonus, Ms. Joy appears as a guest vocalist on the Pasquale Grasso recording Pasquale Plays Duke. Her vocals on the track Solitude are simply hauntingly beautiful. Please check out that recording as it is sensational as well. This was my first introduction to Mr. Grasso. For sure I will be back for more.
For More Philadelphia flavor, check out Ben Paterson who is featured on Linger Awhile I have written about Ben before in these pages. He was born and raised in the Philly area before moving on to Chicago for school. Ben s now based in New York. All of Ben’s recordings sound great, with my favorite being That Old Feeling. I had a chance to communicate with Ben about that album as well as Linger Awhile and not surprisingly, good sound is important to him. Ben informed me that That Old Feeling, was recorded in a studio that's now gone called Systems Two, which had one of the best Steinways he has ever played. You can tell, the piano tone on this recording is about as good as it gets.
As for sound, he explained that for live recordings you do the best you can give the circumstances with the house equipment, but in the studio where you have more control, you want it to be as good as possible. If he is producing the record himself he is very involved at all stages of the process, recording, mixing, mastering, etc., although at some point you also have to trust the studio pros to do what they do.
Ben is also a bit of an audiophile. He recently got sponsored by Audeze Headphones so he was able to get a pair of their LCD-2s and a couple different DACs and headphone amps, which has been enjoying. Nothing too crazy, as he noted, as you can spend a crazy amount of dough if you've got a mind to! Yes, we can all relate, no?
Ben also advised that jazz can be tricky but great sound is always a plus, but often his favorite records are from back in the 50s and 60s, and often done under less than ideal circumstances. He noted his cousin is a big audiophile though and recently played him one of his vinyl pressings of Bill Evans at the Village Vanguard and the sound was incredible! He felt that the mics and tech from that era were clearly more than adequate to produce some of the best sound he has ever ever heard. Anyone who has heard those recordings can attest to that.
While the recording noted below was released I think in 2020, its inclusion is warranted here as ‘‘tis the season! The recording is, yes, a Christmas album, I’ll Be Thanking Santa (Tidal Qobuz). It features jazz takes on classic Christmas tunes but is so inventive musically, it can be played any time of the year. I know I do and am listening to it as a write this piece. It features Ben on piano, Luke Sellick on bass and Charles Goold on drums. Sonics are excellent as is the playing. The album is available to download from Ben’s site as a 16/44.1 WAV file. Ben is one of my favorite younger pianists in jazz. Please check out his recordings. You will be glad you did.
The final recording artist I want to feature is a bit of a shocker for me, Amos Lee doing jazz. For those who do not know, Amos Lee was born Ryan Anthony Massaro in Philadelphia. While he has had five albums out on Blue Note, I thought of him as more of a folk, country and Americana artist. He has certainly toured with varied well known acts such as Norah Jones, Meryl Haggard and Elvis Costello, just to name a very few.
Amos Lee (Tidal, Qobuz) certainly has some audiophile chops. He is the only “modern” artist included in Analog Productions’ The Wonderful Sounds of Male Vocals featuring Harry Bellfante, Dean Martin and Tony Bennett. It turns out that 2022 was quite the year for Amos Lee. He topped 1 million in album sales this year, returned to touring after Covid and appeared on TV programs such as Good Morning America and The Late Show with James Corden. He also opened up about his struggles with PTSD, panic attacks and isolation. While the isolation many of us have dealt with during the pandemic was difficult, it must have been especially hard for musicians and performers who depend on touring for a living. However, out of this isolation sprung a great new album, My Ideal, which will be released on November 18th.
During Covid, Amos Lee did a deep dive into the music of Chet Baker. The classic album Chet Baker Sings in particular struck a nerve and is the inspiration for this album. In My Ideal, Amos Lee covers all of the tracks featured on Chet Baker Sings. He and his musicians capture the vibe and tone of that album beautifully, especially the vocals. It is almost as if is channeling the spirit of Chet Baker. The musicians on the album really bring it, featuring all Philly guys , David Streim on piano and trumpet, Madison Rust on bass and Anwar M. Marshall on drums. The sound on the album is top notch too, with clear vocals out in front of the band and good separation between the individual instruments and pinpoint placement of each album within the soundstage.
My Ideal is a fabulous record and homage to a classic and beloved jazz album. It is highly recommended for fans of Amos Lee, jazz fans and all lovers of fine music. Give it a listen.