Q-Music: All that (queer) jazz

Avi Wisnia

Award-winning gay jazz pianist Fred Hersch says in the liner notes for his latest album “Breath by Breath” that “string quartets are a natural musical configuration for me.” Therefore it makes sense to find Hersch teaming up with the Crosby Street String Quartet (Joyce Hammann, Laura Seaton, Lois Martin, and Jody Redhage), along with bassist Drew Gress, drummer Jochen Rueckert, and percussionist Rogerio Boccaot, for a set of songs, including the eight songs that comprise “The Sati Suite,” as well as Robert Schumann homage, “Pastorale,” that brings everything to a close.

“Catching Leaves” by Avi Wisnia

Philly’s own Avi Wisnia’s newest album “Catching Leaves” is the perfect album to listen to no matter the season. While he certainly captured the autumn mood in a Vince Guaraldi style on the title cut, Wisnia applies his warm and jazzy vocals with the same skill to the remaining tracks. He takes an unexpectedly twangy turn on “Come Home To,” and then performs Neil Young’s ordinarily countrified “Harvest Moon” in a jazz vocal setting (similar to what Cassandra Wilson did to the song on her New Mood Daughter album). Other jazzy originals worth checking out include “You’re Wrong,” “It’s Gonna Rain Today,” “Just Another Daydream,” and “Sky Blue Sky,” while his transformation of Wilco’s “How To Fight Loneliness” is a must.

On “When My World’s In Tune,” the opening number on “Great to be Here” (New Blue Pajamas), Liam Forde wastes little time in showing off his jazz vocal chops, scatting and such. Forde makes it clear that this is going to be a fun jazz record, on “I Don’t Know” (check out the spoken riff), “Plaza Hotel” (complete with a nod to famous guest Eloise), “Mrs. Dudley,” and “Gratitude Song.” Taking a more serious approach, he struts his comfy stuff on “Pajamas” and proudly displays his belter credentials on “Geraniums.” Forde credits Michel Legrand as a major influence, but you can also hear Cole Porter and Noel Coward’s impact on him.

Speaking of Cole Porter, lesbian jazz saxophonist Nicole Glover covers Porter’s “I Concentrate On You” on her recent album “Strange Lands” (Savant). Her rendition of Billy Strayhorn’s “A Flower is a Lovesome Thing” fully blossoms, and her take on Jobim’s “Dindi” comes to a leisurely boil. As for her original compositions, “The Twilight Zone” and the title cut each lives up to its name.

Yes, that’s Maria “Midnight at the Oasis” Muldaur joining Kim Nalley on the slinky duet of the title cut from Nalley’s “I Want A Little Boy” album. Her cover of “Try A Little Tenderness” hits all the emotional buttons and her reading of “Pennies From Heaven” jingles like a pocketful of change. However, it’s her interpretation of Fred Rogers’ “Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” which takes the tune into adult territory, that’s the real revelation.

Lauded gay playwright/actor/songwriter David Cale collaborated with Carol Lipnik, of the “pitch-perfect four-octave” range, on a couple of songs from her new album “Goddess of Imperfection.” The tunes, the theatrical story song “The Poacher” and the dreamy “A History of Kisses,” are highlights, as is the synth-driven closing track “Love.”

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