Any time I am feeling a little down and life becomes overwhelming all I have to do is throw on some jazz music and everything seems to melt away. This is the kind of music that soothes my soul. "Espresso" is a four piece ensemble from Northampton Massachusetts, which happens to be in my back yard, only an hour away. It’s nice to know that there is this kind of world class talent right around the corner that I can drive to and enjoy.
"Jazz ‘N’ Samba" is a collection of jazz standards recorded live. Many younger listeners were present when this was recorded, and many of them had never heard these songs before, so it must have been an interesting experience for the band to see their reactions when they performed them. When I see a jazz recording with all the standards I never fret that it will be same old thing. Invariably every group puts their own twist and spin on the songs, so the music remains alive and improvisational perpetually.
The main focus here was to present a nice cross section of jazz with some spice and flair. Bossa Nova standards by Jobim, like the title track "Jazz ‘N’ Samba", are given a new meaning and perspective. I thought Monk’s "Straight No Chaser/Get It Straight" was as smooth and cool as it gets for a jazz number. If you aren’t tapping your feet to this music you had better check the obituaries. Sandi Russell’s presence is very sturdy and genuinely appreciated throughout this entire CD by this writer. Her bluesy jazz inflected vocal dexterity and skillful guitar work keeps the rest of the group on task, making them a tight-as-a-drum musical machine. And that factor is very much in evidence with each song.
The flute and saxophone playing of Kerry Blount was notable, particularly on the closing track, which is a lovely instrumental piece entitled "Little Sunflower" (Freddie Hubbard). His flute is light and airy creating a decidedly heavenly ambiance. Barbara Hilton is totally reliable and consistent on standup acoustic bass; she does a great job keeping time with the newest member Tom Ranaldi. I think it takes a special talent to be a drummer in a jazz band, and Ranaldi is a welcome addition to the fold I am sure.
So there you have it, straight jazz with no chaser. You will get a full bodied brew that offers a dynamic blend of genres that makes for a great listening experience that will have you coming back for a refill time and time again. If you like your espresso especially strong your taste buds will be dancing when you get a taste of this.