Jazz Menagerie is a fitting name for a new San Francisco-based ensemble. On its debut CD, "Just Hold Me," the group offers a mellow mix of songs.
"We chose the name Jazz Menagerie to suggest an assortment of musicians of diverse backgrounds - both veterans and younger artists - performing music that borrows elements from a variety of musical styles," explained Jim Ludwig, producer and composer of all 10 songs that make up the CD.
The album gets off to a strong start with the jazz-funk tune, "Now and Then," featuring Raya Yarbrough’s rich, sultry vocals, and it ends with the somber, but lovely, instrumental "To Noriko."
In between, there are songs that draw on different influences and highlight different instruments. Some are memorable, others not. Both male and female vocals are featured. Yarbrough takes the lead on most of the songs while Claytoven Richardson steps in for two numbers, including "Letting Go of Spring," a pleasant pop affirmation about aging.
Ben Yonas, 23, plays keyboards and shares producer duties along with Ludwig. Yonas has been active as a producer and pianist since the release of his first album at age 17.
Throughout the CD, "Just Hold Me" has a contemporary sound and feel. It’s a promising debut.