On his fourth jazz CD, Answer July, pianist/singer/composer/poet Senri Oe presents eight new original compositions performed by a crew of versatile and talented collaborators, including vocalists Sheila Jordan, Lauren Kinhan, Becca Stevens and Theo Bleckmann.
Senri has recorded with singers in the past, but this is the first time he’s featured vocalists on the entire album. Rather than having his piano in the starring role on Answer July, he aimed to keep the spotlight on the compositions instead of the keyboard.
For Answer July, Senri assembled an amazing cast of vocalists, spanning the generations from Sheila Jordan, an octogenarian who learned her craft directly from the original boppers to more recent arrivals on the scene such as Becca Stevens and Dylan Pramuk. While all are recognized for their improvisational skills, on this outing they focus on sticking close to Senri’s careful compositional concepts and the accompanying lyrics. The featured singers include:
Sheila Jordan: At 87, she has vitality of the teenager she was when she hung by the door of Detroit jazz clubs hoping to hear her idol and main influence, Charlie Parker. To this day she maintains a busy schedule gigging and teaching around the globe, bringing a wonderful autobiographical quality to everything her voice touches. Senri has mentioned her as an inspiration, and has written at least one song for her.
Lauren Kinhan: Besides having a burgeoning solo singing career, Kinhan is part of beloved and acclaimed vocal groups such as New York Voices, Moss, JaLaLa, and Bobby McFerrin's Vocabulaires; she also toured with jazz legend Ornette Coleman.
Theo Bleckmann: Citing Sheila Jordan as his mentor, the versatile Bleckmann is comfortable with material by Kate Bush, Charles Ives, Berlin Cabaret classics, Las Vegas standards, and his own well-crafted originals. He has collaborated with Laurie Anderson, Philip Glass, Michael Tilson Thomas, Meredith Monk, and others.
Becca Stevens: Here’s a singer who tops many a music-lover’s list of vocalists deserving greater recognition. A skilled composer and multi-instrumentalist, Stevens has been inspired by a range of musical genres, including jazz, folk, rock and pop.
Dylan Pramuk: This New School graduate is well on his way to establishing himself as a voice to reckon with on the New York jazz scene, as evidenced by his brilliant work on the well-received “Royal Bopsters Project” recording.
A veteran pianist and composer, Senri Oe enjoyed a long and successful reign as a pop star in his native Japan. He was so well regarded that a critic favorably compared him with the acclaimed novelist Haruki Murakami, citing a similar Western-influenced blend of the surreal and the whimsical. But Senri put his pop career on hold to realize a childhood dream by moving to the Big Apple in 2012 to study jazz.
For many of his longtime fans, Senri’s lyrics are the reason they fell in love with his music; however, he doesn’t write lyrics in English, so he sought out wordsmiths on a similar wavelength to provide words for his new original tunes. Becca Stevens crafted lyrics for the title tune, Answer July, to go with an instrumental Senri had written in homage to his favorite poet, Emily Dickenson. Lauren Kinhan’s words to “The Very Secret Spring,” a sensitive ballad evoking a long-ago love, were also Dickenson inspired.
Nature metaphors pop up in the songs throughout Answer July, including on the title track, featuring Senri’s mellow piano accompaniment as vocalist Becca Stevens demonstrates her surefooted way with a tune.
“Without Any Moon or Rain” kicks off with a Monk-ish intro then swings into a lively vocal duet from Lauren Kinhan and Dylan Pramuk, and a cooking tenor solo from Yacine Boulares.
Other Answer July highlights include Theo Bleckmann’s tender vocal on Jon Hendrick’s words to “Just a Little Wine.” Hendricks also penned the lyrics for the charming bop of “Mischievous Mouse,” showcasing singer Sheila Jordan in top form, with background vocals from the New School Singers adding texture. In fact, the words were crafted with Jordan in mind, as she shares a birthday with Mickey Mouse, the tune’s title character.
The backup band includes:
Saxophonist Yacine Boulares: Check out his eclectic education and experience: He earned a philosophy degree from the Sorbonne, studied jazz at the New School, and performed with Placido Domingo, Ran Blake, Jaleel Shaw, Ben E. King, and Tabou Combo.
Drummer Reggie Quinerly: Studied with fellow drummers Jimmy Cobb, Lewis Nash, Kenny Washington and others at Mannes School of Music at the New School, and went on to earn a masters from Juilliard. He's played with Wynton Marsalis, Branford Marsalis, Joe Lovano, Greg Osby, and Christian McBride, among other luminaries.
Bassist Jim Robertson, singers Junko Airta Mitch Wilson and Travon Anderson, and guests Andy Watson and E.J. Strickland (drums), Paul Tafoya (trumpet) and Olga Trofilmova (trombone) also lend strong contributions.
With Answer July, Senri Oe is showing that youthful dreams can become a satisfying reality.
Senri Oe "Answer July" (Sony Japan UPC 888295459082) Street Date: June 3, 2016
Special Guests: Sheila Jordan, Lauren Kinhan, and Theo Bleckmann, Becca Stevens, from Lauren Kinhan and Dylan Pramuk, New School Singers, Saxophonist Yacine Boulares, Drummer Reggie Quinerly, Bassist Jim Robertson, singers Junko Airta Mitch Wilson and Travon Anderson, Andy Watson and E.J. Strickland (drums), Paul Tafoya (trumpet) and Olga Trofilmova (trombone)