Recent Listening: Judi Silvano, Kenny Dorham

Judi Silvano, Indigo Moods (Jazzed Media)

As anyone knows who has heard her in duet with her saxophonist husband Joe Lovano, Judi Silvano is capable of dramatic, even eccentric, uses of pitch, harmonic intervals and time. She calls upon those abilities in this collection of cherished standard songs, but her main point in the album is—to borrow Ruby Braff’s phrase—adoration of the melody. In “If You Could See Me Now,” she honors Tadd Dameron’s tune by altering it only with little touches of phrasing and a few vocalise fills. She gives Irving Berlin’s “It Only Happens When I Dance With You” and Billy Strayhorn’s “A Flower is a Lovesome Thing” straight readings, changing nary a note (well, one in the Strayhorn), yet manages to infuse those songs with the piquancy of her style.

For all of her concentration here on melodies, Ms. Silvano is not reluctant to depart from them. Trading fours with trumpeter Fred Jacobs for 16 bars of “If I Had You,” she improvises as skillfully as any instrumentalist. Her wordless vocal chorus in Jobim’s “If You Never Come to Me” (“Initul Paisagem”) captures the song’s Brazilian nature. She brings bluesy variations to “Mood Indigo.” She plays with time and syllables in a Latinized introduction to “Embraceable You.” Still, the album gets its character—her character—through “Skylark,” “I’ll Be Seeing You,” “Let’s Fall in Love,” “But Beautiful,” “Still We Dream” (Monk’s “Ugly Beauty” with words) and the Dameron and Strayhorn songs adorned only with Ms. Silvano’s compelling personality. Trumpeter Jacobs and pianist Fred Tomlinson are her only companions in the album’s 14 songs. They provide support, sensitive accompaniment, tasteful solos and the opportunity for Ms. Silvano to be her very musical self.

Kenny Dorham, Una Mas (Blue Note)

This is a reissue only in the sense that in 1999 engineer Rudy Van Gelder remastered the album he recorded in 1963. There are no newly discovered pieces, no bonus tracks, no alternate takes. There is just Kenny Dorham playing trumpet at the top of his game with his ideal foil, tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson, and a rhythm section of Herbie Hancock, Butch Warren and Tony Williams. Dorham did not get his due in his lifetime (1924-1972). A few perceptive young 21st century jazz players have been inspired by the example of his melodic gift and his ingenious use of harmonies, it would be a shame if this essential musician’s life and work were forgotten. KD still has a lot to offer. If you haven’t discovered Dorham, this album is a good way to get acquainted.

For more on Dorham, including rare video of him playing, see this Rifftides archive post.

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