Chris Tordini – Midnight Sun – Newvelle Records NV 010LP – 180 gm vinyl – ****:
Wearing your heart on your sleeve—celebrating in acoustic splendor…
(Chris Tordini – bass; Becca Stevens – vocals; Greg Ruggiero – guitars)
I first became aware of Becca Stevens’ talents a few years ago when she participated on Billy Childs’ Grammy winning tribute to Laura Nyro, Map to the Treasure. Becca sang “The Confession.” Her original vocal talents were immediately apparent, and hearing her live early the next year at the Portland Jazz Festival, both with Billy and on her own, helped form a lasting impression.
As part of Newvelle Records second year subscription series, Ms. Stevens is featured on her band mate, bassist Chris Tordini’s Midnight Sun audiophile LP. Tordini’s muscular, yet sympathetic bass accompanies Stevens along with guitarist, Greg Ruggiero. Both Chris and Greg shine during their solos, but it is Becca who raises this release to a much higher level.
Becca’s acclaim has been steady, and she was voted Best Rising Vocal Star in the most recent Downbeat Poll. Tordini plays bass in her current band (they both attended the New School of Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York City), and his generosity in highlighting her vocal prowess is more than commendable.
The airiness and upper register warmth of her vocals is put to good use with a song selection of standards and lesser known compositions from Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus, and Lionel Hampton. The string background of bass and guitar is enhanced by
acoustics of the East Side Sound recording studio that meet the audiophile standards that Newvelle has set for all their recordings. Bass is warm and woody, guitar fingering is “felt” as well as heard, and Stevens’ breathing is part of the vocal experience. Marc Urselli is once again handling the recording and mixing duties.
Raw emotion is the constant here. “What Reason Could I Give?” is a somber confessional with the lyric “what reason could I give to live—only that I love you.” Ruggiero’s guitar backing is dreamy and romantic. Becca’s operatic range is shown on Mingus’ “Portrait.” Chris Tordini’s walking bass lines are a counterpoint to Stevens’ soaring voice on the standard, “If I Should Lose You” and you feel her sense of fear of losing her lover.
Hampton’s “Midnight Sun” follows and the lyric“ and yet when you were gone, there was still some stardust on my sleeve” shows the “wearing your heart on your sleeve” vibe to be ever present.
Perhaps the most heart tugging of all the songs explored here is found on “My Funny Valentine.” The liner notes share that Becca’s dying grandmother requested that this standard be recorded when she was asked by Becca to choose a favorite song to be included on this release. It’s as moving as any vocal rendition that I have heard.
The saying “If it wasn’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all” is explored with whimsy on “Everything Happens to Me.” Stevens’ rendition is both light and frothy, and would be perfect for a Broadway stage. “Prelude to a Kiss” from Ellington has Greg Ruggiero on guitar deftly caressing the melody while Becca uses space in her delivery like that shown by Shirley Horn.
Chris Tordini has the closer, “Peace” as a bass solo, and its brooding low register timbre is memorable.
This is the first vocal driven release from Newvelle and it shows they continue to be unpredictably creative with their releases. I’ll look forward to what’s next…
What Reason Could I Give?
If I Should Lose You
My Funny Valentine
Everything Happens to Me
Prelude to a Kiss