Ezra Weiss – The Shirley Horn Suite – Roark Records, 58:39 **** ½:
(Ezra Weiss – composer, piano; Shirley Nanette – vocals; Corcoran Holt – bass; Steve Williams – drums)
Ezra Weiss was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona. Ezra was active in community theater as an actor and musical director. He graduated from high school and moved to Ohio to attend Oberlin Conservatory of Music. He studied composition with Wendell Logan and piano with Neal Creque. Ezra formed the jazz sextet Blues Connotation in 2001. He received a Bachelor of Music in Jazz Composition and moved to Portland, Oregon. In Portland he continued to lead Blues Connotation that later changed names to the Ezra Weiss Sextet. Ezra taught at Beaverton Arts and Communication Magnet Academy, Self Enhancement Inc., Western Oregon Jazz Camp and Northwest Children’s Theater. 2002 he recorded and later released his debut CD “The Five A.M. Strut” featuring Michael Philip Mossman, Antonio Hart, Kelly Roberge, Leon Lee Dorsey and Billy Hart. He has since released four more CDs including this one, The Shirley Horn Suite. Ezra has composed and/or arranged music for Billy Hart, Thara Memory, Rob Scheps Big Band, Leon Lee Dorsey, Stan Bock and Renato Caranto among others. He has taught at the Northwest Children’s Theater and Portland State University in Portland, Oregon.
Shirley Nanette is a Northwest diva well known to the Portland, Oregon jazz scene. She has sung at many music festivals in the Northwest and appeared at several symphony concerts in different cities in the United States as guest soloist. She has sung several times with the Oregon Symphony and it was my delight to see her perform with said symphony on a special production of “Jimmie and Friends” – a jazz and blues concert.
The Shirley Horn Suite is a tribute to the great pianist/vocalist Shirley Horn by Ezra. He started writing it after Shirley’s passing in 2005. Ezra has indicated she is one of his heroes and a major influence on how he thinks about music. When I heard the first song, “I Wish I’d Met You” composed by Ezra I was thrilled with the slow opening of the piano to be joined in a few bars by Shirley Nanette and thought “this is a real winner”. They are joined by a slow bass line from Corcoran Holt and the brushes of Steve Williams’ snare. “The Great City” is next with the piano trio and threw me for the first few bars. It sounded very much like the opening to another song “Killer Joe” but moves out into the regular piece written by Curtis Lewis. It is an easy-going moving style jazz piece I found delightful with each member talking instrumentally with each other. “Shirley Horn’s sound of Love” is a slower delight with a Latin rhythm on bass and drums punctuating the vocals of Shirley Nanette on this Ezra Weiss composition. “Blues for Shirley” is another Ezra special composition with a bluesy sound in a quiet way that gives a feeling of swaying to the walking of the bass and piano together. “I Love You Porgy” by George Gershwin has a very quiet nice slow moving sound by Ezra. It definitely makes it sound like the love song in spite of no vocals.
Shirley Nanette sings “Now That You Mention It”, an Ezra tune very handily composed. It is another of those steady moderate walk-along-the-avenue type songs reminiscent of the sound of Shirley Horn. “Estate” brought tears to my eyes as I remembered hearing Shirley Horn play this, and in my mind I could hear her voice singing in a soft way “Estate” (eh-stah-tey) in spite of it only being the trio with no vocal. “Something Happens To Me” is a Jack Segal/Marvin Fisher composition. Ezra picks up the tempo on this nice little tune that breaks loose into that wonderful walking piano/bass tempo accented by drummer Steve Williams on cymbal and snare with sticks. “May the Most You Wish For” another Ezra Weiss composition is the closer of the album. It starts very quietly with solo piano then joined by Shirley Nanette. It is a quiet sort of a benediction to what you have heard and kind of a pastel painting of life of the past and a wish for the future.
This album is a splendid uniting of four great musicians. Shirley Nanette does not sing just like Shirley Horn. She has her style but at times I hear the soft singing of Horn which is I am sure what was sought for by Nanette.
TrackList: I Wish I’d Met You; The Great City; Shirley Horn’s Sound of Love; Blues for Shirley; I Love You Porgy; Now That You Mention It; Estate; Something Happens to Me; May the Most You Wish For.
– – Tim Taylor