Monika Herzig – Monika Herzig’s Sheroes – Whaling City Sound 

by | Apr 15, 2018 | Jazz CD Reviews

Support, confidence and empowerment from an all-woman band.

Monika Herzig – Monika Herzig’s Sheroes [TrackList follows] – Whaling City Sound [Dist. by Naxos] wcs106, 58:27 [3/23/18] ****:

(Monika Herzig – piano, Fender Rhodes (track 3), composer, arranger; Ingrid Jensen – trumpet; Jennifer Vincent – bass; Ada Rovatti – tenor saxophone; Jamie Baum – flute; Reut Regev – trombone; Leni Stern – guitar; Mayra Casales – percussion; Rosa Avila – drums)

Being a professional musician is no easy task. Musicians often balance family life, concerts and touring, and finding the time to write music and record material. Being a woman in jazz is also a struggle. Jazz can be like other entertainment and business arenas. There can be fewer opportunities for women. Less female mentors. And sexism can be as much a problem as in other work areas. Which brings us to Monika Herzig’s Sheroes, an ensemble which came together for Herzig’s 2014 release, The Whole World in Her Hands. The ongoing Sheroes project is an indication of better consideration for women in jazz. In the CD liner notes, Howard Mandel explains, “That’s exactly what Monika and company does: present a model of empowerment with results that are good for everyone. Wherever you are on the gender continuum, you’ll like it.” One of Herzig’s beliefs is that jazz should be something which speaks to everybody. She says, “It comes out of my advocacy for women in jazz. I’ve been doing this for a long time, and it’s still an upward battle.”

Herzig created quite a lineup for this hour-long effort which features nine players spread across ten tracks. Herzig arranged the music and penned four compositions. She is heard on piano on most tunes and switches to Fender Rhodes on one cut. On horns are trumpeter Ingrid Jensen; tenor saxophonist Ada Rovatti (Randy Brecker’s wife who took the place of the deceased Michael Brecker in Brecker Brothers gigs); and trombonist Reut Regev (who has contributed to albums by Groove Collective, Taylor Ho Bynum and others). The rhythm section consists of drummer Rosa Avila, percussionist Mayra Casales (credits include singer Carmen Lundy, guitarist Dave Stryker and others) and bassist Jennifer Vincent (who wrote one piece). Other members comprise flautist Jamie Baum (who authored one number) and guitarist Leni Stern (who brought one of her compositions to the band).

Herzig’s four tunes show her influences. The 5:22 opener “Time Again, D.B.” is dedicated to Herzig’s mentor, the late jazz educator and NEA Jazz Master David Baker. Herzig also did a book about Baker, Dr. David Baker – A Legacy in Music (2011). Baker’s hallmark was a layering of triple and duple meter. Thus, “Time Again, D.B.” has movement between meters. Highlights of “Time Again, D.B.” include Jensen’s trumpet soloing and Regev’s trombone improvising; memorable harmonies between trumpet, sax and flute; and Herzig’s piano break. The melancholy and narrative-slanted “Nancy Wilson Portrait” is a beautiful, unique ballad. The arrangement uses Wilson’s birthday (February 20, 1937) as a foundation. Herzig built the melody from the scale degrees 02201937. The upbeat, swinging “Just Another Day at the Office” reflects Herzig’s occasionally manic days at Indiana University, where she is a faculty member in Arts Administration and a senior lecturer in Arts Management. “Just Another Day at the Office” has blazing solo spotlights for Stern, Regev and Rovatti. The Latin jazz charmer, “Cantos,” has an effervescent charisma and Caribbean seasoning and displays the group’s panache and camaraderie.

The nonet redoes Stern’s “Bubbles,” lengthening it to almost eight minutes and adding more instrumental interplay than Stern did on her 1993 Like One album. Stern’s original focused on popular fusion as a template. This new interpretation has an African musical sensibility and a masterful call-and-response approach. Vincent’s affirmative “Song for C.C.” is energetic and fast-paced. It commemorates the life and eulogizes the tragic death of one of Vincent’s friends. The frictional, somewhat dissonant tonalities and shifting rhythms provide a tense undercurrent, particularly in the second half. Baum’s nearly seven-minute “Wayning” is a tribute to saxophonist Wayne Shorter. The slow to mid-tempo homage—which Baum has previously performed with other groups—illustrates Baum’s modernistic way with a blues arrangement and her ensemble compositional skills. The final number is Regev’s “I Am a Superstar.” This expressive cut mixes Regev’s inspirations including her Israeli roots, her long standing in the New York City jazz scene and other musical stimuli. “I Am a Superstar” concludes with women reciting a mantra related to equality.

The two covers were chosen to fit the overall concept. First is the Motown hit “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” taped October 2016 for the song’s 50th anniversary. In was a smash for Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell in 1967 and again in 1970 for Diana Ross. Herzig mentions in the CD liner notes that “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” celebrates overcoming obstacles. Herzig maintains a funky flavor with a groove-generating arrangement. She affixes a soulful fringe with the Fender Rhodes. Modern harmonies supply a contemporary frame. Flute and trombone are used to harmonize the melody. Stern slips in notable guitar. The icing on the cake is Vincent’s bass solo. The second cover is “House of the Rising Sun,” which was a rock success for the Animals in the 1960s. However, before it was a rock song it was a folk song done by Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, Nina Simone and many more. The lyrics in “House of the Rising Sun” concern a woman’s life gone wrong in New Orleans (typically read as a downfall into prostitution) and the woman imploring her sibling to avoid a similar fate. Herzig’s arrangement embodies the tune’s nuances, from Baum’s gentle flute to Stern’s slightly edgy guitar chords, as well as Herzig’s robust piano and Avila’s forceful drumming.

There are many ways to make changes. One method is by example. A group like Monika Herzig’s Sheroes demonstrates women can be a paradigm for other women in jazz as well as for girls who may have an interest in learning how to play jazz.

Time Again, D.B.
Ain’t No Mountain High Enough
Nancy Wilson Portrait
Song for C.C.
Just Another Day at the Office
The House of the Rising Sun
I Am a Superstar

—Doug Simpson

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