If your idea of a good listen is a great jazz singer with a phenomenal band, APRIL by April Varner is for you!

Cellar Music

April Varner – Vocals; Caelan Cardello – Piano; Reuben Rogers – Bass; Russell Malone – Guitar; Miguel Russell – Drums; Benny Benack III – Vocals and Trumpet; Theo Bleckmann – Vocals

After winter winds down, the month of April debuts spring. I am thrilled with another debut, APRIL, by singer April Varner.

The timing for this wonderful debut seems perfect. Varner won the 2023 International Ella Fitzgerald Vocal Competition. She graduated from the Manhattan School of Music with a Masters degree in Jazz Voice Performance. She studied with jazz singers Tierney Sutton, Sachal Vasandani, Jane Monheit, and Kurt Elling.

APRIL’s eleven tunes are standards, a couple of rock classics, two originals, and all with April in the title. April Varner handpicked some incredible band mates. Pianist Caelan Cardello has performed with Christian McBride, Jimmy Cobb, Ravi Coltrane, Ingred Jensen, and Dee Dee Bridgewater. Bassist Reuben Rogers has played with Wynton Marsalis, Joshua Rodman, Mulgrew Miller, Charles Lloyd, and others. Guitarist Russell Malone has many albums as a leader and too many to count as a sideman. Drummer Miguel Russell attended the same school as Varner, the Manhattan School of Music. Saxophonist Dayna Stephens studied under Terence Blanchard, Wayne Shorter, and Herbie Hancock. He now teaches at the Manhattan School of Music. Benny Benack III is not only a virtuoso on the trumpet, but also a great singer.

Varner wrote the lyrics for ‘April Blues, ’a duet with bassist Rogers. The melodic basslines and Varner’s vocals make for a soulful conversation. Varner likes short endings. She doesn’t drag out her phrases. Her articulation is crisp and precise. She plays with dynamics. She can go from subtle to almost a gospel shout, often in the same phrase.

It’s almost a full band on ’I’ll Remember April.’ Varner wrote the vocalese lyrics. Benny Benack III sings too. He is as dynamic as Varner. This reminded me of Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross, a group I loved.

Caelan Cardello on piano, along with Russell Malone on guitar, introduce Pat Metheny’s ‘Joy of April.’ Varner wrote the lyrics for this beautiful song. She sounds comfortable singing the high notes. Annie Ross did as well. Jon Hendricks always had Annie sing the high trumpet parts.

It’s just Russell Malone and Varner on Paul Simon’s ‘April Come She Will.’ The pairing is sublime. It still sounds like a Simon & Garfunkel song, but Varner and Malone own it. April Varner has such a versatile vocal range. She transitions from resonant lows to ethereal highs and makes it sound so easy.

Dean Martin had a hit with the nostalgic ballad, ‘April Again.’ Varner and her crew breathed new life into the song. Dayna Stephens delivers an electrifying soprano sax solo.

Guest singer Theo Bleckmann helps out on ‘Dear April.’ He also produced this one track, and it is magical. I think Caelan Cardello is on a Fender Rhodes. He sounds great, and so does the rest of the band.

If your idea of a good listen is a great jazz singer with a phenomenal band, APRIL by April Varner is for you!