Timeless Grooves Records RA360
Rebecca Angel (vocals); Jason Miles (keyboards, drum programming, Moog synth bass); Dean Brown (guitar); Romero Lubambo (guitar); Ira Siegel (guitar); Nir Felder (guitar); Christian Ver Halen (guitar); Jonah Prendergast (guitar); Dennis Angel (trumpet, flugelhorn); Ada Rovatti (tenor sax); Hailey Niswanger (alto sax); Gottfried Stoger (soprano sax); Jay Rodriguez (flute); Reggie Washington (bass); Gene Lake (drums); Brian Dunne (drums); Bashiri Johnson (percussion); Mark Rivera (congas); Jimmy Bralower (drum programming, percussion); Cyro Baptista (percussion); Richie Morales (percussion); Maya Azucena (vocals); Pamela Driggs (vocals); Butterscotch (beat-boxing); Steven Wolf (drum programming)
Recorded at various studios. No recording dates
This album has been a long time in the making. Producer/keyboardist Jason Miles (whose cv includes Miles Davis, Marcus Miller, David Sanborn and George Benson) has known vocalist Rebecca Angel since she was 15, which was some ten years ago. Over that time, Miles has nurtured her talent and provided strong guidance. Rebecca Angel has also had much support from her family – her father Dennis introduced her to jazz and plays trumpet and flugelhorn on this album. Her husband, guitarist Jonah Prendergast, inspired much of the album; co-composed one song, plays on one tune, helped engineer the album and even took the cover photograph.
Love, Life Choices, her first album (Angel released an EP, What We Had, in 2018) is a mix of originals, covers from the worlds of jazz, pop and Brazilian music, as well as a radical interpretation of a famous piano composition. Miles has assembled an impressive cast of musicians that includes guitarists Dean Brown and Romero Lubambo; bassist Reggie Washington and drummer Gene Lake.
Before we look at the music, a word or two about the CD album cover. In these days of streaming and downloads, it’s good to see a lot of care going into the packaging of physical products. The CD comes in a gatefold digipak emblazoned with what looks like an impressionist painting, with soft, pastel colours – it looks very classy. There’s also a four-page booklet with liner notes from music writer and editor Jeff Tamarkin, and acknowledgements from Angel and Miles.
As is the case with many albums produced under Covid-19 conditions, the musician’s parts were recorded in multiple studios, including various home studios, but this does not detract from the album’s cohesive feel – it sounds as if everyone was in the room together. The first track is a cover of Stephen Still’s protest song ‘For What It’s Worth,’ a 1966 hit for Buffalo Springfield. Here, it’s arranged as mid-tempo jazz-funk number, with a cracking opening drum fill and a heavy backbeat played by Gene Lake; a funk guitar riff from Dean Brown, and a lovely alternating chord played by Miles on keyboards. Angel’s vocals are light and delicate, but possess a lot of character, feeling and technique (listen to how she enunciates ‘here’ ‘clear,’ and ‘there,’ stretching them like a gently-tugged elastic band). Dennis Angel’s trumpet stabs punctuate the track, and Brown plays a soulful guitar solo soaked in reverb. It’s a fine cover. Erik Satie’s Gymnopédies are some of the best-known piano pieces, and Angel has composed a new song, ‘Till Now,’ based on Gymnopédie No.1, adding her own lyrics to create a reflective reinterpretation that works well. ‘Side By Side,’ a tune composed by Angel, Miles, Prendergast and Antoinette Clinton (aka Butterscotch) is my favourite, a joyous-sounding song with a chugging beat (provided by Butterscotch’s beatboxing and a drum machine), blasts of flugelhorn, samples of plucked violin strings and sensual vocals – I’d love to hear an extended version of this tune.
The Grover Washington Jr/Bill Withers classic ‘Just The Two Of Us’ is a hard act to follow, but with Miles in charge, it’s in good hands. Miles not only worked with the late saxophonist (check out the Marcus Miller composed and performed track ‘Summer Nights’ from Washington Jr’s 1987 album Strawberry Moon’ – Miles did the programming), but in 2006 also produced a well-received tribute album, To Grover, With Love, featuring artists such as Ronnie Laws, Herbie Mann, George Duke, Chaka Khan, Joe Sample, and Randy and Michael Brecker. Angel delivers a tasteful cover, with the tenor sax lines and solo adeptly played by Ada Rovatti (whose resume includes Mike Stern, John McLaughlin, Herbie Hancock and Randy Brecker). Angel’s impressive performance includes scatting and wordless vocals.
Bob Marley’s reggae hit ‘Waiting In Vain’ has Angel singing lead and background vocals, with Maya Azucena adding vocal harmonies, and Nir Felder delivering a fiery guitar solo. Two numbers by Antonio Carlos Jobim are covered. The bossa nova ‘Corcovado’ has been performed by everyone from Stan Getz to Miles Davis to Tony Bennett, and this version has Angel singing with great feeling, as well as a fine guitar solo from Romero Lubambo and Dennis Angel’s floating flugelhorn lines. ‘Waters of March’ has staccato-like lyric structure which requires some tricky scanning, but Angel proves well up to the task.
The vocals on Sade’s ‘Maureen,’ a tribute to a close friend who died, capture the emotion contained within the lyrics – pain, regret and longing. The album ends with two compositions by Angel. ‘Thoughts and Prayers’ is a reflective piece with lyrics that are a wake-up call to all of us, ‘People dying in the street/Have we lost humanity/How much more can we take/Pain and heartbreak.’ The closing number is the uplifting ‘Summer Song (Electro Remix),’ with a bossa nova feel and a silky soprano sax solo from Gottfried Stoger. So, has this album been worth the wait? Most definitely – there is much to enjoy on this record, and there is no doubt that Rebecca Angel has talent, chops and virtuosity. I look forward to her next album.