The always eclectic Maria Muldaur, whose previous albums have paid tribute to Shirley Temple and blues women of the '20s, takes another musical detour in this collection of songs associated with Peggy Lee. In addition to her cool, sexy, relaxed voice, Lee was arguably more talented than other vocalists from her era. As a songwriter she co-penned some of her own material, including the swinging "I'm Gonna Go Fishin'" with Duke Ellington, which features the witty double entendres that spice several other songs. Muldaur possesses a similar ability to purr ("Some Cats Know") or sizzle (an opening tour de force of "Fever" and "Black Coffee") without breaking a sweat. So this collection of 12 tracks, backed by a talented yet restrained eight-piece band, is a natural extension of her vocal strengths. The stylish, retro arrangements include vibes and big-band-styled horn charts that sound as authentic as if they were recorded in the '30s. Even though there are some finger-popping swing numbers (a zippy duet with Dan Hicks on Ted Shapiro's "Winter Weather" is especially peppy), a late-night, languid blues-jazz vibe dominates.
Winter Morning Walks is the first partnership between Schneider and Upshaw, bringing together two preeminent figures in jazz and classical music. Schneider has been commissioned to compose for jazz orchestras and artists all over the world, has won two GRAMMY Awards and has been nominated for several more. Writing for TIME Magazine, Terry Teachout said, "To call Schneider the most important woman in jazz is missing the point two ways. She's a major composer-period." Upshaw was also deemed "one of the most consequential performers of our time" by the LA TIMES, is a multiple GRAMMY winner and MacArthur Fellow, and has performed at the Metropolitan Opera over 300 times. In 2004 Schneider pioneered the fan-funding model by becoming the first artist to sign with ArtistShare® to release 'Concert In The Garden,' the first web-exclusive recording to win a GRAMMY.
Norwegian folk musician Sinikka Langeland, singer and player of the kantele (the Finnish table harp) is a distinctly non-traditional traditionalist, redefining "folk" in successive projects. 'Maria's Song' finds her in the company of two distinguished classical musicians - organist Kare Nordstoga and "giant of the Nordic viola" Lars Anders Tomter - and on a mission to restore Marian texts to sacred music, weaving folk melodies in between the timeless strains of J S Bach. Langeland made a lot of friends with her sparkling ECM debut Starflowers: "There are jewels everywhere on this arresting example of ego-free music-making. One of the albums of this or any other year" raved the Irish Times. Where Starflowers brought Langeland into the orbit of jazz improvisers, Maria's Song is a meeting and cross referencing of folk and 'classical' energies, and also a righting of historical 'injustice': Religious folk songs are amongst the most distinctive elements of the Norwegian folk tradition, yet the Virgin Mary rarely appears in them. Once a much-worshipped figure in the Far North she was, as Sinikka puts it, "reformed" away in 1537, so this album brings Maria back into the music. It was recorded in the beautiful Nidaros Cathedral of Trondheim, famous for its Baroque organ heard here.
Maria-Joào Pires has recorded these concertos before, for Erato, and this experience shows in assured playing. In K449 I find the sound of the Vienna Philharmonic, recorded in Vienna's Musikverein, too big: the string section seems large and the hall over-reverberant. Furthermore, the piano sounds plummy, and even those who dislike the fortepiano may question its suitability. With these reservations, one can enjoy Pires's deft and sensitive performance, without strong individuality but offering consistent intelligence, and the brisk finale shows her and Abbado at their best. Even so, this is a romanticized slow movement; the gooey orchestral sound does not help, but the pianist is also partly responsible in a way that I have sometimes noted in her performances of Mozart's sonatas.