The SSJ All-Stars: "From California With Love"

September 2011

From California with LoveJazz Artists Perform for Japanese Earthquake-Tsunami Relief

Format: CD

Musical Performance
Sound Quality
Overall Enjoyment

Until this disc arrived two days ago, I was going to write about a Memphis blues album today, but From California With Love was so professionally accomplished and made such an impression that I need to tell you about it first. It's a compilation disc, which would normally brand it as uneven, both in performance and recorded sound, but that's not the case here. Each song is delivered with the utmost artistry, and each is recorded in intimate, detailed sound with a huge amount of warmth. There's a notable absence of heavy percussion and histrionics. Most of the songs are accompanied only by piano, with the addition of acoustic bass here and there. Some might call it "soft jazz," which certainly has its place when done so well.

Things get off to a splendid start as Sue Raney, with Alan Broadbent on piano, sings a medley of "Blue Skies" and "On a Clear Day." Raney has a voice that immediately conjures up feelings of warmth and sunlight. I really think this is the best version of "Blue Skies" I've ever heard. Raney sings "On a Clear Day" with equal expertise and feeling, but let’s face it -- the song belongs to Barbra. Pianist Broadbent encores with a sly and ingenious version of "Sweet and Lovely."

Getting back to vocals, Johnny Holiday offers an uptempo, radiant version of "Strike up the Band," which is followed by one of the most beautiful and moving tracks on the disc, Leslie Lewis's wistful version of "Skylark." Since that song is liable to make you glad to be alive, you'll find it appropriate that it precedes "Here's to Life," crooned to perfection by Kurt Reichenbach. Skipping a few that I'll let you discover for yourself, we come to Tierney Sutton and "Beautiful Love." Sutton has often seemed overly wrought and hard-sell to me, but here she applies just the right amount of drama to a lyrical and intense performance.

All the proceeds from this album go to Japanese earthquake and tsunami relief. The last two songs on the disc seem especially tailored to the cause -- Frankie Randall's "The Wave" precedes Rodgers and Hammerstein's "You’ll Never Walk Alone," sung with genuine emotion by Pinky Winters, with Jim Cox at the piano and Tom Warrington on bass.

The overall tone of this disc is romantic and lush, but the performers never cross the line into grandstanding. They just sing, as only they can, and that's more than enough. Treat yourself to this fireside, lamplight collection and help someone in need as well. That's a real win-win situation.

Be sure to listen to: Jim Cox, who so effectively accompanies Pinky Winters and Kurt Reichenbach, contributes a solo piano version of the Lennon-McCartney tune "We Can Work It Out." I'd never thought of this song without the vocals, but in Cox's jazzy arrangement it works just fine.

. . . Rad Bennett