Various Artists: Voices of Concord Jazz: Live at Montreux

Tim O'Neil

Various Artists

Voices of Concord Jazz: Live at Montreux

Label: Concord
US Release Date: 2004-05-11
UK Release Date: 2004-06-21

Although I am absolutely certain this was not what the fine folks at Concord had in mind when conceiving this project, I have to say that the overall effect of listening to two discs of the world's greatest jazz vocalists in concert makes me extremely nonplussed to return to the world of conventional pop. Of course, being the inveterate pophound that I am, I would be the last person in the world to dream of reintroducing any of those hoary old Manichean dichotomies between modern pop and, well, everything else that dominated academia and criticism for much of the last century. But still, considering the absolute disproportion of vocal talent on display here to the vocal talent on display in most modern rock, pop and R&B acts, I can only come to the summary conclusion that no-one cares anymore.

Modern pop singers just don't know how to sing, and it seems as if they don't feel the loss. Every young female singer on the charts today learned to sing primarily from listening to the radio, and it shows in the fact that the very same stylistic deficiencies and vocal shortcomings practiced by Whitney and Mariah's generation are retained and magnified by the Britneys and the Christinas and the Beyonces of this generation. Does no one bother to learn how to sing anymore, and I don't mean just singing along with The Bodyguard soundtrack?

Well, a few besides just opera singers do, and thanks to labels like Concord, they have a home.

These two discs were recorded at the 2003 Montreux Jazz Festival, in celebration of the venerable label's thirtieth anniversary. The disc begins with three tracks performed by the young prodigy Peter Cincotti. He's got an agile, powerful voice, and he sings with the confidence of someone at least ten years older. In another 10 years, he'll probably have a voice for the ages. Although this is primarily a showcase for the performer's vocal abilities, Cincotti also has a pretty fierce way with the piano, as his energetic ten-minute interpretation of "Sway" will readily attest.

Karrin Allyson delivers an extraordinary performance, and what she perhaps lacks in range she more than more makes up for with sultry soul. Her performance of "Little Boat" handily navigates the challenges presented by the song's spry bossa nova.

Monica Mancini -- yes, Henry's daughter -- lacks Allyson's sensual edge, but her fragile, breathy alto is well-suited to tracks such as her father's "Charade" and the tremulous "A Day in the Life of a Fool".

Not without reason is Diane Schuur considered heir, in some quarters, to Ella Fitzgerald's incomparable legacy. On a stage filled with some of modern jazz's strongest talents, she makes everyone else seem positively sick. She takes a phrase in her mouth and possesses it in every conceivable manner, enunciating every syllable perfectly even as her incredibly strong voice travels up and down the scale. For a low alto, she's got a simply remarkable range, and much like Bjork, she has no qualms about showcasing this range simply for the hell of it. There are few singers alive who could perform a track like "Deedle's Blues" with anywhere near the same degree of effortless virtuosity. But she's not just a showoff: her duet with the significantly less agile Allyson on "Stay Away from Bill" shows off a facile ear for harmony, to the decided benefit of her partner. There's not a bad singer on this disc, but likewise, there's not a one to hold a candle to Schuur, and her scant three tracks go by all to quickly.

Curtis Stigers is a likeable enough singer, but he suffers from the same problem that many other modern male jazz vocalists seem incapable of bypassing. That is, he seems almost comically insincere. I wonder why it is that so many male vocalists are unable to extricate themselves from the shadow of Sinatra and his ilk. Even vocalists with much more verve or attitude than Sinatra seem to have his token callow disregard hardwired into their DNA. It's annoying, is what it is.

Nnenna Freelon certainly deserves her reputation among the vanguard of young jazz talents. She's got an unerring sense of swing that conjures up an almost frenetic mental image of her performances. She sounds like she's exhausting herself, and yet she can wail through a demanding number like "Better Than Anything", and then turn on a dime to do a fantastic job of the insanely nuanced "The Lady Sings the Blues", undoubtedly one of the most demanding songs in the entire jazz canon.

On the heels of both Schuur and Freelon, Patti Austin's enthusiastic performance almost feels anticlimactic, but there's enough talent in her crystalline voice to put any negative comparisons to rest. Her climactic performance of Ella Fitzgerald's signature "How High the Moon" puts a fitting capstone on her set. There are no shortage of female vocalists who have tried to fill Fitzgerald's shoes over the years, and Austin certainly doesn't embarrass herself in trying.

There's a group number at the end, a reprise of "How High the Moon" with every one of the preceding singers scatting as fast as they possibly can. I've never been a fan of scatting, but still, it's hard not to appreciate it in this context. These are some of the very best jazz singers in the world, and we are uniquely privileged to be allowed to listen as they have the time of their lives.





'Everything's Gonna Be Okay' Is  Better Than Okay

The first season of Freeform's Everything's Gonna Be Okay is a funny, big-hearted love letter to family.


Jordan Rakei Breathes New Life Into Soul Music

Jordan Rakei is a restless artistic spirit who brings R&B, jazz, hip-hop, and pop craft into his sumptuous, warm music. Rakei discusses his latest album and new music he's working on that will sound completely different from everything he's done so far.


Country Music's John Anderson Counts the 'Years'

John Anderson, who continues to possess one of country music's all-time great voices, contemplates life, love, mortality, and resilience on Years.


Rory Block's 'Prove It on Me' Pays Tribute to Women's Blues

The songs on Rory Block's Prove It on Me express the strength of female artists despite their circumstances as second class citizens in both the musical world and larger American society.


The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 3, Echo & the Bunnymen to Lizzy Mercier Descloux

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part three with Echo & the Bunnymen, Cabaret Voltaire, Pere Ubu and more.


Wendy Carlos: Musical Pioneer, Reluctant Icon

Amanda Sewell's vastly informative new biography on musical trailblazer Wendy Carlos is both reverent and honest.


British Folk Duo Orpine Share Blissful New Song "Two Rivers" (premiere)

Orpine's "Two Rivers" is a gently undulating, understated folk song that provides a welcome reminder of the enduring majesty of nature.


Blesson Roy Gets "In Tune With the Moon" (premiere)

Terry Borden was a member of slowcore pioneers Idaho and a member of Pete Yorn's band. Now he readies the debut of Blesson Roy and shares "In Tune With the Moon".


In 'Wandering Dixie', Discovering the Jewish South Is Part of Discovering Self

Sue Eisenfeld's Wandering Dixie is not only a collection of dispatches from the lost Jewish South but also a journey of self-discovery.


Bill Withers and the Curse of the Black Genius

"Lean on Me" singer-songwriter Bill Withers was the voice of morality in an industry without honor. It's amazing he lasted this long.


Jeff Baena Explores the Intensity of Mental Illness in His Mystery, 'Horse Girl'

Co-writer and star Alison Brie's unreliable narrator in Jeff Baena's Horse Girl makes for a compelling story about spiraling into mental illness.


Pokey LaFarge Hits 'Rock Bottom' on His Way Up

Americana's Pokey LaFarge performs music in front of an audience as a way of conquering his personal demons on Rock Bottom.


Joni Mitchell's 'Shine' Is More Timely and Apt Than Ever

Joni Mitchell's 2007 eco-nightmare opus, Shine is more timely and apt than ever, and it's out on vinyl for the first time.


'Live at Carnegie Hall' Captures Bill Withers at His Grittiest and Most Introspective

Bill Withers' Live at Carnegie Hall manages to feel both exceptionally funky and like a new level of grown-up pop music for its time.


Dual Identities and the Iranian Diaspora: Sepehr Debuts 'Shaytoon'

Electronic producer Sepehr discusses his debut album releasing Friday, sparing no detail on life in the Iranian diaspora, the experiences of being raised by ABBA-loving Persian rug traders, and the illegal music stores that still litter modern Iran.


From the Enterprise to the Discovery: The Decline and Fall of Utopian Technology and the Liberal Dream

The technology and liberalism of recent series such as Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard, and the latest Doctor Who series have more in common with Harry Potter's childish wand-waving than Gene Roddenberry's original techno-utopian dream.


The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 2, The B-52's to Magazine

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part two with the Cure, Mission of Burma, the B-52's and more.


Emily Keener's "Boats" Examines Our Most Treasured Relationships (premiere)

Folk artist Emily Keener's "Boats" offers a warm look back on the road traveled so far—a heartening reflection for our troubled times.


Paul Weller - "Earth Beat" (Singles Going Steady)

Paul Weller's singular modes as a soul man, guitar hero, and techno devotee converge into a blissful jam about hope for the earth on "Earth Beat".


On Point and Click Adventure Games with Creator Joel Staaf Hästö

Point and click adventure games, says Kathy Rain and Whispers of a Machine creator Joel Staaf Hästö, hit a "sweet spot" between puzzles that exercise logical thinking and stories that stimulate emotions.

Collapse Expand Reviews
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.