Review of “JazzDance” by Scott Yanow

Rocio Guitard, a very versatile singer and a highly respected educator based in the San Francisco Bay area, recorded JazzDance for two specific reasons. While her earlier recordings, Mosaique and Windmills, found her singing her originals in styles that included pop, World Music, jazz and soul, JazzDance features her transforming jazz standards into new music. In addition to the love that she feels for jazz, Ms. Guitard felt that many jazz musicians were doing themselves a disservice by playing overly intellectual music for other musicians, by not seeming to have fun when they played, and not bothering to involve the audience. Unlike during the swing era, jazz listeners are expected to sit still and be quiet.

But JazzDance is something quite different, an often-rollicking set of passionate and exciting music. All of it is fun and much of it is danceable yet it is never simplistic or overly predictable. In fact, many of the arrangements were spontaneous and they are filled with quite a few surprises. For this memorable outing, Rocio is joined by her regular quartet of keyboardist-arranger Greg Sankovich (her co-producer), bassist Jerry Burdick, drummer Carlos Almeida and Lincoln Adler who plays all of the reeds. In addition, such guests as Ross Wilson (who doubles on trumpet and trombone), cellist Kris Yenney, and percussionists Michael Spiro and Alex Marino are major assets, making their presence felt, adding color and spontaneity to the music.

After a brief unaccompanied “Intro” that has Rocio welcoming listeners to the CD, “Foodie Toonz” is a humorous mixture of “Frim Fram Sauce,” “Peel Me A Grape” and “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.” The words of one song lead logically to the next one and back with the exciting scat singing, making this piece quite heated. Charlie Parker’s “Confirmation” is stretched out beyond bebop with Rocio’s overdubbed voices swinging the tune in a very contemporary fashion. “Respect” is atmospheric, jazzier than other versions, and gradually becomes quite exuberant.

Cole Porter’s “Night And Day” is given a complete transformation. The lyrics are still present but the dreamy atmosphere, unusual arrangement, and modernization make it sound like a recently composed ballad. Rocio’s rhythmic ballad “Just Because,” which should become a standard, is a contemporary love song that is quite catchy. Listen to how Rocio and Lincoln Adler echo each other during the closing vamp. Bob Dorough’s “Devil May Care” is slowed down and, during its wild climax, Rocio wordlessly engages in close interplay with the other musicians.

Annie Ross’ “Twisted” is always performed in a conventional bebop fashion, at least until now. The funky rhythms that Rocio and her musicians add to the song divorce it from bebop and give “Twisted” fresh life as a lowdown blues. “Put The Blame On Mame” was immortalized by Rita Hayworth in the film Gilda. This version starts out sounding tinny like an old record before it emerges in modern day as a soulful and sensual number. The late 1940s r&b hit “Harlem Nocturne,” usually a device for emotional tenor players, is turned into an atmospheric ballad with a light floating rhythm.

The climax of the CD is “Sing Sing Sung,” which is quite a tour-de-force for Rocio. She sings all of the horn parts from the Benny Goodman big band hit “Sing Sing Sing” as an a-cappella showcase. Few other singers could put on such a display so successfully. “Weathered Coffee,” a duet by Rocio and keyboardist Greg Sankovich, is a torch song that finds them combining together “Black Coffee” and “Stormy Weather” to create a new song. The brief “Reprise” perfectly sums up the program.

Throughout JazzDance, Rocio Guitard shows that she is quite a powerhouse, one who has a wide range, a beautiful voice and the intuitive ability to be a major jazz singer. This set is highly recommended.

- Scott Yanow, author of ten books including The Jazz Singers, Swing, Jazz On Film and Jazz On Record 1917-76

Comments are closed.