Jazz singer/songwriter Michael Franks is an artist most jazz fans feel strongly about one way or another. His unique, romantic poet-cum-laid-back hipster approach to jazz signing is breezy, light, and languid. It's also uniquely his own, though deeply influenced by Brazilian jazz, bossa, and samba. Time Together, his first recording of new material in five years – and his debut for Shanachie – is unlikely to change anyone's opinion of him, but that doesn't mean this is a rote recording. Time Together is an airy, groove-ridden summer travelog that ranges from St. Tropez and New York to Paris, France, and Egypt; it journeys through the nostalgic past and finds space in the present moment, with cleverly notated, languorous, ironic observations about life. Franks split the production and arranging duties between Charles Blenzig, Gil Goldstein, Chuck Loeb, Scott Petito, and Mark Egan. The rest of the international cast on this polished 11-song set includes old friends and new faces David Spinozza, Mike Mainieri, David Mann, Eric Marienthal, Till Brönner, Alex Spiagin, Jerry Marotta, Billy Kilson, Romero Lubambo, and backing vocalist Veronica Nunn.
Nina Simone Sings the Blues, issued in 1967, was her RCA label debut, and was a brave departure from the material she had been recording for Phillips. Indeed, her final album for that label, High Priestess of Soul, featured the singer, pianist, and songwriter fronting a virtual orchestra. Here, Simone is backed by a pair of guitarists (Eric Gale and Rudy Stevenson), bassist (Bob Bushnell), drummer (Bernard "Pretty" Purdie), organist (Ernie Hayes), and harmonica player who doubled on saxophone (Buddy Lucas). Simone handled the piano chores. The song selection is key here. Because for all intents and purposes this is perhaps the rawest record Simone ever cut. It opens with the sultry, nocturnal, slow-burning original "Do I Move You," which doesn't beg the question but demands an answer: "Do I move you?/Are you willin'?/Do I groove you?/Is it thrillin'?/Do I soothe you?/Tell the truth now?/Do I move you?/Are you loose now?/The answer better be yeah…It pleases me…." As the guitarists slip and slide around her husky vocal, a harmonica wails in the space between, and Simone's piano is the authority, hard and purposely slow.
Although the music of Norah Jones continues to blend pop, soul, folk, and country with a seasoning of jazz, her third album for Blue Note is the first where she's written (or collaborated on) all the material. Beneath the smooth surface lie darker strains on the album-opening "Wish I Could" (about a boyfriend lost to war), intimations of mortality in "The Sun Doesn't Like You," and the post-election horrors of "My Dear Country." The last seems to channel the inspiration of Brecht/Weill, while the equally bleak "Sinkin' Soon" is set to a jaunty Dixieland rag. Throughout, Jones's vocal intimacy and melodic warmth remain as disarmingly understated as ever. The soulful "Thinking of You," the countryish "Wake Me Up," and the syncopated "Be My Somebody" reflect the captivating style of her previous work. Although too much in the same midtempo mode becomes a dreamy lull, cut by cut, Jones's voice is irresistible.