Piano Mastery, Trinidadian Trumpet, Singing Apes: New Jazz

Jul 27, 2013
Originally published on July 29, 2013 8:26 am

It's been too long since we simply sat up and pointed out a few of the many new releases worth a set of ears. Luckily, the staff on weekends at All Things Considered thought the same. They invited me to sit down with host Jacki Lyden and play a few cuts for them.

Here's music from an elder statesman of piano, a trumpeter who understands creole music personally, a drummer who writes tunes with a payoff, and a singer in her early 20s with maturity and kick.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.


Once again, this is WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden. And it's time now for music.


LYDEN: That's the pianist Harold Mabern from a live recording he made just last year. It's one of the records that NPR music jazz blogger Patrick Jarenwattananon brought to our attention. Patrick, it is great to have you here with us. Welcome.


LYDEN: So tell me about this music, Harold Mabern. I - I'm in the presence, obviously, of a very talented piano player.

JARENWATTANANON: Indeed you are. Harold Mabern is one of those guys who came to New York in, say, late '50s, early '60s - around then - one of the golden ages of recorded jazz in some form. He played with a lot of the greats. He played with a band called the Jazztet with Art Farmer and Benny Golson. He was in Miles Davis' band for a little bit. This is an older song, but it's a new live recording.


JARENWATTANANON: This is the song "I'm Walking" that you may know as made famous by Fats Domino. And it was recorded at a small club called, well, Smalls. It's your typical New York City basement room. You know, you walk downstairs, except this one happens to have a house record label. So imagine this, you know, legendary pianist who's been around for the better part of half a century and just two other guys and 100 people. That's the sort of character that you see in this recording).


LYDEN: Harold Mabern, great soulful character to this. I suppose what we should expect from someone who's been to the "golden era of jazz," quote, unquote.

JARENWATTANANON: Absolutely. I mean, so many of those guys, I mean, once they're gone, they're gone. So we really do need to appreciate them while we still can. But, you know, I don't really like to give off the impression that those are the only musicians who are still making jazz. In fact, there's constantly influxes of new talent. And so I made sure to also cue up some music for you, Jacki, by some artists who are younger and whose music reflects that.

LYDEN: Oh, that's fantastic. What else have you brought with you?

JARENWATTANANON: Let's play something from a trumpeter named Etienne Charles.


LYDEN: Wow, it's beautiful.

JARENWATTANANON: Yeah. It's got this great tone and, you know, just - he's a fantastic trumpet player. And this, of course, is meant to be beautiful. It's a ballad. And if you didn't know it, you - it could really be any old tune. But Etienne Charles is originally from the island of Trinidad. So when he chose a ballad for this record, he chose a classic calypso, actually. It's a song called "Memories." It was made famous by a great calypsonian named Mighty Sparrow.


MIGHTY SPARROW: Every year somebody dear give us cause to shed a tear and mourn for they are gone.

JARENWATTANANON: The singer is reflecting on all these deceased musical heroes.


SPARROW: (Singing) Now, all that's left is a faint memory.

LYDEN: So I get it. This is the original calypso version, and Etienne Charles is doing a sort of jazz version.

JARENWATTANANON: More or less. Etienne also uses some sort of, like, characteristically island beats. He plays with some reggae beats elsewhere in this album. But that's more or less for this particular tune.


JARENWATTANANON: I like that he's infusing his jazz training to sort of investigate these things, this sort of cultural history that means something to him. He's also just a good trumpeter and a great arranger. And that means something, too, right?

LYDEN: I wouldn't take it away from him. It's great. That's Etienne Charles from his new album, "Creole Soul." And we're here with Patrick Jarenwattananon, a jazz producer at NPR Music, and he's playing us some of the new records that caught his attention recently. What else have you brought along, Patrick?

JARENWATTANANON: Jacki, here's a tune you might recognize, actually. Any kids out there might too.


LAUREN DESBERG: (Singing) Now, I'm the queen of the swingers, the jungle VIP. I've reached the top and had to stop, that's what's bothering me.

LYDEN: I couldn't miss that one if I tried - from "The Jungle Book," and I'm pretty sure that was sung by the dancing orangutan.

JARENWATTANANON: Yes, it is. In the original, the orangutan is Louie Prima, the great New Orleans bandleader. Obviously here, it's a young woman, and her name is Lauren Desberg.


DESBERG: (Singing) You will see it's true, an ape like me, can learn to be human too. Don't try to kid me, mancub, don't get in this too. What I desire is man's red fire, so I can be like you.

JARENWATTANANON: I'm new to Lauren's music, too, and this is really just a single she put up on the Internet. She's only got one EP, as far as I know. But there's really something quite pleasing about this. It's peppy, and it's bright and, you know, it's one of those things you call a guilty pleasure, except nobody has guilty pleasures anymore.


LYDEN: Well, and if we do, they're immediately out on social media, as we might know.


LYDEN: You know, it's really a fun, swingy little tune. I still hear the notes of Louie Prima and, of course, "The Jungle Book." And also, you can almost hear an Apple commercial being made out of something like this, huh?

JARENWATTANANON: I guess you - some jazz singers might recoil just a little bit at that. But, you know, I think Lauren knows that her voice isn't quite big and boomy like Ella Fitzgerald or Sarah Vaughn or, you know, it's not like an opera singer, something like that, right? So she just uses what she's got. And just the way that this tune is arranged, the little details, you know, the piano will jab in every once in a while or the drummer is just sort of comfortable and sitting back with the brushes, you know, jazz people could learn to make catchy music sometimes too.


DESBERG: (Singing) An ape like me can learn to be human too, can learn to be human, truly human too, can learn to be human too.

LYDEN: Once again, that's the music of Lauren Desberg with the song "I Wanna Be Like You." Patrick Jarenwattananon comes to us from NPR Music, and you can find his writing at A Blog Supreme, which is at npr.org/blogsupreme. Patrick, it's really been a pleasure.

JARENWATTANANON: Oh, my great pleasure, Jacki. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.