Here's something new and a jazzy tribute

Music Notes

August 25, 2005|By Rashod D. Ollison

IN THE PLAYLIST of new releases, we have Canadian singer-songwriter Wade O. Brown, taking us back to the days right before R&B became so juvenile and obsessed with artless thuggery. California session guitarist Jason Sinay colors his debut with vibrant bluesy rock tones and haunting shades of folk. And marvelous jazz vocalist Nnenna Freelon returns with yet another stunning collection that showcases her fresh and criminally underrated interpretative skills.

Wade O. Brown, All Night, All Love: In a sense, Brown is refreshing. His vocal style -- inspired, mature and wonderfully husky -- recalls Alexander O'Neal, the realest male soul singer to emerge in the 1980s. Not taking anything away from luxuriant Luther Vandross and fabulous Freddie Jackson, understand. Those guys were great and sold truckloads of records. But Alex always kept it funky and gritty with his Otis Redding-like style, which may have been just too real for the yuppies and buppies of the '80s.

Twenty years later, a sound like Brown's may still be too "grown" for today's urban audiences -- those who dig R. Kelly's lyrical sexual escapades in the closet and in the kitchen. The Toronto-based artist aims for seduction without being too obvious (or crass). It's about the overall sound: layered, velvety vocals over deep programmed beats and synth keyboard flourishes.

Although Brown has the important main ingredient -- an appealingly sensual voice -- his songs at times feel a little wordy and forced. He easily evokes the delicious Quiet Storm sounds of the '80s by overlooked artists like O'Neal, Eugene Wilde and Glenn Jones. He just needs more focused songs with freer, less cliched arrangements. All Night, All Love isn't a remarkable album. But it is a decent one. Cuts like the swaying "Wholeheart" show a lot of promise.

The Jason Sinay Band, The Jason Sinay Band. While playing at The Joint in Los Angeles in 1999, Sinay was discovered by comedic actress and self-proclaimed "domestic goddess" Roseanne Barr. She recruited the Berklee College of Music graduate to lead the band on her short-lived talk show. And from there, Sinay's career took off.

He became an in-demand session guitarist on L.A.'s studio scene, playing on CDs by Bonnie Raitt, Neil Diamond and Dr. John. On his eponymous debut, the singer showcases his strong guitar work on smart productions ranging from driving, groove-rich rock ("Chicken Girl") to amiable, folkish country ("Sunlight Through the Rain").

His guitar may be fine, but Sinay's skills on the mike are limited. His somewhat whiny vocals are unimpressive. But, with music, he does a good job of conveying different moods. There's also an inviting, pop-friendly overlay to his songs. The Jason Sinay Band is an energetic if inconsistent debut.

Nnenna Freelon, Blueprint of a Lady: Sketches of Billie Holiday: Freelon should be a much bigger star. She's one of the smartest, most exciting vocalists working in jazz today. Unlike her more celebrated peers Cassandra Wilson and Dianne Reeves, the Boston native is artistically consistent, releasing one solid, thoughtfully executed album after the other.

You really can't go wrong with any of her five acclaimed Concord releases. (Her first three albums on Columbia certainly had their moments but they mostly felt tentative.) Blueprint of a Lady, Freelon's latest and ninth album overall, celebrates the bold, innovative musical spirit of Baltimore legend Billie Holiday. But this isn't your average tribute. Freelon doesn't simply rehash old, string-laden arrangements of yesteryear. She doesn't emulate Holiday's style. The artist totally reshapes songs associated with Lady Day, invigorating them with lively Latin rhythms, soulful gospel, even a touch of reggae. Freelon brilliantly embodies each song, imbuing "I Didn't Know What Time It Was" with a gorgeous vibrancy, infusing "Willow Weep for Me" with an attractive buoyancy. "Them There Eyes," one of Holiday's more bubbly tunes, is given a darkly dramatic reading here that works. Freelon's expansive, curvaceous vocals -- backed by colorfully imaginative arrangements -- drive Blueprint. It is indeed one of the better vocal jazz records out right now.

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