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Jazz in the spotlight

Some old-timers impress with their strengths and some one-of-a-kind talents display growing versatility.

November 21, 2008

Versatile violinist Jenny Scheinman.

Michael Wilson courtesy of KOCH Records


Boz Scaggs: 'Speak Low'

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Few artists defy pigeonholing like San Francisco's Boz Scaggs. He has sung blues, rock, pop, funk – even a little disco – all with singular style and impeccable chops. Now we can add jazz to that list. Actually, this is his second foray into the world of jazz vocals. His jazz debut, "But Beautiful," was a triumph of taste and restraint, topping the jazz charts in 2003. "Speak Low" (Decca Records) follows a similar, but more progressive thread, featuring strings and Gil Evans-style arrangements. And it doesn't hurt that Scaggs's unique voice sounds so much like a soothing baritone sax, gracefully caressing the lyrics of jazz chestnuts like "Skylark" and "Save Your Love for Me." "Speak Low" is further proof that the ageless Scaggs can do it all, but beautifully.

Jenny Scheinman: 'Crossing the Field'

Another one-of-a-kind talent is Brooklyn-based musician Jenny Scheinman. A first-call violinist and string arranger for artists such as Lucinda Williams, Norah Jones, and genre-bending guitarist Bill Frisell, she has simultaneously released two fine albums. One features her clear and guileless vocals. The second, the all-instrumental "Crossing the Field" (Koch Records), sounds like a soundtrack in search of a worthy movie. If it needed a label, it would be a long one: jazz/classical/funk/folk/Americana – imagine a happy mash-up of bopster Thelonious Monk, the lush soundscapes of Aaron Copland, and the big-footed funk of The Bad Plus. All that and it's drop-dead gorgeous. "Ana Eco" sounds like a great lost Samuel Barber adagio; "Hard Sole Shoe" rocks with gleeful abandon. And "Old Brooklyn" will toy with your heart, with trumpeter Ron Miles manipulating the valves.

– John Kehe

Bill Carrothers: 'Home Row'