Saturday, December 12, 2015

Kim Nalley Blues People

Back in 2011 Aidin Vaziri wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle, "Kim Nalley is a critically lauded San Francisco jazz and blues singer who has performed Gershwin with the San Francisco Symphony and produced sensational musical tributes to Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday." Called a San Francisco Institution, she has produced and just released an auspicious recording "Blues People" (Kim Nalley Jazz Singer Productions). The liner notes by Waldo E. Martin, Jr., describe the recording as "a deep musical mediation on an insightful interpretation of African American history and culture advanced over fifty years ago by Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) in his seminal Blues People: Negro Music in White America. In that influential book, Baraka argued that African Americans, as best revealed in their various highly original and widely influential musical forms, were fundamentally a Blues People. By that, Baraka meant the blues were in fact a fully realized culture, or way of life, that encompasses the totality of their historical and day-to-day experiences."

In this recording, Kim Nalley explores a variety of African-American songs from blues, ballads and sacred to jazz and even a Bob Dylan cover.Her vocals are backed by the keyboards of Tammy Hall, the guitar of Greg Skaff, the bass of Michael Zisman and the drums of Kent Bryson with Bryan Dyer adding backing vocals. Nalley impresses as a singer, projecting a lot of personality as well. She certainly can belt out a vocal, but also deliver a lyric as a whisper, all of which is displayed on the opening rendition of "Summertime," with Hall's simple backing backing her singing here.

 Her rumination on the killing of Trayvon Martin" is delivered in her powerful original "Big Hooded Black Man," with its stark backing from Skaff and Bryson. There is another moving topical blues "Ferguson Blues," another moving song about injustice and the anger about a raw deal. There are two renditions of the Mahalia Jackson gospel classic "Trouble in This World," one with just piano accompaniment, and the other with Hall on organ with the ensemble. Vocally she employs her lower register on the piano rendition while her upper register is more in evidence on the second version.

A medley of songs associated with Eddie Harris and Les McCann, "Listen Here/ Cold Duck/ Compared To What?" has a terrific vocal with nice scatting as the band cooks behind her. Guitarist Skaff takes a jazzy solo before she scats, and then Hall takes a funky solo that suggests McCann's driving, blues-inflected improvisations. This medley is followed by a gospel-tinged, soulful rendition of the theme from "The Jeffersons" television show "Movin' On Up." Then there is a lively take on the Stix Hooper-Will Jennings classic, "Make Your Move Too Soon," with Nalley's horn-like vocal phrasing standing out.

Nalley's rendition of Bessie Smith's "Sugar in My Bowl," has considerable appeal with the restraint she sings the lyrics. Her rendition of "Big Long Sliding Thing," associated with Dinah Washington, is not completely successful as she is perhaps a bit too dramatic in delivering the clever double-entendre lyrics, although the backing is fine. This theatrical approach works better on "If I Can't Sell It," she certainly won't give it away. She introduces the song telling a bit about herself before a delightful vocal full of wit and whimsy with a dash of playful naughtiness. Ruth Brown would be delighted with her interpretation.

Nalley honors the memory of Etta James with her personal rendition of "Sunday Kind of Love" that brings freshness to the lyrics. She takes us to church on "Amazing Grace" backed solely by organ, before closing with a moving rendition of Dylan's "I Shall Be Released," with Hall's gospel-inflected piano along with bass and drums. Kim Nalley invests the songs in "Blues People" with vitality and conviction resulting in a most impressive recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist.This review appeared in the November-December 2015 Jazz & Blues Report (issue 363) downloadable at Here she performs "Make Your Move Too Soon."

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