Music Review by Mark Christian Miller, Mark Heard It First
In an increasingly difficult business, Jazz inspired vocalists somehow continue to find the support and the grit to produce new music. Carol Bach-y-Rita has done just this and has given us “Minha Casa/My House.”
It is no surprise that the personnel is top notch. Bach-y-Rita is an established multi lingual voice over artist, dance instructor and lover of Brazilian culture, with solid jazz credentials on the LA scene. Bill Cantos on piano, John Leftwich on bass and Mike Shapiro on drums are the top tier trio, with the superb Larry Koonse on guitar, and lively percussion by Dudu Fuentes on one track.
The packaging is hued in sepia, cream, brown, beige and tan tones – a smart nod to the opening samba “Morning Coffee,” a Bill Cantos original. The track percolates with the energy of that first morning cup, when all things seem possible. I was immediately struck by the health and clarity of the vocals. Bach-y-Rita’s voice is full of optimism and vigor. Check out her excellent Portuguese scatting at the end.
Larry Koonse’s guitar, percussion and bass arrangement of the Cole Porter chestnut “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To” opens with a distinctly Spanish sounding guitar line in 6/8. It develops nicely as the vocal and percussion are layered in. Once again, the singing is perfectly in tune , natural and effortless, the phrasing is smart.
“A Night in Tunisia” follows. While I might prefer a strong ending to the fade out, which seems to come too quickly and too fast, there is no quibbling with Bach-y-Rita’s sure footed nod to Eddie Jefferson and the song’s originator Dizzy Gillespie. Her tempo is brighter than Jefferson’s recording, and yet her vocalese fits right into the pocket. The words are clear and never rushed. Larry Koonse lays in a wonderful solo that starts with notes pulsing around an E natural, to interesting, slightly dissonant and arresting effect. Bach-y-Rita and bassist John Leftwich share an arranging credit on this track.
When a song has the elegant construction of Henry Nemo’s “ ‘Tis Autumn,” ‘tis is best to deliver it as is, which is what the guitar trio and singer do with Larry Koonse’s arrangement of this rarely heard gem. I first heard it performed live by Page Cavanaugh. Hearing it always brings back fond memories. Bach-y-Rita’s voice is lovely, unforced and clear, with phrasing that every once in awhile brings to mind Irene Kral. She skates through the angular and rangy melodic lines with ease. Partly for personal reasons, and partly because it is so well done in its simplicity, this may be my favorite track on the record.
The singer’s rhythmic credentials (she is an accomplished dance instructor) are once again on display in “The Dry Cleaner From Des Moines” with lyrics by Joni Mitchell and music by Charles Mingus. John Leftwich on bass keeps it funky and anchored. Here we have more of Bach-y-Rita as the voice over actress. She is giving us a bit of a character, and the casting is perfect. The arrangement is by Robert Kyle and the vocalist.
“Nature Boy” is reimagined as a drum and vocal duet. This tune, along with “Night In Tunisia” is maybe the most recognizable standard on the record, and Mike Shapiro and Bach-y-Rita pull off a fresh take on an often performed piece.
“Trust,” one of two Bach-y-Rita originals on the record, is co-arranged with drummer Mike Shapiro and is based on a Maracatu rhythm, which gives it an interesting and understated march/funk lilt. This original song holds its own in the company of a stellar set list.
“Pra Quem Quiser Me Visitar,” recorded with the permission of it’s composer Guinga and lyricist Aldir Blanc is delivered in the singer’s impeccable Portuguese, and has a haunting beauty greatly enhanced by Leftwich’s bow work. Bach–y–Rita’s deep affinity for Brazilian culture is once again on full display. A plaintive, lovely solo by Larry Koonse is followed by John Leftwich’s mournful bass line, making for a profoundly moving instrumental conversation.
A voice and percussion duet follows, Bach-y-Rita’s second original composition on the record, the provocatively titled “Gardening With No Pants.” What could be another garden-variety song about a relationship gone wrong is buoyed by the singer’s optimistic tone, spirited approach and smart lyrics. It is wry, not bitter or indulgent. Dudu Fuentes understands the story and is in on the humor, lending his tight, deft percussive support.
“Love Look Away” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Flower Drum Song features the quartet with a lush, rolling arrangement by Bill Cantos.
Bronislaw Kaper and Gus Kahn’s “While My Lady Sleeps,” a piano and voice duo, has a languid “film noir” quality and Bill Cantos on piano, always sensitive and intelligent, provides a very pretty accompaniment to Bach-y-Rita’s performance, which is almost horn like in it’s musicality.
While I might have advocated for a different front cover image, the picture does project a self-assurance and sensuality that is reflected in the music. Carol Bach-y-Rita is comfortable in her own skin. Check out the back cover image, which has the dramatic impact of a Rene Lalique casting. The photographs were taken by Asa Mahtat. I appreciate the pithy comments the singer provides for each track in the liner notes, giving insight into her process.
The healthy clarity and tone of her vocals, the superb backing and arrangements, the freedom of her phrasing and percussive fearlessness of her scatting and approach, the adventurous material and fine production values make this an impressive record. In the hands of the right radio promoter, it should attract a good deal of airplay. In minha casa it will certainly continue to get a lot of spins.
Produced by Carol Bach-y-Rita
Recorded by Andy Waterman
“Gardening With No Pants” was recorded by Nolan Shaheed
Mixing and Additional Recording by Carlos Y. Del Rosario
Mastering by Robert Hadley
Additional engineering by Talley Sherwood
Package design by Sargent & Berman
Photography by Asa Mahtat