Lines for Ladies: Live!

Lines for Ladies

This live album from HGBS Blue Records documents the final performance of a two-week tour in 2014 by the ensemble known as Lines for Ladies. Special guest Sheila Jordan acts, in her words, as the band’s “spiritual mother,” shepherding in a younger generation of voices spreading their cohesive harmonies across canvases both familiar and new. To be sure, Kirstin Korb (bass/vocals), Anne Czichowsky (vocals), Sabine Kürlich (vocals/alto sax), and Laia Genc (piano/vocals) share more than the stage with Jordan. They carry on her alluring—or, as one song here would put it, “Delicious and Lovely”—tradition of jazz song as storytelling. Jordan has spent a lifetime and more perfecting her fashion of delivery, and among these women she is as a sun to the stars. Whether paying tribute to her Native American roots in the chant with which she opens “The Moon’s a Harsh Mistress” or unfolding a 13-minute mission statement in the largely adlibbed “Sheila’s Blues,” she churns emotion until it becomes soft as butter. “I sing the blues ’cause I paid my dues,” she croons, humbly failing to mention the profits she has reaped from subsequent dividends.

Likewise, the depths and breadths of Jordan’s spiritual children are not to be taken lightly. Czichowsky appends fresh, self-penned lyrics to standards “Killer Joe” and “Idle Moments” to delightful effect. The former song, suitably rebranded as “Ladies’ Show,” asserts its femme power in a male-dominated genre, while the latter highlights Czichowsky’s vocal trumpeting against Genc’s smooth pianism. Czichowsky relays with Kürlich’s French in a bilingual rendition of “I Wish You Love (Que reste-t-il de nos amours).” The two singers harmonize even more deeply in the above-mentioned “Delicious and Lovely,” a Kürlich original that boasts slick time changes and instrumental qualities all around.

Korb is ever the anchor of this set, and provides some of the strongest philosophies the performance has to offer. Between the Chet Baker-inspired vocalese of “But not for Me” and her duet with Jordan in “Dat Dere,” she brings audible smiles to everything she touches. Nowhere more so than in her original “Something to Celebrate,” which honors her fateful move to Denmark—where she has, since 2011, become a force of nature in the local jazz scene. Genc unravels many of the tune’s finer implications at the keys, reveling (as she does throughout the album) in every twist and turn.

Most wonderful (and unforgettable) about the record is the level of joy brought to every upbeat groove and downtempo swing alike. These are human beings who truly love what they do. Their passion is multifaceted, practiced as preached. And couldn’t we use a little more of that in today’s world?

Steve Kuhn Quartet: Last Year’s Waltz (ECM 1213)

ECM 1213

Steve Kuhn Quartet
Last Year’s Waltz

Steve Kuhn piano
Sheila Jordan voice
Bob Moses drums
Harvie Swartz bass
Recorded live, April 1981, at Fat Tuesday’s, New York City
Engineer: David Baker
Produced by Robert Hurwitz

Last Year’s Waltz has everything a great live jazz album should: a present feel, gobs of atmosphere, and, oh yeah, Sheila Jordan. Right off the bat, interplay from Bob Moses and Harvie Swartz kicks us into wakefulness in “Turn To Gold.” Gilded by Kuhn’s indeed alchemical but always punctual pianism, this dose of smoothness is sure to please. Kuhn brings a montuno flavor to “The Drinking Song,” which is deepened by Jordan’s diaristic musings, both expository and speculative, and boasts enough woops from her band mates to keep our blood at a constant boil. The title track is a languid trickle that quickly crackles into a melodious and cinematic punch bowl. The key to unlocking the set’s inner secrets is “The Fruit Fly,” which, in both title and execution, evokes Chick Corea’s blissful optimism. Downright wondrous pianism and omnipotent drumming make this the instrumental standout (the solo piano “Medley” runs a close second). Kuhn works his magic through “The Feeling Within,” weaving a luxurious carpet for Jordan’s vocal footsteps. Two standards—a decidedly upbeat rendition of “I Remember You” and the virtuosic scat-fest that is “Confirmation”—and the bittersweet yet crowd-pleasing tune “The City Of Dallas” (Steve Swallow) complete this living portrait of a group in its prime. As the recording fades, members of the crowd shout, “More!”

I second that.

Not only does Last Year’s Waltz show us Jordan at her best, but its explosive energy and archival importance make it by far Kuhn’s finest quartet joint of the 80s. A reissue is a must.

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