June 19, 2024


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CD review: Claire Daly with George Garzone – VuVu For Frances – 2023: Video, CD cover

Dedicated to a 98 year old jazz fan, George Garzone joined us to delight in the VuVu. Now 65, Clare Daly, a Berklee graduate and educator, has made quite a name for herself on her native New York scene since specialising on the baritone.

Her initial break-through came with Diva, the all-female big band, but since then she’s released albums and won awards galore. The titular Frances is a friend who knew the Harlem scene way back, and ‘VuVu’ simply means ‘an airy, melodic sound’ and that is exactly what Daly and Garzone dish up here in this tribute to said Frances.

In a 13-track programme largely made up of standards, Daly is the epitome of relaxation and taste, taking a tune like ‘Fools Rush in’ and simply allowing her billowing, Mulligan-esque sound to work its magic. When Garzone comes in, he’s equally measured, clearly enjoying the chance to play great melodies without any overt need to veer towards the avant-garde although ‘The Lonely Goatherd’ does turn into a lively romp.

Daly’s episodic work with Garzone goes back at least to 1998, when she appeared on his Moodiology (NYC Records), an album characteristic of Garzone’s assertive style. Here he is much more subdued—indeed, the “VuVu” in this record’s title is a neologism from Garzone which indicates his willingness to focus his contributions in a melodic, understated manner. Daly too stays largely within a restrained, lyrical temperament, suitable for a repertoire which ranges from Duke Ellinton’s “Mood Indigo” to Rodgers and Hart’s “I’ll Take Manhattan.” Ironically, the one cut in which the two saxophonists turn it loose is the Rodgers & Hammerstein number “Lonely Goatherd,” one of two tunes from that songwriting team (the other being “People Will Say We’re in Love”). On “Goatherd,” Daly’s arrangement uses an odd-meter framework to unleash some ferocious playing from both saxophonists, particularly during their mutual improvisation toward the close of the track. In other respects, the two play it straight, hewing closely to the tunes of the classic repertoire.

The two horns harmonise quite beautifully on ‘Mood Indigo’ and elsewhere, Daly’s treatment of ‘Warm Valley’, her friend’s favourite Ellington piece, particularly pleasing as it’s combined with an uppish ‘What Am I Here For’, each principal improvising forcefully but without bombast. Davis knows how to complement the mood as on ‘I’ll Take Manhattan’, which he re-invents stylishly,

Garzone sidling in as Daly builds on the melody, with bass and drums happy to take things easy or assert themselves as necessary. Rest assured this is likeable, engaging music.

This album is primarily valuable for what it represents, namely a part of jazz history in the USA and the performers who offer us both their passion for this history and their passion for instrumental play.

But then you may ask, what is this history? It all begins in the 1940s, when Frances Ballantyne discovered live jazz in Harlem and on 52nd Street, befriending and socializing with many composers. She became a lifelong jazz fan and still attends live concerts at the age of 98. “Music feeds my soul” has been her motto since her days spent with personalities like Willy “The Lion” Smith and Sidney Bechet, and their friends. She was in an interracial marriage in New York in the 1940s, at the forefront of the civil rights movement. Daly met her in the late 1990s, and their friendship has remained strong and comforting.

“Frances has been a powerful example to me of how to appreciate each day, live a meaningful and grateful life, and grow older with humor and insight. I know a lot of amazing people, and Frances is one of the coolest I’ve met. Anyone whose favorite song is Duke Ellington’s ‘Warm Valley’ is alright with me.” When Claire told her longtime friend and tenor saxophone legend George Garzone about the recording, he was interested, having met Frances. Claire said, “We’ll be playing standards,” and George replied, “Great, I’ll do the VuVu” (meaning an airy, melodic, mellow sound). With the exception of “The Lonely Goatherd” – a wild avant-garde romp – this is a swinging and straightforward tribute to Frances and the New York jazz scene. All the musicians here are veterans with well-developed voices and have been performing extensively for decades.

Therefore, let’s not seek any originality in the interpretation of these tracks, except to strive to recreate the sound of that era, which is already a remarkable achievement in itself, accomplished by remarkable artists:

Claire Daly – baritone sax,
George Garzone – tenor sax,
Jon Davis – piano,
Dave Hofstra – bass,
David F Gibson – drums

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