May 18, 2024

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CD review: Darden Purcell – Love’s Got Me in a Lazy Mood – 2023: Video, CD cover

Darden Purcell is the Director of Jazz Studies, Jazz Voice instructor, and director of the Mason Jazz Vocal Ensemble at George Mason University.

As such, she is an in-demand jazz educator who has been a guest artist/clinician/conductor at Capital University, Illinois Wesleyan University, Texas Tech, Virginia Tech, Southern Nazarene University, Tiffin University, Indiana State School Music Association, Virginia Music Educators Association (VMEA), ACDA Southern Region conference, and Pennsylvania Music Educators Association Jazz festivals.

Dr Purcell is a former Washington DC Air Force Band vocalist, having performed with the groups High Flight and the Airmen of Note. During her enlistment she met guitarist Shawn Purcell (the other Dr Purcell), and the two married, becoming a jazz power couple, both on stage and in the academy. Shawn arranged and performed on Darden’s first two recordings, Easy Living (Armoured Records, 2009) and Where The Blue Begins (Armoured Records, 2017). For her part, Darden has been featured in each of Shawn’s recordings, Symmetricity (Armoured Records, 2019) and 180 (Origin Records, 2022).

Darden releases her third recording, Love’s Got Me In A Lazy Mood on OA2 Records. The power pair produced the disc with Shawn again in charge of arrangements. Vibraphonist Joe Locke is prominently featured in six of the eleven selections. He lends a percussively tactile quality to the sound of the ensemble. Locke also provides a sonic sparing partner to Darden’s solid alto midrange. The pair duet in a prefabricated chorus to great effect on the opening “Willow Weep For Me.” From the beginning was the faint hint of George Shearing, an observation that paid dividends when reading the liner notes where Darden acknowledges Nancy Wilson’s collaboration with Shearing on The Swingin’s Mutual (Capitol Records, 1961).

That is the key to the success of this updating of that mid-century Shearing sound. Aside from fidelity, Shawn’s arrangements sharpened edges where necessary while retaining the softness of Darden’s overall theme of love won, misplaced, lost, and regained. This approach works best on “I Concentrate On You,” “Estate,” and “You’ve Changed” all moody, humid, and crepuscular.

The stand-out pieces are the 1929 Robinson/Conley composition “A Cottage For Sale,” which brings to mind art as disparate as George Jones’ “The Grand Tour” and Ernest Hemingway’s shortest story (“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”). It is storytelling at a high level. The Purcells frame this story of loss as wistfully sardonic wishful thinking. Shawn’s guitar solo is wordy, lyrical, and, finally, resigned. The couple’s original “Chatterbox” is homemade vocalese over a Shawn Purcell blues line the two filled out during the pandemic. Joe Locke fits right into the piece as if he was visited by the spirit of Milt Jackson the night before.

Inventive repertoire programming and crack arrangements coupled with the synergy of the jazz poser couple make Love’s Got Me In A Lazy Mood a sweetly intoxicating experience. It is splendid to delve into an artistic endeavor that presents itself as a veritable amalgamation of influences, techniques, and emotions. We find ourselves today discussing Dr. Darden Purcell’s latest offering, Love’s Got Me in a Lazy Mood, released under the Origin Records imprint on September 16, 2023. In this review, we’ll explore how Dr. Purcell and her ensemble have skillfully employed musical elements and lyrical themes to create an album that is a nod to jazz tradition and a fresh, modern take on the evergreen subject of love.

Before we dissect this auditory feast, a bit about Dr. Darden Purcell. She is an epitome of artistry and pedagogy in the realm of jazz, having held her own on stages with eminent musicians like Maria Schneider and Eric Alexander. Her professorial role at George Mason University as the Director of Jazz Studies, along with her ensemble’s accolades, further entrenches her authority in the genre. With this background in mind, we approach her latest record with the expectation of a harmonious blend of erudition and raw musical emotion.

The album, a mixture of Great American Songbook gems, Brazilian standards, and original compositions, displays Dr. Purcell’s versatility. While her husband, Shawn Purcell, serves as the album’s arranger and guitarist, the soundscape is further enriched by vibraphonist Joe Locke, pianist Todd Simon, bassist Jeff Reed, and drummer Todd Harrison.

Musically, the unconventional 9/8 time signature in “Willow Weep for Me” provides a fresh take on this classic, weaving a sense of wistfulness, as you observed. Lyrically, the original song revolves around the theme of heartbreak. The 9/8 treatment adds a new layer to this emotional terrain by infusing a jazz-derived complexity and ambiguity into a blues-inflected narrative. Dr. Purcell’s wordless performance of the written voice and guitar soli is a powerful dynamic amplifier that displays the instrumental quality to her vocal delivery. In doing so, she adds a modern tinge to a song grounded in the classic themes of love and loss.

“Estrada Branca (This Happy Madness)” encapsulates a blend of romanticism and escapism, crucial elements of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s original composition. Dr. Purcell maintains these themes in her lyrical interpretation, singing in both Portuguese and English to expand the song’s emotional reach. Musically, the Brazilian groove is a collective effort: Locke’s vibraphone and Shawn’s arrangement and guitar create a seamless foundation, while bassist Reed and drummer Harrison provide a gorgeously swaying bosa nova feel that Dr. Purcell’s elegant vocals soar over. This contributes to the song’s narrative of ‘happy madness’—a paradoxical blend of love’s irrationality and joy.

Thematically, “Chatterbox,” co-written by Darden and Shawn Purcell, provides an exciting detour from the romantic focus of other tracks. As an original piece, it provides a canvas for Dr. Purcell to explore themes of communication and social interactions in a jazzy, upbeat tempo. The spirit of hard bop serves as a historical backdrop, which blends modernity with a homage to the jazz greats. Instrumentally, the track shines through its complex rhythms and intricate melodies, mirroring the complexity of the theme.

“Taking a Chance on Love” offers a timeless look at the gamble that is love, a theme as old as time but continually relevant. The 3/4 feel gives an additional layer of uncertainty, capturing the rhythmic irregularities that often accompany emotional adventures. The harmonic interplay between vibes and guitar serves as a counterpoint to Dr. Purcell’s vocal lines, creating a multi-layered conversation between instruments and voice that encapsulates the risks and rewards of love.

The album as a whole exudes an aura of historical reverence and modern freshness. Beyond its technical virtuosity, the album holds the potential to leave an indelible mark on the contemporary vocal jazz landscape. It invites a broad audience—from seasoned jazz aficionados to those newly venturing into the genre—to appreciate the intricate interplay of rhythms, melodies, and themes. Dr. Purcell’s vocal delivery—warm, lyrical, and imbued with the swinging essence of the jazz era—works in perfect harmony with ensemble’s sophisticated sound. They together breathe life into Shawn Purcell’s arrangements, adding layers of nuance that only repeated listening can bring one to fully appreciate.

So, does Love’s Got Me in a Lazy Mood live up to the scholarly and musical pedigree of Dr. Darden Purcell? The answer is an unequivocal ‘yes’. It is a rich experience of jazz history, married with modern virtuosity and academic depth. It takes the listener on a lovely journey through time, space, and emotion, paying homage to the past while forging a path into the future.

In summary, Love’s Got Me in a Lazy Mood explores the manifold complexities of love, seen through the multifaceted lens of jazz. With each song, Dr. Darden Purcell and her ensemble breathe new life into classic themes, employing an array of musical elements—from unconventional time signatures to intricate harmonic arrangements—to infuse each track with fresh interpretations. Beyond its technical and thematic profundities, Love’s Got Me in a Lazy Mood strikes a chord at the emotional level. It invites the listener into an intimate headspace, making it a soul-stirring journey through the complexities of love as articulated by the universal language of jazz and Dr. Purcell’s vocal talents.

I love that we were able to collaborate with vibraphonist, Joe Locke! This is my first CD with a “guest artist” and Joe was amazing! He brought such thoughtfulness and amazing musicality to the project and took it to another level. His playing is really incredible on this album. We are so grateful to him. I have always loved that 1960’s sound with vibraphone and Shawn’s arrangements really encaptured what we were going for. One of my favorite albums of all-time is Nancy Wilson/George Shearing “The Swinging’s Mutual.” This album is an homage to that George Shearing-esque sound. Todd Simon (piano) was on my 2016 album, Where the Blue Begins, and Shawn’s 2019 album Symmetricity. He is one of our favorite piano players and is such a fun hang. He is so creative, and we just love Todd. He lives in Las Vegas now and was gracious enough to come back to the east coast to join us again in the studio. Shawn and I have played with Todd Harrison for years! Todd is one of the best drummers in the VA/DC/MD area. He is “rock solid” and can read and play any groove you are looking for. There was no doubt that Todd would bring an intensity to the session that we were looking for. While Shawn has played with Jeff Reed several times, the session was my first time meeting and working with Jeff. He is a beautiful player and human and brought so much imaginativeness to the music. Of course, there is no album without Shawn Purcell on guitar/arrangements. I am so lucky to have someone who writes customized arrangements, just for my voice, and on top of that, play his “you-know-what” off. He is my number one collaborator in all aspects of life. I am so, so blessed to have this amazing band! – an interview with me said Dr. Darden Purcell.

With Nancy Wilson & George Shearing’s The Swingin’s Mutual as a model, Washington, DC-based vocalist Darden Purcell and co-producer, arranger, guitarist and husband Shawn envisioned a modern take on that quintessential 1960s sound for her third recording as a leader. Enlisting the dynamic New York vibraphonist Joe Locke, along with pianist Todd Simon, Jeff Reed on bass and drummer Todd Harrison, her sextet tackles the virtuosic soli passages of Shawn’s arrangement of “Willow Weep for Me,” captures the intimacy of Johnny Mercer’s title track, and swings hard behind Darden’s Annie Ross-inspired lyrics on “Chatterbox.”

We recommend that you play this CD and enjoy it.

1. Willow Weep for Me 6:37
2. Love’s Got Me in a Lazy Mood 6:24
3. Come Back to Me 5:41
4. It’s a Most Unusual Day 5:48
5. I Concentrate on You 4:57
6. A Cottage for Sale 5:35
7. Estrada Branca (This Happy Madness) 5:55
8. Chatterbox 7:24
9. Estate 7:09
10. Taking a Chance on Love 6:32
11. You’ve Changed 5:21

Darden Purcell – voice
Joe Locke – vibes
Shawn Purcell – electric and nylon string guitars
Todd Simon – piano
Jeff Reed – acoustic bass
Todd Harrison – drums and cymbals

Buy from here – New CD 2023

Love's Got Me in a Lazy Mood - Album by Darden Purcell - Apple Music

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