Miki Purnell is Swingin' to the Sea!
Brent Black / www.criticaljazz.com
In a conversation I had with critically acclaimed vocal artist and journalist Rondi Charlston she stated a "bad review" is perfectly acceptable as long as you answer the why question. I'm not sure if I have the space to adequately answer that question but I'll give it a shot. Vocalist and family practice physician Miki Purnell's debut release Swingin' to the Sea is everything but swingin' with the patient having died before ever leaving post production.
Miki Purnell is listed as a classically trained artist. Seven years of classical piano study does not a classically trained vocalist make. I've been doing addition and subtraction for over forty five years, doesn't make me an accountant. Can Purnell sing? Miki Purnell has reasonable control of pitch but her voice is paper thin and when you begin to think in terms of phrasing, control and the all important intangible of connectivity then she begins to lose ground quickly. Her approach and essential wheelhouse is based on a very positive almost holistic approach to the potential healing properties of music so some jazz standards quickly turn into some sterile lyrical manifestations of this incredibly academic riff on great American music.
The positive life affirming notion that life is fun and a "really worthwhile thing" is admirable but perhaps ground zero for the disconnect that happens when "A Night In Tunisia" is reharmed using a koto. Purnell's attempt at scatting falls flat and the contemporary arrangement for "On Green Dolphin Street" is cheesy to be kind. In the liner notes Purnell references this is who she is as an artist, she can sing but not jazz. The left coast seems to be a place where traditional jazz singers go to run out the clock as there are only a handful left offering any material of substance and lasting meaning.
Miki Purnell is a highly respected and successful physician and understands that sometimes she has to be the bearer of bad news to a patient. As a critic there are times when there is simply no way around writing what is at best a lyrical autopsy. Purnell can not shoulder the entire responsibility here as the production and arrangements are every bit as bad as the execution. The great musical equalizer is alcohol but disabling your central nervous system with semi-lethal quantities can not make a bad record better. This is easy listening without direction, Bali Hai gone horribly wrong. Pianist Tamir Hendelman is a co-producer on this release making the end results all the more shocking. Nothing works here, but the cover art.
Tracks: On Green Dolphin Street; Bluesette; Estate; A Night In Tunisia; Like Me; Swingin' To The Sea; Sexy, Sexy; Moon And Sand; Maiden Voyage; The Nearness Of You; Free; The Island; Sunny San Diego Sunday.
Personnel: Miki Purnell: Vocals; Piano: Tamir Hendelman / Dave MacKay: (1-3,6-10,12-13) & (4,5,11); Bass: Bob Magnusson (1-13, except 10); Drums: Kevin Koch (1-12 except 10); Flute: Lori Bell (2,7,8,9,12,13); Guitar: Joey Carano 1,3,7,12,13); Percussion: Tomy Aros (2,3,9,12); Koto: Reiko Obata (4).