With Bring It Back, due Feb. 11, 2014 on Jazz Village/harmonia mundi, Catherine Russell pushes her remarkable run of solo work to new heights, building on her already-considerable renown as one of the foremost interpreters and explorers of mid-20th century American music.
Her fifth solo album finds Russell fronting an expanded 10-piece band, covering her widest artistic ground yet - from the earliest days of jazz through the swing era and into the rhythm and blues explosion - but with her most personal stamps. That takes extra inspiration and depth from her mother, pioneering jazz musician Carline Ray, who passed away shortly after the album was finished. And there is also a very strong presence of her father, long-time Louis Armstrong band leader and arranger Luis Russell, who is represented in several songs coming from their collaborative repertoire, drawing on the "Louis and Luis" concert she led at Jazz at Lincoln Center in spring 2012, including "I'm Shooting High" and "Public Melody Number One." Most profoundly, the album includes the first-ever recording of "Lucille," a song of her father's, recently discovered in the Armstrong archives.
Bring It Back follows her 2012 album Strictly Romancin', which topped the jazz charts and earned her the Prix du Jazz Vocal from L'Acadamie du Jazz and the Grand Prix du Hot Club de France. Called "one of the outstanding singers of our time" by The Wall Street Journal, she brings to familiar favorites and forgotten treasures alike the spark and verve cheered by hundreds of thousands in her role with Steely Dan and featured alongside Donald Fagen, Michael McDonald, and Boz Scaggs in the Dukes of September Rhythm Revue, as well as in her own festival, theater and club appearances and as a star of special Jazz at Lincoln Center programs. She was also heard prominently in the soundtracks to HBO's Boardwalk Empire and the movie Kill Your Darlings (starring Daniel Radcliffe as a young Allen Ginsberg).
"Love and fun" is how she sums up the thread through this album, as well as her artistic philosophy. "As I look at the list of tunes, it's love, romance and fun," she says. "Not a lot of pain. I don't do sad, not too much. That's a little 'woe is me,' feeling sorry for myself. I do things that make you move, take you back to the dance floor."
Through it all, she makes the most of what NPR called, "a voice that wails like a horn and whispers like a snake in the Garden of Eden."
On Ida Cox's "You Got to Swing and Sway" she does both. She adds her own enlivening spark to "Aged and Mellow," a 1952 Johnny Otis number that was a hit for Esther Phillips, brought to Russell's attention by Donald Fagen. She kicks up her heels with "Darktown Strutters Ball" (one of the first major jazz hits, recorded in 1917 by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band), gets flirty with Fats Waller's "Strange As It Seems," sets a mood with "After the Lights Go Down Low" and lets down her guard on Duke Ellington's "I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart."
Tying it all together and bringing a deeply personal touch, is "Lucille." Written by her father Luis Russell, the noted composer and pianist, who was Louis Armstrong's orchestra leader and arranger from 1935 through the early 1940's, the song was discovered in the Louis Armstrong Archives recently in demo form. Here it receives its first public performance in the voice of the composer's daughter.
To bring a new range of swing, she added an expanded horn section to her regular core trio of guitarist/music director Matt Munisteri, pianist Mark Shane and bassist Lee Hudson for her brightest swinging album yet. Regular collaborator Paul Kahn co-produced with recording engineer Katherine Miller. Tenor saxophonist Andy Farber did the vibrant arrangements of six of the songs, with Munisteri doing two and Russell and trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso contributing horn arrangements on one each.
Through the making of the album Russell found herself on a voyage of artistic self-discovery, reaching for things that she'd felt beyond her in the past. "After the Lights Go Low," a song played at the end of every day on the radio station that provided the soundtrack of her childhood, is a perfect example.
"That's a song I rediscovered," she says. "A few years ago I don't think I could have done a song like that. It's very exposed. But I really wanted to create a mood, when people are dancing they're going to go home and ... hopefully ... whatever!"
These discoveries of music and of her own growing talents come on top of a rich career. For several decades Russell gained a place among the most in-demand background singers, working with stars from Paul Simon to David Bowie to Jackson Browne to Cyndi Lauper to Rosanne Cash. She launched her solo career less than a decade ago with the stunning Cat, showing her powers and personality across an array of jazz and blues, plus a sly reinvention of the Grateful Dead's "New Speedway Boogie." The album prompted esteemed critic Nat Hentoff to declare that after hearing countless "purported rising jazz singers ... it's a delight to hear the real thing in Catherine Russell."
She followed with 2008's Sentimental Streak, 2010's Inside This Heart of Mine and 2012's Strictly Romancin', each building on and expanding on the last. Along the way, in addition to awards and acclaim, she made two appearances on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross (the second, in Feb. 2012, included in-studio concert performances), another NPR session on the beloved Piano Jazz with Marian McPartland and has been a favorite guest on various other shows.
The new album also serves as a tribute to her mother, a pioneering force for women in jazz, who played guitar in the all-female '40s ensemble the International Sweethearts of Rhythm and performed with Erskine Hawkins, Mary Lou Williams and later the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Ray's first album as a lead vocalist, Vocal Sides, in which she collaborated with her daughter, was released just months before her death.
"She worked right up to Dec. 2012," Russell says, dedicating the album to her parents. "They all are dedicated to them. Without them I wouldn't be here talking about their huge musical influences."
No matter the influences or sources of material though, Russell's magic is entirely her own.
"Nobody in the band is copying anyone, they all have their own styles and forms of expression," she says. "The whole thing we're trying to do is find ourselves in this music. I won't be Ella, Dinah, Sarah, Peggy. I won't be them. So I have to find my own way to tell these stories."
UPCOMING CATHERINE RUSSELL TOUR DATES:
December 31 / Shanghai Jazz / Madison, NJ
February 14 / Scullers Jazz Club / Boston, MA
February 15 / Wellfleet Congregational Church for Payomet Artists / Wellfleet, MA
February 24 / Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola (Album release celebration) / New York, NY
March 8 - 15 / Hot Jazz Tour / Various Cities, Israel
March 24 - 26 / Savannah Music Festival - Charles H. Morris Center / Savannah, GA
March 28 / Tryon Fine Arts Center / Tryon, NC
March 29 / NCSU Center Stage - Titmus Theater / Raleigh, NC
March 30 / The Rooster's Wife at The Spot / Aberdeen, NC
April 11 / The Fairmont Opera House / Fairmont, MN
April 13 / We Always Swing Jazz Series at Murry's / Columbia, MO
April 18 / Walton Arts Center / Fayetteville, AR
April 19 / The Sheldon Concert Hall / Saint Louis, MO
May 3 / Izzy Asper Jazz Series at Winnipeg Art Gallery / Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Catherine Russell· Bring It Back
Jazz Village · Release Date: February 11, 2014