Swings hard. Gives me goosebumps. For me, nothing better than Ms. Niemack's crazy good positivity-infusing vocals -- they float on and are a part of Mr. McNeely's beautiful arrangements for this powerhouse big band. Go get this.
Favorite track: Suddenly (In Walked Bud).
New York City is the center of many worlds, the jazz world being one of them. Musicians have always felt the pull of the Big Apple. The depth of talent, competition, and energy have made the City the epicenter of growth in the music. Vocalist Judy Niemack’s improvisation teacher Warne Marsh told her that she had to go and, once she did, she never looked back.
Niemack’s experiences, and friendships created, in New York have shaped her career and life. One of the most important friendships turned out to be that of the great pianist, composer and arranger Jim McNeely. Niemack’s new recording with McNeely, New York Stories, shows the depth of their musical and personal affinity as they present pieces they arranged together over the years, and, finally, have recorded together, along with the Danish Radio Big Band.
When Niemack first arrived in New York, she lived in the guest room of saxophonist Ted Brown on Long Island before finding an apartment in the Bronx. Niemack then began to jump headlong into the local scene.
One of the first musicians she met was McNeely, who could be heard in many groups across the City, including Stan Getz’s ensemble and the Vanguard Orchestra. He heard her perform alongside Marsh at the saxophonist’s Village Vanguard residency. They struck up a fast friendship. McNeely became a sort of big brother figure to Niemack, always looking out for her and her best interests.
McNeely would go on to be musical director and arranger for the WDR Big Band in Cologne, Germany. He was able to get Niemack invited to work on projects in 1993 and 2001. The first focused on the music of Thelonious Monk, while the other was focused on her lyrics on jazz compositions of various composers. For both projects, McNeely made sure that Niemack was involved in the arranging process. Aware of Niemack’s classical training, McNeely treated her voice as another instrument in the band, always making sure that she could handle his demands (she always said “yes”). Though the concerts were successes, the pieces were never recorded until now.
Niemack relocated to Europe in 1992 and has been teaching at the Jazz Institute of Berlin for a number of years. Colleague and trumpet player Gerard Presencer arranged for a project for Niemack and the Danish Radio Big Band in 2013. Because McNeely had led the Danish Radio Big Band from 1998 until 2002, taking the baton from the late, great Bob Brookmeyer, the Danes were only too happy to have McNeely collaborate on the project. The two old friends were finally able to record their beloved big band charts.
The program begins with Jeanfrançois Prins’s “New York Stories,” a bluesy, noir-ish swinger with Niemack’s lyrics that capture the post 9/11 New York City. The effervescent “Suddenly” is a take on Monk’s “In Walked Bud” with lyrics by Jon Hendricks. Having first performed Pat Metheny’s “Talk Awhile” wordlessly at the Pori Jazz Festival in 1982, Niemack received Metheny’s blessing to write lyrics and had the chance to record a wonderful version here. Niemack’s lyrics help highlight the tricky nature of “A Crazy Song to Sing,” a fabulous McNeely arrangement of Monk’s “Misterioso.” Niemack’s lyrics for “I Should Have Told You Goodbye” (a take on Clifford Brown’s “Daahoud”) are appropriately about relationships but not those as loving as that of hers with McNeely, who provides some fascinating spots to feature Niemack’s voice with the ensemble.
Inspired by jazz music of the late 1980s, Niemack focuses on Michael Brecker’s performance on Don Grolnick’s “Talking To Myself” to inform her lyrics for “Straight Up To The Light.” McNeely’s powerful arrangement underlines the beautiful message of Sting’s “Fragile” ; McNeely’s Gil Evans-like restraint makes Monk’s “’Round Midnight” a lushly, evocative performance. The program concludes with another side of Monk, a brassy, ebullient version of the pianist’s “Well You Needn’t” entitled “It’s Over Now.”
Relationships, whether with places or people, are instrumental in shaping a person. Judy Niemack found inspiration from the great city of New York and one of the City’s most talented musicians, Jim McNeely. New York Stories is a fine summation of their longtime friendship and exquisite work together.
released August 17, 2018
Jim McNeely - arranger, conductor
Judy Niemack - vocals
Anders Gustafsson - 1st trumpet
Christer Gustafsson - 2nd trumpet
Thomas Kjaergaard - 3rd trumpet
Mads La Cour - 4th trumpet
Lars Vissing - 5th trumpet
Vincent Nilsson - 1st trombone
Steen Nikolaj Hansen - 2nd trombone
Peter Jensen - 3rd trombone
Annette Saxe - 4th trombone
Jakob Munck Mortensen - 5th trombone
Nicolai Schultz - 1st alto sax
Peter Fuglsand - 2nd alto sax
Hans Ulrik - 1st tenor sax
Frederick Menzies - 2nd tenor sax
Anders Gaardmand - baritone sax
Per Gade - guitar
Nikolaj Bentzon - piano
Kaspar Vadsholt - bass
Søren Frost - drums