According to Amy CD by Amy Jo Sawyer, Review by Joseph Natoli

According to Amy

Amy Jo Sawyer

Amy Jo Sawyer

November 2014

by Joseph Natoli

According to Amy

Plainly and Simply – You are going to love every minute of this “According To Amy” CD from Amy Jo Sawyer. Let me walk you through the reasons why, starting from opening the CD jacket, and then onto every sumptuous track.

The CD itself is done very tastefully, which is apparent even when you first open the CD package. Notice the very elegant picture of Amy Jo on the front cover with the absolutely fantastic art design on the CD itself and the beautifully conceived and executed Giulietti free bass accordion artwork. From there, the journey gets even better.

The first piece to strike your ears is Brazilian Suite and the first movement called Carnival. From these first gorgeous moments it becomes apparent that this CD project was meant to set the bar very high. Carnival is a great opening selection because it gets in your face immediately with crafty and progressive jazz chord changes, great Latin rhythms, absolutely fantastic backup musicians (on percussion, guitar, and bass), and great playing from Amy Jo herself.

The other thing that is very noticeable from the start is how beautifully each and every instrument was recorded, especially the accordion, which by its very nature is a very difficult instrument to record well. The sound is so smooth, warm, and yes, once again I will use the word sumptuous, because that is the word that best describes the whole aural experience of this project. Also, as a composer myself, I would be remiss if I did not mention the composition craft on every original track. Amy Jo’s compositional sense of style, taste, elegance, mood, structure, development artistry, and ambiance are apparent on each and every track, so just assume that is what you will hear throughout without me having to repeat those same comments for each.

Next comes Evening as movement two in Brazilian Suite. The opening sweet dissonances introduced by the accordion, with Amy Jo enhancing those on an opening ostinato line in the free bass, then comes to sweet resolution harmonically with further development both on the accordion and with the introduction of the rain stick and other percussion.

One thing I love about the whole CD and especially this movement is that Amy Jo shows that the accordion can be very musical on any level without submitting to the constant and annoying temptation in the accordion world of playing incessantly fast. I get very bored with that kind of playing, as I am always listening for substance and musicality first, which Amy Jo delivers in spades on every level. Speed and technique should be used judiciously like a spice or fine wine. Too much of a good thing is rarely a good thing, and Amy Jo artfully realizes this, as Frank Marocco always did, using technique when it means something musically.

The next movement, Celebration, is a thoughtful and upbeat conclusion to Brazilian Suite. It is performed beautifully by every instrumentalist, with the percussionist’s driving rhythms, and the guitarist’s thoughtful accompaniment to Amy Jo’s luscious harmonies. This whole suite puts Amy Jo in the same league as Astor Piazzolla from the perspective of using compositional and performance artistry to elevate the tango from a popular dance music style to serious art music. Amy Jo, I believe, has done something very similar with the genre of the Latin jazz suite. She very artfully and skillfully has taken this art form and created something very worthy of being on any concert stage in the world.

Three Four Frank is next and one thing that is obvious with this work as well as all of Amy Jo’s music is that the lines are musically clean and effective, such that a performer can immediately understand the musical result she is seeking. This piece is a lot of fun, as is obvious too by the flautist’s improvisation on this track. Compositionally this piece, like all the others, opens with a theme that gets into the groove quickly, then develops a very skillful tapestry of sound without the listener even realizing it, because it is done with such subtlety. I love this piece, and you will too.

Juntos is next and the CD cover indicates that this title means “together.” That term describes the performance very well. This is very a relaxed yet tight performance, which gets into a great groove from all participants from the very beginning and pervades throughout. Listen for the very creative harmonic transition at 1:37. It is just lovely and proves over and over again that Amy Jo’s sense of harmonic style and compositional skill are second to none.

Elida opens again with a very musical and skillful theme on the accordion. I would love to have heard this one with the UKMC Accordion Orchestra for whom it was originally written. But in this small ensemble setting, I am sure it is every bit as satisfying. After Amy Jo finishes with her outstanding opening (on the absolutely sweet sound of her Giulietti accordion), in comes some great improv moments from her guitarist and saxophonist. Both are great jazz solos, with a full and tasteful accordion accompaniment by Amy Jo.

The next three tracks are arrangements by Amy Jo of popular jazz standards that show her artistry in this genre as well and are a great complement to her originals on the CD. There Will Never Be Another You shows off Amy Jo’s improvisation talents, and really showcases some great improvs from the guitarist as well as the first bass solo on the CD, both gems. Amy Jo comes sliding back in so smoothly with the single line melody at 3:27, then listen for another one of Amy Jo’s artful transitions at 3:38.

Stella By Starlight’s opening chord is perfect and quickly sets the mood for the rest of the song. Then Amy Jo’s use of the free bass to state the melody on that deep and fat 16’ bassoon reed is just gorgeous. It gets better from there with an ensemble accompaniment very reminiscent of a 1960’s smoke filled jazz club in Chicago, NYC, or Bourbon St, with the likes of Bill Evans.

The sax solo is really appropriate and beautiful on this track. He picks out all the right notes, without leaving anything on the table. Amy Jo’s accompaniment is unobtrusive and so complementary as well. One Note Samba is up next and one of my favorite Latin jazz tunes. This is a very tight ensemble and the recording of the guitar solo is excellent on this track, as is the flute solo (with some of those great bent blue notes). The words that continually come to mind when describing this and all of the tracks throughout are tasteful and elegant.

The CD is rounded out with the final track of another Amy Jo original called Opus 5-6-4. This demonstrates Amy Jo’s equally strong talent in composing and orchestrating for accordion orchestra. Since this track was recorded on tour to Australia and New Zealand, it is apparent that a lot of work was put in by the entire ensemble to make this a strong and tight performance, especially considering the challenging time signatures as indicated in the title. This final piece does not disappoint as it exemplifies all the descriptions I have used to describe Amy Jo’s music throughout.

This is a great CD that you will likely enjoy over and over again because one listening session will not do it justice, as many of the artistic subtleties will emerge with repeated perusals. I know will you enjoy it as much as I have.

Reviewed by Joseph Natoli - November 2014.

Purchase CD at: According to Amy

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