Thursday, January 3, 2013

Get to Know: Claire Daly

Last February 14th I wrote a post on baritone sax players, and included in it Claire Daly, who is one of today's foremost practitioners on the instrument. In October 2012 she released he lastest effort, "Baritone Monk" (North Coast Brewing Company 2012) and it is terrific. And according to the brewery's site, all proceeds from the CD will go to the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, so even better.

Often the question is asked "Do we really need another Monk tribute?" I cannot answer it for the jazz community at large, but I can for myself: if it is a good as this one is, then of course.

As background, here is what I wrote about Claire Daly last year. Claire Daly began playing the saxophone at age 12, and according to her biography, "was soon turned onto jazz by way of a visit with her father to a concert that featured Buddy Rich with his big band". The excitement of the night led her to take up the sax in earnest and led to her musical studies at the Berklee College Of Music. She turned professional in the late 1970s and  played tenor sax with both jazz and rock bands. Gradually moving over to jazz full time, she switched to the baritone saxophone.She cites her influences on baritone as Serge Chaloff, Ronnie Cuber and Leo Parker.  In the 1980s she had an extended seat in the all-female big band Diva, and worked with pianist Joel Forrester in People Like Us. She is another of the versitile baritone players like Ronnie Cuber, and moves easily between jazz, R&B and Latin. In 1999 she produced her first CD as a leader, "Swing Low" (Daly Bread 1999), which shows her  to be a gifted improviser with a deep, round tone, and a wide range of emotion in her songs.

Since her debut disc in 1999, according to her web site she has gone on to produce eight other CDs, with this recent Monk outing her most recent one. Her band includes Steve Hudson on piano, Mary Ann Sweeney on bass, and Peter Grant on drums. The group hews pretty closely to the Monk tune's with a big sound and well-coordinated comping and creative solos that bring the standard Monk tunes to life. There is a casual feel to the music that can only be achieved by a band that has worked together and knows each others' playing, so that the music feels robust for the listener. Daly is the dominant voice and her big tone, round and mellow sound, and phrasing in the Monk style come through clearly, but each player gets plenty of space to improvise and solo. Grant drives the music along without overwhelming it, using his brushes and high hat to great effect. Daly surprises and pleases with her flute play on "Pannonica", which is a knockout imparting special beauty to this lovely melody. On the other hand I was not overly enamoured of Daly's singing on the closer, "A Merrier Christmas/Stuffy Turkey." But one song hardly diminishes what is a really solid outing. Highly recommended.

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