art by Lilia Levin

Louise Rogers

Reviewed by Don Williamson

Louise Rogers and Rick Strong may be one of the best vocal/bass duos you’ve never heard. Unless you’re fortunate enough to have encountered Rogers while she’s at work as a music specialist at Medical Center Nursery School, where she engages children in jazz as a means of communication; as the leader of the Children’s Choir in Washington Heights, where she teaches six- to ten-year-olds; as a teacher at Roxbury High School in New Jersey. In addition, Rogers inspires her son Alex with the love of music, the way that Rogers’ parents, music professors at the University of New Hampshire, did for her. Despite such time-consuming dedication to introducing children to the joy of music, Rogers has found time to study with the likes of Jerry Bergonzi and Kim Nazarian of New York Voices. Plus, she has worked with a long list of high-caliber jazz musicians, such as Lionel Hampton, Clark Terry, Bill Charlap, Jon Faddis, Tito Puente, Ingrid Jensen, members of New York Voices,¦and with Rick Strong, a bass player who happens to be her husband as well. Together, Rogers and Strong are reviving the occasionally recorded joining of voice and bass, but this time throughout the entire length of a CD. Often, singers record tracks with just voice and bass, the better to hear them with, or sometimes they quiet things down for the length of entire song, as the resonating pulse of the bass sets the pace for the singing. But Rogers and Strong have been doing this for so long, discovering that they need no other instruments to convey their messages so effectively, that they’ve become accustomed to the pace. Of course, a good place to start with this tribute to the natural affinity of voice for bass, and vice versa, is Sheila Jordan’s ground-breaking work with, first, Steve Swallow, and then with Harvie Swartz. And then Cameron Brown. Rogers and Strong have found the perfect Jordan song for their dedication, Bobby Timmons’ Dat Dere, a combination of child-like wonder and toy soldiers’ march at the bridge. But Rogers and Strong carry the concept steps beyond what Jordan did by (1) expanding beyond the traditional jazz song list and (2) changing the texture of the music through Strong’s use of electric bass as well. With Les Hooper’s Bass-ically Speaking, the duo pares the singing and the playing down to their basic essentials as they refer to Hooper’s and Gene Puerling’s innovative vocal arrangement for Singers Unlimited, even as they structurally outline it, swooping here and there with the broad intervallic leaps, rather than filling in the rich harmonies. And Lambert Hendricks & Ross’ Twisted alludes to Annie Ross’s famous version that applied the theme of psychiatry to make forever memorable Wardell Gray’s tune. But Rachelle Ferrell’s Peace On Earth attains poignant relevance, especially with Rogers’ sly, almost unnoticeable reference to the Middle East, as Strong accents Rogers voice, in Ferrellian timbral contrast to the cooler, more ironic wryness of Jordan and Ross, with guitar-like electric bass accompaniment. The traditional song, Shenandoah, attains the same feeling of fervid wishfulness colored by Strong’s ringing alternation of lead melody with sensitive accompaniment. Rounding out the CD are carefully chosen songs that feature the expressiveness of Rogers’ voice, subtly anchored by the prodding and complementary bass work. Willow Weep For Me, after all, works as a singer’s narrative of dejection, allowing for high points and low, and orchestrations can be ornamental rather than essential. Instead, the song becomes Rogers’, and Strong settles into a supportive, though important, role as he moves the song with 6/8 rippling. Thought About You is more animated as voice and bass play in unison at the scatted introduction before breaking out into walking bass adding buoyancy to Rogers’ joyous ease. All in all, Rogers and Strong, vocalist and bassist, husband and wife, leader and accompanist, mother and father, teacher and taught, have found additional fulfillment now in their role as recording artists who have released a distinctive and well-produced CD, of minimal instrumentation and ample complexity, that reminds listeners of the effectiveness and versatility of a single voice when supported solely by string bass.

Tracks: Bass-ically Speaking, Angel In The House, Twisted, Willow Weep For Me, Autumn Leaves, Peace On Earth, Dat Dere, Nana, I Thought About You, Shenandoah

Listen :
CD Baby

Reviewed by: Don Williamson