Remember the early 2000s (or the early aughts, as some like to call them)? Right about that time, "nu jazz" - which blended jazz, funk, soul and electronica - reached its creative peak. The heyday didn't last long. Hip-hop all but obliterated niche genres, and while I have no special feeling for hip-hop or rap one way or another (other than I'm not into most of it), it's a shame that nu jazz fell by the wayside. There was an intelligence at work with nu jazz, which often took existing jazz standards and souped them up to sometimes startling effect - the Saint Germaine electro-jazz series being a prime example - and, at its very best, created fresh, original material.
For me, nu jazz at its best remains Blue Six's 2002 classic (and I'm not using that term loosely) "Beautiful Tomorrow," a slinky-cool collection of original deep house tunes masterminded by producer/songwriter Jay Denes and a group of dreamy-sounding female vocalists, including Monique Bingham and Catherine Russell, who perform on two of the CDs most noteworthy tracks, "Close To Home" and "Music And Wine." It's just gorgeous.
The CD got me to thinking. Who were the uncredited singers of Blue Six? A few of them I knew, but some, like Aya (pictured below), I hadn't heard of before.
Not surprisingly, this British-born singer and actress has collaborated countless times with Jay Denes and his Naked Music label. A member of the Sade-produced band Sweetback, she also played a supporting role in "Loving Jezebel" (a movie I haven't seen, but which sounds like fun). In 2004, based on the success of "Blue Six," Naked Music released Aya's solo effort. It's in the same vein as "Beautiful Tomorrow," which means it's just as creamy-delicious, while Aya's voice, which is barely above a whispery murmur, is just right.
As for Monique Bingham - she's the vocalist on "Close To Home" - no party is complete without her.
Why Monique hasn't yet done a solo CD is a great mystery. Over the last few decades, she's has been the diva to call for producers of sleek, soulful jazz-dance tunes, her resume of collaborators reading like a Who's Who of house music's best: Blue Six, Abstract Truth, Ralph Gum, Okada Taxi. Below is a Cheerfully Exclusive! collection of her most popular tunes, including the irresistible "Little West 12th Street" and "You. Me. World," both of which highlight her dazzling ability to seemingly free-float above and around the melody line, as if she were taking you into every hidden corner of a song. And, yes, she's just as good live, in case you were wondering:
If you're familiar with any of the vocalists on "Beautiful Tomorrow," it's probably jazz chanteuse Catherine Russell (who's been featured on the Cheerful before).
You'll absolutely j'adore, as they say, "Strictly Romancin'" a stylish collection of jazz standards (and Catherine's best to date, I think). You can't go wrong with her pure, crystalline voice. She's the real deal, a modern jazz vocalist who can run the entire gamut from traditional to cutting edge (I guess we shouldn't be surprised that she's the daughter of Louis Armstrong's long-time musical director, or that her mother was a pioneering female jazz vocalist). Just listen to her on the track "Romance In The Dark" and you'll be sold.
The Secret Song File is a fan of all divas, young and old, though recently, when a certain young diva celebrated her full-figured "bass" with a repetitive, mind-numbing single, it made her feel as if she were being attacked (and not in a good way). "Shut that
But lo, when she got hold of the full CD (from her bestie, Senor Cuban Luvuh), she was shocked - shocked, I tell you - because the rest of the songs on her CD are a blast of pop fun. For reals. Which is where the iTunes' "un-check song" function comes in handy, because now when she plays the CD, it automatically skip-to-me-Lou's right over the keister song in question. Hooray!
Ain't technology grand?
Comment, if you like, but ain't nobody wanna hear 'bout your mangy ol' whoopie cakes!