Jazz has long existed as a paradoxical combination of both serious and playful efforts. While it is indeed a serious art music, requiring years of disciplined practice, jazz is filled with masterpieces that were penned to capture the innocent lightheartedness of children including Bill Evans’s “Waltz for Debby,” John Coltrane’s “Syeeda’s Song Flute,” Wayne Shorter’s “Infant Eyes,” as well as Thelonious Monk’s “Little Rootie Tootie” and “Boo Boo’s Birthday.” As an art form steeped in melodic variation and improvisation, jazz is deeply rooted in the carefree whims of childhood before the structure and responsibilities of adulthood take hold.
This childlike innocence is at the heart of Abigail Riccards’s wonderful new recording. On this disc she brings her masterful grace with both music and children to the fore. Although Abigail has most certainly established a reputation in both New York and Chicago as one of the finest vocalists in jazz today, she has also garnered significant experience as a parent/child music teacher, particularly with Music Together and ArtStrides (a nonprofit program for special needs and financially disadvantaged children, which the sales of this recording benefit.) This recording is thematically dedicated to the children in Abigail’s life, most notably her beloved nieces and nephew and her Music Together/ArtsStrides families.
One cannot help but marvel, not only at Abigail’s consummate musicianship on these tracks, but the stunning ability with which her fellow musicians and producer bring her musical vision to life. Abigail has shared the stage countless times with these collaborators. Michael Kanan is simply one of the finest pianists and vocal accompanists in jazz, carrying the torch of such similar luminaries as Jimmy Rowles, Tommy Flanagan, Jimmy Jones, and Paul Smith. Neal Miner, who possesses a marvelous tone, stunning sense of swing, and uncanny articulation, has also established himself as a stellar vocal accompanist, most notably for his work with Jane Monheit and Annie Ross. Eliot Zigmund, well known for his seminal work with the Bill Evans trio, is a drummer of incomparable taste and profound swing. One cannot help but be tickled hearing his exquisite brush work with Abigail on Evans’s “Waltz for Debby.” Believe it or not, (and I don’t!) this recording actually represents the first meeting of Abigail and Peter Bernstein, his golden guitar tone and delectable phrasing on “Smile” reveal this to be a match made in heaven. Abigail was deeply honored to have Jane Monheit, widely acclaimed jazz vocalist and recording artist, produce the session. On top from Ms. Monheit’s amazing recording production, the duet that they perform on Joni Mitchell’s “Circle Game” is a treasure. The musicians perform gems such as “Singin’ in the Rain,” “Sleepin’ Bee,” and “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” expressing superb artistry, as well as the childlike innocence that informs many of these lyrics, making this a truly blissful listening experience.