I have rarely enjoyed such a quartet as this one. Nor have I ever encountered a foursome with such a wide generational, geographical, and gender-neutral range under its collective belt. I was surprised to realize that reed virtuoso Dan Levinson is the only natural-born American in the collective. Otherwise the participants range from Ottawa, Ontario (pianist Gordon Webster), to Newcastle, Australia (bassist-vocalist Nicki Parrott), to Chilliwack, British Columbia (highly preferable to Spanish Colombia, trumpeter-vocalist Bria Skonberg), and in age from their 20s to their 40s. (There's a similar international prerogative in that the songs originated as far afield as France and Brazil, and were composed anywhere from the 1920s to the 1950s.)
The success of this session underscores the compatibility of the styles and materials that the quartet chooses to work from: the stylistic vocabularies of New Orleans, traditional, and Swing Era jazz, the Great American Songbook, popular songs from all over the globe, rhythms and grooves from across the New World, rendered in statements both vocal and instrumental.
The two girl-girl vocal duets, coincidentally, both originated in Rio: Brazil, more properly known as "Aquarela do Brasil," and Manhã de Carnaval, which is more familiarly known as "A Day in the Life of a Fool" in English, although this earlier translation by the storied George David Weiss hones closer to the original Portuguese. Terry Waldo's The Summer of '23 sounds like something that Jelly Roll or Papa Joe would have written, while Only Trust Your Heart is by a long-distance-running pair of North Americans (Sammy Cahn, whose lyrics are hauntingly sung by Ms. Parrott, and Benny Carter). Ms. Parrott shows why it was instantly adopted by Brazilian musicians, who raised it as one of their own. A marvelous voice-piano duet, When Your Lover Has Gone, speaks to the affability of Ms. Parrott and Mr. Webster, who shows his mettle as a vocal accompanist of superior worth.
Then there's C'est Si Bon (which is known in English as "C'est Si Bon"), a song that's so French that Ms. Parrott felt obliged to introduce her arrangement with Ms. Skonberg quoting "La Marseilles," is possibly an even greater feat of group singing, since Mr. Levinson's C-melody saxophone obligato behind Ms. Parrott and Ms. Skonberg's muted trumpet contributions are so exquisitely vocalized that this truly amounts to a vocal trio. (Mr. Levinson seems intent on renaming this song, "C'est Si-Melody," and more power to him.) Another slice of international solidarity, Russian Lullaby, is offered here in honor of a certain very close friend of all the participants, a sentimental gentleman from Georgia who does not wish to be back in the USSR.
And so I'm saying thanks a million to everyone concerned for this grandly swinging set of jazz that's blissfully free of agenda, an ambition thoroughly communicated by the opening track, Cole Porter It's All Right With Me. Is this swing? Traditional jazz? What we once called "Mainstream Jazz"? It doesn't matter. It's as thoroughly modern, relevant, and contemporary as any music being played today. Throughout, the four participants all seem to be saying that whatever what you might choose to call this music, it's all right with me.
Will Friedwald writes about jazz and nightlife for THE WALL STREET JOURNAL. He is the author of eight books on music and popular culture, including A BIOGRAPHICAL GUIDE TO THE GREAT JAZZ AND POP SINGERS (winner of the 2011 ASCAP Award), and is an eight-time Grammy nominee.