Julie Benko has a sweet gypsy flair to her voice, and uses it well on this flexible release which features her own material and some clever covers. The core team of Jason Yeager/p, Danny Weller/b and Jay Sawyer is supplemented by various horns, strings, etc to create a variety of mood. She gets klezmery with Dan Levinson’s clarinet on a winsome “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” and melancholic alongside Alon Bisk’s cello during “A Wish.” She’s got a nimble delivery with lyrics, bouncing well on her own “Tomorrow Is A Day For You” and going rapid fire with the hons on “Wonderful, Wonderful Day.” Her duet with Yeager on “Always” is disarmingly intimate and her clever read of John Denver’s “Leaving On A Jet Plane” is cozy by the fireplace. Creative and swinging.
Maria Schafer has a clear and confident tone, and joined with Shane Savala/g, Joe Butts/b, Kyle Sharamitaro/dr and Brad Black/tp produces a comfy read of standards. She holds her own over the rumbling drums on “You Don’t Know What Love Is” and is inviting while changing the expected pace alongside Butts’ bass during a “I Fall In Love To Easily.” With Savala’s acoustic guitar, she changes dynamics and range like a closing reliever on the languid “Body and Soul,” slithers a samba’d “Almost Like Being In Love” and does a peppy front line with Black on “S’Wonderful/They Can’t Take That Away From Me.” More intimately, her duet with Butts which opens “Lush Life” makes you beg for more of the same. Impressive foray.
Banda Magda goes excitingly international, singing in French, Greek and Spanish on this Mediterranean feast. Exciting and vibrant combinations of strings, rhythm and horns mix with catchy choruses as Magda Giannikou plays piano and accordion herself, going from hip hoppy celebrations on “Tam Tam” to Aegean percussive during “Reine De Bois.” She gloriously agonizes with strings on the melancholy “Ase Me Na Bo” while the three part title track takes you on a wondrous journey through narration and festivities. Magda’s voice is strong, confident, flexible and alluring, drawing you into her world on the driving “Vem Morena” or glowing “Thiamandi.” She’s hitting LA Oct 20 at the Mint. Don’t miss this one!