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Recording Reviews

Friday, May 19, 2000

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

'Moon Song'
(Naxos Jazz)

3 1/2 stars

Sarah Jane Cion demonstrates throughout "Moon Song," her second CD, that she is one of the most poetic young pianists in jazz.

"Sarah represents something very honest and fresh," said producer Steve Getz, who is the son of the late saxophonist Stan Getz. "We need people like her in this business. She is extremely lyrical and has a formidable technique."

The recording on the Naxos Jazz label spotlights seven originals from the 33-year-old Cion, Johnny Mandel's "Moon Song" and a solo piano medley that captures the essence of everyone from George Gershwin to Bud Powell. Cion, a graduate of New England Conservatory, has taken the vocabulary of pianists Bill Evans, Chick Corea, Oscar Peterson and Wynton Kelly and melded it into her own language -- one that combines aggression with sensitivity and tradition with exploration.

"I've always had extremely high standards," Cion said from her home in the Bronx, N.Y. "These musicians were some of the best at their craft. I'm trying to emulate that."

She's on her way. In November, Cion won the Great American Jazz Piano Competition, an annual event in Saratoga, Fla. The judges were pianists Horace Silver, Kenny Barron and Ellis Marsalis.

"It was truly an honor for me to win the competition," Cion said, still in disbelief. "I decided to go there and relax and just focus on my music. I guess the judges enjoyed my performance."

What comes through whether in live recorded or performances is a penetrating honesty. It permeates "Moon Song," on which Cion combines vivid textures into seamless tapestry. Her choice of bandmates certainly doesn't hurt the project either. The great drummer Billy Hart is here, as is Chris Potter, one of the most sought-after saxophonists in jazz. The bass player, Phil Palombi, also makes significant contributions throughout.

All are paragons of dependability, impeccable in support and economical in their soloing. After a thoughtful, intensely meditative "A Pond Beneath the Moon," the players stretch out on Cion's "Last Cha-Cha in Longbeach." Potter plays with a cheerful disposition on "Suncycle," and he's at his lyrical best on "Moon Song," a wonderful version of a familiar song.

The internal logic and simplicity of "Blues for Chick" offer excellent examples of Cion's expansive ability. "How Long Has This Been Going On" is conceptually rich and reflects the group's attention to compositional detail.

Though Cion is proud of her 1998 CD "Indeed," she said, "I really wanted 'Moon Song' to be my first statement. I'm excited about the recording. People will get to hear my compositions and come to understand my sound and my style."

-- Nate Guidry

'Pink Pearl'
(Beyond Music)

3 1/2 stars

Jill Sobule's voice is almost pathologically upbeat, often belying the darkness of some of the songs that she writes.

For example, on "The Guy Who Doesn't Get It," from her fourth disc, "Pink Pearl," she delivers a very country song about a woman who turns to suicide when she can't get any help from her obtuse man. Sharply written, it's delivered in Sobule's sweet lilt, making the song even more chilling.

It's in stark contrast to the disc-opening "Rainy Day Parade," an over-the-top-happy song about overcoming all with good vibrations, though, with a typical Sobule twist, she sings: "We'll have a celebration, getting back on my medication."

Good vibrations are only selectively applied throughout this disc.

Through a dozen fetching compositions, Sobule careens from issues like middle-of-the-night loneliness, to the disgust of a no-tell motel, to the hard emotional shell of a "Mexican Wrestler," to the disappointment and letdown of the behavior of "Heroes."

"Paul McCartney, jealous of John, even more so now that he's gone," she sings. Later, it's this: "Heard Babe Ruth was full of malice; Lewis Carroll I'm sure did Alice."

It's all done in great fun, or so Sobule's light voice would lead you to believe. The music throughout is gentle pop, making it all the more easy to focus on those wonderful lyrics, filled with great characters and observations.

-- Tracy Collins

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