City College students review, recommend selection of jazz albums

Appreciation of jazz through the ears of City students

Album art of Ella Fitzgerald

The cover art of the last released album from American jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald features a portrait of the so-called “First Lady of Song” singing. Photo from

Aldo Ramirez, Multimedia Journalist

Each semester, the students of professor Michael Espar’s jazz history class are assigned to review a jazz release.

We’ve gathered some of the best of this semester’s reviews together. They range from classic jazz singers such as Ella Fitzgerald to the new sound of contemporary jazz of Orin Evans.

If you’re interested in submitting a musical review or writing for City Times’ monthly local music playlist, email [email protected].

Orin Evans — “The Magic of Now”

Philadelphian pianist and bandleader Orrin Evans explores uncertainty in a society adapting to social change and a global pandemic. Evans implores communities now opening themselves up to rediscover a semblance of normalcy post-isolation to discover “The Magic of Now.”

“Mynah / The Eleventh Hour” is an excitable piece with a feverish tempo and texture. The perfect contagious rising tension through minor chords embellished by powerful, howling notes and propelled by the rhythmic bass and beat.

“Libra” is led by Evans, embellished by Wilkins’ alto saxophone. The dynamic melody sings of an opportune moment bound to sweep one off their feet.

These tracks, in addition to “MAT-Matt,” feature heated pacing and syncopated sounds in the likeness of avant-garde free jazz, pushing the bounds of bebop to post-bop.

The steady swing of “Momma Loves” invites escape by celebratory highs emerging from the duo’s interpretations of the initial melody.

The album ends quietly with “Dave.” On the track the ensemble gently accompanies Evans’ contemplative tune, unfurling sensations of recollection, wonder, and quiet farewells.

The energy the quartet churns is complex and intimate throughout the album, giving it an expressive and conversational tone. In a world balancing goodwill and chaos, within the clamor of uncertainty, Evans provides a glimpse of harmony.

-Kai Kraft

Mynah / The Eleventh Hour

New Orleans Jazz Orchestra — “Petite Fleur”

“Petite Fleur” is a story of New Orleans Jazz and its relationship with France represented through music, thanks to the musical genius of Adonis Rose, a Grammy-winning jazz drummer.

“Si Tu Savais” the third track on the album features a note-bending clarinet solo that sticks out.

“Get the Bucket” shows off the undeniable skills of the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra.

This instrumental starts off by featuring a solo saxophone accompanied by the percussion section, which is soon answered by the rest of the band.

The last two songs on the album, “Undecided” and “Down,” are both filled with such energy and oomph it makes one feel like it is just the start of the record.

The album’s versatility as a whole is wonderful, there’s swing, slow tempos, upbeat grooves, beautiful vocals, and plenty of mind-blowing solos.

It is hard to expect anything less when you hear the name “New Orleans Jazz Orchestra,” but they surpassed all of my expectations. I definitely recommend this album to any jazz lover.

— Serena Garrett

Get the Bucket

Ella Fitzgerald — “The Lost Berlin Tapes”

In this compilation of some of Fitzgerald’s greatest works, performed and recorded live in Berlin, in which she sings to a roaring, energetic crowd with her belting, resonant vibrato in her vocal prime.

The level of energy she presents, and the chemistry and jazz swing style in this live recording, is unparalleled and entirely different than any of her smoother, calmer studio recordings. Heard live, you get a sense of Fitzgerald’s charm, improv genius, humor, and wit.

Her live sets interact playfully and seamlessly as her Blues and swing pieces transition from one tempo, speed, and genre to the next, as she addresses the crowd and interacts with them confidently, laughing and narrating her songs to her live audience.

She performs multiple crooning jazz standards such as “Cry Me a River” and “Mack the Knife,” but then seamless transitions from swing to the emotional soulful “Someone to Watch Over Me,”  in which her beautiful, legato vibrato swells with such emotion that audiences can feel that every word was meant for each of us.

In this live compilation, Fitzgerald balances her “Big Band” numbers with slow, sultry Blues numbers. Proving that she really is the “Lady of Jazz” as she takes you back in time with her to tap your toe or dream along with her deep vocal storytelling.

— Kim Uecker

Cry Me A River (Live)