Friday, October 17, 2014

The Highliners - The Band That's Tight and Plays it Just Right

On Friday evening October 10th The Highliners performed to a large crowd at Somethin' jazz club in the East 50s in NYC. The atmosphere was intimate, akin to a cavern-styled Parisian jazz club like the one that was lovingly reproduced in the movie 'Round Midnight. Instead of experiencing tenor saxophonist Dale Turner (portrayed by Dexter Gordon) with his 1950's style jazz trio, the audience was exposed to the multidimensional sounds of a quintet that is well versed in multiple styles of jazz including straight ahead, uniquely interpreted rock tunes, classical music and Latin offerings. Some of these numbers have original arrangements with through-composed lines adding to the texture of the quintet's interpretations. And as the title of this blog indicates the band is psychically tight. The rhythm section of Steve Newman (piano), Adam Kahan (bass) and Tommy Mattioli (drums) was like a finely tuned timepiece playing satisfying ideas that were always spot on to Debra Kreisberg's sultry alto sax and Melissa Fogarty's mellifluous vocals.

One of the contributing factors that make The Highliners stand out from other local jazz groups I have heard over the last 20 years is Melissa Fogarty's vocalism. She has a distinct, clear soprano sound reminiscent of Diane Schuur. Fogarty's virtuosic lines are more rooted from a singer's organic perspective while Schuur's lines are more instrumental in approach. Fogarty is also a classically trained soprano whose training lends a pleasing heft to her sound consistently throughout all registers while managing not to sound operatic at all. She studied at Eastman School of Music where she received her bachelors degree. After graduation she studied privately with the great diva and music educator Rita Shane. Ms. Shane unfortunately passed away earlier in October. (Yours truly also had the honor of studying with Ms. Shane for 7 years in her private studio in NYC.) Fogarty dedicated Johnny Mandel's The Shadow of Your Smile to her and the band played the tune in a stimulating bossa style that truthfully memorialized her powerful spirit.

Another contributing factor to this quintet's uniqueness is Debra Kreisberg who is a jazz and classically trained saxophonist also with a bachelors degree from Eastman and a masters degree in Jazz and Commercial Music from Manhattan School of Music, where she studied with Dick Oatts. Her solid technique shows in the beauty of her tone and in the ease with which she executes her lines. Her solos are tasteful and fulfilling like a mellow Bordeaux and never too aggressively brash as a "drink now" wine would be.

To further expound on the versatility of The Highliners here is a sampling of their tune list - Johnny Mandel's A Time for Love, Jobim's No More Blues featuring an original composed line by Kreisberg and The Beatles' Eight Days a Week cleverly arranged by Fogarty. Their next engagement is on December 10th at Tomi Jazz and you can find out more about them by "liking" their facebook page. A web site is forthcoming. Do go and see them. Their music will inspire you and broaden your jazz sensibilities.

Tami Swartz is an actor, opera singer, director, producer, occasional jazz vocalist and when possessed by something that moves her is a blogger who resides in NYC with her husband and stuffed rabbits…

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