Hear the joyous first single from Catherine Russell's next album, 'Send For Me'
Catherine Russell is, among many other delightful things, a certifiable party-starter. We've known this for some time now — certainly as far back as a decade ago, when she was part of the gang that won Best Compilation Soundtrack at the Grammy Awards, for Boardwalk Empire Volume 1: Music from the HBO Original Series.
As a singer and bandleader, Russell has often drawn from an adjacent wellspring of throwback swing, in a bounding style that is her birthright. Her father, influential pianist and orchestrator Luis Russell, counted King Oliver and Louis Armstrong as contemporaries. Her mother, Carline Ray, was a guitarist and singer in the trailblazing International Sweethearts of Rhythm, and a mentor to generations behind her.
But Russell took a circuitous path to claiming her own perch in the jazz tradition — recording countless pop sessions as a backup singer, and touring with David Bowie and Steely Dan. Her bond with Levon Helm provides the subtext of a fine new album with Steven Bernstein's Millennial Territory Orchestra, recently featured in Take Five.
Russell has her own high-spirited new release on the near horizon: Send For Me, named for an Ollie Jones tune made famous by Nat "King" Cole. The first single from the album is another chestnut, "At the Swing Cats Ball." Here is an accompanying video featuring Russell and her band in the studio; it has its premiere here at WBGO.
For jazz fans of a certain disposition, "At the Swing Cats Ball" is synonymous with Louis Jordan, who recorded the song with his Tympany Five for Decca Records on March 29, 1939. Luis Russell never recorded the tune himself, though it was in his book as a bandleader. "My mother had given me sheet music a long time ago, saying, 'Your father co-wrote this tune, and Louis Jordan covered it,'" Russell explains in press materials. "We found a live version performed by my dad's orchestra on a radio broadcast, and we adapted his arrangement. I love the image of people going to a swing dance."
That festive spirit is vivid and clear on Russell's version of the tune, featuring a powder-keg horn section with John Allred on trombone, Jon-Erik Kellso on trumpet and Evan Arntzen on tenor saxophone. (They solo in that order, each man tipping his cap to jazz-historical precedent in the process.) The rhythm section constitutes Russell's working band: guitarist and musical director Matt Munisteri, pianist Mark Shane, bassist Tal Ronen, and drummer Mark McLean.
Russell and her band will be on the road more or less steadily from now through mid-May; they'll be at Birdland next week, in a Valentine's engagement. Russell will then join Bernstein and the MTO for a album-release shows at Levon Helm Studios in Woodstock, N.Y. (Feb. 25) and at a brand-new spot, The Atlantic BKLYN (Feb. 28).
Send For Me will be released on Dot Time Records on April 1; preorder here.