The Look of Love by Diana Krall

look of loveMusic – This is the cuddle by the fireside with someone you love album. Diana Krall is the great torch singer of our time, and this album features her signature throaty, sexy, husky style on sultry romances wafted on light Latin beats. The tone of the album falls within the spirit and the letter of bossa nova, and it deals with adult emotions specifically the ups and downs of love. It features the lush orchestrations of the legendary composer Claus Ogerman, with the London Symphony Orchestra and also the Los Angeles Session Orchestra. The album topped the Billboard charts and went to quintuple platinum in Canada, the first by a Canadian artist to do so.  A native of Nanaimo, British Columbia, Diana has sold more than 15 million albums worldwide, won five Grammy Awards with nine gold, three platinum and seven multi-platinum albums. She is one of the top female jazz vocalists and bestselling artists of our time. I loved all of these gorgeous love songs, especially “The Look of Love,” “S’Wonderful,” and “Dancing in the Dark.” She is married to the iconic British rock musician Elvis Costello, and they have twin sons. Her new album Wallflower will not be released until February 3, 2015. She has canceled all of her fall tour dates due to chronic pneumonia, as she needs to regain her strength and good health.

Inspirato by Yanni

yanniMusic – Yanni’s new 2014 album presents his instrumental hits sung by the finest operatic voices. The lyrics were written by Placido Domingo, Jr., son of the legendary Placido Domingo. The younger Domingo has put words to some of the most beautiful and famous compositions of Yanni. The album’s featured vocal artists include Renee Fleming, Nathan Pacheco, Lauren Jelencovich, Rolando Villazon and others. Yanni (Yiannis Chryssomallis) grew up in Greece, but moved to the U.S. when he was 18. His New Age music blends jazz, classical, soft rock and world music, and he uses Middle Eastern and Oriental scales, mixed meters and a variety of exotic instruments. The album is influenced by his encounters with cultures around the world and is said to reflect his “one world, one people” philosophy. You may remember his PBS production Acropolis, which is the second best-selling music video of all time, seen in 65 countries by half a billion people. The song lyrics created for Inspirato are sung in Italian, English, Spanish and other languages, and they are amazingly beautiful, enchanting and relaxing. I liked “Ode alla Grecia,” “Amare di Nuovo,” and “Incanto,” but all 13 songs are simply fascinating. At least fourteen of Yanni’s albums have peaked at No. 1 in Billboard’s New Age category, as well as Inspirato. Yanni has performed in more than 20 countries around the world and has accumulated more than 35 platinum and gold albums. It is also interesting to note that Yanni set a Greek national record in the 50-meter freestyle swimming competition at age 14.

Helen Forrest: the Voice of the Big Bands

helen forrestMusic – This is a truly remarkable album featuring the voice of Helen Forrest, who is known as the best of the big band singers from the 30’s and 40’s (the WWII generation). At the peak of her career, she was the most popular female singer in the United States. This album showcases her work with three famous bandleaders: Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, and Harry James. She was the classiest of all the big band singers, with impeccable phrasing and unparalleled range and breath control, which made it easy to be heard over a 17-piece orchestra. Helen’s understated vocal style was sensual, feminine, controlled and simple; it suggested poetic images and brokenhearted reverie. Helen was often ill as a child and had to overcome a hearing loss in one of her ears. She was raised by her mother and a stepfather (who she hated) mainly in a brothel in Brooklyn. She dropped out of high school and started her rise to fame when Artie Shaw hired her in 1938. Subsequently, she became a national favorite, and in 1942 and 1943 she was voted the best female vocalist in the U.S. in the Down Beat poll. In the course of her career, she recorded more than 500 songs! I like all of the old songs, but especially “I’ve Heard That Song Before,” “Skylark,” and “Comes Love.” Of course, the music is enhanced by the fabulous clarinet playing of both Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman, as well as Harry James’ flawless trumpet.

Back to Brooklyn by Barbra Streisand

Music – This is the new live performance album from the great Barbra Streisand. She grew up in Brooklyn, and when the new Barclays Center luxury arena opened there, she agreed to present a live concert, which she rarely does because she has stage fright. The album has 26 songs, nine of which she had never performed on stage before. Barbra talks to the audience about her memories of living in her Brooklyn apartment childhood home. Of course, she went on to fabulous stardom as a singer-songwriter, author, actress, film producer and director. She is one of only twelve other entertainers who have an Oscar, Emmy, Grammy and a Tony award. She is the best-selling female artist on the Top Selling Artists list (32 top ten albums since 1963). She has released 51 Gold albums, 30 Platinum, and 13 Multi-Platinum. She starred in the movies Funny Girl, The Way We Were, and The Owl and the Pussycat, and many others. In Back to Brooklyn everything is perfect – the orchestra, the arrangements, and her voice (smoky, silken and lustrous). Every song is wonderful! I loved “The Way we Were,” Evergreen,” and “Here’s to Life.” Streisand, now 71, can still knock your socks off with what NY Times music critic, Stephen Holden, describes as her “gift for conveying a primal human longing in a beautiful sound.”

In 27 Pieces: the Hilary Hahn Encores by Hilary Hahn

27MusicIn 27 Pieces: the Hilary Hahn Encores by Hilary Hahn, violin, is Hahn’s brilliant new 2-CD recording of 27 short pieces (“encores”) by contemporary composers. She is accompanied by pianist Cory Smythe. The album topped the Billboard classical charts and will likely win Hilary her third Grammy Award (she already has two). The individual pieces of new music have never been recorded before, and it’s likely you’ve never heard of the composers.  The album ranges from romantic to post-modern, from jazzy Hollywood film noir to the rural, folksy and obscure, from the purely abstract to the objective.  I liked the post-romantic “Whispering” by Einojuhani Rautavaara, and the meditative “Blue Curve of the Earth” by Tina Davidson, as well as the frenetic “Angry Birds of Kauai” by Jeff Myers.  All of the pieces struck me as intellectual, thoughtful, technically challenging “art” pieces. Hahn started her career as a soloist at age 16, and to date she has recorded 14 albums, three DVDs, an Oscar-nominated soundtrack and an award winning album for children.  She is known as the foremost American classical musician in promoting new post-modern music.  She performs worldwide, and as of June 2014 is completing a tour of 50 cities in 14 countries throughout North America, Europe and Asia. Her violin is an 1864 copy of Paganini’s Cannone made by Vuillaume. (She never lets it out of her sight!) The violin case comments on her life on Twitter at @violincase. By the way, Hahn’s recording of Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto was used extensively in The Deep Blue Sea starring Rachel Weisz.

Beyonce by Beyonce

beyonceBeyoncé Music This is the new smash hit album from Beyoncé (Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter), and it has 14 new songs plus a DVD with 17 tracks. It is a hip-hop/R&B album with a fresh new sound (her fifth studio album). Some of the songs feature her singing with Drake, Jay Z (her husband), Justin Timberlake and The-Dream. She is a modern-day feminist, and her songs are often characterized by themes of love, relationships, monogamy, female sexuality and empowerment. Her songs propose the idea that a woman’s prime –personal, professional, and especially sexual – can occur within a stable romantic partnership. Monogamy has never sounded more seductive or less retrograde as when dictated on Beyoncé’s terms. The vibe on Beyoncé is moodily futuristic R&B and full-grown electro soul with an artsy boho edge. The ballads are about believing in your dreams and reaching your goals. I liked the song “Flawless” which features a speech from Nigerian feminist author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and I also liked the song “Blue,” which has a cameo in it from Beyonce’s daughter Blue Ivy. Beyonce, as of 2014, is the highest earning black musician in history. She has won 17 Grammy Awards and has sold over 118 million records worldwide. On stage she is known as the sexy, seductive, sassy, provocative “Sasha Fierce,” but she isn’t like that at all in her personal life. Beyoncé is an album that is definitely worth your time; it’s sexy, tender and artistic – a “visual” album from music’s glossiest mega-star.

Night Songs by Barry Manilow

manilowMusic – This is the new CD from Barry with just him singing and playing piano (and bass) by himself. It features 16 lesser-known standards and is the perfect album for relaxing after work, or creating the mood for a romantic evening at home. It’s his most intimate, calming album of all time with beautiful melodies and well-written lyrics. I loved all of the songs and was especially touched by “Here’s that Rainy Day,” “While We’re Young,” and “Alone Together.” Manilow is Radio & Records No. 1 adult contemporary artist, and he is the top Adult Contemporary artist of all time. He has 29 platinum albums (two of them triple platinum) and has sold over 80 million albums worldwide. Not bad for a poor kid from Brooklyn, who had to work his way through Juilliard. Barry is great at introducing the wonderful songs of a different era to a new generation, and he appeals to every cross-section of society. He has Grammy, Emmy and Tony Awards, many film credits, and his concerts sell out instantly worldwide. He has cultivated a lush, sentimental, melodic, romantic musical style which I find easy to love and easy to listen to. By the way, he was Bette Midler’s music director, arranger and pianist for many years, when they were both young and unknown; both became big stars to be sure. I always loved his hit songs like “Copacabana,” “Mandy,” and “I Write the Songs,” and he’s still got the magic.

Love in Portofino by Andrea Bocelli

Love in PortofinoMovie - Love in Portofino by Andrea Bocelli is a CD/DVD set which is THE perfect date night, romantic, video.  On this release, Andrea delivers the performance of a lifetime from the beautiful surroundings of the Pizzetta in Portofino, Italy.  Playing to an intimate crowd at sunset, the legendary tenor sings the most famous love songs in the world accompanied by 16-time Grammy Award winner David Foster and a 40 piece orchestra.  Bocelli has sold over 80 million albums worldwide, making him the biggest-selling singer in the history of Classical music. He holds the 1, 2 and 3 positions in the Guinness Book of World Records on the Classical music charts, and a record six of his albums have reached the Top 10 on the Billboard 200, and a record-setting eight have topped the classical albums charts in the United States. Andrea, who has a law degree and plays many musical instruments, has been blind since age 12. Although the PBS special of this performance has more songs on it, and many of the songs were previously recorded on his album Passione, the background of the truly picturesque harbor on the Italian Riviera just takes your heart away.  I loved the songs like “Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars,” “Love in Portofino,” and “Champagne,” but all of the songs are wonderful and the night could not have been more romantic.  Andrea has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (as of 2010). Take this DVD/CD set along on your next date.

Guilty Pleasures by Renée Fleming

Guilty PleasuresMusic - Guilty Pleasures by Renėe Fleming with Sebastian Lang-Lessing conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra is the luscious new album following her Grammy Award winning album Poėmes. It is an album of very beautiful songs and arias, many of them rarely recorded, selected by Renėe and sung in eight different languages. Out of the 17 choices, I especially loved “La Delaissádo,” by Canteloube, “Once There was a Golden Bird,” by Corigliano and “Dóme ėpaís” (Flower Duet, Lakmé) by Delibes (sung with Susan Graham, mezzo-soprano). Former CSO conductor Sir Georg Solti said that in his life he had only heard two sopranos with such great quality: Fleming and Renata Tebaldi! Renėe is a four-time Grammy winner and our national treasure, traveling all over the world and performing with every major opera company and symphony. She is an advocate for literacy and has been featured in the Association of American Publishers campaign (Get Caught Reading), as well as the READ poster campaign for the American Library Association. Renėe is a product of both Eastman and Juilliard, but also sings jazz and pop songs. In fact, she recorded the jazz album Haunted Heart, and the soundtrack of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. She is known as the “people’s diva,” but speaks fluent German and French. She is from Indiana, Pennsylvania. The New York Public Library has designated her as a “Library Lion.” By the way, she has written a book titled The Inner Voice.

After Blue by Tierney Sutton

after blueMusic – Tierney Sutton’s new CD, After Blue, definitely has my vote for this year’s Grammy for “Best Jazz Vocal Album.”  Tierney has been nominated the last four years, and her band, the Tierney Sutton Band, has nine CDs – each of which has consistently topped the US jazz charts.  After Blue is a tribute album; it is an intimate, jazz-inspired re-imagining of the legacy of singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell. In After Blue, Sutton expands the scope of Joni Mitchell’s songs and recasts them in new and refreshing ways. It is Sutton’s first solo album without the Tierney Sutton Band, and it features Al Jarreau, Hubert Laws, and the Turtle Island String Quartet. All twelve tracks on the album are excellent. I like the dreamy “Both Sides Now,” and the lush, intimate “Don’t Go to Strangers.” The Turtle Island Quartet string arrangements are splendid, and the great Larry Golding’s moody piano on “Court and Spark” and “Woodstock” is the perfect touch. Tierney has won Jazzweek’s Vocalist of the Year,and she has headlined at The Hollywood Bowl, Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center and Jazz at Lincoln Center.  She is also an active educator and is currently head of the vocal department at the Los Angeles Music Academy in Pasadena, CA.