After Hours

by Espresso Jazz

Released 2007
Sanbar Records
Released 2007
Sanbar Records
Joe Pass and Ella Fitzgerald inspired, the Espresso Jazz Duo plays a relaxing after hours blend of jazz, blues, and swing for your listening pleasure.
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CD Review: ESPRESSO JAZZ “After Hours”
By Kevin McVeigh 4/2/07

It’s late in the evening at my family’s summer rental at the shore. South Jersey, 1957. The little ones are in bed, the dishes are cleared, the lights are lowered, and my parents are listening to music with a few old friends. The clinking of ice cubes in the highball glasses, the faint glow of cigarettes, and the sound of the music from the record player: Mabel Mercer, Blossom Dearie, Lee Wiley, Erroll Garner, and of course, Old Blue Eyes himself. It’s not a nightclub, just a little bungalow by the beach, but it has the aura of an archetype. And that archetype is “After Hours.”

Sandi Russell and Barbara Hilton, the anchoring duo of the often larger ensemble, Espresso Jazz, have now issued their first duet recording. It’s a smooth and slow, sexy and stylish collection of intimate tunes that they call, you guessed it, “After Hours.” They’ve brewed up the perfect late night concoction for your thirsty ears, your battle-scarred heart and your longing soul, with just enough upbeat numbers to keep you from sliding off your barstool or your sofa as their other languorous tunes carry you away into the land of reverie and reflection.

Sandi Russell has an enchanting voice to blend with her many-mooded guitar work. This woman can sing, no doubt about it; but more than that, she can “style” a song like few vocalists around. Maybe like some of those virtuosos named above, on that long ago evening by the seashore. And Barbara Hilton, working a standup bass as big as she is, keeps the air and sky of Russell’s music connected to the very spot where you’re sitting with her sure and percussive pulse: earthy, immediate and deeply sensual.

The Russell/Hilton repertoire is truly an After Hours tour, starting with the Cole Porter classic, “I Love Paris.” It’s the perfect tune to lead off this collection, because its message is the one that underlies the entire performance: What’s to love about Paris, cheri, is not the Eiffel Tower or the Champs Elysees; it’s the fact that you are near. And when Sandi Russell sings those words in an intimate whisper, you know she is talking to you alone.

If you ask her, ala Taxi Driver Travis Bickel, “Are you talkin’ to me?” the answer comes back right away. This intimate personal motif is echoed in the lilting song that follows next, “East of the Sun, (West of the Moon)” when Ms. Russell reassures you, darling, that it’s “just you and I,” and she phrases those words as if she truly means what she says.

But words can only say so much, and music sometimes has to speak for itself, as Russell and Hilton remind us with the three splendid instrumentals in this collection: “Unforgettable,” Gershwin’s “Summertime,” and the traditional ballad, “The Water is Wide.” On all three the Espresso Jazz pair reminds you that they are fundamentally an instrumental duet, as the guitar and the bass become partners in a most intimate dance of notes and chords, of melodies and rhythms. And by the way, if you’re one of those who wonders, Is this great music for making love to (oh, go ahead, admit it, you are), the answer, cheri, is an emphatic Mais Oui!

Sailing away in your thoughts and memories? Wake up, dahling, let’s go “Walkin’ After Midnight.” Let’s add a little “brassy” to our “sultry” with “Puttin’ On the Ritz.” Let’s swing a little, as we go strolling in the “Summer Wind.” All three numbers will bring you back to life, at least enough to get up and freshen that drink, or put another log on the fire.

But in the end, sweetheart, let’s be honest. This thing we call love is always shot through with a certain sadness, a bittersweet ache. The rhapsodic fantasies of forever in “Summer Me, Winter Me” (Michel Legrand) will rekindle even your most jaded hopes, but they eventually find their balance in the sad and lonely message of “A Day in the Life of a Fool,” and in the plaintive and melancholy instrumental “The Water is Wide,” that signals closing time at Sandi and Barbara’s “After Hours” café.

The Ms’es (hey, how DO you pluralize Ms?) Russell and Hilton bring their plangent sound to a number of intimate Western Massachusetts locales, such as the Franklin County trattoria Ristorante DiPaolo, where they hold court on Monday evenings. However, with this recording you can bring them right into the even more intimate setting of your own home, your love nest, or most delightfully of all into your own ears, where Sandi will remind you, dear, that the songs are really about you, and Barbara will drive that message home with the pulsing of her soulful bass. And best of all, you can hear them (almost live) in places where “After Hours” never ends. Until, and if, you want it to.

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Album Liner Notes: ESPRESSO JAZZ "After Hours"

Like the late set at a jazz club, the mood of Espresso Jazz's "After Hours" is mellow but not without surprises, inspired by the intimate duet recordings of Ella Fitzgerald & Joe Pass, this album conjures up the relaxed "after hours" feeling of a smoke-filled club, where a few lonely souls nurse their drinks while being transported by the music.

Unlike the four previous small group recordings, Espresso Jazz's fifth undertaking highlights the duo, Sandi Russell (vocals, guitar) and Barbara Hilton (bass).

Russell's smooth vocal style and lyrical guitar, blend with Hilton's supportive pulse to weave a musical tapestry that soothes the senses.

Stop in and stay awhile.

Enjoy the warm cool of Espresso Jazz's "After Hours."