Rachel Caswell
 
  The duet is one of the most enduring formats in jazz, offering unique challenges and great artistic rewards to both musicians and listeners. In jazz duos, cooperation and communication appear in their purest form. Both musicians must retain their individuality but also let their collaborator shine. The continuous give-and-take requires that each partner knows the other’s style intimately so they can trust the other when taking a musical detour. Jelly Roll Morton and King Oliver started the trend in December 1924 when they recorded “King Porter Stomp” and “Tom Cat” and the format has been embraced by jazz musicians ever since. Although instrumentalists were the first to take up the duet, many vocalists also embraced the form including Ella Fitzgerald (with Ellis Larkins and Joe Pass), Nancy King (with Glen Moore), and Sheila Jordan (with Harvie S and Cameron Brown). It is a major step when a jazz musician releases an entire album of duets and Rachel Caswell is clearly ready for such an album.

Born into a musical family, Rachel studied jazz and cello at Indiana University and vocal jazz at the New England Conservatory of Music. Through studies with renowned musicians including John McNeil, David Baker, Dominque Eade, Carol Sloane, Clark Terry, Jimmy Heath, Benny Golson, Jay Clayton, and Sheila Jordan, Rachel developed her sense of interpretation and phrasing while her knowledge of jazz harmony grew more profound. She regularly performs with her sister, violinist Sara Caswell, and they’ve recorded together on several occasions including on their joint release Alive in the Singing Air (with Fred Hersch on piano).

With the release of All I Know, many listeners will have their first exposure to the music of Rachel Caswell and there’s little doubt that this album will appeal to a wide audience. Rachel thrives in the duo setting and the blend she creates with Stryker and Allen clearly follows in the tradition of the great jazz duets of the past with an ear to the future.

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ALBUM LINER NOTES
The duet is one of the most enduring formats in jazz, offering unique challenges and great artistic rewards to both musicians and listeners. In jazz duos, cooperation and communication appear in their purest form. Both musicians must retain their individuality but also let their collaborator shine. The continuous give-and-take requires that each partner knows the other’s style intimately so they can trust the other when taking a musical detour. Jelly Roll Morton and King Oliver started the trend in December 1924 when they recorded “King Porter Stomp” and “Tom Cat” and the format has been embraced by jazz musicians ever since. Although instrumentalists were the first to take up the duet, many vocalists also embraced the form including Ella Fitzgerald (with Ellis Larkins and Joe Pass), Nancy King (with Glen Moore), and Sheila Jordan (with Harvie S and Cameron Brown). It is a major step when a jazz musician releases an entire album of duets and Rachel Caswell is clearly ready for such an album.

Born into a musical family, Rachel studied jazz and cello at Indiana University and vocal jazz at the New England Conservatory of Music. Through studies with renowned musicians including John McNeil, David Baker, Dominque Eade, Carol Sloane, Clark Terry, Jimmy Heath, Benny Golson, Jay Clayton, and Sheila Jordan, Rachel developed her sense of interpretation and phrasing while her knowledge of jazz harmony grew more profound. She regularly performs with her sister, violinist Sara Caswell, and they’ve recorded together on several occasions including on their joint release Alive in the Singing Air (with Fred Hersch on piano). The first-call bassist for the Caswell Sisters Quintet is Jeremy Allen, who is Rachel’s duet partner on five of the tracks here. In addition to working with Rachel and Sara, Jeremy has performed with artists such as Fred Hersch, Bob Brookmeyer, Dave Liebman, and Kenny Wheeler. Appearing with Rachel on the remaining seven tracks is Dave Stryker who has been described by critic Gary Giddins as “one of the most distinctive guitarists to come along in recent years.” He has worked as a sideman with Stanley Turrentine, Kevin Mahogany, and Jack McDuff and has recorded 25 albums as a leader. He regularly places in national jazz magazine polls and his CDs have received wide acclaim from both critics and fans.

The extraordinarily high level of artistry exhibited by all three of these performers comes to the fore in these recorded collaborations and Rachel’s advanced musicianship allows both Jeremy and Dave great freedom in what they play in her support. Most of the arrangements sound quite full—at times, it’s hard to believe that there are only two musicians present—but there are instances where the concept of accompaniment goes away completely. For example, listen to the delightful double improvisation that highlights “I’ve Never Been In Love Before.” As Rachel and Dave create simultaneously, they both lay down the changes with a sensitivity that prevents their lines from colliding. On the surprisingly up-tempo “If I Should Lose You,” listen to Jeremy’s remarkable bass lines. Instead of just walking the changes behind Rachel’s superbly crafted solo, he creates an improvised counterpoint that interacts with her line rather than merely accompanying it. During the exchanges, notice that the phrases are not all the same duration; instead, they expand and contract according to the length of each idea.

There are plenty of other joys in this album and I wouldn’t dream of spoiling your opportunity to discover them on your own. I will, however, mention a few moments that will encourage me to listen to this album long after these notes are submitted. “Sometimes I’m Happy” opens with a pedal introduction by Stryker that hints at multiple keys, mirroring the split feelings of the lyric. The only wordless tune on the disc is Elmo Hope’s “De-Dah” where Rachel and Dave use the more challenging chord sequence indicated by the melody for their improvisations rather than the “I Got Rhythm” changes used on many recordings. Rachel notes that many of the songs heard here hold deep personal meaning for her and that makes the raw emotion in “You Don’t Know What Love Is” and the rubato feel of “I Fall in Love Too Easily” all the more powerful. The waltz setting of “For All We Know” is so convincing you might wonder why it wasn’t written that way in the first place. And Rachel dusts off a couple of pop tunes with a charming rendition of Simon and Garfunkel’s chestnut, “Feelin’ Groovy,” and an emotionally wrought version of Jimmy Webb’s “All I Know.”

With the release of All I Know, many listeners will have their first exposure to the music of Rachel Caswell and there’s little doubt that this album will appeal to a wide audience. Rachel thrives in the duo setting and the blend she creates with Stryker and Allen clearly follows in the tradition of the great jazz duets of the past with an ear to the future.

– Thomas Cunniffe

Thomas Cunniffe is a free-lance writer who resides in Denver, Colorado. An award-winning author, he is the founder, publisher, principal writer, and editor of www.jazzhistoryonline.com. In addition to writing about music, he is an experienced vocalist in both the jazz and classical fields.