New albums from Catherine Russell and Leonidas Kavakos

Singer Catherine Russell has crystal-clear diction, a nice sense of swing and impeccable taste in vintage gems from the heyday of Harlem's jazz music scene.

The programme in her latest album cherrypicks the era's melodic hits associated with iconic vocalists Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday and Ida Cox - the bluesy jazz that was billed in its early years as "race music".

The arrangements here ooze class, with a few small ensemble tracks as well as lusher arrangements, boosted by a six-member horn section, for other tracks.

Russell's strength is her clarion delivery - the eponymous opening track for which she sings the opening verse accompanied simply by Mark Shane's piano is a great introduction to her understated storytelling style.

  • JAZZ

  • HARLEM ON MY MIND

    Catherine Russell

    Jazz Village

    4/5 stars

Another great demonstration of this style is the classic, comic blues scene-setter, You've Got The Right Key But The Wrong Keyhole.

She sizzles in a bouncy take on Holiday's Swing! Brother, Swing!, driven by Tal Ronen's hard-swinging bass and is appropriately, slinkily inviting in ballads such as The Very Thought Of You and You're My Thrill.

A sleek, elegant package that will please both jazz newbies and purists.

Ong Sor Fern


Has there been a more superfluous title than this album's, a generous 79-minute showcase of Greek violinist Leonidas Kavakos' well-known musical abilities?

  • CLASSICAL

  • VIRTUOSO

    Leonidas Kavakos, Violin

    Enrico Pace, Piano

    Decca 478 9277

    5/5 stars

The obvious contenders befitting the label are the solo items, Paganini's sets of variations on God Save The King and Nel Cor Piu Non Mi Sento from Paisiello's La Molinara. Both works employ the transcendental technique and assortment of fiddler's tricks to be found in his 24 Caprices, and more.

The same could be said of Ruggiero Ricci's jaw-dropping transcription of Tarrega's Memories Of The Alhambra, where the violinist plays the melody and provides his own accompaniment using the same hand.

Italian pianist Enrico Pace provides sterling service in the other encore-like pieces, most of which have a nationalist slant. Sarasate (Spain), Wieniawski (Poland), Dohnanyi (Hungary), Stravinsky (Russia) and Elgar (England) all get a hearing, as do some rarities, such as Vasa Prihoda's arrangement of waltzes from Richard Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier and Benjamin Britten's concert study Reveille.

To illustrate the full gamut of his game, Kavakos includes some "simpler" fare - Tchaikovsky's Valse Sentimentale and Dvorak's popular Humoresque - which sounds ravishing. For him, true virtuosity is all about saying things exactly the way you want it to be said.

Chang Tou Liang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 16, 2016, with the headline 'Hot Tracks'. Print Edition | Subscribe