AllAboutJazz August 2008 – Postcards from the Highwire – Kamikaze Ground Crew (Busmeat) In My Skin – GinaLeishman (GCQ)

by Sean Fitzell

Gina Leishman revels in eclecticism, cherishing the journey as much as the destination. She plays saxophones, piano and bass clarinet as well as atypical wares like accordion, ukulele and harmonic glass. Best known to jazz listeners as the co-leader of the perennial horns-and-drums ensemble Kamikaze Ground Crew, she’s also worked in musical theater as a performer, musician and composer; a cabaret vocalist; a composer for television and film and a voice-over specialist. Typically, her two recent CDs are stylistically diverse.

Postcards From the Highwire is the fifth Kamikaze album and the second with the “east coast” lineup: trombonist Art Baron, tubaist Marcus Rojas and drummer Kenny Wollesen joining longtime tenor saxophonist Peter Apfelbaum, trumpeter Steven Bernstein and co-leading multi-instrumentalists Doug Wieselman and Leishman. The virtuosic ensemble builds episodic pieces drawing on jazz, rock and other influences while jettisoning the manic quirkiness of their earlier work. After rollicking group passages and exchanged solos, Apfelbaum’s “Shotgun Bouquet” untethers Rojas from the bass role, encouraging his sonic freestyle for a rousing finish. The fleet Dixie-swing of Bernstein’s arrangement of Chu Berry’s “Christopher Columbus” launches Apfelbaum and Baron’s growling mute over the traditional form. Leishman’s delicate piano leads over the dynamic terrain of her “Love-Go-Round”, while she wields ukulele with spare accompaniment on “O Mistress Mine”, her setting of Shakespeare to music and warm singing.

Kamikaze records have always featured a Leishman vocal, but only in recent years has she developed and documented her singer-songwriter material. In My Skin is the second installment of her songbook, the breezy tunes mostly written on and propelled by baritone ukulele within an unusual string quartet of guitar, violin and bass. Lyrically, songs like the title track, “The Scenic Route” and “Girl With a Curl” are bemused personal reflections on themes which one can relate to like finding identity. On the latter, violinist Charlie Burnham colors and reacts to the words with clever bowed and plucked retorts. The languid ballad opening of “Food First” later quickens behind guitarist Matt Munisteri’s loping bluesy runs and bassist Greg Cohen’s emphatic thrum, his round tones a steady anchor. Leishman’s incredulous commentary on our wars forms “Nightwind”, boasting the unmistakable twang of guest guitarist Marc Ribot’s prodding fills. Leishman charmingly unfurls her narratives, revealing another stop along her picturesque musical road.

For more information, visit
Kamikaze Ground Crew is at MoMA Sculpture Garden Aug. 21st.

AllAboutJazz July 2007 – In My Skin – Gina Leishman (GCQ Records)

by Mark Corroto

Singer (and multi-instrumentalist) Gina Leishman’s music brings to mind Tom Waits. Well that is, except for the voice. She indeed has quite a pretty one. In My Skin is the second to feature her music, songwriting, and vocals. Bed Time (c’estquoi music, 2004) shares some of the same guest musicians: bassist Greg Cohen, guitarist Marc Ribot, and drummer Kenny Wolleson. Here, the violin and guitar chores are taken up by Charlie Burnham and Matt Munisteri.

Like Waits, Leishman has a knack for a turn of phrase. Her lost loves don’t deter her merriment, even when she sings “He said I feel I’ve known you all my life/She said I know/He said I think I love you/And by the way have you met my wife. And, like Waits, she has the good sense to strip her arrangements down to this simple string quartet. Leishman’s affectionate ukulele playing is accompanied by sparse violin, bass, and guitar.

Before Leishman fronted her own band she was a co-founder of the septet Kamikaze Ground Crew, with Steven Bernstein and Doug Wieselman. She co-leads Msr. Wau-Wa band, a quintet dedicated to the songs of Bertolt Brecht, and can also be found working in theater and, has written the opera Burning Dreams.

Her vinegary lyrics are for self described hammock songs, strummed and tasting somewhat acerbic. Love is sometimes lost; mostly the femme fatale is gone before she loses the game: “Here today gone tomorrow/Sometimes it rains sometimes shine/And so when I’m pining or feeling blue/I pack my bags and I don’t think of you.

Leishman’s self-referential portrait, “Girl With A Curl, is a wispy tale of a girl’s playing with music, musicians, and among men. The child’s song “Nightwind learns the lessons of 9/11: “Cries on the night wind/Echoes of empires’ fall/Ours in the making/Sighs on the night wind/Falling of buildings tall/There for the taking.

The favorite composition here might be the ancient wisdom of “Food First (Love Later), and she wasn’t born Italian! Here’s a sample… You can try and eat your dreams/But they’ll leave you wanting more.