Karen Marguth: Fresno’s Big Secret

By Christopher Loudon on 05/31/10.

Great big talent, much too small a pond. Her name is Karen Marguth, one of the finest American jazz vocalists you’ve likely yet to discover. For years, Marguth has been polishing her pristine pipes in and around her adopted hometown of Fresno, headlining a Thursday night residency at the local Landmark club and hosting “The Vocal Hour,” a weekly radio show for Fresno’s KFSR. Lucky Fresno-ites. Now, with the release of her latest, eponymous album, it’s high time that Marguth advanced to her rightful place on national and international stages.

A dexterous, multi-discipline performer whose CV also includes dancing, choreography and directing, Marguth’s studio work includes three previous albums as leader, the invigorating, standards-driven The Best Things from 2005, the late-2008 festive collection Carols Everywhere and last year’s country-tinged All the Waiting.

Fine as her previous recordings are, Karen Marguth elevates her to the plateau of Diana Krall, Jackie Ryan and Carolyn Leonhart. Though Marguth again favors standards, the playlist is fresh with intriguing twists and turns. The first thing listeners will notice, beyond the crystalline beauty of Marguth’s voice, is the unique backing from Espacio, a four-member California band comprising bassist Kevin Hill, drummer Nathan Guzman, guitarist Mike Taylor and mandolinist Eva Scow (whose outstanding contributions to Anthony Wilson’s Power of Nine and her terrific duo album, Sharon By the Sea with guitarist Dusty Brough, are also worth searching out).

Eight of the album’s 15 tracks feature Marguth with the entire Espacio ensemble. They get things off to a lively start with Chris Caswell and Sam Jones’ “Give Me a Break (Unit 7),” a bracing kiss-off from a fed-up lover that vocal fans might recognize from Karrin Allyson’s 2006 recording, on Footprints. The band’s “Limehouse Blues” provides a shimmering introduction to Marguth’s saucy, hip-swiveling “Sister Sadie.” The heat intensifies several degrees on Cuban maestro Miguel Matomoros’ “Lagrimas Negras,” a sizzling showcase for Marguth’s flawless Spanish. Ellington’s “Day Dream” comes wrapped in wistful softness, as does the album-closing “The Nearness of You.” Marguth’s achingly tender reading of the Jackie Allen heartbreaker “Admit It” rivals Allen’s original, and Espacio gets to show off its nimble funkiness on a joyously unfettered “Exactly Like You.”

An additional six tracks find Marguth in the sole company of bassist Hill, including a soaring, swooping amalgamation of “Blackbird” and “Bye Bye Blackbird,” a vigorously blissful “Happy As the Day Is Long,” a bouncy romp through the bop classic “In the Land of Oo-Bla-Dee” and an arrestingly inventive “All of Me” alternately driven by Hill’s exceptional slapping and strumming. But the best of the Marguth-Hill tracks is “I Like Me When I’m With You,” a sunny, vibrant ode to romantic contentment crafted by underappreciated west coast humorist and musician Jason Jurzak.

Rounding out the album, Marguth teams with Scow for a delightful “Everything Happens to Me” that, with its jaunty, jangly mandolin through line, perfectly captures the self-pitying playfulness of the Matt Dennis/Tom Adair gem.

From start to finish, Karen Marguth is a masterful accomplishment that represents the mating of singer and bandmates at its most sublimely satisfying. It deserves to be counted among the year’s standout vocal albums. Here’s hoping it gets Marguth the sweeping attention she so richly deserves.

“Jazz from Central California?  Believe it.  Fresno-based vocalist Karen Marguth has teamed up with the cleverly unorthodox band Espacio (which boasts a mandolin, guitar, bass and drums lineup) to put out her most swinging session yet.  She’s got a fresh as a daisy tone, elastic as all get out, and has the rare quality of being adventurous without being cacophonous.

Marguth’s beautiful quality is on full display for ‘Nearness of You,’ while she has no problem giving a loose and infectious reading of ‘Blackbird’ as a vocal/bass duet.  The band serenely swings on ‘Limehouse Blues/Sister Sadie’ while Marguth’s enthusiastic voice swings and snaps like a paddle ball game. She and the band pour over with the joy of music here; guaranteed to wipe that frown off your face.  Get this lady up and down the coast!”

– George Harris, All About Jazz, May 2010

Karen and Espacio will be performing with the world-renowned Pearl Django, a group that hails from Seattle, Washington. The concert will take place in Fresno on May 14th.  For ticket information, call 559-431-3653.

Here is some information about Pearl Django:

Entering their fifteenth year of performing Pearl Django is one of America’s most respected and busiest Hot Club style groups. Though strongly influenced by the music of Django Reinhardt, Pearl Django’s repertoire also includes many original compositions. Their music reaches out across the divides of taste to a wide variety of audiences. The band’s fervent followers include Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli fans, guitar enthusiasts (and guitarists!), lovers of string music, including bluegrass devotees, who relish nimble, clean, intricate picking, “world music” fans drawn to French and Gypsy accents, plus jazz buffs and aficionados of the new swing music. Transcending simple categorization, Pearl Django packs in enthusiastic audiences at dancehalls and nightclubs, at folk music festivals and jazz festivals alike.

Check out their website at: pearldjango.com

Don Heckman at The International Review of Music listed Karen’s show at Charlie O’s as one of his Picks of the Week, saying  “Singer Marguth and mandolinist Scow have been producing some fascinating displays of briskly swinging voice and mandolin jazz.”

Check it out HERE

And read more about mandolinist Eva Scow HERE

We now have the audio for Karen’s WRHU New York radio interview on March 10th. Bob Collins, who hosts the show The Jazz Cafe was the interviewer.

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Download it, and listen later…

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