Kris Adams had me with pulled pork. Or rather, with “Pulled Pork.”
Adams’s salsa-beat homage to the carnivore favorite is one of 11 tracks on her new “Longing” (JazzBird Records) and, truth be told, Adams had me before then, with the very first track, “The Glide.” That tune, by guitarist Ralph Towner and singer Norma Winstone, lives up to its name, floating through bumpy chord and rhythm changes, which Adams, who teaches harmony at Berklee College of Music, negotiates fearlessly. She’s particularly impressive in a couple of breathless counterpoint passages — first with Rick DiMuzio’s tenor sax, Ben Whiting’s baritone, and Fernando Huergo’s electric bass guitar, then with Greg Hopkins’s trumpet and Shannon LeClaire’s alto.
Those intricate voicings owe a lot to veteran arranger Hopkins, who worked on seven of the tunes on the CD, including Joni Mitchell’s “The Dawntreader,” the Eddie Barclay-Michel Legrand standard “Once Upon a Summertime,” and the Mary Lou Williams blues “What’s Your Story Morning Glory?” (Which preceded the similarly titled but completely unrelated Oasis song by several decades.) Some of the tracks are arranged for as many as 10 pieces, including a cello (on “The Dawntreader”), and Huergo splits duties with acoustic bassist Paul Del Nero.
What will probably turn out to be a one-time-only performance of the album by the entire band (minus Huergo and cellist Eugene Friesen) will take place at Ryles on May 28. It will be worth checking out. Those arrangements are part of what differentiates “Longing” from a lot of jazz vocal albums — this is essentially a small-band album, with the singer as featured soloist.
“Kris picks wonderful material,” says Hopkins, “and her approach is very jazz oriented in an instrumental sense. She likes to be part of the ensemble as well as a soloist.”
As for who is responsible for the size of the arrangements, it depends on who you talk to.
“Greg and I got together,” says Adams, “and he said, ‘What would you like? Would you like electric bass and acoustic?’ And I said, ‘Sure!’ Not thinking very practically: How am I going to do a gig with this?” Hopkins, she says, “was like a kid in a candy shop. . . . ‘I hear this sound, I hear this texture.’ ”
‘Kris picks wonderful material and her approach is very jazz oriented in an instrumental sense. She likes to be part of the ensemble as well as a soloist.’
Hopkins, for his part, lays the credit — or blame — on Adams. “We talked about each of the arrangements and she’d say, ‘I’d like to have bass clarinet on this.’ Or, ‘Let’s have a couple of flutes on this. Let’s have guitar on this and piano.’ Some of the arrangements grew as we were talking.”
All of which was fine by Hopkins, who’s long been one of the most esteemed arrangers in town. And working with Adams — a longtime colleague at Berklee College of Music, where she’s been teaching for 20 years and he for 40 — he knew what he had. “She picks engaging, challenging, and deep material, so it’s really fun to work with. And she’s a really hard worker. . . . She can learn and sing any kind of instrumental line. You can write almost anything and she’ll be able to sing it.”
It also helps that Adams’s voice has a crystalline glow that she applies insightfully to a broad range of material. In addition to “The Glide,” she sings a second tune by Norma Winstone, “Longing,” which the British singer and lyricist wrote with pianist Fred Hersch. Here Adams performs it affectingly with pianist Tim Ray. For “Once Upon a Summertime,’’ she asked Hopkins for an arrangement in a triple meter — that rhythm provides an emotionally ambiguous undercurrent to the melody’s lovely flow. As Adams sings, her voice takes dips and turns, tinged with wistfulness, then soars. And here Hopkins gives her those double flutes (Fernando Brandão and Bob Patton) for an interlude that’s like a slightly unsettling dream. Elsewhere, Adams has written her own lyrics to bassist and composer Steve Swallow’s “Wrong Together” and swings through the Carlos Lyra-Vinicius de Moraes bossa nova “Você e Eu” and a bossa treatment of the Abbey Lincoln ballad “You and Me Love.”
The sequence of arrangements and the range of styles, from bossa and swinging blues to small-group ballads (as well as eloquent solo turns by the likes of Hopkins, Ray, LeClaire, and DiMuzio) make for a satisfying narrative. This is only Adams’s third album in a busy teaching career. It wasn’t until late in the process of making it, she says, that she realized “Longing” fit the mood (and the CD photos) better than the original title, “Once Upon a Summertime.” It’s a tribute to her and Hopkins’s conception that the overall elegiac tone doesn’t overwhelm it. Sadness is a part of life, but so is pulled pork.
One of the most fascinating ongoing musical enterprises of the local scene, the Makanda Project — dedicated to the music of the late Boston musician Makanda Ken McIntyre (1931-2001) — continues its concert series with a free performance at the Dudley Branch Library on May 30 with special guest Oliver Lake (of the World Saxophone Quartet). . . . Brockton native, Berklee grad, drummer-composer Sean Noonan celebrates the release of his latest avant-punk-jazz opus “Pavees Dance: There’s Always the Night” at the Lily Pad on May 31 with help from original Can vocalist Malcolm Mooney. . . . Drummer Jeff Ballard brings his trio — with guitarist Lionel Loueke and saxophonist Miguel Zénon — to Scullers on June 4. . . . Chick Corea Elektric Band bassist Mike Pope celebrates the relese of “Cold Truth, Warm Heart” at the Regattabar on June 10 with pianist Eldar Djangirov, vibraphonist Joe Locke, saxophonist Bob Franceschini, and drummer Maruicio Zottarelli.Jon Garelick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jgarelick.