Mary Foster Conklin - These Precious Days
(Mock Turtle Music, 2023)
New York City-based vocalist Mary Foster Conklin is neither just a New Yorker nor just a vocalist. She is a radio host, a journalist, and a potent advocate for women in jazz and the arts. That is a very solid subfloor supporting this recording artist releasing her fifth eclectic collection, These Precious Days.
This new release prominently features women composers and lyricists in a provocative collection of lesser-known jazz and pop tunes, all turned out in Conklin’s confident and informative manner.
While focusing mostly on women composers, These Precious Days also includes a selection of songs by composers whose lyrics reflect the hum of anxiety of the last two years. This recording has its genesis in one of Conklin's appearances in New York City's East Village in March 2020, just before the bottom fell out. The show featured John Di Martino on piano, and, along with her rhythm section, Sarah Caswell on violin; all returning for this recording two years later. Conklin's performance centered on the art songs of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, whose rock and roll contributions vastly overshadowed their curious collection of neo-cabaret material first addressed by Peggy Lee on Mirrors (A&M, 1977).
The project moved of its own volition through 2021, with "Some Cats Know" included in the Peggy Lee centennial for the Mabel Mercer Foundation with Di Martino and Caswell in tow. Later, the trio presented a full set of new songs at the Soapbox Gallery in Brooklyn, carrying its momentum into the studio in January 2022 supplemented with Conklin's regular rhythm section. Martino and Caswell's parts in this project cannot be overstated. Martino's deft arrangements ensure the recital has an expressive and integrated presentation, while Caswell contributes to the cohesive unity of the recording while imparting an "Old World" ambiance.
Release highlights include Beat poet Fran Landesman's "Scars" and Andre and Dory Previn's "Just For Now." Alan Broadbent and Dave Frishberg's "Heart's Desire" and the rare Melda Liston/Abby Lincoln's "Rainbow" add a creative seasoning to the project that makes this very much an MFC project and with that, a provocative recording. Conklin's voice is friendly, often sardonic, but always welcoming. An embarrassment of riches is MFC.