In the midst of “Red Hot Jazz,” the buoyant, whimsical and brass-fired New Orleans styled romp at the emotional core of Maggie Herron’s multi-faceted new collection A Ton of Trouble, the multiple award winning songwriter, singer and pianist fill us in on a key autobiographical detail that may take many folks by surprise. The clever lyrics by Maggie and her daughter Dawn Herron offer a geographic sweep of all the places known for “red hot smokin’ jazz.” Their first litany of hipster locales (which include Detroit, San Francisco, Kansas City, D.C. and L.A.) begins with Honolulu. Wait, what? The land of the Aloha Spirit, ukulele and slack key guitar gets down, jams and improvises?
It does when Maggie holds court, which she’s done performing at Lewer’s Lounge in the Halekulani Hotel these past six years. As she does on her recordings, she captivates the international audience with thoughtful and provocative, image rich lyrics and a deep, life experience-filled vocal tone. No matter the tempo of the tune, her voice is an invitation to simultaneous darkness and light whose caress is like those last few sparks of sunset breaking through the dreamy haze at day’s end. The Michigan native, who has been living, writing, swimming, recording and performing on Oahu, Lanai and the Big Island for four decades.
Throughout her career, she’s opened concerts for Dave Brubeck, The Jazz Crusaders and Phoebe Snow, She’s a major presence at the Na Hoku Hanohano Awards aka the “Hawaiian Grammys,” where her collection Between The Music and the Moon won 2017 Jazz Album of the Year. Maggie is also nominated for 2018 Single of the Year for the soul and gossamer grace she brings to a sparse arrangement of The Beatles’ “In My Life,” featuring the subtle improvisational mastery of Larry Koonse on guitar.
Koonse is just one of the many esteemed L.A. jazz cats bringing life to Maggie’s slate of rhythmically diverse originals. The collection balances lively gems like the bold, brassy and wit-filled opener “A Ton of Trouble” (featuring Grant Geissman’s blazing electric guitar solo), “Red Hot Jazz” and the bouncy, humor and inner rhyme rich “Small Stuff” with the gentler moods of the dreamy, lyrical “Sheherazade” (a fresh interpretation of the mythical “One Thousand and One Nights” featuring the otherworldly flute of Bob Sheppard), the reflective personal narrative “Salty Wine” (with Koonse charming sweetly on the acoustic) and wistful parting tune “The Dove and the Bourbon” (showcasing the softer side of Geissman’s artistry).
Though Maggie plays piano on most of the tracks, the simmering, bluesy ballad “Perfect Specimen” gives free reign to the inventive piano musings of the album’s Grammy winning arranger and co-producer Bill Cunliffe. Likewise, she defers to two time Grammy nominated pianist Geoffrey Keezer to tackle the soft-hearted harmonies and bright improvisational adventure on “There is Love.” Dean Taba (bass) and Jake Reed (drums) are the rhythm section holding things down throughout.
Maggie’s deep chops and melodic intuition reach their fullest fruition on the album’s lone instrumental, an inspired piece of trad jazz groove madness called “Monkishness.” Her deep pocketed duality with Reed’s beats is something to behold. It’s testament to her compelling songwriting skills that they stack up perfectly against the Beatles classic and her a spry, hypnotic tango-step through Leonard Cohen’s whimsically poetic classic “Dance me To The End of Love” – a spirited showcase for both Maggie’s urgent, romantic vocals and her spark-filled piano excitement.
Beyond the intelligence, cool subtleties and joyful swing of the music, A Ton of Trouble is an achievement in overcoming logistical challenges as well. For Maggie, it was fashioned during a year of flu, a broken arm and the natural lowering of her vocal range. Then of course came the eruption of Kilauea a mere eight miles from her home. And yet she said “Mahalo” to all those challenges, using them to drive her creative spirit to fresh new heights blending serious musicianship, playful humor and insightful storytelling.
A Ton of Trouble will be released August 24, 2018.