San Diego jazz pianist Sue Palmer, the Queen of Boogie Woogie, the Sultana of Swing, the Lady Who Skates on the 88s. That is to say Ms. Palmer has been an invigorating presence on the live music scene in our busy burg, hustling and bustling her infectious blend of rhythm, riffing, boogie woogie, and barnstorming boogie in bistros, clubs ,cafes and concert halls. Her style, two-fisted, elegant, and rocking without fail, has been captured live and in the studio on a stomping array of over 14 albums, aided with the inestimable brilliance of some of the area’s best musicians.
Her 2018 release Gems, Vol. 1, was a fine-tuned selection of her best tunes from her CD releases over the years. It was a potent 20 songs in a variety of styles—rich in blues, hot in jazz, mournful and soulful as the mood dictated, all of it graced with the signature left hand-right hand keyboarding of Palmer, who never forgets to swing. Elevating with contagious energy, it’s a choice introduction to Palmer’s work and the players who help make the music sizzle like steaks on a hot grill.
And now we have Gems, Vol. 2, a new collection of syncopated savvy. For the blues lovers among our readership, “Soundtrack for a B Movie” fills the room with a blues saxophone chorus punctuated by Palmer’s rattling on the keys and Steve Wilcox’s bittersweet guitar fills, brief but very soulful. “Dark Eyes” is elegant, lilting and emboldened by trombonist April West’s shimmering tone. The band moves smoothly over the walking bass, with Palmer ringing in a spry and lyric solo. Johnny Viau rounds matters out with a smoky saxophone sortie.
“Bricktop” raises the ante with jump blues, the band riding the bass and drums in perfect sympathy, with piano and trombone framing the Lambert, Hendricks and Ross-like chorus that invokes the vagabond spirit with a loose-fit precision. David Mosby takes a sauntering vocal turn on the Jimmy McHugh-Dorothy Fields’ classic “On the Sunny Side of the Street.” Mosby’s voice is big, declarative, embracing, and fitting for the tune’s good cheer, an idea accented with Palmer’s sparkling chord work and an ebullient solo.
The 20 tracks on Gems Vol. 2 are impressive in stylistic range and performance, and the work of the many musicians that Palmer has worked with through the years have created a body of work that succeeds in that rarest quality. That quality is that she and her bandmates are “old school” in the eras they draw from, with none of the moldy aura of mere revivalism. This collection of tracks isn’t destined for the museum where artifacts languish. This music lives when played by the right combination of players committed to keeping things lively on the bandstand and on the dancefloor.