Vocalist Barbara Lea has enjoyed a substantial and respected career presenting lesser-known gems from the complementary and overlapping worlds of the Great American Songbook and jazz. More knowledgeable observers than the general music public, which to this day generally remains sadly unaware of her talents, anticipated this success by choosing her as Best New Singer in the 1956 Down Beat
international critics poll.
Black Butterfly, a new recording, pairs her with saxophonist Loren Schoenberg's orchestra, with which she has worked often in the past twenty years. Similar to her work on more than thirty previous albums, it showcases her distinctively vibrant lower-register delivery, which recalls for this listener the subtle warmth of Lee Wiley and the sly but determined passion of Alberta Hunter.
The title track, Duke Ellington's moving and intriguing 1936 composition "Black Butterfly, arranged by another icon, Benny Carter, serves as a stunning opening. Lea's intense but controlled projection of the captivating lyrics, which are open to varied conjectures as to their intended actual reference, establishes the tone for this seriously enthralling recording.
The imaginative Brent Wallarab arrangement and Lea's longing vocals on the Carl Sigman/Walter Gross classic "How Will I Remember You, accented by a brief, but stirring Schoenberg tenor sax solo, represent yet another highlight. After the verse effectively introduces Alec Wilder's paean to rural living, "It's So Peaceful in the Country, her convincing treatment irresistibly makes one yearn for quiet, blissful tranquility. Lea's poignant interpretation of yet another Wilder jewel, "Blackberry Winter, abetted by James Chirillo's heartfelt guitar solo, is a reminder why this song is such a favorite of superior vocalists and their passionate fans.
"Blame it on My Youth, while better-known than many of the other songs on the disc, shares many similar qualities: highly musical arrangements, compelling intelligence, and the dramatic sense of longing that Lea has become known for, after an acting career in theater and film. The recording also includes an intimate change of pace from the big band format with three enchanting duo selections ("My Foolish Heart, "Just Squeeze Me, "Come Rain or Come Shine ) with just Lea's vocals and Schoenberg's piano, as well as his overdubbed tenor saxophone on "All By Myself.
All in all, Black Butterfly consistently evokes memories of an era when numerous consummate composers and performers produced timelessly elegant and emotionally exciting music which was fully embraced and supported by popular culture.
Personnel: Barbara Lea: vocals; Seneca Black, Irv Grossman, Brian Pareschi, Randy Sandke, John Eckert:
trumpet; Mike Christianson, Eddie Bert, Bobby Pring, Brent Wallarab: trombone; Jack Stuckey:
alto saxophone, flute, clarinet; Jon Gordon: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, clarinet;
Chris Madsen: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Mark Lopeman: tenor saxophone, clarinet, flute;Loren Schoenberg: tenor saxophone and piano;
Carl Maraghi: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet; Steve Ash: piano; James Chirillo: guitar;
Yasushi Nakamura: bass; Kenny Washington: drums.