Something of a miniature epiphany this. A vocal album sufficiently musicianly, substantial and in the instrumental tradition that it could equally well be filed under mainstream. Think vocal jazz automatically equals jazz-lite? Think again.
Cloudburst is London-based Australian Kerr's fifth album and follows her fine '02 homage to Chet Baker, My Old Flame. This time she puts the Great American Songbook aside and offers fourteen hardcore jazz instrumentals, to which lyrics and/or vocalese have later been added, either by her or by earlier writers. The original composers are Coltrane, Mingus, Monk, Clifford Brown, Gerry Mulligan, Horace Silver, Mal Waldron, Tadd Dameron, Bill Evans, Lerov Kirkland & Jimmy Harris, Duke Pearson, Antonio Jobim, Ennio Morricone, and Freddie Hubbard. To say Kerr does justice to these guyswhich she doesis really to say something. The arrangements are unfussy, and wholly unsweetened, and Kerr's warm and sensuous voice, particularly effective in the midrange, delivers straightforward and engaging readings.
Key to the album's success is Kerr's band, a half dozen of London's finest, who're given plenty of space in which to stretch out and improvise. Dick Pearce (trumpet) and Derek Nash (baritone saxophone) return from My Old Flame, joined by Alan Skidmore (tenor saxophone), Tom Cawley (piano)perhaps best known right now as keyboards player with thrash jazz uber-iconoclasts Acoustic LadylandSam Burgess (bass), and Steve Brown (drums).
Tom Cawley's playing here will be a revelation to anyone who only knows him from his Acoustic Ladyland incarnation. Eight of the tracks are just Kerr and piano trio, and Cawley's fleet and glowing solos, out of Bud Powell, Al Haig, and Horace Silver, but fresh with it, are riveting. Skidmore, Nash, and Pearce shine as bright as you'd expect. Nash is compelling on Mulligan's "Bunny," here retitled "Rabbit," and Waldron's "Left Alone," as is Skidmore on Coltrane's "Moment's Notice," here retitled "Lady Luck," and Mingus' "Weird Nightmare." Pearce's dueting with Kerr on Dameron's "On A Misty Night" is exquisite. Burgess and Brown each get a couple of solos, with Brown particularly strong on Silver's "Come On Home," developing a series of snare drum press-rolls of barely restrained ferocity.
So, a vocal album for people who don't usually like vocal albums. Kerr is 100% real jazz musician, and Cloudburst is 100% real jazz. Things are looking up.
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Personnel: Trudy Kerr, vocals; Tom Cawley, piano; Sam Burgess, bass; Steve Brown, drums. Dick Pearce, trumpet, Alan Skidmore, tenor saxophone, Derek Nash, baritone saxophone on "The Rabbit," "Lady Luck," "Weird Nightmare," "Jeanine," "Left Alone," and "On A Misty Night/September In The Rain."