I rather wish that Gloria Cooper didn’t play such nice, tasteful piano; that would make it easier to praise her singing as the highlight of this admirable debut album. Truth is, however, that it’s Cooper’s fingers and not her vocal chords that most often capture and hold one’s interest, even when used to serve the voice, which Cooper employs on all but one selection, her own bluesy “You Know What I Mean.” At the keyboard she displays excellent technique, a masterful touch, flawless time and a comprehensive post–bop vocabulary that embodies sources from Gene Harris and McCoy Tyner to Bill Evans, Chick Corea and Cyrus Chestnut. While her solos are persuasive, she’s even better when accompanying herself, especially on the several ballads. Cooper’s soft, mellow voice is clear and well–disciplined, as one would expect from an assistant professor of music (she teaches at Long Island University) with more than a quarter–century of experience singing in cabarets and clubs on both coasts. What is unforeseen is her apparent struggle, at times, to nail each note squarely (as, for example, on “I Fall in Love too Easily”). She also sings ahead of or behind the beat on up-tempo numbers, a strategem that doesn’t always work quite as well in practice as in theory as Cooper labors to avoid losing her balance on “Day by Day” and especially “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To.” The program includes three other standards, Ellington’s “Come Sunday” and lesser–known works by Kenny Dorham (“As I Live and Breathe”), Curtis Fuller / Catherine Whitney (“Sweet and True”), Curtis Lundy / Kurt Elling (“Orange Blossoms in Summertime”) and Bertha Hope (“You Know Who”). Cooper has wonderful allies in bassist Ron McClure and drummer Yoron Israel, and old friend Eddie Henderson unlimbers his marvelous trumpet on four numbers — “Day by Day,” “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,” ‘I Fall in Love too Easily” and “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To.” An often rewarding debut but one that is enlivened more by Cooper’s piano than by her voice.
Contact:GAC Music, 1461–A 1st Avenue, Box 124, New York, NY 10021. Phone 212–841–5438. Web site, www.gacmusiconline.com
Personnel: Gloria Cooper, vocals, piano; Eddie Henderson, trumpet; Ron McClure, bass; Yoron Israel, drums.