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The hour is late and the lights are low for the last set at the Zanzibar Lounge and you're there to take in the Williams/Roberti/White Trio. This studio session from 2002 may well have approximated such an event. The trio consists of a female vocalist with guitar and bass living in the vicinity of Bozeman, Montana. M.J. Williams also plays trombone but is strictly a singer in this setting with Kelly Roberti on bass and Ben White, a former classical guitarist.
Most of this album consists of a series of late-night ballads smokily performed by the group. They open with Frank Loesser's "I've Never Been in Love Before," from Guys and Dolls, and then the early 1950s ballad "The Nearness of You." Williams uses a fine sense of vocal jazz shading and texture while still adhering to the beautiful melody lines. Benny Carter's "Only Trust Your Heart," almost always done up as in bossa nova tempo, is here slowed down to an eleven minute love song and "Bye-Bye Blackbird" is, likewise, taken down for a slow ride through the countryside with a scatted ending. The standard "Alone Together" receives a similar treatment.
At this point, I would have accepted, positively, the ambiance generated by these cool, noirish ballads. However the final three tracks offered some surprises. "Driving at Dawn" and "Driving at Night" are vocalese offerings that offer a slight increase in tempo and afford Williams some edgier vocal opportunities. John Coltrane's "Equinox" begins and ends with up some lyrics followed by Williams vocalese. I would have been interested in learning who penned the lyrics, but alas, no writer credits are listed.
In this setting, a lot of pressure is placed on the guitar and bass for support of the vocals, and White and Roberti come across admirably. White does not employ rhythm guitar techniques here. Its largely sympatico plucking to enhance the melody of each tune while Roberti delivers a needed pulse in his work and also gets some effective solos in notably on "Equinox." Nice work, guys!
Track Listing: I've Never Been in Love Before, The Nearness of You, Only Trust Your Heart, Bye-Bye Blackbird, Alone Together, Driving at Dawn, Equinox, Driving at Night.
Personnel: M.J. Williams, vocals; Kelly Roberti, bass; Ben White, guitar.