Coming on the heels of her well-received debut album, The Right Time
(Rhombus, 2004), jazz singer Melody Breyer-Grell's Fascinatin' Rhythms: Singing Gershwin
is an appreciation of the Gershwin songbook. This is, by itself, a daunting task, since there are many preceding greats who have interpreted these songs many times over. Tackling tunes like "Embraceable You," "Someone to Watch Over Me" and "Nice Work If You Can Get It," the obvious comparison is with the Ella Fitzgerald-Billie Holiday-Sarah Vaughan A-List. Here, although many of these tunes are enjoyable, they are no more than average in the grand scheme of things.
The presence of the superb musicians on hand for this project does elevate the album, however, providing a warm, rhythmic cushion for the singer. Breyer-Grell begins the album with a distinct hint of the vocal style of Broadway/Hollywood's Gwen Verdon on an interesting "Somebody Loves Me," where she trades lines with tenor saxophonist Don Braden before the ensemble joins in. "Nice Work If You Can Get It" is a showcase for John Hart's simpatico guitar work as he continues to do just that throughout the album. Trumpeter Jim Rotondi uses his solos to alternately swing or soothe the balladry of Breyer-Grell. "Who Cares?" is taken up-tempo with a blistering Braden solo, and pianist/arranger Gloria Cooper also deserves positive comment..
The singer does score points for including several of the verses which, in the era of these tunes, were very pertinent to their lyrical content. She is better in the upper register, while her other work seems to have a shade too much of "acting out" the lyrics.
Fascinatin' Rhythms: Singing Gershwin is a mixed bag of loving the music performed by a vocalist that remain neutral.
Personnel: Melody Breyer-Grell: vocals; Gloria Cooper: piano; Dean Johnson: bass; Don Braden: saxophone; Jim Rotundi: trumpet; John Hart: guitar; Kahil Kwame Bell: percussion.