You want to hear beautiful music? Go directly to Track 4 on Patrice Williamson’s latest album, Free to Dream, and listen to Rodgers and Hart’s “With a Song in My Heart” — irresistibly melodic and outspokenly tender, the way a love song should be written (and sung). I’d never before heard the introduction to this masterpiece (one of many on which R&H collaborated), which is as beguiling as the verse, if not more so. Handsomely performed by Williamson, pianist Mark Shilansky, guitarist Jason Hunter, bassist Keala Kaumeheiwa and drummer Ron Savage, it is the explicit highlight of a session that is strongest when Williamson sings the standards (“But Not for Me,” “Alone Together,” “Love Me or Leave Me,” “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” a medley from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music and a “bonus” track, “Close Your Eyes”), even though Shilansky’s syncopated treatments of “Love Me” and “Ritz” are clever but don’t really work. Regrettably, Williamson’s essays (she wrote “In the Loop” and co–wrote “Free to Dream” and “U Don’t Know What You’re Missin’!” with Shilansky) are clearly no match for those bellwethers. Too bad she chose to place one of them (“In the Loop”) first on the album. They’re not bad, but are clearly several paces behind the standards, as are Bill Myles’ “My Love Is,” Stevie Wonder’s “Another Star” and even Jobim’s “Gentle Rain.” Bud Powell’s “Celia” is a saucy swinger but has no lyrics, only scatting (nicely done by Williamson). This is a studio date except for “Close Your Eyes” (another high spot), which has an audience. In reviewing a previous album by Williamson ( My Shining Hour ), we observed that “her mellow, mid–range voice isn’t bad . . . she has passable respect for a lyric, and her breath control and phrasing are for the most part satisfactory . . .,” and the same applies here. Williamson’s diction, problematic on that earlier outing, remains less than unerring but better than it was, and, thanks in part to the inclusion of “With a Song in My Heart,” Free to Dream is, on balance, an appreciably stronger enterprise than Shining Hour.
Track Listing: In the Loop; But Not for Me; Free to Dream; With a Song in My Heart; The Gentle Rain; U Don
Personnel: Patrice Williamson, vocals, flute; Eric Byers, acoustic, electric guitar; Jason Hunter, soprano, tenor saxophone; Mark Shilansky, piano; Keala Kaumeheiwa, bass; Ron Savage, drums; Kera Washington, percussion.