It has always seemed to me to require an inordinate amount of confidence and courage to sing at all, let alone to showcase one’s voice in the pared down, natural environment chosen by Rhonda Thomas and Michael Coppola for their duo release, Guess Who I Saw Today
. Let it be said from the outset that both Thomas and Coppola rise to the challenge quite impressively.
Consisting mostly of ballads, with a few up-tempo pieces added for variety, Guess Who I Saw Today
is an album of clean, skilled music. Thomas and Coppola, despite a ten year break from each other’s company prior to recording this album, interact together wonderfully. Coppola’s perfectly timed picking matches every rise and fall Thomas throws at him, and Thomas blends her voice seamlessly with Coppola’s subtle, careful sound.
Clearly strongly influenced by Sarah Vaughan’s interpretive style, Thomas possesses great range and uses it to establish, like Vaughan, dramatic, if sometimes slightly melodramatic, moods. Digging into each song, Thomas works hard to get at the root of each piece while also presenting a personal interpretation. In a few instances, Thomas relies too frequently on similar phrasing techniques and variations in intonation to build these moods, leaving some of the songs sounding stock, as if they hadn’t received the same thought presented on the other, more appealing works such as the Strayhorn, Ellington, LaTouche composition “Day Dream” or the emotive title track, “Guess Who I Saw Today.”
Rhonda Thomas seems more comfortable in ballad settings, and her up-tempo work, particularly her scat on “Straighten Up and Fly Right”, suffers from a lack of rhythmic variety and tonal grit, a problem which may have been caused by the duo setting. It would be interesting to hear Thomas and Coppola take on such pieces with a full quartet or quintet to provide the vocalist, in particular, with more to work from and against.
Despite these disappointments, this is an album of well-crafted and well-executed music that takes pleasure in itself and will most likely appeal to anyone looking for a quiet, serene look at a variety of jazz classics.