Listen carefully to Helen Merrill's phrasing as she revisits "Lilac Wine , a song she first recorded in the '50s. "...I think I'm ready for my love... It's her ever-so-delicate emphasis of "ready which makes the impassioned state she's in so clear. Always at her own particular pace and tempo, Merrill's ability to express emotional nuances is an essential element in the alluring mystery of her singing. It feels almost tangible when her voice sounds like a rush of wind as she intones "You're life itself in "Wild is the Wind . She catches the essence of an element of nature as effectively as Debussy did composing "La Mer .
She's beautifully complemented in that passage by Lew Soloff's trumpet, for, as throughout her long recording career, Merrill is surrounded here by first-rank musicians such as George Mraz (bass) and Torrie Zito (piano, keyboard, arrangements). Through subtle inflections of her uniquely luminous, sand-sprinkled voice, "It Must Have Been Something I Dreamed Last Night is transformed into a complete, dark symphony of obsessive love. Somewhat muted initially, she sinks into deepening disbelief, ("...oh, no, no, NO!, it can't be right ) and finally descends into a nightmare of utter despair, ("...to go through life without kissing you. )
It's a haunted, haunting performance. Secure in her place in the pantheon of great, creative jazz singers, Lilac Wine is the latest evidence that Merrill's singularly swinging style remains as potent and vibrantly spellbinding as ever.
The Small Hours
On this, her second solo outing, Andrea Wolper sometimes sounds like a second cousin to June Christy with a slightly higher range. It's a tasty mix of freshly considered classics alternating with lesser-known gems like "A Small Day Tomorrow . Who knew that "You and the Night and the Music could become the way to warm desert winds and passionate nights under the stars? Those are the kinds of images which come to mind when smoky-toned Wolper, ably abetted by Lou Marini (flute) and Victor Lewis (drums), conjure an undulating revision of that old Dietz and Schwartz gem. Like Merrill, Wolper takes care with lyrics and takes time enough to savor them.
The accompaniment is consistently sympathetic. Ron Affif (guitar) slips in after her a capella intro to "Dancing on the Ceiling and is joined almost imperceptibly by Ken Filiano (bass). By the time she concludes with an extended, wordlessly expressive sigh of "oooooooooh , the brief, closing guitar and bass notes that follow seem extensions of her voice. Among several songs of her own, "Not Sleeping in Your Arms fits especially nicely into the optimistic urban savvy of a set which also has some dark edges.
Tracks: 01. Lilac Wine - 04:51; 02. Wild is the Wind - 04:23; 03. Pierre - 05:22; 04. Something I Dreamed Last Night - 06:13; 05. Love Me Tender/How Sweet You Are - 05:30; 06. The Island - 04:57; 07. One More Walk Around the Garden - 04:31; 08. Portrait of Helen Merrill - 05:33; 09. You - 03:22
Personnel: Helen Merrill: vocals except (8); Torrie Zito: piano (4), electric piano (3,5,6), keyboards (9) and arrangements; Lew Soloff: trumpet (2,3,6,9); George Mraz: double bass except (3); Alan Merrill: guitar and vocals (9); and a 32 piece orchestra (except 3)
The Small Hours
Tracks: Tracks: 01. Dancing on the Ceiling - 05:34; 02. You and the Night and the Music - 05:16; 03. Gray; Not Blue - 04:12; 04. Night Time Was My Mother - 04.48; 05. Crazy Love - 03:54; 06. Rendezvous in Providence -05:21; 07. Today - 04.47; 08. Not Sleeping in Your Arms - 06:31; 09. Little Suzie's Humming - 05:51; 10. Moanin' - 05:38; 11. Small Day Tomorrow - 07:15; 12. I Like You; You're Nice - 03:11
Personnel: Andrea Wolper: vocals; Ron Affif: guitar; Ken Filiano: bass; Victor Lewis: drums (2,4); Jamey Haddad: drums (7,9,11); Frank London: trumpet, flugelhorn; Lou Marini: flute