Iconoclastic and often enigmatic singer Rene Marie was plain when she once said that she never wished to record a tribute disc. After four successful recordings with MAXJAZZ, including one (Vertigo
(2001)) provocatively pairing "Dixie" with "Strange Fruit," Marie took a hard left to address in music some of her pressing artistic concerns. This resulted in 2011's Black Lace Freudian Slip
(Motema) and her loving ode to America, Voice of My Beautiful Country
(Motema, 2011). No, Marie had no intention of making a tribute disc and then, when she had changed her mind, she chose the perfect subject...Eartha Kitt.
If Nina Simone is the earthy, organic, dissenting voice of jazz, then Kitt was the hyper-sophisticated, cosmopolitan voice of the same. Singer, writer, actress (yes, that was Kitt playing the Catwoman on the 1960s television series Batman
, and was she not perfect
, melting the celluloid in the bargain), activist (like Marie), Kitt spread a shadow long over American and European entertainment. Where Simone has had countless recorded tributes, Marie's homage to Kitt is that artist's first. Pure genius was the pairing of Marie and Kitt: artist and subject, kindred spirits.
My father, while serving in the United States Army during World War II had the opportunity to see Lena Horne perform. He said that her performance was that of undistilled sex. Well, dad never listened to Kitt nor heard Marie's tribute to her, because I Wanna Be Evil: With Love to Eartha Kitt
is an unapologetic indulgence in sensual warmth and expression of that most fecund of unions. Where Marie began developing sexual creativity in song with her previous Black Lace Freudian Slip
, she perfects here with the most appropriate of material.
With a crack band behind her, Marie purrs her way through Cole Porter's "Let's Do It" and "My Heart Belongs to Daddy," the latter guaranteed to bring color to the most jaded cheeks. "Santa Baby" one of Kitt's biggest hits is a celebration of the carnal beneath the mistletoe. Instrumentally, Wycliffe Gordon
's is perfectly conversational while Etienne Charles
' muted trumpet is opium smoke in the late evening. But in the end it is Marie who pulls off the best tribute disc of this or any other year.
Personnel: Rene Marie: vocals; Wycliffe Gordon: trombone; Adrian Cunningham: tenor
saxophone, clarinet, flute; Etienne Charles: trumpet, percussion, Kevin
Bales: piano; Elias Bailey: bass; Quentin Baxter: drums, percussion.