These two CDs by bright-eyed, Indiana-based songstress Janiece Jaffe were hand-delivered to me by the artist herself during a between-sessions break at the 31st conference of the International Association for Jazz Education (IAJE) last January in Toronto. The earlier of the two, It Takes Two,
dating from 1996, pairs Jaffe with bassist Tom Hildreth (eight tracks) or guitarist Marcos Cavalcante (six). Heart’s Desire,
recorded in 2001-02, finds her in the company of pianist Simon Rowe, bassist John Huber and drummer Pete Wilhoit.
While I don’t pretend to know what makes one singer more “popular” than another, I can tell you that Jaffe has a lovely voice, about a step below true soprano, sings with feeling, enunciates each word clearly, hits every note on the nose and obviously enjoys what she’s doing. Jaffe scats infrequently but well, and like another young singer who’s fast climbing the ladder of success, Karrin Allyson, sings charmingly in French (“La Vie en Rose”) as well as English. Jaffe tends to choose slower tempos, and It Takes Two, especially, is heavily laden with ballads (eight of the last nine selections would answer to the name, and even Ellington’s “I’m Just a Lucky So-and-So” is slowed to a snail’s pace). Three of the songs are Latin-based, and as one would expect, the Brazilian-born Cavalcante is the accompanist on each (Kenny Dorham’s “Blue Bossa,” Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Rain on the Roses,” Luis Bonfa’s “Gentle Rain”). He’s splendid throughout, as is bassist Hildreth.
Heart’s Desire is somewhat livelier but not (in my opinion) nearly as well-recorded, with Jaffe sounding more breathless and mannered than on her earlier album. Even so, she can hold her own with many of her better-known contemporaries, both in terms of vocal quality and lyric interpretation. As on It Takes Two, Jaffe’s back-up crew is first-rate, with pianist Rowe the lone accompanist on “Over the Rainbow,” drummer Wilhoit and bassist Huber likewise on “Fever” and “That’s All,” respectively. On the fast-paced numbers “Up Jumped Spring,” “Easy to Love,” “But Beautiful,” “Let’s Get Lost,” Bill Evans’ “Waltz for Debby” Jaffe plucks a few too many tricks from her vocal bag; from this vantage point she’d have been better off interpreting the songs more closely as written, but then it’s rather easy for a non-singer to sit at a keyboard and take pot shots. She still has a pleasing voice and sings on-key, and that’s more than half the battle won.
When all is said and done, Jaffe earns high marks for musicianship and charm, and even though we’d give the nod to It Takes Two, both her albums are brisk and rewarding.