Sheila Jordan is one of the most creative, intelligent and original singers that jazz has ever produced. Like Carmen McRae, she has the ability to deconstruct a song harmonically without sacrificing the coherence of a lyric. When she dispenses with words, Jordan's scat singing is fluid, inventive and often quite playful.
Her latest recording happily finds Sheila Jordan back in the musical format of which she is the acknowledged masterthe bass/voice duo. Her partner on this outing, recorded live in concert in Belgium on November 11, 1997, is the talented bassist Cameron Brown.
Singing with only an acoustic bass is a guaranteed way to expose vocal deficiencies. However, the CD, recorded one week prior to her 69th birthday, finds Jordan's voice in remarkable shape and her sense of musical adventure firmly in place. For his part, Brown plays with impressive technical skill and commanding rhythmic assurance. If he seems to be a bit reserved in some places, it may be because this concert was his first public performance in a voice/bass duo setting.
Jordan and Brown present a program of songs that will be familiar to any longtime Sheila Jordan fan. However, sequenced as they are over the course of the concert, these set pieces of Jordan's repertoire form a surprisingly unified and compelling narrative. They document the history of a passionate love affair. It is not a romance between a man and a woman, but, rather, the story of Jordan's own lifelong obsession with and devotion to bebop and jazz singing.
The first three songs reflect back on her previous voice/bass experimentsThe Very Thought of You (with Harvie Swartz in 1993), Better Than Anything (with Arild Andersen in 1977) and Dat Dere (with Steve Swallow in 1962). Beginning with her own "Mourning Song," Jordan then performs an extended suite of songs that salute her musical influences. She honors her greatest inspiration, Charlie Parker, with her composition, "The Bird," and a vocalese version of Parker's "Quasimodo." She caresses Charles Mingus' tribute to Lester Young, "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," and dances through Thelonius Monk's "Rhythmning." The set's high point comes in a deeply felt "Good Morning Heartache," in memory of Billie Holiday, Jordan's main vocal influence. Jordan follows this delineation of her musical journey with an exploration of her life's journey in the amusingly autobiographical "Sheila's Blues." Jordan and Brown hold the listener's attention throughout the program by continually finding the unexpected in the familiar.
As she demonstrated on last years sublime Jazz Child (recorded several months after this concert), Sheila Jordan's musical journey is far from over. However, for this one evening, Jordan chose to reflect back, with warmth, humor and love, on the role jazz has played in her life. The concert's audience responded with laughter, applause and a bebop sing-along. Don't be surprised if you find yourself wanting to join them.
Personnel: Sheila Jordan: vocals; Cameron Brown: bass.