Perhaps the great lost jazz singer of her generation, Irene Kral’s career was cruelly cut short by her untimely death from breast cancer on August 15, 1978 at age 46. The younger sister of Roy Kral of Jackie & Roy fame, Irene Kral started her career in the 1950s. She sang on the road with various bands including those of Maynard Ferguson, Stan Kenton, Woody Herman and Shelly Manne. She recorded a few albums the best of which was the aptly titled Better Than Anything (1963). Marriage, children and the radical changes in the music business that occurred in the early 1960s led to Ms. Kral’s early retirement in 1965.
However, beginning in late 1974, Irene Kral returned to performing. Stronger, more confident, and more subtle than ever, she recorded two breathtakingly beautiful albums accompanied only by Alan Broadbent on piano, Where is Love? and Gentle Rain. She also recorded this collection, Kral Space, with a quartet led by Mr. Broadbent. All three albums earned Ms. Kral Grammy nominations for Best Jazz Vocal Performance.
Always impeccably in tune, Irene Kral had a dry, resonant alto which she deployed to devastating effect. Her art was in her phrasing, which was aided by perfect diction and marked by her tendency to elongate her vowels. She could swing with the best of them, but no matter how fast the tempo, the lyrics always remained intact and their meaning driven home. Yet, it is the quiet intensity of her ballads that lingers most in the mind. Eschewing melodrama and sentimentality, Ms. Kral seemed to cut to the very core of a lyric and communicate its essence. Her work earned her the respect and admiration of musicians and fellow singers. The incomparable Carmen McRae once said, “I used to steal all her songs because, along with being one of the finest singers in the whole entire world, she had great taste in songs.” Ms. Kral not only drew on superb, often overlooked standards from the Great American Songbook, but she also championed the work of the jazz-influenced songwriters of her own generation – Dave Frishberg, Bob Dorough, Blossom Dearie, Tommy Wolf, Fran Landesman, and Johnny Mandel.
All of Irene Kral’s talents are wonderfully displayed on Kral Space and the music is recommended without hesitation. Unfortunately, the record label has done an inexcusably sloppy job in the remastering and the sound at various points in the CD is slightly distorted. Still, any addition to Ms. Kral’s slim representation on compact disc will be welcome news to her many fans.
Personnel: Irene Kral: vocals; Alan Broadbent: piano; Fred Atwood: bass; Nick Ceroli: drums; Emil Richards: vibraphone, percussion.