Away from the multi-Grammy winning Manhattan Transfer, soprano Cheryl Bentyne has taken this opportunity to put together a fine tribute to the under-appreciated Anita O'Day.
The caliber of musicianship is top-notch, with Bill Holman conducting the "Mighty Little Big Horns, a group of first-rate Los Angeles musicians, among them Pete Christlieb, a robust tenor saxophonist heard just briefly on the closer, the O'Day original "Waiter, Make Mine Blues. Trumpeter Jack Sheldon sits in on a few numbers, performing ably on the title track, a hit for Roy Eldridge and O'Day in the mid-'50s. Sheldon's blues-tinged solo is no match for the high note pyrotechnics of Eldridge, but Bentyne honors the fun, light approach of the original well.
Cheryl Bentyne is a seasoned soprano whose tone is sweet and clear, articulation without flaw, vibrato mellow, intonation solid. Both live and studio versions of "Honeysuckle Rose and "I Won't Dance show Bentyne at her mid-tempo best. She smiled when singing (like O'Day), warmly embracing listeners, at her gig at Jazz Standard last month.
Certain songs, however, like the mournful "Little Girl Blue, warrant a different approach. Maybe one can interpret Bentyne's chuckle while delivering the lyrics on the recording as nervous laughter. Pianist Corey Allen's arrangement of the Rodgers/Hart piece is thankfully tender, unlike Billy Mays' more up-tempo version with O'Day over forty years ago. Others require a renewed interpretation so they don't sound corny or hackneyed. Unfortunately, "Boogie Blues does not receive a distinct treatment.
Guitarists Grant Geissman and Larry Koonse acquit themselves well on several numbers, as does Allen on piano, with supportive comping and appetizing solos throughout. Bassist Kevin Axl and drummer Dave Tull are stalwart. Highlights include "Skylark, "Man with a Horn, "Whisper Not, and Duke Ellington's "It Shouldn't Happen to a Dream.
Hand it to Bentyne to successfully take on a selection of songs in the book of living legend Anita O'Day, one of the most original and dramatic interpreters of the American songbook.
Personnel: Chery Bentyne: vocals;
Jack Sheldon: trumpet solos and vocals;
Corey Allen: piano;
Kevin Axl: bass;
Grant Greisman: guitar;
Larry Koonse: guitar;
Dave Tull: drums;
Bill Holman: conductor of the "Mighty Little Big Horns";
Bob Summers, Carl Sanders, Chris Tedesco: trumpets;
Bob McChesney: trombone;
Lanny Morgan, Pete Christlieb, Bob Efford: saxophones.