To borrow a reference from the Gestalt Theory, sometimes the sum of the parts is different from the whole. This unexpectedly pleasurable album is a fine example. Mind you, there's nothing wrong with the sum of the parts at all, but they fit together like a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle.
Chicago-based jazz singer Spider Saloff already has a considerable reputation as the host of NPR's Words & Music, including an appreciation of the music of George Gershwin. In addition, she is a five-time winner of the prestigious MAC Award, which is the cabaret industry's equivalent of the Academy Award. In addition to numerous appearances on other radio and TV shows, this is her sixth release.
This album is a bit different in that instead of working solely with songs from the Great American Songbook, Saloff provides three originals and an obscurity from Johnny Mercer, as well as some well-chosen standards.
The unusual makeup of the group greatly contributes to the album's success. Guitar, bass, violin, and Latin percussion provide a stimulating partner to Saloff's vocals. Several of the tunes are played at a different tempo than is customary, like the usually staid "Street of Dreams" or the typically balladic "Right As The Rain," with De Oliveira's Latin percussion providing an infectuous and percolating backdrop. The guitar work of Steve Ramsdell is a wonder throughout this session; he plays in a number of styles and his solos display clean articulation and ideas. Violinist Zach Brock gets an early touch of the Reinhardt-Grappelli effect without really trying, and I would have liked to have more of that.
Spider Saloff's opening original, "You Better Watch Yourself With That One," is somewhat misleading. It's a sensual, smoky cabaret type tune that the singer insinuates just perfectly, but it's not what the album really represents. The title tune begins as a ballad and picks up steam along the way. Saloff provides the long-lost lyrics for the Ray Brown/Steve Allen piece "Gravy Waltz." When was the last time you saw that on a new album? It was a crossover pop hit in 1963, primarly due to exposure on the Allen TV show. Throughout songs like this, Saloff uses scatting and some vocalese to embroider the material, without taking any of the compositions beyond a mainstream setting. An unusual up-tempo treatment of "Nature Boy" is followed by a well-delivered low-key "Detour Ahead," and the disc closes with a delicious duet with Steve Ramdsdale's guitar on "Deep In A Dream."
Ten years ago, it would have been necessary to visit the Chi-town out-of-print music stores to find Saloff's five previous albums. Nowadays, all one has to do is visit Spider Saloff on the web.
Personnel: Spider Saloff: vocals; Steve Ramsdell: guitars; Kelly Sill: bass; Zach Brock: violin; Geraldo
De Oliveira: percussion.