One listen to Jackie Ryan’s voice takes you back to the World War II era when your grandfather, or maybe your uncles, were off fighting our enemies and the big bands were the popular music of the day. Her deep honey rich contralto is the one you could be hearing as you dance at a USO-sponsored shindig in the middle 1940s, while a janitor is sweeping up the shreds of confetti. But, although Ryan’s voice and her choice of songs is perfect for those who love superior singing and the songs of the 1940s, I don’t wish to stretch this analogy too far. Her style and voice are not - to use that awful current term - “retro.” On the contrary, she is very much a “here and now” young lady. I’m talking about the timeless qualities of developing melodies that are faithful to the original, about exhibiting sensitivity and, most of all, about elegance. I’m talking about a time when beauty, gentleness and romance were paramount. These are all qualities that Jackie Ryan understands and exhibits in her new CD.
Passion Flower kicks off with a swinging “Now or Never,” which is a song that Billie Holiday might have been performing down on 52nd Street in the World War II years. Interestingly, this little-known gem was also written by Holiday with lyrics by Curtis Lewis. That muted trumpet is by Allen Smith, trading fours with Noel Jewkes’s tenor. Smith, by the way, played with the Benny Goodman orchestra, providing us with yet another link to the Big Band era. Ryan then eases into ”I Don’t Want to Cry Anymore” which Billie also sang during the ‘40s (so we can keep our World War II fantasy sequence alive). Both the words and music of this under-recorded ballad are by Victor Schertzinger, who wrote a few hits with Johnny Mercer (e.g., “Tangerine” and “I Remember You”). That lovely soulful trumpet solo is, once again, by Allen Smith. Ryan turns in a beautiful “Some Other Spring,” which is the saddest of songs; in fact this is the perfect song to listen to with half a pitcher of martinis and a heart full of regret. This Irene Kitchings’ tune was also recorded by Holiday during the World War II era.
“Luiza” is a lovely lesser-known Jobim song. Ryan sings it sublimely backed only by Larry Vuckovich’s lyrical piano. She handles the Portuguese lyrics with ease and with confidence. Ryan’s remarkable fluency with languages comes from her travels and associations with foreign musicians, as well as from her family; her mother is Mexican and her father Irish.
Each selection on Passion Flower is superb but I should also mention Ryan’s heartfelt flower medley tribute to Billy Strayhorn, which merges two of his most beautiful compositions, the title song, “Passion Flower” and “A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing.” These songs have unusual intervals and are difficult to sing. But, not to worry, Ryan is the complete jazz singer and is able to give each a new melodic fragrance. Finally, I should make mention of Ryan’s compositional gift. Tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson’s “The Kicker” was introduced on the classic 1964 Horace Silver album titled Song for My Father. It quickly became a bop standard but this is, I believe, the first vocal version. And those exceptional lyrics are by Ryan and they are a true “kicker.” Her stellar rhythm section consists of Jeff Chambers on bass, Eddie Marshall on drums and Luis Romero on percussion(on three tunes).
If we lived in a rational world, Jackie Ryan would be declared a national treasure. Pick this one up, light a candle, pour a glass of wine and enjoy. Jackie Ryan is a most lovely bridge to the past and, hopefully, also a bridge to the future. Highly recommended.
Personnel: Jackie Ryan, vocals
Larry Vuckovich, piano
Allen Smith, trumpet
Noel Jewkes, tenor sax
Jeff Chambers, bass
Eddie Marshall, drums
Luis Romero, percussion