Irene Kral: Just for Now
Jazzed Media JM1003
Irene Kral (1932-1978) was a gem of a vocalist who was brought to the public’s attention by Clint Eastwood, who used excerpts of her recordings in the 1995 movie, “The Bridges of Madison County.” Like Chris Connor, June Christie, and Anita O’Day, she came up the way of the big bands (in her case, those of Joe Burckhardt and Maynard Ferguson) and then established herself with various small ensembles with a cult of fans that included Carmen McRae, Eastwood, and Johnny Carson. Her phrasing, timing, and intonation were impeccable, and her interpretations timeless, parsimonious, and sincere. Her career never “took off” in terms of fame and fortune, partly because of her untimely death from breast cancer, and partly because, like Johnny Hartman, also featured in the Eastwood film, she was just too good and too subtle to be appreciated by a mass audience.
In the last decade, a number of her studio and nightclub recordings have been released on CD. As an avid fan of hers, I relish each one that I find and listen to them often. Recently, Graham Carter, CEO of Jazzed Media was fortunate enough to locate, and obtain permission from Kral’s estate to release on CD, a master tape made during two nights of a club date at the Catamaran Hotel in San Diego in 1975 and hitherto unavailable. While it is not the absolute best of the singer’s recordings from this period, it offers many moments of the beautiful and nuanced musical interpretations which were Irene’s hallmark. More than anyone, she learned from her big band mentorships how to make the most of each note, capture the essence of a musical phrase, and provide a sense of the absolute that transcends the rhythmic pulse to distill the music’s essence. In this album, as in her others, her memorable depth pervades and prevails.
Although in some ways the quality of this recording is surprisingly good for an analog “live” nightclub recording, Kral’s volume and audibility sometimes varies, and Bob Magnusson’s bass, unfortunately amplified as was the tendency during that time of so-called “jazz fusion,” is intrusive. Still, the accompaniment is generally good, and Kral’s renditions of "Just for Now," “Here’s that Rainy Day” and “The Meaning of the Blues” are truly heartrending. Most of the tunes appear on other of her CDs, and Kral aficionados will discover her remarkable consistency with these songs. She didn’t play around with what she evidently felt graced to receive from the songwriters.
The detailed liner notes by James Gavin offer some new glimpses into Kral’s life, career, illness, and death from cancer. He closes with a poignant quotation from her brother Roy Kral about her last moments on earth, spent with Roy and her second husband, Dennis Smith, moments so tender as to break any heart. Charlie Parker said, “If you haven’t been through it, it won’t come out of your horn.” Irene Kral knew the joy of living in the now, the rainy days, and the meaning of the blues. You will hear her remarkable soul in this recording. It is the soul of a woman who dared find, define, and refine her own true voice. One can only hope that Graham Carter and his colleagues will uncover other jazz treasures, however imperfect, hidden away like this one and bring them to the light of day.
Track Listing: 1. Experiment - 2:02, 2. Where Is Love? - 4:12, 3. Wheelers and Dealers - 2:43, 4. Nice Weather for Ducks - 3:04, 5. I Fall in Love Too Easily - 6:43, 6. Rock Me to Sleep - 2:26, 7. Just for Now - 4:24, 8. You Are the Sunshine of My Life - 3:26, 9. Here's That Rainy Day - 4:14, 10. It's a Wonderful World - 2:40, 11. The Meaning of the Blues - 4:02, 12. Sunday - 2:27, 13. I Like You, You're Nice - 3:02
Personnel: Irene Kral, vocals, Mike Wofford, piano, Bob Magnusson, Bass, Tony Marillo, Drums.