Nancy Wilson: Turned to Blue (2006)
One of the hardest things for a fan to do is watch a premier athlete or entertainer begin to falter and show the first signs that age has begun to compromise their talent. It was saddening to watch Muhammad Ali unable to fend off Larry Holmes. It was troubling to watch the great Michael Jordan being schooled by Allen Iverson. Now it is becoming obvious than in the sunset of her career, Nancy Wilson isn't quite the vocalist she once was.
Wilson's sultry singing has made her one of jazz's most enduring vocalists. However, Turned to Blue does not find her in fine form. On several songs she is audibly straining, and the results are harsh and at times almost atonal.
The big band sound wrapped around Wilson on "Take Love Easy" and "Taking A Chance on Love" offers as much protection as embellishment. In fact, the band sounds first-rate throughout the album. With pros like James Moody, Jimmy Heath, and Bob Mintzer (of Yellowjackets fame) among the musicians sitting in, how could it not? It's Wilson's talking/singing style of interpretation that drags.
It's immediately noticeable on "This Is All I Ask" that Wilson's phrasing is somewhat off, as she wavers off-key. By the time Mintzer's saxophone solos in, he's almost throwing Wilson a life preserver: she sounds lethargic and bored. "Take Love Easy" gives Wilson the opportunity to swing a bit behind a fourteen-piece brass arrangement, but she only sways as her energy never seems to catch up with the band's. Sean Jones offers up an inspired trumpet solo and Llew Matthews tickles the piano keys, but still Wilson never raises her game to their level.
A plodding rendition of the Quincy Jones-James Ingram classic "Just Once" represents the nadir of Turned to Blue. Wilson mangles it with a tuneless version that will have listeners reaching for the fast forward button. Her voice cracks at once point, and it's as if she's never heard the song before.
There's a popular notion that critics love to give negative reviews and rip into artists. That notion is untrue. Nobody likes bad movies, bad books or bad music. Nobody sets out to make a dud. But it does happen from time to time, and while Wilson's 2004 album, RSVP (Rare Songs, Very Personal), also covered classic ballads in her hushed style, she sounds weary and faltering here.
Overall, this album is something of a disappointment. One can only hope Wilson's next effort finds her in better form than Turned to Blue.
Track Listing: This Is All I Ask; Take Love Easy; Turned to Blue; Knitting Class; Be My Love; Taking A Chance On Love; Just Once; These Golden Years; I Don't Remember Ever Growing Up; Old Folks; I'll Be Seeing You.
Personnel: Bob Mintzer, Andy Snitzer, Eric DeFade, Jimmy Heath, James Moody, Tom Scott: tenor saxophone; Alon Yavanai: piano; Marty Ashby: acoustic guitar; Nilson Matta, Rufus Reid, John Clayton, Kip Reed: bass; Portinho, Jamey Haddad: drums & percussion; Jay Ashby: percussion; Jim Hynes, Steve Hawk, Sean Jones, Jack Schantz: trumpet; Llew Matthews: piano; Mike Tomaro, Tia Fuller: alto saxophone; Jim German: baritone saxophone; Michael Davis, Bob Matchett, Ed Kocher: trombone, Douglas Purivance: bass trombone; Terry Clarke, Roy McCurdey: drums; Hubert Laws: flute; Jennifer Connor: flute & alto flute; Dave Samuels: vibes; Mike Tomaro: clarinet & bass clarinet; Andy Narrell: steel pans.