Mary Stallings: Live at the Village Vanguard
Beautifully recorded, Live at the Village Vanguard captures Mary Stallings in full flight. Her full-bodied, textured alto recalls Carmen McRae while her phrasing and intonation have clearly been influenced by Dinah Washington. Although she does have some of Ms. Washington’s bracing intensity, Ms. Stallings’s phrasing is more relaxed and agile. As befits a singer who spent four years (1969-1972) as the featured vocalist with the Count Basie Orchestra, Ms. Stallings swings hard. “I Love Being Here With You” and “Lullaby of the Leaves” are textbook examples of how a singer can push a rhythm section rather than the other way around. Ms. Stallings also displays an impressive command of dynamics. Her ballads, usually performed sotto voce, have a brooding, introspective quality. The restraint of her ballad singing is such that when she does unleash the full power of her voice the effect can be startling. Although she continually stretches and bends the tunes, Ms. Stallings respects the basic melodic structure of her material.
Mary Stallings sustains an enviable level of quality throughout this live CD although some of the material does prove resistant to her talents. It is probably difficult for a singer to find new things to do with “Street of Dreams” or “A Sunday Kind of Love.” Still, Ms. Stallings does manage to shake the dust off of “Gypsy in My Soul,” “Everything I Love,” and especially “The Thrill is Gone.” While there are no obscurities in her repertoire, there are some less frequently encountered tunes like Cole Porter’s “You’re Sensational,” Henry Mancini’s “Slow Hot Wind” and Curtis Lewis’s “All Night Long.” The arrangements are reasonably straightforward and the instrumentalists are uniformly good. Both pianist Eric Reed and tenor saxophonist Ron Blake take good advantage of their numerous opportunities to solo.
Live at the Village Vanguard marks the welcome return of Mary Stallings to the national jazz stage. Let’s hope that this time she’ll stay around for a good long while.
Track Listing: I Love Being Here With You, You
Personnel: Mary Stallings: vocals; Eric Reed: piano; Ron Blake: tenor saxophone; Vicente Archer: bass; Carl Allen: drums.
Record Label: MAXJAZZ