Harry Nilsson said that "one is the loneliest number" and another common phrase is that two's company and three's a crowd. Keeping this in mind, vocalist Cara Campanelli wisely chose the middle road and seems right at home crafting duo readings of standard gems from an era long gone. Campanelli is a New York native who received accolades in Downbeat Magazine
as a high school student and, years later, shared the stage with Roberta Gambarini
at the 2008 Lionel Hampton
International Jazz Festival. Now based in Boston, she shows a penchant for classics from the likes of Cole Porter
, Irving Berlin and other Great American Songbook songsmiths on this, her debut album.
Campanelli is joined by one musician, either pianist Adam Birnbaum
, guitarist Greg Gagnon, bassist Greg Loughman
or percussionist Jimmy Elcock, on each song and the material goes from Broadway all the way to Brazil. Old-world charm is present across all of these tracks and her rich alto voice can go from pleasant and dreamy to dark and bold within a manner of moments. The tracks featuring Birnbaum's piano work are the most straightforward readings here, conjuring a vision of Campanelli, elbow rested against the piano, singing over his classy accompaniment in an intimate club environment. Campanelli and Birnbaum swing with the best of them on "It's Alright With Me" and both musicians find the perfect balance between despair and optimism on Charlie Chaplin's classic, "Smile."
Greg Gagnon's guitar is the accompaniment of choice for the bossa nova material on the album. "Speak Low" and the widely covered "The Girl From Ipanema" benefit from his support, and Campanelli even doing some scatting on the latter. Gagnon also shows off a different side with his Spanish-tinged, classically influenced sound on the brief take of "My Funny Valentine."
While Loughman and Elcock only make one appearance each, these tracks prove to be the most adventurous on the album. Campanelli casts a nighttime spell during her intoxicating reading of "Reaching For The Moon." An aura of mystery surrounds this one and she seems to breathe in the night as she moves over Loughman's spacious accompaniment. "Temptation" slowly builds to a boil as Campanelli's voice slithers, and then soars, over Elcock's hand drumming and they tangle in a rhythmic dance that excites and provides plenty of passion. With So Near, Campanelli shows a clear direction, fondness for those artists who came before her, and a willingness to explore these classics to the fullest extent.
Personnel: Cara Campanelli: vocals; Adam Birnbaum: piano (1, 4, 8, 9, 11); Greg Gagnon: guitar (3, 5, 7, 10); Greg Loughman: bass (2); Jimmy Elcock: percussion (6).