The best comment that one could make regarding Sylvia Bennett's Songs From The Heart
is that the singer's presentation of a dozen pretty well-worn tunes from The Great American Songbook is pretty good. Her bright and well-enunciated versions of such time-respected fare as Rodgers and Hart's "My Funny Valentine," Gershwin's "Someone to Watch Over Me" and Razaf/Waller's "Ain't Misbehavin'" are almost enough to reawaken interest in these veteran love songs. Only on "I Still Love You," a ballad contributed by producer Hal S. Batt, does the album produce a fresh and unknown song.
A secondary motif, the presence of what is billed as "The Three Tenors"tenor saxophonists Boots Randolph, Kirk Whalum and Ed Callefeels like a gimmick. None of these musicians are particularly well-regarded as having any connection with playing in support of jazz vocalists and their participation here seems somewhat superfluous.
Of the three, Randolph is the most traditional, with an obvious ability to 'play pretty for the people.' Long hailed as a honking saxophonist whose popularity during earlier decades surged with his Top 10 hit "Yakety Sax," Randolph recorded, in an unusual pairing, an album with altoist Richie Cole. Here, however, Randolph's style is closest to that of Coleman Hawkins' restrained and melodic sense and is best heard on Gershwin's "Embraceable You," Burke/Van Heusen's "Here's That Rainy Day" and the album closer from Herman Hupfield, "As Time Goes By." Randolph passed away in July, 2007 and never got to hear the finished album.
Kirk Whalum, one of the mainstays of smooth jazz, hails from Memphis and has a soulful presence on his many recordings. While he has experience with studio and film work, his métier has been solo albums in the Contemporary Jazz sub-genre or backing other artists in that field. There is certainly nothing inappropriate in his provision of tenor sax solos and fills on such tunes as Gershwin's "They Can't Take That Away From Me" and an up-tempo bounce on Gordon/Myrow's "You Make Me Feel So Young," but his delivery is less personable than that of Randolph.
The third tenor sax belongs to Ed Calle, long an exponent of the Miami music scene. He has vast experience working with a number of celebrities and first found popularity with the earlier recordings of Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine. Calle is given five featured tracks on the album and, although pleasant enough, lacks the jazz feel of Randolph on this date.
Songs From The Heart is a well-intentioned album, but one that relies too heavily on safety nets.
Personnel: Sylvia Bennett: vocals; Brian Murphy: piano; Chuck Bergeron: bass; Frank Derrick: drums; Hal S.Batt: guitar; Sammy Figueroa: percussion; Boots Randolph: tenor sax (1, 4, 7, 12); Kirk Whalum: tenor sax (2, 4, 5, 10); Ed Calle: tenor sax (3, 4, 6, 8, 9, 11).