It's a bit early, but here's my bid for Best Vocal Project of 2004. Lorraine Feather, daughter of the famed jazz historian/critic/composer Leonard Feather, has delivered a significant appreciation of the Ellington/Strayhorn oeuvre. In the early 1960s Lambert, Hendricks & Ross Sing Ellington got my attention and resulted in my examination, for the first time, of the Duke classics as presented by LH&R. It was only through their lyrics and presentation that I was able to hear the original solo work of Ben Webster, Johnny Hodges & Company.
On last season's Cafe Society Lorraine Feather supplied vocal versions of Duke's "Creole Love Song" (evocative) and "Rockin' In Rhythm" (swinging). She has chosen eleven lesser known compositions here from the music of the Ellington Orchestra. Given the fact that there are no pending vocal versions, I suggest that these original lyrics will likely stand the test of time. Feather shares with Jon Hendricks and Eddie Jefferson the ability to transcribe instrumental solos into literate and toe-tapping three act playlets. Like Hendricks and Jefferson, the lyric content is placed in an exact linear match of the music, not a Hollywood or Brill Building approximation and convenient rhyming scheme. Unlike the two, Feather's work is not a hipster voicing but a contemporary conversational description.
A rather significant factor on this album is the strength of the arrangements, notably the horn charts from Feather and Bill Elliott, formerly a noted retro-swing band leader. The music is presented on six big band tracks, one "small big band" track, three trio tracks and one with solo piano. Each selection, like the opening "Rhythm, Go'Way," is taken from Ellingtonia compositions or suites. The latter is from "Such Sweet Thunder." The use of contemporary lyrics and jumping arrangements combine to great success on "The 101" (based upon "Suburbanite") and "Imaginary Guy" ( "Dancers in Love" from The Perfume Suite ). "The 101" details a car chase on the Pacific Coast Highway in what must surely be an Italian roadster with the top down, with such imagery as...
Right here in Goleta We each had chili and a margarita Gettin' antsy in this car And the radio's only gettin' MOR
"Can I Call You Sugar" (based upon a segment of The Nutcracker Suite daringly inserts a verse to the classical introduction before proceeding with first stanza. "September Rain" is a vocal realization of the beautiful "Chelsea Bridge" celebrating the best of Ben Webster, and "Tenacity" is based upon trumpeter Rex Stewart's "Rexercise." On this track, the Ellington colorations are all intact, with the appropriate shadings of the original.
A brief word about the high quality of musicianship. These musicians, many of whom are from the studio and in some cases, like Russell Ferrante, from smooth jazz work, are all exemplary. For example, Shelly Berg's piano work on "Imaginary Guy" more than approximates the feeling of the original. I fully expect to gain more insight with each additional listening of this album.
Track Listing: Rhythm,Go 'Way, The 101, Can I Call You Sugar, Imaginary Guy, September Rain, Tenacity, Backwater Town, A Peaceful Kingdom, Lovely Creatures, Antarctica, Mightly Like the Blues.
Personnel: Lorraine Feather, vocals, rhythm arrangements
Aggregate Personnel: Bill Elliott, Shelly Berg, Mike Lang, piano; Russell Ferrante, Dave Carpenter, Mike Lang, bass; Dave Carpenter, Chuck Berghofer, Peter Erskine, Gregg Field, Terri-Lyne Carpenter,drums; Grant Geissman,guitar; Bill Liston, Jeff Driskill, Jay Mason, Brian Scanlon, Glen Berger,Terry Harrington,reeds; Wayne Bergeron, Don Clarke, Willie Murillo, Gary Grant, Jeff Bunnell, trumpets; Bruce Otto, Charlie Morillas, Andy Martin, trombone; Lorraine Feather, Morgan Ames, Randy Crenshaw, Shelby Flint, Carmen Twillie, background vocal; Bill Elliott, Shelly Berg, Mike Lang, Terry Harrington, rhythm,horn and vocal arrangements.