How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Sunny Sumter is a young Washington D.C. based singer who graduated from the jazz department at Howard University. Ms. Sumter is a gifted and well-trained singer. Her voice has a beautiful, vibratoless tone. She exhibits solid intonation, good articulation and clear diction. She also seems to understand the limits of her own voice, and, for the most part, stays clear of them. Her singing is marked by a quiet restraint that conveys intimacy rather than introversion. She has the taste to select good material and the confidence to improvise on it.
Ms. Sumter is backed by a formidable quintet augmented on three tracks by a five-piece string section. On two songs she is accompanied only by Larry Willis on piano. Mr. Willis’ graceful, mellifluous playing is a welcome presence throughout the disc, but especially on a beautifully framed, shimmering “Overjoyed.”
The concept of the album is hardly unique to jazz: a nearly all ballad set with strings. Unfortunately, it is a project that has come along several years too soon for Ms. Sumter. She does not yet have the dramatic or improvisational ability to hold a listener's interest over a whole sequence of extended ballads. She sings in short, clipped phrases and often stretches a single syllable over several notes. Both are difficult techniques that she has not quite mastered. As a result, Ms. Sumter sometimes parses lyrics in a way that distorts rather than enhances their meaning. The song then becomes a disconnected series of words instead of the expression of a specific point of view. Ballad singing lives or dies on the expressiveness of the singer and her ability to link words to real-life emotional experiences. Ms. Sumter may very well have lived the kind of life that would entitle her to sing "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen," but she certainly doesn't sound like she has.
Still, Ms. Sumter's singing is never less than lovely and there are some exceptional moments on this CD that hold the promise of great things to come.
Track Listing: Nick of Time, Detour Ahead, I Fall in Love Too Easily, Jim, The Best is Yet to Come, Nobody Know the Trouble I
Personnel: Sunny Sumter, vocals; Larry Willis, piano; Joe Ford, saxophones; Keter Betts, bass; Jimmy Cobb, drums; Steve Berrios, percussion; Rich Schmidt, violin; Tom Ginsberg, violin; Jennifer Rende, viola; Barbara Brown, cello; and Steve Novosel, bass.