Jazz vocalist Bethany Smith Staelens may not be such a recognizable name in the jazz world today but, with the release of The Big Band Theory
, Staelens' recording debut seems to affirm the hypothesis that one terrific singer, an eighteen-piece big band, and a wonderful selection of music equals a swinging session of big band jazz vocals and instant notoriety.
Staelens is gifted with a marvelous contralto-alto voice that she has employed throughout her career as a nightclub singer and off-Broadway actress, as well as in TV commercials, and as a cruise ship performer. With the help of husband and trumpeter, Bruce Staelens, the singer pays homage to teacher and mentor, Steve Sample, who provides all of the arrangements here, except for "It Don't Mean A Thing" and "You Must Believe In Spring."
It is hard to top Frank Sinatra's rendition of the classic "All Or Nothing At All," but Staelens and the band give this one an electrifying treatment featuring drummer Scott Neumann's rolling intro and the singer's reaching, high-pitch vocals. With a knack for swing, she belts out the lyrics of "It Don't Mean A Thing" and steps aside as the band takes over with some high-end instrumentals provided by Dave Riekenberg on tenor and a sizzling brass section. The music tones down a bit, allowing Staelens to show her soft side with a beautiful performance on the classic "Here's That Rainy Day" and once again on "I've Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good)," where the lady sings with heartfelt emotion.
Of particular note is the especially jubilant read of the standard "Day By Day," containing a great big band arrangement displaying the orchestra's power, and an intriguing taste of Brazil with a special "Jobim Medley," where Staelens sings lyrics of three Antonio Carlos Jobim signature songs, "Wave," "Meditation," and "One Note Samba."
The music winds down with Staelens delivering a warm rendition of the standard "Imagination," then turning to swing one more time on the finale, "Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone," sharing the lead with Gerry Niewood's baritone to close out one impressive set of music. After one listen to The Big Band Theory, it is apparent that Bethany Smith Staelens is a phenomenal singer, the ensemble she fronts is superb, and the music selection is outstanding. The result is a recording that is no big band theory after alljust proof positive that raw vocal energy and massive brass is all that is needed for a successful musical treat.
Personnel: Bethany Smith Staelens: vocals; Bruce Staelens: trumpet, flugelhorn; Mike Ponella: trumpet, flugelhorn; Jon Owens: trumpet, flugelhorn; Daryl Shaw: trumpet, flugelhorn; Mike Holover: trumpet, flugelhorn; Charley Gordon: trombone; Bruce Eidem: trombone; Tim Sessions: trombone; John Allred: trombone; Joe Barati: bass trombone; Marc Phaneuf: alto saxophone, flute, clarinet; Bruce Williamson: alto saxophone, flute; Dan Jordan: tenor saxophone, flute; Dave Riekenberg: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Gerry Niewood: baritone saxophone, clarinet; Rich Shemaria: piano; Phil Palombi: bass; Scott Neumann: drums.