What, in fact, is a jazz singer? That’s ultimately a question I hate asking, or being asked. I’d like to believe, with Duke Ellington, that there are just two kinds of music, good and bad. But, for those of us who fear for the future of jazz, the music we love, it rarely seems as simple as that. Besides, this magazine is called All About Jazz, and I assume that jazz music is what most folks come here to discover.
If one visits the Fynsworth Alley web site
, on the other hand, one discovers that the label describes itself as “Theater Music’s New Address”; on the album’s press release, Fynsworth Alley is called “Your ticket to the best in show music.” On neither of these sources is the word jazz even used. In the CD’s liner notes, Rex Reed describes Christine Andreas as one of his “all-time favorite girl singers.” Finally, the word jazz is mentioned only four times in those liner notes: to describe a) a note of hers that “would be the envy of the savviest jazz diva”; b) an arrangement (“Show Me”); c) some of her pianist-arranger’s chords; and d) a singer who has been among her musical influences (Ella Fitzgerald).
That having been said, Christine Andreas has a stunningly beautiful, clear soprano voice. It sparkles; she sings with a musician’s phrasing and control and with remarkable feeling (“I’m a Fool to Want You” absolutely takes my breath away). What’s more, she is capable of swinging (“It’s Got to Be Love,” “Show Me,” “He Loves Me”). If this sounds interesting to you, read on.
Marini’s work on alto sax, clarinet and flute are exemplary, confident and capable but never intrusive. The rhythm section is clearly first-class and swings as if that’s what it was meant to do. And there are surprises to be had; for instance, “Autumn in New York” is taken as a brisk jazz waltz. Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “What if We Went to Italy” is fresh and new, done as a gentle samba, with lovely vocal and clarinet obbligato and some wonderful Italian operatic and popular quotes.
Andreas’ rendition of Ellington’s haunting “In a Sentimental Mood” is downright arresting. This is a melody that has brought formidable jazz performers to their knees, but Andreas seems to sing effortlessly; her held notes raise the hairs on the back of my neck. The album closes with a brief, pensive, introspective song by Dave Frishberg entitled “Listen Here.”
So, call Christine Andreas and her singing what you will. I call it darned good music.
Personnel: Christine Andreas (vocals), Lee Musiker (piano and synthesizer), Dick Sarpola (bass), Ray
Marchica (drums and percussion),