Vocalist Lesley Byers and her Jazz Cats, who drew praise from this reviewer for their earlier album, A Slick Chick
, are back with more heartwarming jazz from the heartland that is anything but Twisted.
There have been some changes—saxophonist Doug Angelaccio is in, guitarist Zvonimir Tot out; there’s a new bassist, Jake Vinset, and not one but two pianists, Tom Vaitsas and Chris Mahieu, sitting in (not simultaneously) for John Proulx. But the basic format remains the same, with Byers in the forefront on every number and the Cats purring cozily behind her.
“Twisted,” of course, is Annie Ross’s wry takeoff on tenor saxophonist Wardell Gray’s well-known bop riff, and Byers (with some vocal “help” from the band), swings right into it, stepping aside for Ed Enright’s baritone solo and some unison blowing before neatly wrapping up the package. The rest of the material is even more familiar, consisting entirely of standards and a pair of jazz ensigns, “Straighten Up and Fly Right” and “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most.” Byers and the Cats manage to make each of them seem fresh and charming, with “Spring,” “Straighten Up,” “How High the Moon” and Cole Porter’s “Too Darn Hot” among the high spots. Soloists aren’t named but it’s easy to affirm that they include Enright, Angelaccio, Vaitsas, Mathieu and Vinset, each of whom has some engaging ideas to share.
A word or two of advice: if a singer plans to open an album with Porter’s “Just One of Those Things,” he or she should remember that “just” is pronounced as spelled, not “jest” or (horrors!) “jist.” Byers, whose diction is otherwise near-flawless, has some problems there. Also, the lyric on “Taking a Chance on Love” reads “all aglow again,” not “all alone again,” but we can live with that one.
Minor quibbles aside, Byers leads a ship-shape ensemble that plays with dexterity and gusto. In the liner notes she writes that they’ve traveled “a zillion miles together,” which bears witness to the love they must have for the music and the part they play in helping to keep it alive. As I wrote in that earlier review, Byers and the Cats must be even more delightful to see as well as hear, but if you’re not in their neighborhood, Twisted will at least give you an inkling of their talent, which is impressive.
Personnel: Lesley Picchetti Byers, vocals; Doug Angelaccio, alto, tenor sax; Ed Enright, tenor, baritone sax; Tom Vaitsas (1-3, 5, 7, 10, 11), Chris Mathieu (4, 6, 8, 9, 12), piano; Jake Vinset, bass; Deric Perry, drums, percussion.