Women jazz vocalists come from one of two styles or personae. One is that of vulnerability, the sense of innocence betrayed or wounded, the hurt that is always there even in joy. Billie Holiday, Irene Kral, and June Christie, however much they differ stylistically from one another, are examples of that genre. The other is of empowerment and fighting back. Anita O'Day, Nancy Wilson, Sarah Vaughan, and Chris Connor embody such qualities. (It is not that they don't sing the blues, but that they are not taking it lying down, so to speak.)
Amy Banks, making her jazz CD debut with When the Sun Comes Out, is clearly in the latter camp. Her transparent, fluid soprano voice is yet filled with steamy, sultry innuendo that always gets the best of life's vicissitudes. Even when singing songs whose lyrics connote unfulfilled longing, such as "Lover Man, Banks conveys her power. She will never let other women down, never capitulate. It's power-singing, rather than victim-singing.
Banks is a professional singer and actress, originally from Minnesota and currently residing in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where she is a favorite at the regionally acclaimed American Music Theatre. She also performs at local clubs and restaurants.
For this recording she has assembled a group of fine musicians who perform with professional finesse that complements her lucid, disciplined phrasing and interpretations. Saxophonist Tim Warfield employs the soprano sax nicely on several tunes, giving his solos just the right sonority to go with Banks' vocal stylings. (They are reminiscent of Ted Nash's sensitive soprano sax work on Morgana King's outsanding Simply Eloquent.) Tony Micelli's vibraphone playing on "Lover Man is dark, subtle, and tender. Micelli is a master musician who deserves far more recognition than he has received.
The album is well put together not only in terms of the musicians, but also the selection of songs. I particularly enjoyed Banks' rendition of Phoebe Snow's "Poetry Man a sophisticated and beautifully rendered performance that instantly makes that song part of the jazz repertoire. The final tune, "Skylark, is done with a quiet grace that expresses the song's meaning (this classic tune is more nuanced than it seems; Paul Desmond did a beautiful saxophone rendition of it many years ago) at the same time that it contrasts with the more intense power-singing that characterizes most of the tracks. Finally, the recording quality is excellent.
This album is best for listeners who care about the music enough to appreciate a singer with a strong attack and a fine soprano voice, who sings with perfect intonation and careful phrasing. At the same time, it offers stylings that keep you wide awake and wanting more, as well as a selection of songsmostly balladsfrom diverse styles which still blend with each other very well.
Visit Amy Banks on the web.
Personnel: Steve Rudolph, piano;
Allen Farnham, piano;
Steve Varner, bass;
Rich De Rosa, drums;
Tim Warfield, saxophone;
Tony Miceli, vibraphones.