This recording belongs alongside the famous Reprise recording of Duke Ellington Presents the Dollar Brand Trio (Warner Bros., 1963)now Abdullah Ibrahim. It comes from the same period and introduced the world to Ibrahim's then girlfriend, Beattie Benjamin (now Sathima Bea Benjamin). Actually, Benjamin heard Ellington in Zurich and convinced him to come hear Brand perform. Ellington also insisted that Benjamin sing for him, and the subsequent recordings were thought to be lost until relatively recently.
Benjamin is a master of bittersweet balladry and it infuses all of the stunning standards she sings on this, her earliest recording. The singing is sultry and stylized and almost painfully romantic. Ellington produces and plays piano on his classics "I Got it Bad... and "Solitude, and listen also for the pizzicato violin of the great, underrated Dane, Svend Asmussen. This is the voice of a young girl in the presence of masters and the surprise is that she never seems cowed by the giants. The reverb, odd at first, accents the quiet feelings of these songs.
On "Your Love Has Faded and "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square the pianist is Billy Strayhorn. He penned the former and the reading is poignant, as Benjamin's intimate and personal reading of the lyrics tells the sad story. Once again, the sound of the violin is a touching complement. The kind of melancholy expressed in these songs is universal; witness how the "English tale of the "Nightingale hits home in Benjamin's piercing rendition. On "I'm Glad There is You," Ibrahim is the pianist and he quietly underscores how even a somewhat "happy" song is colored "blue" by the Benjamin's no-nonsense reading.
Benjamin sings these songs as if for the first time and without frills or other mannerisms overused by vocalists. She is and has always been her own person.
Darn That Dream: I Got it Bad (And That Ain't Good); I Could Write a Book; I Should Care; Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year; Solitude; The Man I Love; Your Love Has Faded; I'm Glad There is You; Soon; Lover Man; A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.
Sathima Bea Benjamin: vocals; Duke Ellington: piano; Billy Strayhorn: piano; Abdullah Ibrahim: piano; Svend Asmussen: pizzicato violin; Johnny Gertze: bass; Makaya Ntshoko: drums.
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