As if being the premier all-female big band on the planet weren't enough, DIVA has enlisted the services of two purebred divasNancy Wilson and Marlena Shawto enrich its latest album, A Swingin' Life, recorded live at Pittsburgh's Manchester Craftsmen's Guild (November 2011) and Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola at Jazz at Lincoln Center (September 2012).
Wilson and Shaw are more than window dressing, giving their all on five of the album's eleven numbers. Wilson brings out the best in Sammy Cahn / Jimmy van Heusen's b-level standard, "All My Tomorrows," and the far more congenial (and swinging) "All of Me," while Shaw, whose magnetism is reminiscent of the great Joe Williams, is similarly captivating on a hard-driving blues medley (Goin' to Chicago / Kansas City / Every Day I Have the Blues), Alec Wilder / Loonis McGlohon's dreamy "Blackberry Winter" and the luminous ballad "Wonder Why," once so tastefully sung by Billy Eskstine. Wilson's vocals were recorded at MCG, everything else at Dizzy's.
DIVA, for its part, weighs in with half a dozen galvanic instrumentals, starting with Burt Bacharach / Hal David's "What the World Needs Now," which showcases the first of several dazzling soloists, tenor saxophonist Janelle Reichman . Reichman is featured again (on clarinet) with trumpeter Jami Dauber on "Nothin,'" a buoyant romp written by the ensemble's founder and guiding light for many years, the late Stanley Kay. The rhythm section, overseen as it has been from the band's beginning by drummer Sherrie Maricle and including pianist Tomoko Ohno and bassist Noriko Ueda, is sharp and responsive here, as it is throughout, and especially on the flag-wavers ("What the World Needs Now," "Nothin,'" "Pennies from Heaven," "Blues for Hamp" and, believe it or not, Fredric Chopin's "Nocturne #6, Opus 9, No. 2," neatly rescored by Ueda and featuring Ohno's lissome piano). For an unintended chuckle, the jacket lists the Chopin composition, which later became the pop tune "We Have the Right to Love Again," as having been written by "Louis Clark, Chopin." Couldn't Fredric at least have earned top billing?
Besides those already named, DIVA's first-rate soloists include flugel Nadje Noordhuis (Ray Noble's "The Very Thought of You"), Ueda and baritone Lisa Parrott ("Pennies from Heaven"), pianist Chihiro Yamanaka ("All of Me"), tenor Roxy Cross, trombonist Jennifer Krupa and trumpeter Tanya Darby (Terry Gibbs' Basic-like "Blues for Hamp," which closes the album). Dauber solos on the blues medley and "All My Tomorrows," Ohno on "Blackberry Winter." On its eighth recording to date, DIVA continues to march onward and upward while leading A Swingin' Life (which, by the way, is the best kind to lead if one has the choice).
What The World Need Now Is Love; Nothin'; All My Tomorrows; All of Me; The Very Thought of You; Pennies From Heaven; Blues Medley [Goin' To Chicago Blues; Kansas City; Every Day I Have the Blues]; Blackberry Winter; Wonder Why; Nocturne #6 Opus9, Number 2; Blues For Hamp.