Karen Francis is a force of nature. She blows in like a gale-force wind on "Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise," and barely slows down as she powerfully redefines jazz vocals with standards and originals. Alto saxophonist Antonio Parker blows and blows, setting up a stable yet incandescent foil to Ms. Francis' elastic vocals. She beautifully interprets her idol Carmen Lundy's ballad "Better Days" and duets with Christian McBride on Hoagy Carmichael's "The Nearness of You." Now that is about as basic as a rhythm section gets. This is an effective vehicle for Ms. Francis, whose expansive voice fills every nook and cranny of the listening experience.
Ms. Francis' original "Four Voices Left Unheard" is a freedom forum vocal jazz piece that soars. "That Old Devil Moon" swings effortlessly with Allyn Johnson's orchestral piano driving the arrangement and Ms. Francis fine phrasing guiding the song. One album highlight is Jobim's "Wave." A tricky song vocally, Karen Francis throws it off with grace and aplomb, her voice full and sure. Better Days is one of the best vocal jazz albums released this year. Let us hope there are many more to come.
Track Listing: Softly, As In A Moring Sunrise; What Shall I Say To You; Better Days; The Nearness Of You; Four
Voices Left Unheard; Cameron?s Song; Old Devil Moon; Welcome; From M0oment To Moment;
Personnel: Karen Francis?Vocals; Allyn Johnson?Piano; Christian McBride, James King, Michael Hawkins?
Bass; Nasar Abadey?Drums; Antonio Parker?Alto Saxophone; Barnette Williams, Same Turner?