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Nnenna Freelon and Billie Holiday have many things in common. Both possess a unique vocal timbre that's instantly identifiable. Both have worked with superb accompanists who honor the jazz tradition admirably. And both interpret songs with the kind of deep feeling that endears each performance to our hearts. We can't help falling in love with their performances.
With her sixth Concord release, which comes highly recommended, Freelon sings the songs that Billie Holiday left us. "Don't Explain" and "God Bless the Child" have become world treasures. Blueprint of a Lady also includes Holiday's "Left Alone" and "Now or Never," as well as many of the songs that she made her own.
With Freelon is a group of veteran jazz artists who give her album a welcome presence. Tenor saxophonist Dave Ellis, trumpeter Christian Scott, and flutist Mary Fettig add stellar musical partnerships to the program. Freelon's long-term quartet of Brandon McCune, Wayne Bachelor, Kinah Boto, and Beverly Botsford provide cohesive accompaniment that serves as an intuitive accompaniment for her vocal offerings.
"Them There Eyes" introduces a natural quality to the program through cello and guitar as Freelon takes the song in a unique direction. From the beginning of her career, it's always been about singing the songs her way. Fresh and alive, her performances carry more than music to her audience. She sweeps you away with her ideas, which float around the room and become crystal clear through her interpretations.
"You've Changed" is one of those sad songs that makes you reflect upon your relationship(s) with mixed emotions. With saxophonist Doug Lawrence completing the conversation, Freelon administers a prescription for the blues. "Lover Man" waltzes slowly in a soulful mood while McCune fills the room with contemporary textures through Fender Rhodes and Hammond B-3 organ. Ellis wraps his tenor around the melody with the same kind of emotional presence that Freelon conveys so emphatically. Like Billie Holiday, she delivers the song casually with a matter-of-fact awareness. Life holds few surprises for those who know what's going on.
"All of Me" closes the program with the sounds of a new generation of hipsters. Freelon uses this occasion to remind us that times have changed. We still hold on to the tradition of jazz and blues, but we've got to forge ahead and create. Her interpretation is exciting and it holds the cool passion that Billie Holiday so generously explained; but it demonstrates a new and different way of enjoying the music.
Track Listing: I Didn't Know What Time it Was; What a Little Moonlight Can Do; Don't Explain; God Bless the Child; Strange Fruit; Willow Weep for Me; Balm in Gilead; Them There Eyes; Only You will Know; You've Changed; Now or Never; Lover Man; Left Alone; Little Brown Bird; All of Me.
Personnel: Nnenna Freelon: vocal; Brandon McCune: piano, trumpet, electric piano, organ; Wayne
Bachelor: bass; Kinah Boto: drums; Beverly Botsford: percussion; Christian Scott: trumpet;
Mary Fettig: alto saxophone, baritone saxophone, alto flute; Dave Ellis, Doug Lawrence:
tenor saxophone: Julian Lage: guitar; Jessica Ivry: cello; Andrť Bush: guitar (9).
I love jazz because it mixes intellect and emotion in a very spontaneous way.
I was first exposed to jazz by liberating a Coltrane and a Pharoah Sanders record from a friend in NYC and listening to them over and over until I got it.
My advice to new listeners is you have to take the time to listen to some jazz tunes a number of times until it starts to make sense.