Denise Mangiardi dwells in two musical worlds, as both a jazz singer and an accomplished classical composer. She puts all her talents to good use on this CD, singing a collection of self-written ballads, folk songs and torch songs, over her own haunting arrangements.
Mangiardi's moving string-writing appears on the two brief "Soundscape" instrumentals which bookend the album, as well as on the songs "The Exchange," "Waves," and "My Beauty"which is really Thelonious Monk's "Ugly Beauty" with lyrics added by the singer. The lush arrangements, played by the Slovak National Symphony Orchestra, give dramatic support to Mangiardi's high, evocative voice, while Mark Soskin's piano and Tony DaGradi's soprano sax further embellish the tunes. "Brown Book" has a similar feel, but with only Soskin and Dagardi present, not the strings. This song carries a yearning big-city mood reminiscent of Laura Nyro's early music.
The leader excels at more informal sounds as well; she sings convincing sultry blues on "Day Time Kind Of Girl," with the help of Dave O'Higgins' heavy tenor sax and Brian Seeger's soulful blues guitar. "Horn Song" is a lively samba, where she happily sings over three chugging tenor players, Dagradi, O'Higgins and Jerry Bergonzi. She even includes a pretty Mexican-flavored folk song, "Red Bouquet," cooing gently over Seeger's twangy guitar and Jay Anderson's solid bass line.
Mangiardi's voice has an angelic quality which conveys honest emotion, no matter the musical setting. The gliding, hushed delicacy she displays on "My Beauty," with its hints of Billie Holiday, is breathtaking. She can sing exquisitely as well as create gorgeous musical settings which show her voice to full advantage. This is a remarkably lovely and affecting album.
Soundscape 1; The Exchange; Brown Book; Day Time Kind Of Girl; Horn Song; My Beauty; Castle In The Sky;
Red Bouquet; Waves; Soundscape 2.