After thirty years as a jazz singer, California-based Cat Conner has recorded her first album, Cat Tales, an endeavor that is long overdue but no less welcome. For those who haven't heard Conner and may be curious as to what she and her compatriots have to offer, here's a brief summary. Lustrous, pleasing voice, crystal-clear articulation: check. Deep-rooted feeling for jazz, ability to swing: check. Perceptive choice of material, respect for a lyric: check. World-class sidemen who always place her interests ahead of their own: check. Splendid sound quality that favors everyone involved: check.
Conner reaches all the way back to 1899 (and slows the tempo considerably) for the usually ebullient opener, "Hello Ma Baby," and follows that with Billy Eckstine's sultry ballad "I Want to Talk About You" before shifting into high gear for the oft-repeated standard "Them There Eyes." Conner returns to ballad mode on Tadd Dameron's "If You Could See Me Now," while Duke Ellington's "In a Mellow Tone" begins as a genial showcase for Conner's radiant voice and Jim Hughart's resonant bass before pianist George Mesterhazy and tenor saxophonist Gene Cipriano make it a charming foursome.
Conner and Mesterhazy are the principals on one of the loveliest ballads ever written, Leonard Bernstein/Betty Comden/Adolph Green's "Some Other Time," from the Broadway musical On the Town, while Cipriano's bass oboe and Conner's shaker provide an appropriately esoteric backdrop on Juan Tizol's seductive "Caravan." For some reason, no one is listed as playing on the album's last two tracks, "Embraceable You" and "I Hear a Rhapsody," but Cipriano (on tenor) and Mesterhazy lend their support on the former, Mesterhazy alone on "Rhapsody."
This is an impressive debut for a singer who should be much better known. If there's a blemish, it could lie in the fact that the session is overly ballad-heavy, with half a dozen numbers residing more or less in that precinct, two others ("Hello Ma Baby," "In a Mellow Tone") on the cusp, and only "Them There Eyes" pressing forward at a more than moderate pace. For those who appreciate tasteful ballads enchantingly sung, that should pose no problem. And there's certainly nothing else here with which to take issue.
Hello Ma Baby; I Want to Talk About You; Them There Eyes; If You Could See Me Now; In a Mellow Tone; Some Other Time; Caravan; Embraceable You; I Hear a Rhapsody.
Cat Conner: vocals, shaker; George Mesterhazy: piano (except 7); Gene Cipriano: tenor sax, clarinet, bass oboe (1, 3, 5-7); Jim Hughart: bass (1, 4, 5).
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