Dr. Cynthia Felton dots all the i's and crosses all the t's when putting together an album. She's a detail-oriented singer with enough smarts, business savvy, and musical skill to pull off whatever type of project she wants to pursue, be it a salute to a woefully under-appreciated figure like Oscar Brown Jr. or a tribute to jazz's most lauded figurethe great Duke Ellington. For her third tribute album, and fourth album overall, Felton turns her attention to the work and legacy of vocalist Nancy Wilson. She follows her own previously established formula for success, enlisting the services of A-list musicians, putting together a playlist of appealing numbers, and crafting her own arrangements to suit her range and tastes. As in the past, this formula works like a charm.
Felton's voice is pure and soulful so she's well-suited to walk in Wilson's territory. Five of the eleven numbers she put on the program were plucked from Nancy Wilson/Cannonball Adderley (Capitol, 1962), an album that most consider to be Wilson's masterpiece and many consider to be among the finest vocal works ever recorded. In covering such sacred material, Felton finds a good balance between respect and individuality; she doesn't ape Wilson, but she doesn't stray too far from her territory. The rest of the material, save for a brief, album-opening a cappella take on "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," comes from Wilson's other '60s releases. All of it sparkles and shines in Felton's hands.
Felton has become quite adept at pairing players to songs and juxtaposing different ingredients and voices against her own. In some places, she pares things down and creates striking scenarios by working against a single element, be it Jeff "Tain" Watts' drums at the start of "Dearly Beloved," Leon "Ndugu" Chancler's dreamy vibraphone at the outset of "A Sleepin' Bee," or Carol Robbins' harp on the introductory verse of "Guess Who I Saw Today." Elsewhere, she forges relationships in already-established settings. Felton also wisely grants space to her side men, a no-brainer when you consider that musicians like trumpeter Wallace Roney ("The Old Country") and pianist Cyrus Chestnut ("Dearly Beloved") are on board.
All of the material presented here is pretty straightforward, but Felton's interpretive skills, her arrangements, and the variety in personnel from track to track all help to keep things interesting. On the whole, Dr. Cynthia Felton does a magnificent job celebrating Nancy Wilson, one of the greatest voices that jazz has ever known.
Swing Low, Sweet Chariot; The Old Country; Dearly Beloved; Save Your Love For Me;
A Sleepin' Bee; Only The Young; West Coast Blues; Guess Who I Saw Today; Never
Will I Marry; (I'm Afraid) The Masquerade Is Over; I Wish You Love.
Cynthia Felton: vocals; Donald Brown: piano (2); Cyrus Chestnut: piano (3); Patrice
Rushen: piano (4, 8); John Beasley: piano (5-7, 9-11); Robert Hurst: bass (2, 3); Tony
Dumas: bass (4, 8); John B. Williams: bass (7, 11); Edwin Livingston: bass (5, 6, 9, 10);
Jeff "Tain" Watts: drums (3); Terri Lynne Carrington: drums (4, 8); Yoron Israel: drums
(2); Lorca Hart: drums (5-7, 9-11); Ernie Watts: tenor saxophone (10); Jeff
Clayton: alto saxophone (4, 7); Wallace Roney: trumpet (2); Nolan Shaheed: trumpet
(6); Ndugu Chancler: vibraphone (5); Munyoungo Jackson: percussion (11); Carol
Robbins: harp (8); Ronald Mudrow: guitar (2, 7, 11).
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