One of the most fascinating things about Carol Sloane's Dearest Duke is that you can hear every discrete note of every performance on the disc, so spare is the accompaniment and so prominent are the vocals in the mix. Another interesting thing about Sloane's debut effort for Arbors: each number is a ballad. So again, you can hear everything. When Duke Ellington is the composer, Ken Peplowski the horn player, Brad Hatfield the pianist and Sloane the singer, such unabashed openness seems only appropriate.
Sloane's straight interpretation of some of the most well known songs in the Great American Songbook is difficult to pull off. She alters the melodies only slightly and unobtrusively, doesn't scat and relies on somewhat conventional arrangements for the sixteen Ellington pieces on this recording. But Sloane more than pulls it off and her uncomplicated rendering of a tune has a certain logic to it. A well-written melody, plus a naturally expressive voice and a musical mind that anticipates the trajectory of a tune equals jazz excellence.
Sloane turned seventy this year, and her voice rings with a vibrancy and surety unmatched by singers of lesser experience. Sloane began singing in 1951 and has been touring, recording and playing clubs and festivals almost without interruption since. Her confidence as a singer runs beyond mere comfort with the material she performs, however; these tunes spring from a place of such familiarity that we feel as if engaged in a spontaneous chat with an intimate.
Sloane and company distinguish themselves on every cut, but some moments stand out: the elegant voice-sax duet on "In A Sentimental Mood, before Hatfield enters with the drawn-out groove on "Prelude To A Kiss ; Hatfield's well-designed solo on "I Didn't Know About You ; and the bawdy banter between Sloane and Peplowski on "Just Squeeze Me (But Please Don't Tease Me).
Sophisticated Lady; Solitude: I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart; I Didn
Carol Sloane: vocals; Ken Peplowski: clarinet: tenor sax: vocal (12); Brad Hatfield: piano.
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