There's much to admire in this debut from New York-based Israeli vocalist Naama Gheber. With a highly developed sense of phrasing built on pitch-perfect delivery and some tasteful back-end vibrato, an eye and ear for fine golden-age material, sharp navigational skills, and a knack for picking the perfect sidemen, her first flight garners attention in all the right ways.
A fan and student of music from the '20s, '30s and '40s, Gheber proves to be comfortably creative working through gems of yesteryear spruced up for today. Opening on "Dearly Beloved," she immediately establishes herself as a deft interpreter. Comfortably moving across a vacillating 5/4-to-4/4 scenario with open harmonic avenues, Gheber makes a strong impression without ever having to push. Add to that some sterling work from guest vibraphonist Steve Nelson and the tasteful rhythm section of pianist Ray Gallon, bassist David Wong and drummer Aaron Kimmel, and you have a complete recipe for success. Moving from Johnny Mercer and Jerome Kern territory to Cole Porter's portfolio, Gheber deals in low-level heat over Kimmel's slow-flow tom groove on "So in Love." As a back-to-back introduction to a singer's work, it can't get much better than these two tracks.
Stepping beyond those points, Gheber remains in her glory in a variety of smart settings. "This Time the Dream's on Me" works a sly metric wrinkle into the fabric of Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer's designs; "You Stepped Out of a Dream" plays to its title by moving in and out of rubato chimera; "Just Squeeze Me" delivers an Ellington double by interpolating touches of "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" into the scenery; and the blended "Good Night My Love (Layla Tov)" allows child-friendly attachments to brush up against an air of mature life with the presence of nostalgic sentiments. Those four tracks, along with a number of others, speak not only to Gheber's crafty architectural skills, but also to her kinship with co-arranger Gallon.
While Gheber is the rightful star of her own show, her band mates make their presence felt with more than foundational work. The bright "'S Wonderful" is notable for solo stands from Gallon and Kimmel; Wong wows with his low-end graces on "This Time the Dream's on Me"; and Nelson shines on "I Can't Give You Anything But Love," among others. With solid direction, beautiful arrangements, sterling support, and nary a musical misstep in sight, Gheber's got everything going for her here. Dearly Beloved is simply delightful.
Dearly Beloved; So in Love; 'S Wonderful; Since I Fell for You; I Can't Give You Anything But Love; Get Out of
Town; This Time the Dream's on Me; You Stepped Out of a Dream; What's New; Just Squeeze Me; Sometimes
I'm Happy; Good Night My Love (Layla Tov).
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