The splendid debut from Israeli singer Naama Gheber recalls a time when such distinctions were utterly without meaning. "Dearly Beloved" finds her inhabiting the same territory as such classic crossover singers as June Christy, Peggy Lee and Lena Horne.
Of course, for that generation, jazz WAS the popular music when they were coming up, and it underpinned and influenced the stage and film soundtracks of the day as wellso there was a common musical currency.
For the 28-year-old Gheber, her approach was obviously more intentional than subconsciously ingrained. And yet, whatever her path, the result is remarkably organic: Possessed of a rich, beautiful tone, and relaxed and conversational in delivery, the performance is imbued with a joyful naturalness that makes it seem she's simply telling us a story.
The material certainly doesn't hurt: Gershwin, Porter, Kern, Ellington, Arlen. And she chose wisely: Time-burnished standards like "'S Wonderful" and "This Time The Dream's On Me" are interspersed with equally evocative but lesser-known tunes like the title track by Jerome Kern and Johnny Mercer, Cole Porter's "Get Out of Town," or "Sometimes I'm Happy" by Vincent Youmans and Irving Caesar.
The backing band is equal to the materialand to Gheber's singing.
Pianist Ray Gallon isn't a nationally prominent namebut should be. His playing behind Gheber is simultaneously sparkling and complementary, recalling some of the great accompanists: the superb Paul Smith (Ella Fitzgerald), Bill Miller (Frank Sinatra), or Ralph Sharon (Tony Bennett). He'll comp softly behind Gheber or vibraphonist Steve Nelson so on-point that you barely realize he's there, but then his own solos and lead passages are brilliant riffs on the melodic theme that left this listener wondering where HIS debut as leader is?
Nelson's vibes lend a supper-club sheen to an outing that is already dripping in elegance.
Bassist David Wong and drummer Aaron Kimmel cue off each other throughout, providing a supple, rippling undercurrent that is a study in understated but unmistakable swingit's the foundation for everything wonderful that happens here.
Few singers ever achieve the sense of mastery Gheber exhibits on her first outing: Supremely confident, in control, unafraid to surround herself with the kind of talent that might intimidate a lesser singer.
It is an exhilarating experience to listen to this new voicehere's hoping this is only the beginning of a lifelong body of work.
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).