4

Donna Byrne: Let's Face the Music and Dance

Mark Barnett By

Sign in to view read count
Getting Started

If you're new to jazz, go to our Getting Into Jazz primer for some hints on how to listen.

CD Capsule

Stellar renditions of jazz standards by a wonderful singer who understands the songs and extracts genuine tenderness and excitement from them. To top it off, she's surrounded by a group of jazz musicians who share her sensibility.

Background

Amid the throng of moaners, shouters and chanteuses who sing in the jazz idiom, what makes Donna Byrne stand out? After all, she's not featured in Manhattan's posh venues (she plies her trade quietly and almost exclusively in New England), and her albums are not produced (and therefore not publicized) by the major recording labels.

The answer is simple: she's a marvelous singer. On up-tempo numbers, she swings almost effortlessly, floating along over the jazz beat as though she's having a great time. On a slow ballad, she convinces you that she really understands the words (not as common as you might think among singers), and that she's aiming them straight at you. Given the right frame of mind, that can melt your heart.

But Byrne is not doing all of this alone. She's surrounded on this disc by peerless jazz musicians whose improvisations reinforce what she's singing. Soloists include Dave McKenna on piano, Gray Sargent on guitar, Herb Pomeroy on flugelhorn and Dick Johnson on alto sax and clarinet. In some of these tracks, the interplay between voice and instruments makes it seem like you're in the midst of a fine jazz combo, one of whose members happens to be a singer—and that's a lovely feeling.

Highlights

Track 1, "What a Little Moonlight Can Do"

Billie Holiday staked a claim to this tune with her 1935 recording, and it will always be hers. But Byrne's rendition, taken at a medium-fast pace with what seems like effortless intensity, ratchets things up a few notches. In the first chorus, listen for the pretty, complex guitar that backs her voice. In the second chorus, at 1:07, she pushes things further, flying along over the rhythm section, propelled by the insistent piano and guitar—everyone driving hard, yet no one straining. At 2:06, enjoy a wonderful chase chorus, in which piano and guitar alternate short improvisations, the music growing hotter and hotter as the two musicians listen to and play off one another. (If you're paying close attention, you'll hear a bit of "Sweet Lorraine" inserted in the guitar solo at 2:41.) At 3:59, Byrne returns for a rousing close.

Track 2, "Dream Dancing"

Taken at a medium pace, this nifty 1941 Cole Porter tune showcases Byrne's relaxed swing and her near-perfect pitch. To hear how she can massage a note, focus on the phrase, "what do I do?" at 0:22. Notice how she hits the note "do" by gradually sliding up to it, her voice growing fuller as she nails it smack on. The same thing happens at 0:59, in the phrase "sparkling with dew." At 2:01, a simple but beautiful piano solo that seems to extract the essence of Porter's melody, followed at 2:38 by a couple of pretty guitar and clarinet solos. The best part of this track starts at 3:57. Byrne is back, singing and swinging in loose, lovely counterpoint with flugelhorn and then clarinet. This one could have been titled "Warm Interplay."

Track 4, "Limehouse Blues"

This old jazz standard is a tour de force for Byrne and the gang, who play it three times in increasingly urgent tempos (think walk, then canter, then gallop). It opens with a brief "Oriental" piano solo ("Limehouse" refers to the Chinatown section of London), and then at 0:42, Byrne delivers a lovely, slinky-slow rendition of the tune. For a fine example of the jazz singer's art, listen to what she does with the words "old China blues" at 2:04. Round two begins at 2:40, as Byrne, swinging lightly, shifts into medium tempo. At this point, notice how nicely the alto sax fills in the gaps between her phrases. At 3:42 it's time to floor it, and the feeling changes to white hot. The words melt into a blur as the rhythm becomes faster and more insistent. At 4:11, the alto sax, until now backing Byrne breaks loose with a wild but controlled solo. At 4:41, listen for an exhilarating three-way chase chorus, in which drums, piano and guitar play round-robin. Byrne returns at 5:06 to close things out in a big way.

Track 6, "Remember Medley"

Be sure to hear "What'll I Do," the first of the three songs on this track. This simple Irving Berlin tune often comes across as over-worked and over-arranged, but Byrne gives it new life by capitalizing on its simplicity. Without melodrama, accompanied only by quiet guitar, she turns "What'll I Do" into a gentle, moving lament about how it feels to lose someone. Powerful stuff.

Track 12, "For All We Know"

Tags

Related Video

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Vic Dickenson: The Essential Vic Dickenson Getting Into Jazz Vic Dickenson: The Essential Vic Dickenson
by Mark Barnett
Published: March 15, 2017
Read Zoot Sims and Jimmy Rowles: "Suddenly It’s Spring" Getting Into Jazz Zoot Sims and Jimmy Rowles: "Suddenly It’s...
by Mark Barnett
Published: November 28, 2016
Read Wild Bill Davison: The Commodore Master Takes Getting Into Jazz Wild Bill Davison: The Commodore Master Takes
by Mark Barnett
Published: October 12, 2016
Read Stan Getz: Stan Getz And The Oscar Peterson Trio Getting Into Jazz Stan Getz: Stan Getz And The Oscar Peterson Trio
by Mark Barnett
Published: September 16, 2016
Read Donna Byrne: Let's Face the Music and Dance Getting Into Jazz Donna Byrne: Let's Face the Music and Dance
by Mark Barnett
Published: August 3, 2016
Read "Wild Bill Davison: The Commodore Master Takes" Getting Into Jazz Wild Bill Davison: The Commodore Master Takes
by Mark Barnett
Published: October 12, 2016
Read "Stan Getz: Stan Getz And The Oscar Peterson Trio" Getting Into Jazz Stan Getz: Stan Getz And The Oscar Peterson Trio
by Mark Barnett
Published: September 16, 2016
Read "Louis Armstrong: The Hot Fives and Hot Sevens" Getting Into Jazz Louis Armstrong: The Hot Fives and Hot Sevens
by Mark Barnett
Published: July 6, 2016
Read "Donna Byrne: Let's Face the Music and Dance" Getting Into Jazz Donna Byrne: Let's Face the Music and Dance
by Mark Barnett
Published: August 3, 2016
Read "Zoot Sims and Jimmy Rowles: "Suddenly It’s Spring"" Getting Into Jazz Zoot Sims and Jimmy Rowles: "Suddenly It’s...
by Mark Barnett
Published: November 28, 2016

Smart Advertising!

Musician? Boost your visibility at All About Jazz and drive traffic to your website with our Premium Profile service.