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A true gem of a singer, Donna Byrne's latest is a 14-track journey through the pages of the Great American Songbook, and along the way she brilliantly captures the essence of each of these chestnuts. But Byrne knows how to extend herself far beyond mere recitation of the words. Her delivery is so engaging, so dazzling, so bright that each tune is an entertaining foray into the world of the art of jazz vocal. Not only is she equipped with an extraordinary set of vocal chords, excellent and top of the line timing and phrasing, she does not let herself get hemmed in by conventional vocal wisdom, letting her imagination provide the direction for the session. Whether it be on a rousing up tempo number like "It Don't Mean a Thing (if It Ain't Got That Swing)" (where she uncharacteristically indulges in some scatting exchanging ideas with Mike Turk's harmonica), to her poignant delivery of "He Was too Good to Me," Byrne applies the right amount of swing, elan, wit or romanticism, whatever is needed to make the performance go.
Another factor in making this CD go, are two sets of outstanding musicians who walk the line between their role as Byrne's sideman and their own special set of musical skills. Jazz piano institution and fellow New Englander Dave McKenna provides the piano backdrop. But while he makes no attempt to overshadow the singer, his years as a top flight jazzman comes clearly through on such tune as "My Melancholy Baby." The other pianist on the set, Tim Ray, is also not overshadowed as he helps with a swinging let's have fun with the melody on "The Surrey with the Fringe on Top." Erstwhile reedman, Mike Monaghan, gets plenty of time with his slightly biting tenor on such cuts as "East of the Sun (and West of the Moon)." Byrne's regular rhythm section, Jim Gwin on drums and husband Marshall Wood on bass shows that familiarity in no way breeds contempt but rather respect, harmony and mutual admiration.
Liner notes for my copy don't mention two cuts in the play list. Track 13 is a lovely medley of "Cottage for Sale"/"A House Is Not a Home" and 14, a race car "I Hear Music." But the good news is that this omission results in an unanticipated bonus. This her latest album only solidifies Byrnes' position as a major contemporary jazz vocalist.
Track Listing: I'm Afraid the Masquerade Is Over; Street of Dreams; It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing); In a Sentimental Mood; The Surrey with the Fringe on Top; Don't Dream of Anybody But Me; The Two Lonely People; All Alone on My Own; My Melancholy Baby; East of the Sun (and West of the Moon); He Was too Good to Me; Someone to Light up My Life; Medley: A Cottage for Sale/A House Is not a Home; I Hear Music
Personnel: Donna Byrne -Vocals; Dave McKenna -Piano; Tim Ray -Piano/Fender Rhodes; Jim Gwin -Drums; Marshall Wood -Bass; Mike Monaghan -Tenor Sax/Flute; Kenny Wenzel -Trombone/Flugelhorn; Mike Turk -Harmonica