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Michelle Lordi: Drive

Victor L. Schermer By

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It's difficult to conceive how this wonderful album of restrained and subtly rendered ballads came to be called Drive, a term which leads the listener to expect a package of revved up swing or rock. However, you don't have to be a cryptologist to realize that it comes from the last track, "Drive," which contains the line "Who's gonna drive you home?" This sense of melancholy and hoped for love, like so much of the American Songbook, is the essence of the album. However, you quickly forgive the misnomer when you hear the carefully crafted singing and backup within.

This is vocalist Michelle Lordi's follow-up to her debut album Michelle Lordi Sings (Self-Produced, 2014), and she has gone a step further in taking her cool style of vocalizing to a more sophisticated level of expression. She does this by slowing the tempos to allow for a subtle awareness of the nuances of every phrase as interpreted by herself and the outstanding musicians who surround her. The sidemen are Philadelphia's best: Grammy-nominated pianist Orrin Evans, who appears on three tracks; and tenor saxophonist Larry McKenna, pianist Tom Lawton, bassist Madison Rast, and drummer Dan Monaghan, who are on the others. The result is a studied, streamlined rendering of familiar songs that brings new light and breathes new life into them. This is an album that makes you think about what you're feeling and feel what you're thinking. The songs are mostly around themes of hope and disappointment, and Lordi has compared the selection to a cabinet containing treasured memorabilia.

The value of slowing the tunes is especially heard in Kurt Weill's "My Ship," where Lordi sings every word as if it were a Shakespeare sonnet and Evans uses the sustaining pedal to let every note of his well-chosen phrases and harmonies resonate behind Lordi's pellucid voice. And in another piano-vocal duet, "I Fall in Love Too Easily," Evans' accompaniment is rendered almost in the style of a Bach chorale with a Gershwin twist. A further instance of using the slow tempos to good purpose is Rast's bass playing on "Imagination," which creates a sculpted space for Lordi's singing. Evans' subtle harmonies and Monaghan's brushwork provide a similarly open window dressing for "Drive."

Other evidences of magnificent backup work include polyrhythmic playing by Monaghan and Rast on "True Love" that gives this pop song a "drive" it never had with Bing Crosby or Doris Day. Those polyrhythms re-appear in the intro to "You're My Thrill," which also includes an ingenious solo by saxophonist McKenna that has a middle-Eastern twist. Lawton and McKenna's playing on "If Only I Had a Heart" is a bit as if Tommy Flanagan and Lester Young got on the bandstand together, which may have never happened, but should have. Lordi's singing is reminiscent of Chet Baker's minimalist style, allowing for exceptional rapport between her and the instrumentalists.

This album will appeal especially to connoisseurs of jazz vocal music as well as those who enjoy laying back and being surrounded by translucent music. Michelle Lordi is rapidly gaining a reputation as one of the finest singers on the circuit today, and this recording is a further illustration of her remarkable talent.

Track Listing: You're My Thrill; Imagination; True Love; My Ship; If I Only Had a Heart; I Fall in Love Too Easily; My Ideal; Ghost of a Chance; Now at Last;. Drive.

Personnel: Orrin Evans: piano (4,6, 10); Tom Lawton: piano (all except 4,6, 10); Larry McKenna: tenor saxophone (1,2,3,5,7,); Madison Rast: bass (all except 4,6); Dan Monaghan: drums (all except 4,6).

Title: Drive | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: Self Produced

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