In the annals of jazz vocal duos, none stands taller than Jackie Cain and her husband, the late Roy Kral. When it came to interpreting American popular songs they were without peer, and like Bobby Short or Matt Dennis, every note, every measure, every phrase was urbane and tasteful.
Echoes, on which Cain and Kral radiate hipness and charm as leaders of a blue-collar quintet, was recorded live in September 1976 at Howard Rumsey's Concerts by the Sea in Redondo Beach, California. The twosome would keep on singing and playing until Kral's death in 2002, always with the same warmth, intelligence and clarity of purpose that had defined their partnership for more than half a century.
I don't know if this concert was typical (I suspect that it was), but one of the great pleasures lies in Cain and Kral's wide-ranging choice of material, some of which may be unfamiliar but all of which is splendid. It's pointless to catalog highlights, as almost everything qualifies; on the other hand, one must at least acknowledge the lovely, seldom-heard verse to Alec Wilder's "It's So Peaceful in the Country, Roy's clever salute to filmdom's Sydney Greenstreet, "The Fat Man (lyric by Fran Landesman), Wilder's poignant ballad "Echoes of My Life (lyric by Rogers Brackett) and André Previn/Dory Langdon's sardonic survey of the battle of the sexes, "The Runaround.
That's not to suggest that anything else is less than stylish, from Robert Ragan's "I Wonder What's the Matter with Me to Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind. Antonio Carlos Jobim is well represented with "Corcovado and "Samba do Aviao, and there are irresistible songs by David Gates ("Sweet Surrender ), Harvie S ("Winter Comes, lyric by Jackie), Dave Frishberg ("Wheelers and Dealers ), Wilder again ("Walk Pretty, lyric by Landesman), Rodgers and Hart ("Mountain Greenery ) and Hoagy Carmichael/Johnny Mercer ("How Little We Know, which isn't the song of that name made popular by Frank Sinatra). Completing the concert are David Gates' "Walk Pretty and Roy's all-scat original, "The Way We Are.
The backup trio, brought in from San Francisco, is admirable, and there are a number of bright solos by young vibraphonist Brian Atkinson. Engineer Rod Nicas, who recorded the concert in '76, has superbly mastered and mixed the tapes. For fans of Cain and Kral, Echoes provides a chance to hear them again at their best; for those who haven't had the pleasure, it's an exhilarating preface to their artistry and charisma.