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2008 is shaping up to be a stellar year of stripped-down jazz vocal recitals. Witness Long Beach native Melody Breyer-Grell's collection of Gershwin standards, Fascinatin' Rhythms; Breyer-Grell is supported by the basic jazz piano trio, with the intelligently applied supplementation of solo instruments. Breyer-Grell's voice is front and center in this recording, never obscured by the instrumentation. The singer's approach to this canonical material is reverent, but not so as to make it boring.
"Somebody Loves Me and "Nice Work if You Can Get It open the disc on a conservative note, allowing the listener to understand all of the Gershwin Brothers' intentions in their composition of the pieces. Breyer-Grell spars with Don Braden's tenor saxophone for a chorus to introduce the former song, while guitarist John Hart appears on the latter. Gloria Cooper imparts a straight-ahead comping approach to Gershwin on her piano, playing block chords reminiscent of Red Garland's support for Miles Davis.
Breyer-Grell's durable alto is well-suited to the Gershwin ballads like "Someone to Watch Over Me. She sings the introduction very effectively over Hart's delicate chording. The remainder of the band dissolves, with Jim Rotundi's round open-bell trumpet. The title piece begins to throw the listener a bit of a curve, with an unexpected and intricate delivery on the part of the singer and group. Gershwin intended this song to almost jerk in its propulsion forward, and Breyer-Grell captures this perfectly.
I've Got a Crush on You is delivered with an insistent momentum not usually applied to this ballad. John Hart and bassist Dan Johnson squarely ground the piece rhythmically, giving the longing ballad a playful bite. "But Not for Me is not that of Chet Baker. Don Braden gives an extroverted yet constrained introduction into Breyer-Grell's extremely slow-paced delivery. The vocalist staggers the verses of "Embraceable You and "Our Love is Here to Stay in one of the more inventive performances of either standard this writer has ever heard. It is a perfect ending to a near-perfect recording.
Track Listing: Somebody Loves Me; Nice Work If You Can Get It; Someone to Watch Over Me; Fascinating Rhythm; I've Got a Crush on You; Who Cares?; But Not for Me; I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise; Love Walked In; How Long Has This Been Going On; Let's Call the Whole Thing Off; They All Laughed; Embraceable You/Our Love Is Here To Stay.
Personnel: Melody Breyer-Grell: vocals; Gloria Cooper: piano; Dean Johnson: bass; Matt Wilson: drums; Bon Braden: saxophone; Jim Rotundi: trumpet; John Hart: guitar; Kahlil Kwame Bell: percussion.
Jazz is a creative explosion of individual freedom and communication.
I was first exposed to jazz when I was a kid. My father had a music store.
The best live performance I ever attended was Kenny Garrett in Harlem, New York.
The first jazz record I bought was Saxophone Colossus by Sonny Rollins.
My advice to new listeners is keep listening!