You can tell from the title: this is an ambitious project. Coming after a Christmas set where the backing was minimal, Carri Coltrane’s third album is a vocalise extravaganza, with strings on several cuts, stars like Ron Carter and Joey DiFrancesco, lyrics and production by Gene McDaniels (author of “Feel Like Makin’ Love”, singer of “Tower of Strength”) and the songs are all modern jazz classics. A big project. A big voice.
In a sign of confidence, artist and producer put their most ambitious foot forward: they open with the final track from Miles’ KIND OF BLUE, which is based on Bill Evans’ “Peace Piece”, vocalizing the solos of three jazz giants. It would mean little if the words weren’t good; McDaniels does a splendid job turning “Sketches” into a love song. The opening goes “You said that you would never leave me, that you would need me ‘till time stood still. Time alone healing. Every thought I think begins and ends with you. The smile upon my face is just a place to hide from my pain." (Sadly, this is the only song with printed lyrics. I would have loved seeing all the tunes.) It sings marvelously, Carri’s husky voice putting reality in every word. DiFrancesco has a nice muted solo. He doesn’t try to be Miles; that’s Carri’s job! It’s slow, moody, and sad; just like the original. With her credentials thus stated, Carri goes on to tackle other jazz monsters.
There are a few originals here, but mostly there are verbalized standards. The songs are retitled, and McDaniels thankfully makes no attempt to incorporate the original title into his words. (For example – “Creation” is based on John Lewis’ “Django” – try getting THAT into a lyric!) The theme is stated on guitar (nice touch), then Carri comes in. “Reaching, searching, trying to find you. Can you hear me through life’s madness?” It’s a sad lyric about finding joy among adversity; it works well with the bittersweet melody. During the solos each player works with the theme, then does the funky blues. Matt Langley shines on his soprano. He stood out on the Christmas album; here, with a chance to cut loose, he sprays his notes, here lyrical, there swaggering. This is largely a cut for the band, and they come through mightily.
“Passion World” (based on “Fee Fi Fo Fum”) slinks in slowly, with sinewy bass and popping conga. Carri keeps in her upper register, kissing the tune with a touch of vibrato. Langley has another good solo, and Carter gets some stretching time. The lyrics don’t excite me as do the earlier efforts, but it DOES sound very commercial. I could hear this on jazz radio, and perhaps you will.
“Another Moment Gone” sneaks up on you; it took me several bars before I recognized it as “Stolen Moments”. This is another band song; after a good lyric (freshly written; not the Mark Murphy version) DiFrancesco soars, and Carter strums up a storm. Then Carri returns, singing the Oliver Nelson solo from the Impulse recording. Memorable, to say the least.
The words to “Pilgrim Traveler” describe this character as spiritual, a great mover, and a viewer of things on a cosmic scale. The tune is “Giant Steps”, so you can guess who the Traveler is. It’s the only song whose words tribute the composer; certainly the tribute is fitting.
Two tunes are duets with Mr. McDaniels. The best of these is “Too Rare”, based on “Make It So”; the words start out weakly (“You there with the long hair...”) and build to a hip, wisecracking tribute to Jesus. An unexpected subject for a vocalise number? Well, this is an unexpected album.
The originals are a mixed bag. “Hideaway is smooth and lovely, with liquid electric piano and gentle strings. “Two Hump Ride” has a lead vocal from Gene McDaniels; the performance is fine but the song does little for me. And “Melody is You” is a delightful tune with charming lyrics. It’s a great way to end the album, and might have been a hit in a more romantic age. No matter – any time is a good time for romance!
There is much praise to go around here. The lyrics are clearly the star of the show (most done so well that I expect other singers to use them.) Carri proves herself a very good storyteller, which for a singer is a vital skill. The musicianship and some skillful arranging put the icing on a very attractive package. Carri got my attention; hopefully others will take notice.