Harlem has long been known as an incubator for talent, birthing and/or nurturing some of the all-time greats in music, literature, and art. Nearly a century separates the dawning of the famed Harlem Renaissance and the creation of this album, but Great Voices Of Harlem serves as undeniable proof that this large neighborhood at the north end of Manhattan still holds artistic treasures within its borders.
Great Voices Of Harlem, in some respects, isn't just a nod to three great talents that were honed and developed in Harlem; it's a recorded microcosm of the vocal jazz scene at St. Nick's Pub. That's where Austrian pig farmer/jazz festival organizer/band leader Paul Zauner met the three men that make magic on this date. Vocalist/pianist Donald Smith, the then-unknown, now-renowned Gregory Porter, and the man known as "the jazz mayor of Harlem"vocalist Mansur Scottall left an indelible mark on Zauner. In the summer of 2012, he managed to get all three of them to Austria to record with his Blue Brass band, and this album is the end result.
Porter's deep, resounding soul vocals, Scott's storyteller savoir-faire, and Smith's put-it-all-out-there, shoot for the stars singing are all on display at various times on a program that largely focuses on new arrangements of old favorites. Porter tips his cap to Nat King Cole with "Mona Lisa," shines on a lively "Moanin,'" and brings shape and depth to an indigo-dyed "Somewhere Over The Rainbow"; Smith works different angles, soaring and screeching along at the end of "Expansions" and giving a highly nuanced performance of "My One And Only Love"; and Scott is completely captivating whether spinning a story, as on "Doing Hard Time," or gussying up an old warhorse like "Days Of Wine And Roses." He goes over the top on occasion, but it's that enthusiasm that defines his work and elevates the majority of his performances.
While the world has quickly come to know and adore Porter, this album gives some well-earned attention to Smith and Scott; all three men are the vocal embodiment of the spirit, soul and sophistication that is Harlem.
Moanin'; Intro Peace; Peace; Expansions; Somewhere Over The Rainbow; Doing Hard Time; Stella By Starlight; Watermelon Man; My One And Only Love; Days Of Wine And Roses; Mona Lisa; Song For My Father.
Gregory Porter: vocals (1, 3, 5, 11); Mansur Scott: vocals (2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11); Donald Smith: vocals (3, 4, 8, 9), piano, Fender Rhodes; Paul Zauner: trombone; Barney Girlinger: trumpet, flugelhorn; Klaus Dickbauer: alto saxophone, bass clarinet; Klemens Pliem: tenor saxophone, alto flute; Martin Reiter: piano, Fender Rhodes; Wolfram Derschmidt: bass; Howard Curtis: drums.
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