A key aspect of the art of jazz singing is the ability to interpret lyrics with musical depth grounded in improvisation and blues resonance. I Got it Bad & That Ain't Good is a good example of traditional jazz singing, a genre few perform very well these days.
Hearns is blessed with a pleasing voice, superb intonation and trained restraint. She escapes the trap of mimicry, having already incorporated traces of Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Julie London into her own aesthetic. On the title track, Hearns embellishes the lyrics with melodic blues riffs; on "Easy Living," taken a wee bit fast, she sounds sprightly and youthful. Throughout, bassist Kelly Friesen, pianist Keith Ingham and drummer Arnold Wise (and on four tunes, guitarist Howard Alden) are an elastic yet tight rhythm section.
So far, so good. But listening to this truly ultra-high fidelity digital recordingto be expected with multi-Grammy winner Elliot Scheiner as producerone begins to wonder. Hearns sings with seeming ease and vocalizes tastefully in a jazz style and so doesn't veer over into the corny or over-dramatic. Yet there are moments calling for gravitas and edge. "Love for Sale" is a great Cole Porter tune to blow on, yet the arrangement and vocal approach don't readily make clear that the song is about a young prostitute. Hearns is generally better on slow tunes. The quicker numbers provide good tempo variety to the recording, but, as New Yorker writer Sasha Frere-Jones recently wrote about another singer, Hearns "needs a little weirdness and danger to set off" her "handsome vocals."
Such qualities will likely come in time, because to her credit, Hearns takes artistic risks. She sallies forth in French on "Plus je T'Embrasse," though her first language is English. Her rendition of Horace Silver's "Lonely Woman" is just right, singing the minor-mode melancholy melody with a tenderness that evokes Johnny Hodges and Ella Fitzgerald on "Passion Flower." Another revelation is the guts to transform a soul music anthem, "I Heard it Through the Grapevine," into a slow blues that avoids the torch but touches the soul.
I Got It Bad And That Ain't Good; Easy Living; I Heard It Through the Grapevine; Cheek to Cheek; Plus je T'Embrasse; Love for Sale; Lonely Woman; Wild Is Love; On The Street Where You Live; Cry Me a River.
Lisa Hearns: vocals; Kelly Friesen: bass; Keith Ingham: piano; Arnold Wise: drums; Howard Alden: guitar (1, 2, 5, 8).
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