Although singer Leslie Lewis and her husband, pianist Gerard Hagen, have been making beautiful music together for some years and recorded five earlier CDs together, I Put a Spell on You is the first under the group name Funky Ella (which represents a deep bow to another jazz singer of note). The album was recorded in Paris, France, the ensemble's home base, with guitarist Nicolas Peslier, bassist Peter Giron, drummer Mourad Benhammou and percussionist Jean-Philippe Naeder completing the lineup.
As the band's name suggests, funk is on the front burner, and it wastes no time heating up on Screamin' Jay Hawkins' title selection, deftly introduced by the rhythm section and enhanced by Lewis' soulful entreaty. There is more of the same on Al Jarreau's gospel-centered "Have You Seen the Child" and, to be honest, on every other number, from Leonard Cohen's rock anthem, "Hallelujah" (with Giron superb on Arco and strings), Nat Adderley's blue-collar "Work Song" and Barry and Robin Gibbs' plaintive "To Love Somebody" through Will Holt's high-powered "Sinnerman" (on which Penhamou and Naeder stoke the furnace), Lennon & McCartney's idealistic "Come Together" and the psalm-like finale, Leslie Bricusse & Anthony Newley's "Feelin' Good" (from the musical The Roar of the GreasepaintThe Smell of the Crowd).
While Lewis spends the most time assuming a leading role, her supporting cast is earnest and unflagging, lending a suitable vibe to every song and soloing admirably whenever the need arises. For those whose bag is funk or soul, Funky Ella should be squarely in their strike zone. Lewis is an excellent singer, Hagen likewise on piano, and the group goes about its funky business with finesse and flair.
I Put a Spell on You; Have You Seen the Child; Hallelujah; Work Song; To Love Somebody;
Sinnerman; Come Together; Feelin’ Good.
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