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Susie Meissner: I Wish I Knew

C. Michael Bailey By

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Susie Meissner: I Wish I Knew
Over the past decade and three previous recordings, Philadelphia-based vocalist Susie Meissner has crafted an intelligently conceived and thoughtfully paced survey of the Great American Songbook. Meissner's considerations of the standard jazz repertoire, in concert with pianist John Shaddy's sturdy arrangements and educated performance manner, have emerged, evolving from chaste and reverent beginnings, into rich and supple layerings of stylistic and technical outreach with each subsequent recording.

Meissner's debut, I'll Remember April (Lydian Jazz, 2009), emerged as a fully realized collection of the most standard of standards. Whether a strolling "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To" or a languidly humid "Never Let Me Go," Meissner delivered the goods with a clear-bell tone and brightly quaffed control. The addition of a tenor saxophone (David Mann) and trumpet (Greg Riley) to her solid rhythm section rounded out the routine mainstream jazz combo, who proved capable of close reading of The Songbook.

On I'm Confessin' (Lydian Jazz, 2011), Meissner adds her earlier horn front with Wycliffe Gordon's solid trombone. Gordon brought his deep knowledge of 1920s through '40s popular music to the project providing that slight sepia tint to the music. Meissner remains in close orbit with better known standards, delivered with the same commanding confidence delivered on I'll Remember April. The singer embraces Duke Ellington and Hoagy Carmichael with equal fervor and authority.

Meissner's vision evolves and, at the same time, begins to quicken, on 2015's Tea for Two (Lydian Jazz), where the singer begins to mix things up beginning with a rare slow take on the title song, featuring the electronic valve instrument of John Swanna. The EVI updates the song in a surprising way, giving it just a nick of modernity within its shell of nostalgia. She also brings on the reeds of Ken Peplowski and Larry McKenna who ground the recital firmly in the mainstream. This is a nocturnal recording anchored by "Moonlight Saving Time" and "Moonglow." Peplowski and McKenna strike the necessary conservative tone to counter Swanna's progressive stance.

Meissner's band from Tea for Two is kept mostly intact on I Wish I Knew with the exception of drummer Byron Landham replacing Dan Monaghan at the trap set. This is not the only change. Meissner adjusts her repertoire outside of the tried and true to include the peripheral chestnuts like the opener "The Great City." The Curtis Lewis composition was first recorded by Nancy Wilson in 1960, showing up most recently on Lauren Henderson's Ármame (Brontosaurus Records, 2018). Meissner minds Art Peppers admonition to never start a set with a ballad. "The Great City" crackles with a steady and determined swing featuring her equally steady and determined delivery. John Swanna's clipped trumpet solo mimics the urban stop-and-go of city life.

But I Wish I Knew is equally a ballad recording featuring the title song, "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face," and "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye." All of these are performed with punctilious detail at blissful ballad tempos. "You Go to My Head" is the "Tea for Two" on I Wish I Knew. Meissner takes the song at a very slow pace. Not morphine-honey slow, buy reticent in a way that is carefully crafted like fine spirits. This is the song featuring Swana's EVI, which, like on "Tea for Two" he performs to great effect, approximating the tone of the flute and delivery of a Moog.

The disc highlight is a brisk and bright "In A Mellow Tone." Ken Peplowski provides the perfect swing foil to Meissner's down-the-middle delivery. Slippery and sly, Peplowski recalls the entire history of jazz clarinet in his solo, from Johnny Dodds to Buddy DeFranco. Meissner sounds perfectly comfortable in her foray into lesser considered standards. She is moving toward something significant, something of an enduring beauty, a testament to her vision.

Track Listing

The Great City; I Wish I Knew; It Could Happen To You; I’ve Grown Accustomed to Your Face; Poinciana; Alfie; Hello Young Lovers; The Shadow of Your Smile Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye; In a Mellow Tone; You Go To My Head; The Party’s Over.

Personnel

Susie Meissner: voice / vocals; John Shaddy: piano; Lee Smith: bass; Byron Landham: drums; Ken Peplowski: clarinet; Larry McKenna: saxophone, tenor; John Swanna: trombone; Paul Meyers: guitar.

Album information

Title: I Wish I Knew | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Lydian Jazz

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