I wish I knew why the talented Philadelphia-based singer Susie Meissner
chose to open her salute to the Great American Songbook with the only tune on the album that doesn't really qualify: Curtis Lewis' "The Great City." It's not a bad song but Cole Porter or Johnny Mandel
it ain't. On the bright side, Meissner recovers quickly on the fourth album under her name with a burnished rendition of the title theme, a memorable composition by the legendary Hollywood songwriting team of Harry Warren and lyricist Mack Gordon, and chooses the rest of her material with care, as well as her sidemen, who include such master hands as saxophonist Larry McKenna
, clarinetist Ken Peplowski
, trumpeter John Swana
, guitarist Paul Meyers
and pianist / arranger John Shaddy
. Two more standouts, bassist Lee Smith
and drummer Byron Landham
, keep the rhythm smooth and flowing.
Another renowned Hollywood music-and-lyrics duo, Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen, is represented by the exquisite "It Could Happen to You." Mandel is here ("The Shadow of Your Smile"), as is Porter ("Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye"). And so, it should be noted, are Lerner and Loewe ("I've Grown Accustomed to His Face") as well as Rodgers and Hammerstein ("Hello Young Lovers"). Nothing else is less than inviting, from "Poinciana" to "Alfie," "In a Mellow Tone," "You Go to My Head" and the poignant finale, Betty Comden / Adolph Green's "The Party's Over," first sung by the incomparable Judy Holliday on Broadway in Bells Are Ringing.
As far as awareness is concerned, that is arguably Meissner's only misstep, as she sings it a touch too cheerfully, especially when compared to Holliday, admittedly the gold standard, who wrang every ounce of pathos out of its heavy-hearted lyric.
Meissner's mostly contralto voice is more soft than strident, and she sings on-key, which is always a plus. She also takes few liberties with a melody, which may prompt questions as to her credentials as a jazz singer, issues that are by no means without merit. On the one hand, Meissner doesn't sing "jazz" songs, with the possible exception of Duke Ellington
's "In a Mellow Tone," nor does she scat or realign harmonies and changes like, say, Ella Fitzgerald
, Sarah Vaughan
or Carmen McRae
. Like Frank Sinatra
or Rosemary Clooney
, there is a definite jazz inflection and undercurrent in Meissner's voice, and her supporting cast boasts impeccable jazz credentials. A jazz singer? Maybe not. A jazz album? Most certainly, even though the jazz component rests for the most part in the capable hands of McKenna, Peplowski, Swana, Meyers and the others. As for Meissner, she's a capable singer, with or without the jazz presence, and is definitely worth checking out.
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.