Singer Carolyn Leonhart and saxophonist Wayne Escoffery, a couple both on and off the bandstand, completed a smooth run at New York's Smoke the weekend of Valentine's Day 2008, highlighting the title cut from If Dreams Come True along with some well-written originals and some intelligently reworked standards. Theirs is a sweetly romantic tale: The couple met at Smoke on Feb. 14th six years ago, married in 2004 and are expecting their first child this year. The romantic backstory aside, this is a rare partneringan informed collaboration between a voice and a saxophoneand a tricky one to pull off, given that each is a soloist.
This particular musical partnership works because both in live performance and on the CD Escoffery and Leonhart occupy discrete spaces, the two never competing for the listeners' attention. Leonhart fronted the Smoke gig, but shared the playing time equally with Escoffery, also according each band memberKevin Hays (piano), Ugonna Okegwo (bass) and Billy Drummond (drums)ample attention, especially on Wayne Shorter's "Oriental Folk Song," which featured Escoffery's expansive soloing and Leonhart's captivating vocalese. The team's set list also held "I'm In The Mood For Love in a moderate 6/8 and the Escoffery/Leonhart composition "Earth Calling," a plea for greater environmental mindfulness.
Leonhart is an accomplished vocalist even outside of jazz, having worked extensively as a backup singer for Steely Dan. She borrows heavily from R&B for her phrasing and licks and this stylistic choice gives her vocals a contemporary sound that might aggrieve the jazz puristsbut they need only turn to Escoffery, with his accomplished bebop riffing and spirited improvs, for the more traditional take on their material. And no worries, there is enough room for both here.
Two originals on the CD underscore the different personae of these two artists: "Free To Love," a moody, atonal, musical freefall by Leonhart and her Grammy-winning brother Michael, contrasts with the Escoffery piece, "Not Without You," a structured, rhythmically complicated bop number that revolves around one melodic phrase. Throughout, providing Leonhart and Escoffery with solid backing on every tune no matter what its orientation, is a keen rhythm section featuring pianist Toru Dodo, bassist Hans Glawischnig and either Jason Brown or Carl Allen on drums.
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