There may be better Jazz singers than Nancy Marano (that’s wholly subjective), but there aren’t many who are better equipped (that’s a fact). Marano has a perfectly lovely voice and knows how to use it, as she shows time and again on If You Could See Us Now! It’s enormously helpful, of course, to have wonderful arrangements by the late Manny Albam performed by the world–class Netherlands Metropole Orchestra, a circumstance that Marano says consummates the dream of a lifetime. She worked hard to make the dream come true, singing with many Jazz luminaries in clubs and at festivals in the U.S. and around the world and teaching voice at the Manhattan School of Music and William Paterson University. The Metropole Orchestra is a massive ensemble with a symphony–size string section, and while it sometimes threatens to overpower Marano’s voice, conductors John Clayton and Jerry van Rooyen strive to keep matters under control so that the listener can fully appreciate her special artistry, an effort that is by and large successful. The choice of material is moderately successful too, although I’ve never been an ardent admirer of Jimmy Rowles’ “The Peacocks” or Billy Strayhorn’s “A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing” (but do respect Marano’s perceptive treatment of them). Their inclusion is redeemed by Kurt Weill’s “Speak Low,” Irving Berlin’s “Cheek to Cheek” and the other standards, each of which is exemplary. Besides “The Thrill Is Gone” (which opens and closes with some Ella–like scatting by Marano) and Tadd Dameron’s “If You Could See Me Now,” there are two tasteful medleys, as “Last Night When We Were Young” is coupled with “While We’re Young” and “You Must Believe in Spring” with “Indian Summer.” The only song we’d not heard before was Duncan Lamont’s “Carousel,” which, as it turns out, is perfectly suited to Marano’s expressive voice. If Marano doesn’t hit every note squarely in the center, her few near–misses are so close as to be almost imperceptible. The NMO, meanwhile, seems perfectly happy in its customary back–up role (the orchestra has supported a galaxy of Jazz stars from Nick Brignola and Bob Brookmeyer to Zoot Sims and Clark Terry), introducing only one of its own soloists, tenor saxophonist Dick Vennik, on the closing medley. But with Marano carrying the ball the ensemble need do no more than complete its assignment and move out of her way, as she scores consistently from any angle and in every situation.
Speak Low**; The Peacocks**; Carousel*; Cheek to Cheek*; A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing**; The Thrill Is Gone*; Last Night When We Were Young / While We
Nancy Marano, vocals; Manny Albam, arranger; the Netherlands Metropole Orchestra conducted by John Clayton*, Jerry van Rooyen**.
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