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When a singer’s name appears above the marquee, he (in this case, she) shouldn’t be upstaged by instrumental arrangements that threaten to engulf the voice. Unhappily, that is too often the case on Debra Holly’s I’ll Never Forget You, the first album by a Jazz vocalist on Metropolitan Records. Holly, a sylphlike soprano who has performed in a number of frameworks including musical comedy, cabaret, Jazz groups and as a back–up singer on recordings, has trouble elbowing her way past the splashy big–band and string arrangements of Angelo DiPippo, managing to do so only some of the time. This is due in part to the recording mix, which emphasizes the ensembles at the expense of Ms. Holly. She fares much better on the quartet tracks (“Goodbye,” “La Mer,” “Speak Low”). When she can be clearly heard, Holly displays excellent range and technique enhanced by a pleasing albeit generic voice and on–key phrasing. Her articulation is fine, for the most part, although I can’t help wondering why the word “beautiful” in “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” is pronounced correctly except when it precedes “morning” and inexplicably becomes “beau–tee–ful.” On the other hand, when Holly sings the lightweight theme from “The Addams Family” she can’t bring herself to pronounce “scream” as “scree–um,” which is imperative if the kooky lyric is to maintain its off–the–wall flavor (rhymes with “their house is a museum, where people come to see ’em . . .”). There’s at least one questionable choice of mood and tempo — if Holly is playing Pagliacci, with “tears in her eyes,” as she declaims on “The Masquerade Is Over,” she does so with a radiant smile in her voice, which rather vitiates the sadness of its message, but with the big band roaring behind her she could hardly do otherwise, I suppose. Gordon Jenkins’ plaintive “Goodbye” (whose verse gives the album its title) is a highlight, as are “Early Autumn,” Duke Ellington’s seldom–heard “Paris Blues,” Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night in Tunisia,“ Kurt Weill’s “Speak Low” and Holly’s own composition, “Love Brings Love.” “La Mer” (a.k.a. “Beyond the Sea”) is a personal favorite, but while Holly’s slow–paced reading is lovely, my heart has already been pledged to Bobby Darin’s dynamic version from the late ’50s. The album marks a promising start for Holly, a sprightly singer with an admirable flair for Jazz inflection and pacing. Next time out, she could lower the cost (and shield her vocal chords) by bringing only the quartet.
Contact:Metropolitan Records, 317 Madison Avenue, Suite 2310, New York, NY 10017. Phone 212–856–0131. Web site, www.metrorecords.com
Track Listing: Oh What a Beautiful Morning; Early Autumn; Aguas de Marco (Waters of March); Goodbye; The Masquerade Is Over; Paris Blues; Addams Family; Love Brings Love; A Night in Tunisia; La Mer (Beyond the Sea); Speak Low; My Favorite Things (49:35).
Personnel: Debra Holly, vocals; Angelo DiPippo, conductor, arranger; Gary Keller, tenor saxophone; Derek Smith, piano; David Finck, bass; Ronnie Zito, drums. Big band (tracks 1, 2, 5, 7, 9, 12)