In early June, for the '04 Tony Awards broadcast on national TV, hip-hop/R&B singer Mary J. Blige was chosen to sing her version of the big ballad from A Chorus Line , "What I Did For Love." The resulting performance, which incidentally got a standing ovation, was a full tilt reconstruction of the tune that presented an entirely different melody and featured Blige's swooping melismatic delivery. I thought about that performance a lot as I was listening to this new release from Regina Belle.
Regina Belle is a respected R&B vocalist who has made a number of good albums over the past fifteen years and has scored some big hits with "Baby Come to Me" and "A Whole New World," with Peabo Bryson, from the Disney film Alladin. This album is a new venture for her, designed to show off her jazz vocal capabilities, and it was produced by popular keyboardist/composer/arranger George Duke. Half of the twelve selections are from the Great American Songbook.
On many of these tunes, Belle feels obligated to frequently alter the melody line by incorporating the vocal swoops that are so favored by R&B/hip-hop vocalists. At other times, songs like the title track are delivered in a straightforward manner. Belle begins Bart Howard's "Fly Me to the Moon" with the rarely heard verse and then proceeds to spin off embellishments on the lyrics that place the recognition factor of the song in jeopardy. The Broadway Ballad from Leslie Bricusse, "If I Ruled the World," as popularized by Tony Bennett, is presented as an entirely different song. A jazz standard classic, Bobby Timmons' "Moanin'," with words by Jon Hendricks, is presented as a church sermon which picks up steam after the vocal, with the jazz riffs played by Everette Harp on tenor sax and Oscar Brashear on trumpet.
Ironically, Regina Belle's best moments occur on the material that she does bestcontemporary R&Band these are the tunes that will surely be given airplay on the smooth jazz stations. A rehearsal snippet of the Philly soul composition "The Love I Lost" segues into the Isley Brothers' "For the Love of You," done acoustically with only Duke's accompaniment and the Perry Sisters' background harmony, and Belle's take on her own "There's A Love" is effective.
However, If unwary listeners are looking for Regina Belle, jazz singer, patience should prevail.
Lazy Afternoon, Fly Me to the Moon, What Are You Afraid Of, If I Ruled the World, Corcovado, There's A Love, Why Do People Fall in Love, For the Love of You, If I Should Lose You, Moanin', The Man I Love, Try A Little Tenderness.
Regina Belle,vocals with: (aggregate personnel)
Everette Harp, alto and tenor sax; Oscar Brashear, trumpet; George Duke,keyboards; Ray Fuller, guitar; Christian McBride,basses; Alek Al,electric bass; Gordon Campbell,drums; Dean Parks, acoustic guitar; Lenny Castro,percussion; Dana Booker,spoken word; The Perry Sisters,background vocals.
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