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Leslie Lewis: Midnight Sun / Keeper of the Flame

Jack Bowers By

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Leslie Lewis is a singer who has found steady work on the West Coast and elsewhere, and for good reason—she's personable, easy on the eyes, and more to the point, has a pleasant mid-range voice, sings squarely on key, and knows how to sell a lyric. Keeper of the Flame and Midnight Sun are Lewis' second and third recordings (Of Two Minds, released in 2008, was the first), all of them with the splendid Gerard Hagen Trio and special guests.

Keeper of the FlameLeslie Lewis

Keeper of the Flame

Self Produced

2010

Whether or not Lewis is a "jazz singer" is open to debate but largely beside the point. While she sings most songs straight (no chaser), her phrasing and timing are certainly jazz-oriented, and her supporting cast accentuates the jazz positive on every number. On Flame, the trio is reinforced by woodwind specialist Gary Foster whose alto saxophone and flutes serve as a constant reminder that this is without question a jazz date, as do Chuck Manning's tenor sax and Joey Sellers' trombone on Midnight Sun.

Whereas Sun is comprised for the most part of well-known tunes from the Great American Songbook, Flame is a succulent blend of appetizers from the States and entrees from Brazil including Antonio Carlos Jobim's "A Felicidade," "Fotographia" and "Chega de Saudade" (No More Blues), plus Ivan Lins' "The Island." Lewis scats only briefly, and doesn't sing in any language other than her native tongue. That's fine, as the English lyrics are charming, especially "No More Blues" (on which Lewis overlays a brassy sheen that is quite far removed from, say, Flora Purim or Astrud Gilberto).

Keeper of the FlameLeslie Lewis

Midnight Sun

Surf Cove Jazz 2011

The lesser-known songs on Midnight Sun—Burt Bacharach / Hal David's "A House Is Not a Home," Paul and Linda McCartney's "My Love"—are explicit highlights, but by no means the only ones, as Lewis fares equally well at a faster clip, as on "Lover Come Back to Me," "It's All Right with Me," "I Believe in You" and "Love Me or Leave Me" (which includes one of the most bizarre lyrics ever written: "I'd rather be lonely than happy with somebody else." Huh?) Hagen, who doubles as arranger, trebles (offstage) as Lewis' husband. Along with bassist Domenic Genova and drummer Jerry Kalaf, he does his best to keep her in an upbeat frame of mind, as do Foster, Manning and Sellers. When Lewis sings Frank Loesser's "I Believe in You," she may as well be applauding her supporting cast.

A pair of first-rate albums by a vocalist who whose singular talents should be more widely heard and appreciated.

Tracks and Personnel

Keeper of the Flame

Tracks: Keeper of the Flame; The Island; Spring Is Here; Day by Day; A Felicidade; You Don't Know What Love Is; Fotographia; Chega de Saudade (No More Blues); Speak Low; Caravan.

Personnel: Leslie Lewis: vocals; Gerard Hagen: piano; Domenic Genova: bass; Jerry Kalaf: drums, percussion; Gary Foster: alto sax, flute, alto flute.

Midnight Sun

Tracks: Love Me or Leave Me; Midnight Sun; It's All Right with Me; A House is Not a Home; Lover Come Back to Me; My Love; I Believe in You; The Man I Love; Where or When.

Personnel: Leslie Lewis: vocals; Gerard Hagen: piano; Domenic Genova: bass; Jerry Kalaf: drums, percussion; Chuck Manning: tenor sax; Joey Sellers: trombone.

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