Some listeners will be completely satisfied with transparent pop vocalists like Mariah Carey. Others can only be satisfied with densely difficult jazz vocalists, like Lisa Sokolov or Betty Carter. But, as in politics, there also exists an enormous moderate middle ground, a population which craves musical excellence but may not crave the experimental edge. Cheryl Bentyne's new recording is perfect for the latter group.
Let Me Off Uptown, Bentyne's tribute to one of the most talented and difficult jazz vocalists, Anita O'Day, offers jazz vocals done to textbook perfection. On hand for the party is Jack Sheldon, actor and jazz Renaissance man. The two stars couple on O'Day's Swing-era signature "Let Me Off Uptown to introduce the disc. Sheldon blows a spirit chorus and talks some spirited trash with Bentyne.
One quarter of the Manhattan Transfer, Cheryl Bentyne has pursued a very successful solo career in addition to her group duties as scat master. Her previous recording, Talk of the Town, was well received and marked her first release on Telarc Jazz. Bentyne is not a stranger to homage discs; Something Cool (Columbia, 1992) honored June Christy, with the backing of trumpeter Mark Isham.
On the present recording, Bentyne grounds her efforts in the capable rhythm section of pianist Corey Allen, bassist Kevin Axt, and drummer Dave Tull. This fundamental unit is augmented with guitarists Larry Koonse and Grant Geissman. Jack Sheldon shows up to lend a bit of the West Coast to the festivities, playing a pretty bright trumpet here and there.
The songbook is strictly O'Day. While Bentyne did not attempt to take on the incendiary "Sweet Georgia Brown (with which O'Day burned down the house at Newport in Jazz on a Summer's Day), she does swing through "Tea for Two at light speed. Bentyne prepared for this recording by listening to all of O'Day's extant releases. That fact shows. She does not try to imitate O'Day. Bentyne understands the phrasing proclivities perfectly and executes them in her own voice. The result is a fabulous recital of big band tunes ("Let Me Off Uptown, "Let's Face the Music, and "Boogie Blues ) and small group ballads (a stunning "Skylark and "Little Girl Blue ).
Let Me Off Uptown is a super introduction to both Cheryl Bentyne and Anita O'Day. The band is bright, a characteristic sharpened by the superb sonics that grace all of Telarc's recordings. This is a treat that should not be denied.
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