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Lift Every Voice

Chris M. Slawecki By

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Jimmy Scott: Moon Glow (Milestone)
It took a long time in coming, but Jimmy Scott’s sure found his career groove with his series of “comeback” albums with Todd Barkan for the Milestone label. Barkan somehow knows how to set up Scott’s distinctive vocal presence – an unparalleled dynamic between Scott’s exquisite sense of jazz and blues timing, and the ravages of Kallmann’s Syndrome on his voice – with simple perfection. On his fourth Milestone set, Scott burns like a classic torch singer through classic songs, except he seems to do more than sing these songs – he seems to embody them, to give them their own life through his voice.

Scott discovers more shadow than light in “Since I Fell For You,” which pianist Larry Willis and saxophonist David “Fathead” Newman cook up to boiling, and his duet with Willis on “Those Who Were” runs so deep it seems to stop time. This tragic, mournful arrangement of “Solitude” makes the song sound written for Scott, again with Willis plus Grïgoire Maret on harmonica blues. Guitarist Joe Beck also offers soulful counterpart, jazzing up the feel to the opening “Moonglow,” in which Scott languidly bathes just behind the beat, and the nattily swinging “I Thought About You.”


Various Artists: Vanthology: A Tribute to Van Morrison (Evidence)
The mercurial Morrison has consistently honored classic blues, soul, and R&B music in the material favored by The Them, which he co-founded, as well as his own inimitable compositions as a solo artist. Here he’s on the receiving end of the tributes from soul and blues legends performing Morrison’s compositions.

Guitarist/vocalist Little Milton begins with his soulful take on “Tupelo Honey” (sort of payback for Morrison’s cover of Milton’s “Grits Ain’t Groceries”). Other guitarists include Dan Penn, sounding like a youthful Eric Clapton on “Bright Side of the Road,” and Son Seals, who plows his rough guitar and vocal style through the “Queen of the Slipstream.”

Frederick Knight delivers a powerful, emotional “Into the Mystic” that truly demonstrates Morrison’s grasp of things both heavenly and “in the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.” Chuck Jackson is the perfect artist to bring Vanthology to a close: He’s worked with both the Del-Vikings and the Basie Band, and brings a bluesy shade to the set-ending “Moondance.”

That these songs glow with such a transcendent spiritual air honors Morrison the composer. It is a tribute to these performers that this glow shines so brightly here.


Ithamara Koorax: Love Dance: The Ballad Album (Milestone)
Koorax has released several albums in Brazil and Japan, but Love Dance is only the second US album for this star from Rio, the follow-up to her debut Serenade in Blue.

Koorax sings in an unmistakable voice English, Portuguese, and Spanish love songs composed by such masters as Antonio Carlos Jobim, Luiz Bonfï, Marcos Valle and Ivan Lins, plus songs by Claus Ogerman and Jurgen Friedrich (in German). Her voice manifests this diversity to its advantage: Koorax does not sound like a Brazilian singer or an American singer or a jazz singer or a pop or Latin singer. She sounds like she can sing just about anything.

Subtitle this set “The Dedication Album”: The soothing and seductive opening version of Jobim’s “Ligia” is dedicated to Stanley Turrentine; “Man Alone” to Jimmy Scott; “Blauauge,” a duet with composer Friedrich on piano, to Art Farmer; and the title track to Mark Murphy (whose 1988 Milestone session, September Ballads, inspired this Dance ).

With this title track, performed with Azymuth, Koorax transforms one of Brazilian composer Ivan Lins’ finest moments into one of her own finest moments, too. She sails with this smooth fusion band, letting the last few notes of a phrase throatily fade in a husky whisper (like Stan Getz on sax), sharpening and rounding notes’ edges, then exploding like brilliant sunlight to close. Love Dance also features John McLaughlin’s first date supporting a vocalist (“Man Alone”) and album notes by Ira Gitler, neither honor a small one.


Michael Franks: Anthology: The Art of Love (Rhino)
31 digitally remastered tracks across two CDs span from Franks’ three-decade career, with something from every one of his Warner Bros. releases plus his Windham Hill album Barefoot on the Beach, performances with the Australian sextet Crossfire and the Yellowjackets, and studio tracks with Joe Sample and Brenda Russell.

Early cuts show Franks as a fusion troubadour, mixing Japanese and Ahmad Jamal influences into zen-pop cool and soft that flowed with more than clever wordplay. “Eggplant” and “Popsicle Toes,” for example, demonstrate the absolute best uses of the words “mayonnaise” and “Tierra del Fuego” that pop music ever saw.

Franks easily moves as a pop singer among the musical elite. He breathes “The Lady Wants to Know” to life with guitarist Larry Carlton, The Crusaders’ bassist Wilton Felder and keyboardist Joe Sample, saxophonist Michael Brecker, and an orchestra arranged and conducted by Claus Ogerman. Franks eventually moved from California to New York and found new compatriots in the music nightlife: Bassist Will Lee, percussionist Ralph MacDonald, guitarist John Tropea and drummer Steve Gadd appear on “Cookie Jar,” arranged by Eumir Deodato.

Sadly, somewhere between the first disc in this anthology and the second, Franks’ musical model seemed to change from Mose Allison to Christopher Cross – from a jazz perspective, not for the better.


Frank Sinatra: Sinatra Sings Cole Porter (Columbia / Legacy)
Columbia celebrates the sixtieth anniversary of Sinatra’s first recordings as a solo artist (June 1943) with three new compilations that showcase the fledgling singer’s grace and dexterity with the popular songbook of the time. Sings Cole Porter puts every Sinatra studio recording of Cole Porter for Columbia together with ten previously unreleased radio and TV broadcasts of Sinatra singing Porter tunes during the time he was a Columbia artist.

It is odd to hear, through the periscope of so many decades, “The Chairman of the Board” sound youthful and playful as a colt, like barely more than a choirboy. The spry and sparkle of the material certainly helps. The arrangements, including charts by enduring Sinatra associate Billy May, are as clever as Porter’s lyrics – sometimes, perhaps, a bit too clever, as when Sinatra complains “There’s too many words” as he gallops through “Don’t Fence Me In.”

At this time, Sinatra was a genuine pop idol, as the swooning and squealing young girls who respond to “I Love You” and “I Get A Kick Out of You” will attest. Small wonder: His elocution is picture-perfect in the first, textbook reading of “Night and Day,” and he strolls coolly through the one bluesy change of pace (and the least orchestrated piece, piano trio plus clarinet), “Why Can’t You Behave?” Though not yet with the personalized style he would develop two decades later, this reading of “I Concentrate on You” does foreshadow the liquid, samba version on Francis Albert Sinatra / Antonio Carlos Jobim.


Frank Sinatra: Sinatra Sings Gershwin (Columbia / Legacy)
Similarly, Sings Gershwin compiles Sinatra’s studio recording of Gershwin songs for Columbia with fourteen previously unreleased Sinatra radio and TV programs broadcast while he was a Columbia artist, including his famous 1947 Gershwin tribute for CBS radio, Songs by Sinatra.

He’s essentially the pop crooner here, dedicating “Embraceable You,” for example, “ïto little Nancy on her seventh birthday.” And his repartee with his female co-lead in “It Ain’t Necessarily So” shows him a charming comic. But some Gershwin material allows Sinatra room to explore jazzy effects, too, as in the way the swinging trumpet sings back to his verses in “I’ve Got a Crush on You.”

Sinatra was obviously a big fan of Porgy & Bess, from which he broadcast two different medleys. The first splits “Summertime” in half with quick snatches of “I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin’” by a supporting vocal group. The second, from the CBS radio tribute, strings together “Summertime,” “There’s A Boat That’s Leaving Soon For New York,” “Street Cries,” and “Bess You Is My Woman Now,” and in every one Sinatra’s voice resonates strong and true.

“Someone to Watch Over Me” finds Sinatra still bright-eyed and in love with love; decades later, he would sound more suspicious he might never find herï


Frank Sinatra: The Voice of Frank Sinatra (Columbia / Legacy)
The Voice was originally recorded in 1945 with a chamber orchestra (plus contributions from another Columbia noteworthy, vocal product guru Mitch Miller). This reissue supplements the album’s eight original tunes with ten bonus tracks, six of which are rare alternate takes, sending a picture postcard from a long-ago musical era.

This gentlemanly version of “Try a Little Tenderness” will come as a revelation to younger generations raised on Otis Redding’s barn-burning rip through the tune. The same thing for Sinatra fans who may only be familiar with the elegiac version of “It Never Entered My Mind” that appears in “The Gal Who Got Away” medley on Everything Happens To Me, and never heard this earlier, less heartbroken and heartbreaking, version.

Unlike Sings Cole Porter or Sings Gershwin, each of which will not just appeal to fans of Sinatra but to fans of these composers, The Voice is most likely best left to Sinatra completists and fans of pre-rock & roll pop music.


Boz Scaggs: Standards Volume I: but beautiful (Gray Cat)
On this collection of genuine pop standards – the Gershwin’s “How Long Has This Been Going On,” Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady,” “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” from Rodgers / Hart, and more – Scaggs saunters through spare, smoky nightclub arrangements in his understated, comfortable voice, supported by a quartet led by pianist Paul Nagel, who also did all the arrangements. Nagel approximates the touch and sound of Ralph Sharon, Tony Bennett’s longtime pianist. The comparison ends there.

Make no mistake, there’s nothing awful about this package: Scaggs’ voice, the arrangements, and the instrumentation are all pleasant enough. Every song is cushioned comfortably in Scaggs’ warm range, and is gracefully phrased; his timing in “How Long Has This Been Going On,” for example, suggests Ben Webster curling up with a ballad (a feeling echoed in the saxophone solo by Eric Crystal).

But that’s just it – but beautiful is never much more than ‘pleasant enough.’ The instrumental solos, such as Crystal’s mainstream saxophone soul in the aeroglide “Never Let Me Go,” are often more rewarding than Scaggs’ vocal verses. but beautiful is sort of like the non-alcoholic equivalent of a cocktail party, with all of the trappings and flavors and none of the intoxication. There may be a great album of jazz/pop standards in Scaggs, who has obvious taste in material and knows his way around a song. But this is not it.

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