In some ways this resembles the Helen Humes albums Contemporary made a few years before. Both have eager voices that smile (Helen’s is a bit higher); both caress ballads and tease the blues. Teddy Edwards, a major part of the Humes discs, is on hand – in more ways than one. He was doing a club date in L.A. when Helyne stopped by to jam – “I brought her to Contemporary soon after that.” Teddy did the arrangements, leads the tough quartet behind her, and (on four cuts) joins a septet with Art Pepper, another veteran of the Humes dates. The result is warm, happy – lovely.
“Love is Here to Stay” comes with light tone and light vibrato. Pete Jolly rolls a breezy boogie, and Helyne is enjoying herself: she rolls an “R” here, and says a British “but” there. Jack Sheldon’s solo is lazy and slurry; Helyne was more energetic than this, so I’m not sure this fits. Teddy’s turn is better, with a tumbling phrase and a Webster growl. (It’s gone in a moment, so listen carefully!)
Teddy returns softly, on “I Hadn’t Anyone...”, as Helyne goes from lonely to luscious. This is the first quartet track, and does Phineas Newborn make an impression! He muses lush, lingers on the keys, builds in intensity and ends with parallel hands. Helyne returns high ( real high – we’re talking opera!) and her trill at the end will take your breath away. So be careful – you’ll want to hear the rest of it!
We now go to the bad side of town. With tough drums and quiet Teddy, Helyne romps through “Daddy” with bushels of irony (you gotta hear her say “laddie”!) It’s all Teddy and the repeated “My daddy treats it so well.” This is Peggy Lee country, and Helyne is right at home. She then steps inside a ritzy club, silky smooth with sugar on top. Newborn tinkles upper-crust piano, and everything says “class”. She plays the sophisticate well; we hear a British “again”, and even “romaunce”! (Her voice also has an annoying echo, thankfully only on this track.) The same voice returns on “This Love of Mine”, but in more humble surroundings. Milt Turner brushes thick, Leroy Vinnegar has a nice fat walk, and Teddy wails the solitary blues. This is Helyne after Daddy has gone – but even in her sobbing we hear a grin, a warmth to chase all clouds.
The septet comes back on “The Man I Love”, starting slow and going uphill. With speed comes power, her voice shows grit for the first time (hear Pepper on the bridge; he gets the right speaker as Helyne takes the left.) Pepper goes high on his tiny solo and Helyne shouts up a storm on a brassy finale.
And now the blues: with a quavering voice and a chip on her shoulder, Helyne gets gutsy on “Why Don’t You Do Right?” Yes, the same song done by Jessica Rabbit in the cartoon; yes, it’s done a lot better here. Hear Newborn get lush at the end; Teddy also does good. “How Deep is the Ocean?” is done as a dirge; Jolly has the blues on the left speaker, and Frank Rosolino joins him. The happy words are sung sad, in reverse of her normal approach – nice touch.
“Besame Mucho” starts tender and gets tough – Teddy is priceless. Newborn pushes softly with warm trills; Helyne laughs as he does it. “My Silent Love” is a smoothie with Helyne going high; the septet is window-dressing, and is the least interesting of the big tracks. “This Can’t Be Love” comes in with a shock – Teddy opens with Jimmy Heath’s “C.T.A.”! It’s the fastest, and Helyne sounds great as she runs through it – it makes you wish more tunes were up-tempo. Teddy charges with authority, and at last Phineas is free – his little solo crams all the notes he’s been eager to play. And there it ends, in many ways. Pepper soon went to prison, and Helyne Stewart did not become famous. But this record remains, and it speaks for itself.
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