This is my second experience in hearing jazz singer Katie Bull. Her debut album, Conversations With The Jokers, fully established her as both a mainstream interpreter of the Great American Songbook and a downtown New York City cutting-edge vocalist exploring the more abstract styles of Jay Clayton or Sheila Jordan. The twelve tracks of this new album (the final track is hidden) present a singer who is poised at the threshold of dissonance and deconstruction of established melodies. It leaves the impression that Katie Bull is a tuneful and lyrical singer with the ability to convey the lyrics and melody of familiar songs quite well. She also enjoys the freedom jazz provides in reworking melody and time in an improvisational sense that, depending upon the listener's sensibilities, will be welcomed or shunned.
The musicians on hand consist of Katie Bull's regular trio of bassist Joe Fonda and pianist Michael Jefry Stevens, augmented by pianist Frank Kimbrough and bassist Martin Wind on several tracks. In addition, the percussion and drums are handled by the ubiquitous Matt Wilson. The more free-form titles are delivered by the Stevens-Fonda group.
These dozen songs are equally divided between standards and originals; the hidden track, a three-minute adventure in free jazz vocals, pushes the album ever so slightly into the latter category. At her best, Bull presents the oft-recorded "My Favorite Things" with an introductory 90-second offering of her preferential favorite items (e.g. "cherry tomato that explodes in my mouth... whole flocks of whales as they sing their way south") before seamlessly beginning the Rodgers & Hammerstein lyrics. On the other hand, the 1960s showtune "On A Clear Day" is given a very slow reading with lots of the melisma that Sheila Jordan might employ, which seems to stretch out the three minute length of the song. "Surrey With The Fringe On Top" tries to emulate the 1960s Betty Carter version which almost captured the sense of the surrey wheels turning in the meter of the music. On her originals, Bull writes of personal issues like the danger inherent in romantic relationships (the title tune) and family life ("Deer Run"), as well as the theatre of the absurd ("Connection Rag"), and in the case of "Leftover Blues," the contents of her barely stocked refrigerator. On the latter, a more expanded tune, Kimbrough gets in a very tasty blues solo.
Those seeking some adventure in their jazz vocal listening would do well to pay heed, but if your preference is for the more formulaic singing that might feature some adventurous scatting, Bull's approach may be a bit too much.
Track Listing: Love Spook, My Favorite Things, Strange, On A Clear Day, Deer Run, Leftover Blues, I Only Have Eyes, I'll Be Seeing You, Watch What Happens, Connection Rag, Surrey With The Fringe On Top, Ashokan Road.
Personnel: Katie Bull, vocals; Joe Fonda, bass; Frank Kimbrough or Michael Jefry Stevens, piano; Matt Wilson, percussion; Martin Wind, bass.