and Billy Strayhorn
were collaborators for several decades beginning in the late 1930s. They became so closely intertwined musically that it was frequently impossible to distinguish their work. Anaïs Reno
a young and promising singer has chosen to use their compositions as the basis for her debut release Lovesome Thing: Anaïs Reno Sings Ellington & Strayhorn
. This choice was not without risk as the harmonic structure and lyrics of some of the compositions are better suited to a more experienced vocalist. However, Reno was undeterred and the results are more than impressive.
In addition to being fearless in her choice of material, Reno had the foresight to look for a supporting musical cast that would enhance her vocal efforts. Pianist and arranger Emmet Cohen
was an ideal selection as he is a stellar and inventive musician. Rounding out the band are Russell Hall
(bass), Kyle Poole
(drums), Tivon Pennicott
(saxophone) and on a couple of tracks violinist Juliet Kurtzman
, who also happens to be Reno's mother.
The opening Ellington tracks "Caravan" and "Mood Indigo" had co-writers, namely Juan Tizol
on the former and Barney Bigard
for the latter. Cohen has put together a rhythmically off-beat construction for "Caravan" that gives Reno the foundation to test her vocalese before the lyric begins. Pennicott covers much ground with his Middle-Eastern influenced solo, before Reno picks up the lyric again in the out chorus. Cohen's light fingered piano opening on "Mood Indigo" foretells the interpretation offered by Reno. Gliding over the lyrics, she shows a gift for flowing delicacy, that segues into Kurtzman's violin for an uncluttered interjection.
The impact of Ellington and Strayhorn either separately or together cannot be underestimated in the jazz world. Their work here as co-composers includes "Day Dream" and "All Roads Lead Back To You." The former was written as a feature for alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges
in order to take advantage of his restrained vibrato and daunting glissandos. Here Reno imparts an earthy intimacy to the number. The second number is also known as "Lotus Blossom" and is emotionally similar to the former composition, although slightly more melancholy.
"Lush Life" was Billy Strayhorn's first classic composition, written when he was just a teenager. It is filled with demanding harmonies and is complex chromatic music. The lyrics tell the story of the isolation of a black man who declined to compromise his sexual identity. No small stretch for a debutante singer, but one which she reaches with assurance. The final track in this session, "Take The "A" Train," was the first composition that Strayhorn wrote for Ellington. History tells us that the composition's name was based on directions that Ellington gave to Strayhorn to find Ellington's apartment in Harlem from mid-town New York. Reno's interpretation of the composition uses the imbedded swing norms and harmonic cleverness to deliver an "A" train experience.
Anaïs Reno exudes confidence on this debut and with experience should develop into a singer who will delve further into the heart of the songs she chooses.
Caravan; Mood Indigo; Still in Love; Chelsea Bridge / A Flower is a Lovesome Thing; I'm Just a Lucky So-and-
So; It's Kind of Lonesome Tonight; Day Dream; I Ain't Got Nothing but the Blues; All Roads Lead Back to You;
U.M.M.G. (Upper Manhattan Medical Group); Lush Life; Take the "A" Train.