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Lyn Stanley: London With a Twist - Live at Bernie’s

C. Michael Bailey By

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Lyn Stanley hits her stride.

The Great American Songbook possesses a persistent resonance in our culture. It may be best defined as the Songbook as the popular music of the 1920s through the 1950s: Tin Pan Alley, showtunes and other popular music of the period. This block of songwriting remains a bedrock of jazz. The durability and longevity of the Songbook is owed first, to musical composition and lyric writing so rarified, a paucity exists among songwriters today. Secondly, most music listeners grow into the Songbook through their own life experiences. "Someone to Watch over Me" and "Lush Life" mean way more to the middle aged than they ever will to the young adult. Extrapolating from the admonishment by old jazz players to younger ones, "don't play standards without knowing all of the lyrics," young players are cautioned to leave these songs alone until they are older. Sam Phillips told Johnny Cash, after the latter's first audition of gospel tunes, "go home and sin, then come back with a song I can sell." Experience trumps technique, always.

Vocalist/producer/audiophile Lyn Stanley has a deceptively short recording career featuring seven critically-received recordings since 2010. However, Stanley went into the studio a fully-formed artist, talents tested and established, but not previously recorded. The resulting music is that of a song stylist. Like Frank Sinatra, Stanley sings songs also assimilated by jazz, but the way she treats them is very different from bona fide jazz singers like Billie Holiday, Betty Carter or Cassandra Wilson. Stanley escues scat singing and vocalese. That is not her wheelhouse. Stanley's metier is melody. In the same way guitarist Jeff Beck only uses only electronically unadorned his technique and knowledge of the guitar to play, Stanley uses her experience and deep melodic appreciation to craft her art, honestly.

That established, Stanley's recording London Calling—A Toast to Julie London (A.T. Music LLC, 2018) was a marriage between a finely conceived project focusing on the music of Julie London with Stanley's keen interest in audio fidelity. She has become notable not only for her refined vocals but her attention to sonic detail. With her companion disc to the London recording, Lyn Stanley's Favorite Takes: London With a Twist—Live at Bernie's, the singer pushes the creative envelope backward into analog recording, highlighting all of the advantages and disadvantages of this recording method.

London With a Twist is notable for having been recorded live, direct to disc. For the nostalgic, this method is not qualitatively different from the earliest recordings made in the early years of the last century, where artists performed into an audio receiving device, the power of that artist's sonic performance directly vibrating the recording stylus and thus cutting the wax of a master disc. Quantitatively, electronics and more advanced instrumentation replace the old "acoustic" recording method bringing us to the pre-digital recording age. Both methods are real-time recording. No overdubbing, no mixing, and no suffering mistakes. There is no plastic autotuning here. This is the high-wire act of recording music.

For the present recording, Stanley enlisted the recording and engineering talent of Bernie Grundman using a vintage API 16 input console with an original API 550-A equalizer. Stanley and all musicians were precisely miked with likewise vintage equipment. Stanley and her band recorded 12 songs in three song "takes" of 12 to 14 minutes of music, each take occupying one side of the recording disc. The challenge here is obvious. Navigating different songs with differently conceived arrangements one after another tests the best musicians. Lesser musicians fail, while these professionals rise to the occasion.

What begs explanation here is how did Stanley and her band prepare for their performances. They crashed the studio and banged out their arrangements during rehearsals before the recording in real time. What is guaranteed is the honest authenticity of straight arrangements conceived on the fly. None of the songs presented on the recording are a mystery, but it is in the arrangements where the "new and novel" is introduced. Time constraints molded a conservative approach to the arranging, allowing for all ears to be on Stanley. The result is a collection of performances that are so immediate one can almost experience being there. So potent is this effect, the lyrics, "What lies before me / A future that's stormy / A winter that's gray and cold..." become oh so real.

Stanley makes no effort to imitate Julie London. Rather, she celebrates her creative spirit with a creative spirit of her own. Stanley covers Bruce Springsteen's "Pink Cadillac" and Chuck Berry's "You Never Can Tell" in the same way that London covered the pop songs of her day ("Stone Soul Picnic," "Light My Fire"). She reprises material from the previous London Calling, presenting that material freshly. Stanley's voice is seasoned and well-balanced from low to high registers. She is playful, mirthful, humorous, plaintive and brooding...all at once. Like a great artist is expected to be. While London with a Twist may or may not not be Stanley's best recording to date, it is her most fully realized, conceptually, sonically, artistically.

Track Listing: Route 66; Pink Cadillac; Loverman; Blue Moon; Let There Be You; You Never Can Tell; Goody Goody; Lover Letters; Bye Bye Blackbird; I’ve Got You Under My Skin; Body and Soul; In the Still of the Night.

Personnel: Lyn Stanley: vocals; John Chiodini: guitar; Otmaro Ruiz: piano; Mike Lang: piano; Chuck Berghofer: bass; Aaron Serfaly: drums; Luis Conte: percussion.

Title: London With a Twist - Live at Bernie’s | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: A.t. Music Llc

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