You may ask, "Who needs another female singer with a great voice and a sophisticated sound who sings jazz standards? Good pointthey exist in droves these days. Butif it's Meg Clifton you're talking about, that's another story. She's just special enough to make a difference to your discriminating ears. For Clifton is not just another jazz singer. She's a young woman with mature artistry and the right instincts. She can take a jazz standard and transform it into something fresh while remaining faithful to the composer's intent. Clifton's new CD, "You're a Sweetheart, offers ten superbly crafted standards sung with consummate precision yet with a vitality that quickens and awakens the music.
Take the way she renders the ballad "Alone Together. Typically done slowly with a mournful quality, Clifton takes it uniquely at an up tempo and transforms it into an anxious, existential version of the loneliness that lovers can feel, bringing out aspects of the tune and lyrics that you don't ordinarily perceive. While the other songs are done in the more usual way, Clifton's care with phrasing and her vocal personality bring out their implicit meanings in a way that other singers just don't. Some standards earn their immortality by virtue of their inner, core meanings, and only a very few vocalists have the ability to bring them out in a way that goes beyond clichés. Clifton is one. Her renditions of "A Time for Love" and "God Bless the Child" are especially poignant.
I've been fortunate to have heard Clifton in person in Philadelphia, and I interviewed her for All About Jazz with her friend and frequent musical associate, Mary Ellen Desmond. An essential element of Clifton's artistry is her personality. She emits a light, radiant feeling that tells you that "life is fantastic but ironic. This is sexy. If Mae West were young, slim, and brilliant, she'd be Clifton. The cover photo for the CD captures this essence, with Clifton in the garb of a Hollywood glamour girl or perhaps more like a "desparate housewife, and she's winking her eye, as if to lend an ironic twist to the phrase "You're a Sweetheart. The songs are done with utmost seriousness and attention to detail, but Meg makes us realize the tenuousness of life andat timesits cosmic humor.
The arrangements, by Meg Clifton herself, assisted by John Swana, are superb. Meg, true to her view of the vocalist as a participating member of the group, gives her musicians ample space for improvising. And they take good advantage of the opportunity. John Swana and Eric Alexander are at their level best. Guitarist Peter Bernstein is right on target with a warm, vibrant sound and interesting ideas. Bassist Lee Smith lends his fine rhythmic bounce and perfect bass lines to the occasion. And drummer Dan Monaghan swings lightly but strongly throughout.
Clifton is already proving herself to be one of the most resilient vocalists in the business. She has a background in rhythm and blues and rock and roll and a fine feeling for all the varieties of jazz music, from swing to bebop and beyond. Recently, I received a copy of a CD called "Hippie Jazz put out by vibraphonist Tony Miceli, and what Clifton does with "hippie era songs like "Ina Gadda Da Vida is mind blowing. But "You're a Sweetheart is just a top-of-the-line gentle-on-the-ear bunch of standards that will please anyone who loves a good song sung in the traditions of divas like Billie Holiday, Irene Kral, and Chris Connor. Meg Clifton is one to listen toand watch for developments.
Personnel: Meg Clifton: vocals; Eric Alexander: saxophone; John Swana: trumpet; Peter Bernstein: guitar; Lee Smith: bass; Dan Monaghan: drums.
Tracks: Can't Give You Anything but Love; Here Comes the Sun; You're a Sweetheart; I Wish You Love; You Must Believe in Spring; Speak Low; A Time for Love; Alone Together; Up Jumped Spring; God Bless the Child.
Meg Clifton, vocals; Eric Alexander, saxophone; John Swana, trumpet; Peter Bernstein, guitar; Lee Smith, bass; Dan Monaghan, drums
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