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Jazz singing does not so much require an obedient voice as a directed but free-spirited one. There are few vocalists who can pull off the elastic fireworks of a Betty Carter, Lisa Sokolov or Tierney Sutton and fewer still who should even try. East Coast-West Coast vocalist Leslie Lewis has a beautifully perfect alto voice for singing jazz. By tone alone, she can claim a well deserved corner of the jazz vocal map for herself, much in the same way Kate McGarry has done. There is a place for both kinds of singing. Lewis provides an effective vehicle for melody, unadorned by improvisation but fully expanded through phrasing.
Lewis spins out a potent and dense reading of the Gershwin brothers' "The Man I Love" on her Surf Cove recording, Midnight Sun. Fronting an empathetic tenor quartet, Lewis belts the old show tune with a gospel fervor, giving it enough momentum to break out of a traditional orbit and into a purely expressive one. Saxophonist Chuck Manning plays lyric foil to Lewis' deeply hued delivery, the duo carefully comforted by pianist Gerard Hagan's sensitive trio support.
Jazz is a continuing revelation. The best show I ever attended was the
Roots Picnic at Penn's Landing in Philadelphia, or was it Robert
Glasper's Experiment at Lincoln Center, or was it Chick Corea with
Brian Blade at Oberlin College? Most of all I enjoy playing guitar and
composing beats with my Brooklyn-based group Space Captain.