Sometimes, when a jazz vocalist does a big band arrangement of a rock or pop hit, the results can be classical. Robin McKelle avoids that trap from the very start with her swinging rendition of Steve Miller's "Abracadabra." The lyrics are perfectly suitable for a jazz offering, and the blend of McKelle's voice and the horns is magical.
That cover opens Modern Antique, McKelle's follow-up to her debut, Introducing Robin McKelle (Cheap Lullaby, 2006). Boston-bred McKelle has taught voice at her alma mater, Berklee College of Music, and has sung with the Boston Pops. As she did before, McKelle invested a lot of her personal finances to make this project come to lifecommissioning the arrangements and hiring the musicians.
The ensemble delivers a delightful take on Irving Berlin's "Cheek to Cheek." After the second chorus, the horns come in with a flourish, setting up Chris Gottlieb's tenor sax solo. Though the tenor is in the lead, the other horns provide subtle background, before McKelle comes back in with energy and passion.
One of the more enjoyable songs, on an album that's loaded with them, is "Go to Hell." This low-range piece features muted trumpets in the background and a slick rhythm. McKelle shows some vocal dexterity here, singly softly for the music part but belting it out when it matters. The emphatic points are made solidly by her voice and the horns, in total synch. Throughout, Dan Higgins underscores on the flute.
George Shearing's "Lullaby of Birdland" is given star treatment. McKelle scats worthy of one of her influences, Ella Fitzgerald, and the brass comes through powerfully. McKelle complements this collection of standards with her own composition, "Remember." This original ballad features McKelle's voice, backed only by the piano and the string section.
Like many vocalists, McKelle covers classics. What sets her apart though, is her knack for making them sound almost original with new arrangements, making Modern Antique an appropriate title and a fine collection.
Abracadabra; Comes Love; I Want To Be Loved; Lover Man; Cheek To Cheek; Day By Day; Save Your Love For Me; Go To Hell; Lullaby Of Birdland; Make Someone Happy; Remember.
Robin McKelle: vocals; Quinn Johnson: piano; Alain Mallet: piano (4, 7); Robin McKelle: piano (10); Larry Kuhns: guitar (1, 2, 5, 8, 10); Reggie McBride: drums; Mike Velario (4, 7); Bernie Dressel: drums and percussion; Nathaniel Morton: drums and percussion; Wayne Bergeron: trumpet (lead 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10); Gary Grant: trumpet; Joe Magnarelli: trumpet (10), flugelhorn (6); Don Clark: trumpet (1, 2, 5, 7, 8, 10); Larry Hall: trumpet; Willie Murillo: trumpet (4, 9); Andy Martin: trombone; Jason Thor: trombone; Charlie Morillas: trombone; Craig Gosnell: trombone; Dan Higgins: saxophone; Ray Herrmann: saxophone; Bob Shepard: saxophone: Pete Christlieb: saxophone (5); Andy Snitzer (7); Mark Visher: flute (3); Glen Berger: oboe (1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10); Daniel Ondarza: French horn (3, 6, 10); Kathleen Robertson: strings concertmaster/features; Cameron Patrick: strings; Peter Kent: strings; Adriana Zoppo: strings; Kirsten Fife: strings; Susan Chapman: strings; John Whitenberg: strings; Christine Wu: strings; Robin Ross: strings; Miriam Mayer: strings; David Stenske: strings; James Hanna: strings; Peggy Baldwin: strings; Sarah O'Brien: strings; Ira Glansbeek: strings.