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Melissa Walker has a smoky, soulful voice. She is no screamer or wailer, but has just as much of an emotional impact as any of they do by skillful choices of rhythm and emphasis. She can even invest slight material like Janis Ian's mawkish "Seventeen" with a certain sincerity and poise. And on an offbeat number like Abdullah Ibrahim's mournful ballad "For John [Coltrane]," her delivery is languid and yet full of tremulous emotion.
Her backup band here is first-rate: reed heavyweights Craig Handy (tenor) and Steve Wilson (alto and soprano, plus flute) are on hand, plus the suave pianist George Colligan. They keep attention focused on the singer but aren't too shy to add a few tremendous solos to these tunes.
Highlight of the disc might be the slightly up-tempo, Latin-flavored "Naima," on which Walker takes the horn line with a surpassing, dusky delicacy as she sings French lyrics by Mimi Perrin.
This disc is a keenly-felt offering from an excellent jazz singer.
Melissa Walker, vcl; Steve Wilson, as, ss, flt; Craig Handy, ts; George Colligan, p, Fender Rhodes; Paul Bollenback, g, Kiyoshi Kitagawa, b; Clarence Penn, d; Steve Kroon, perc.
Track listing: Seventeen / If I Should Lose You / Ev'ry Time / Come On Home / Invitation / For John / Portrait of Equinox / Naima / What Do I Know / Upside Down/ Yesterdays.
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.