With the passing of Betty Carter, a case can be made that the mantle as preeminent bop and post bop vocalist should be draped across the shoulders of Portland, Oregon denizen, Nancy King. And if there were any lingering doubts about her potential beatification, her performance on this album should eliminate them entirely. For more than 78 minutes, King and her very capable quartet regale the listener with vocal/instrumental art of the highest caliber. From the first track to the last, King and her cohorts engage the listener with as imaginative a musical presentation as one can legitimately expect. Clearly encouraged by the informal, relaxed atmosphere of a jazz, the improvisation and just plain letting loose is apparent with each tune. There are yelps of surprise when something unexpected happens or out of sheer satisfaction with a good performance. Ergo, King's hoot at the end of "Yesterdays" or the shouts of encouragement from one of the musicians during King's scatting on Jobim's "Quiet Nights". Her wordless vocalizing throughout the session gives special meaning to the "voice as an instrument" doctrine. It reaches its heights on "How High the Moon". But King can be sweet and gentle as on "Everything Happens to Me" where she saunters in and out of John Stowell's guitar strumming.
With her play list selection, King pays homage to some of the leading contributors to the Great American Song Book, both classic contributors and those from the bop side of jazz. Tunes by Artie Shaw, Hoagy Carmichael and Jerome Kern are given unique treatments. The presence of the two bop staples, Charlie Parker's "Scrapple from the Apple" and Sonny Rollins' "St. Thomas" shows King is not only willing to take risks, she relishes the challenge. And the challenge of performing these tunes is to create improvisation of equivalent quality to that of their composers. She passes this test with the highest scores possible - - an absolute tour de force as is the classic Wardell Gray/Annie Ross "Twisted". The latter is the subject of an exhaustive 10 minutes examination where, appropriately, King twists the harmonies up and down and in and out. Wonderful stuff!
Mention has to be made of King's "4", all Italian jazz musicians, but one. Because there is no piano, except for the last track, considerable pressure is on the rhythm section to provide the requisite support for the singer. They do this as if they had been working together for years. Attilio Zanchi's bass at first listen is like a guitar meandering in the lower registers. American John Stowell's guitar assumes the role of the piano as he takes extended, intelligent solos on several cuts. The drums of Gianni Cazzola provide punctuation when needed, but are never intrusive.
If you have a limited jazz album budget, make sure you have room for this one.
Track Listing: Moon Ray; Yesterdays; Twisted; Everything Happens to Me; How High the Moon; Quiet Nights; St. Thomas; Scrapple from Apple; Useless Landscape*
Nancy King - Vocals; John Stowell - Guitar; Attilio Zanchi - Bass; Gianni Cazzola - Drums; Giovanni Ceccarelli* - Piano
I was first exposed to jazz while working overseas in Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I would listen to the Voice of America on the radio and they had a nightly jazz program on at 10:00pm. I learned a lot about jazz listening to this program. I also had a friend who listened to real jazz by artists like Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy and Archie Shepp. On my way home from Africa I landed in New York and had the opportunity to see the George Adams/Don Pullen quartet at the Village Vanguard as well as Kenny Barron and Ron Carter at another club, and was in heaven.