Sathima Bea Benjamin can't recollect her last New York City gig, but she imagines it was well over a half dozen years ago. For some odd reason her talents have inexplicably been kept under wraps for most of her career. Married for over 40 years to pianist and fellow South African Abdullah Ibrahim, a member of the many jazz vocalist-to-instrumentalist marriages (e.g. Ingrid Sertso to Karl Berger; Judi Silvano to Joe Lovano; Irene Aebi to Steve Lacy), Benjamin's work outside her wedded affiliation has been the most illustrious with a discography of some nine sessions as leader.
The 67-year old brings a natural impromptu air on Musical Echoes. Her careful and well-rounded selection of material and tempos comes across beautifully with not a rushed lyric. Between takes you can hear the banter and laughter between Benjamin, her band mates, and the booth. Countrymen Basil Moses (bass) and Lulu Gontsana (drums), as well as American pianist Stephen Scott, ease their way through eight standards and the Benjamin-Scott co-composed title track.
The piano-less "Falling in Love with Love" is the chestnut of the session. Benjamin's smoky horn-like midrange delivery exploits her usage of unusual scales, undoubtedly indebted to the freewheeling musical heritage of her country's expatriate musicians. Benjamin incorporates the natural influence and improvises around and on top of an intense beat churned out by bass and drums. It's intriguing to hear her instrument-like singing take an equal role.
"Caravan," which customarily features a steady tempo, is given a restrained and hypnotic rendition with Benjamin elasticizing each last syllable. Maintaining a breathy, definitely warm vocal quality, she is Edith Piaf-like in her delivery of the Irving Berlin standard "They Say It's Wonderful," floating through the eight-minute rendition over tender piano trio accompaniment. Scott's musicbox brightness creates a lullaby feel, and you can just imagine in Benjamin's final notes the sputtering and soothing tone of a Ben Webster or Stan Getz.
All Too Soon;
Falling in Love with Love;
I'll Follow My Secret Heart;
They Say It's Wonderful;
Someone to Watch Over Me;
Something to Live For;
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