Jazz vocalist Diane Hoffman's decision to open My Little French Dancer with Magidson and Wrubel's "Gone With the Wind" is indeed a wise one. There are perhaps a dozen or so top echelon jazz singers who have provided a vocal version of this jazz standard, including Anita O'Day, Carmen McRae and a young Betty Carter's unforgettable and indelible take with the Ray Bryant Trio. Diane Hoffman's version is an up-tempo one that remains right in there among the best of them, along with a sizzling accompaniment.
Hoffman has always been connected with the arts. During the 1970s and 80s as an expressionist painter and graphic artist, she experienced the excitement of the Art Colony in New York's Brooklyn Heights and Soho and was an active part of these urban communities before they became part of "the scene." The launch of this follow-up to her debut, Someone in Love (Self Produced, 2004), is a significant step forward in her development. In fact, the artwork on the cover of My Little French Dancer is one of Diane Hoffman's paintings.
Hoffman's other song choices are also laudable and her decision to perform some of them in more unusual tempos is a measure of her ability to take a chance by singing outside of the box. A few examples include the oft-recorded Johnny Mandel ballad "Close Enough for Love" and the Billie Holiday-associated "You're My Thrill" from Gorney/Clare. Both provide the listener with a new perspective in terms of hearing the lyrics differently when sung at an up-tempo pace. Even Alec Wilder/Loonis McGlohon's "Blackberry Winter," normally an intimate ballad, is presented at a more contemporary pace.
A vocal version of Thelonious Monk's "Well, You Needn't" echoes the style and sass of Carmen McRae's version from her Carmen Sings Monk (BMG Novus, 1988). Just as McRae interpolated the angular notes of Monk's composition, and the lyrics of Mike Ferro, Hoffman plunks them down in the same manner.
There are lots of other pleasures to derive here, including a fine blues-drenched presentation of Percy Mayfield's "Two Years of Torture," which finds Hoffman very comfortable in this subgenre. Both Jerry Weldon's tenor sax and Don Militello Fender Rhodes add the icing here. A surprisingly fresh version of the late 1960s hit, "Yellow Days," composed by Carillo/Bernstein, is another winner. Oliver Von Essen's organ adds an unexpected churchy touch to Peter Nero's "Sunday in New York."
The musicianship of pianist/organist Oliver Von Essen, the cooking drums of Ulysses Owens, the bass of Peter Martin Weiss and guitarist John Hart as well as the aforementioned Militello and Weldon (who provides just the right touch of tenor sax swagger on several of these tracks) is perfect.
Track Listing: Gone With the Wind; Well You Needn't; Close Enough for Love; When Love Was All We Had; Blackberry Winter; You're My Thrill; Sunday in New York; Two Years of Torture; Yellow Days; Farewell, Noelle; When Did You Leave Heaven?
Personnel: Diane Hoffman: vocals; Oliver Van Essen:piano, organ; Ulysses Owens: drums; Peter Martin Weiss: bass; John Hart: guitar (1, 4, 5, 9); Don Militello: Fender Rhodes (8, 11); Jerry Weldon: tenor sax (1, 2, 7, 8, 10, 11).
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