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Tessa Souter: Nights of Key Largo

Suzanne Lorge By

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Tessa Souter excels at creating mood and on her new CD, Nights of Key Largo, that mood is one of a relaxed intimacy: She never strains to emote, never pushes a note, never rushes a phrase. Her material—13 songs about moonlight, sand and romance—lends itself to this kind of laid-back treatment, reminding the listener that there is more to life than hurrying to be somewhere, with the stressful soundtrack that accompanies such a feverish lifestyle playing in one's head.

Souter has selected some of New York's top musicians for her band, all of them just as practiced in the art of the slow groove as Souter. Pianist Kenny Werner is the master of subtle phrasing and adds unexpected color and commentary throughout the CD, especially on Souter's renditions of "The Look of Love," a contemplative dialogue between the two musicians that counters the usual understanding of this popular tune. Souter creates a similarly reflective mood with guitarist Romero Lubambo on the seductive "A Slow Hot Wind," with tantalizing solo lines by the incomparable Joel Frahm on saxophone. Jay Leonhart and Billy Drummond round out Souter's A-list rhythm section.

As might be expected on a record celebrating a tropical isle, the CD has a couple of well-known Latin tunes—opener "The Island" and Sergio Mendes' "So Many Stars"—both easy and inviting and utterly indolent. But later Souter surprises with "All or Nothing At All" at a moderate Brazilian tempo and the bluesy "Key Largo," featuring Werner's bright chords and Drummond's spirited drum lines. The lyrics tell us that the sun has gone down—on the beach as well as on the lovers—and yet the vibe is so warm that you can still feel the rays on the sand.

Souter's take on "Morning of the Carnival" opens with Leonhart bowing a sad little bit before she enters with her plaintive vocals, playing against the lyrics—an excellent choice for the eleventh-hour number and one of the standout performances on the disc.

Another standout: Souter's arrangement of John Lennon's "Imagine," complete with inspired melodic alterations and interpolations of the "Long and Winding Road". It is quite a long road from the mainland to Key Largo, but with the top down and Souter's latest playing, the time would fly.

Track Listing: The Island; Close Enough For Love; Moondance; So Many Stars; The Look Of Love; You Only Live Twice; Key Largo; Slow Hot Wind; Moon And Sand; I'm Glad There Is You; All Or Nothing At All; Morning Of The Carnival; Imagine.

Personnel: Tessa Souter: vocals; Joel Frahm: tenor and soprano sax; Kenny Werner: piano; Romero Lubambo: guitar; Jay Leonhart: bass; Billy Drummond: drums.

Title: Nights of Key Largo | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Venus Records

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