That Nanette Natal is a genuine jazz singer in the grandest tradition of Ella, Sassy, and Dinah Washington (whose approach she recalls a bit), is clear from the first moments of her entrance on Stairway to the Stars. Back only by drums, she attacks "Fascinating Rhythm" with utter confidence and full-throated passion, tempered by a supremely confident playfulness. Her extended scat section here recalls Ella at her most daring, and drummer Todd Turkisher, all alone, provides an exciting, original, and consistently interesting backdrop. The arrangements on this disc are by Natal herself, and she shows imagination and depth of musical acuity throughout in her deployments of Turkisher, pianist Mark Soskin, alto saxophonist Ed Palermo, and bassist Kevin McCarthy.
This disc was recorded live at the legendary Birdland on July 11, 1990, and is a terrific example of a tight working band fronted by a simpatico vocalist. The whole band is first heard on a driving take of "When Your Lover Has Gone," including some heavy lyrical chording by Soskin and sensitive fills from Palermo. Natal keens and soars here with utmost commitment, saving a playful side for a dash through "Nice Work If You Can Get It." On this number she makes exceptionally effective use of her lower range, which is almost Vaughnian in proportions.
But the best is yet to come. The whole group stretches out on the delicate "Stairway to the Stars," the up-tempo "I Won't Dance," and an intense take of "You Go to My Head." These extended tracks give Natal and each of the others numerous chances to shine; "Crazy He Calls Me" is briefer but no less impressive. Palermo, Soskin, and Turkisher are superb, and Nanette Natal is beyond even that - after all, she is Nanette Natal.
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