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Vocalist plus accompanist sessions constitute a small but singular niche in the ever-ballooning CIMP catalog. As with the label’s other projects, these dates have a strong element of risk. Engineer Marc Rusch’s method of recording offers nothing in the way of compensatory tampering for the singer’s voice. What you hear is exactly what was sung or spoken, pure and undiluted.
The "without-a-net" nature of such an arrangement has a surprisingly solid track record. Previous projects by Rosella Washington with Tyrone Brown, T.J. Graham with Rory Stuart, and most recently Dylan Taylor with Kelly Meashey have all yielded memorable mementos. In their own inimitable way, Devorah Day and Dominic Duval sustain the standard set with Standard.
Day is still making her way toward well-deserved wide recognition. Light of Day, her debut on Abaton Book Company, teamed her substantial vocal skills with veteran improvisers like saxophonists Marion Brown, Booker T and Jorge Sylvester in an unorthodox ensemble that paid back valuable dividends. Here she joins forces with another weathered cosmopolite. Duval’s bass has now graced, by the count in the disc’s sleeve note, over three dozen CIMP dates. Suffice it to say that that record intimately familiar with the sonic peculiarities and demands of the Spirit Room. His experience means an able and responsive foil for Day, who here makes her debut there.
True to the simplicity of the disc’s title, standards both familiar and surprising comprise the program. Child-like delicacy alternates with sultry verve often within the same song verse. Day’s at times coquettishly husky style of delivery carries threads of Lady Day, but as with Holiday, any visible vulnerability is buttressed by a palpable poise and strength. Duval thrums and ambles at her flank, tugging bulbous patterns of notes from his strings that congeal in a plush harmonic cushion.
The opening reading of “Tenderly” sets the standard for the set, with Day taking her sweet time with the lyrics, adding emphasis at points in her articulation and toying with tempo. Duval favors much the same flexibility in his own commentary on bass. Two distinct sources of sound, but these improvisatory reservoirs are hardly left wanting when it comes to filling the space with creatively imbued conversation.
The only chink in the duo’s armor that's perceptible to my ears is an occasional tendency to travel a path to the point of diffusion. Several pieces clock in at lengths that outlap the relative cohesion content. Then again, since when is a case of too generous a plate of music cause for serious complaint? Praises due too toward Kara Rusch’s stark black & white cover art—a spotlight shining from above on a flower stemmed by the fractured body of a contrabass—that succinctly echoes the bald emotions of the music.
As a kid, my mom told me I'd like jazz. I thought she was nuts. Then I went to hear Cannonball Adderley (with Nat Adderley, George Duke, Walter Booker, Roy McCurdy and Airto) and everything changed. Yeah, mom knows best.