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Stay the Night is the young, Boston-based vocalist Cassandre McKinley’s second CD. Although far from perfect, there is enough talent and solid judgment on display to suggest that it will not be her last. Ms. McKinley’s chief asset is a gorgeous voice that immediately grabs the listener’s attention. Hers is a bright, nicely textured, well pitched instrument not unlike the young Kay Starr’s voice but with less vibrato and no country music influences. Ms. McKinely also has crystal clear diction, immaculate phrasing and a solid rhythmic sense working for her.
Stay the Night perfectly illustrates the degree to which a strong band can assist a young singer. Bassist and arranger Dave Landoni proves to be a genuine find. Using the bass as the cornerstone of the arrangements (a role usually occupied by the piano), Mr. Landoni has fashioned a series of fresh, minimal settings that bring out interesting new colors in these otherwise familiar tunes. Most of the tracks feature Ms. McKinley and Mr. Landoni accompanied by only one or two musicians most notably trumpeter Herb Pomeroy or guitarist Bela Sarkozy. Mr. Pomeroy, something of a Boston legend, plays on three tunes with impressive clarity and grace. Mr. Sarkozy displays a gentle lyricism on the ballads and a deft sense of swing on the rhythm tunes. To her credit, Ms. McKinley handles the openess of these arragements with real maturity. She never sounds tentative or unsure nor does she push too hard.
Ms. McKinley does not scat, and her melodic embellishments tend to be subtle. She has a direct and forthright approach to lyrics somewhat reminiscent of Nancy Wilson. The history of jazz singing tells us that lyric interpretation is an art often only acquired with age. On a few tunes, Ms. McKinley’s inexperience manifests itself as artifice. The most egregious example being a “Gee, Baby Ain’t I Good to You?” during which her increasingly exaggerated phrasing and spoken ending approach parody. “Cry Me a River” starts strongly but then crosses the line into melodrama. Fortunately, Ms. McKinley relaxes a bit on four beautifully sung ballads, “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” “Not While I’m Around,” “But Beautiful” and an especially lovely “Angel Eyes.” She details the lyrics with an impressive intelligence and an ear for nuance. If she doesn’t quite reach that deeper level of expression that marks truly great ballad singing, well, that may come with time.
The remainder of the disc constitues a mix of good performances and missed opportunites. While it contains some of the lyrical excesses discussed above, “Save Your Love for Me” works as a showcase for Ms. McKinley’s distinctive voice. “Let’s Fall in Love,” which has Ms. McKinley singing the opening chorus with only percussionist Harvey Brower for support, is one of the album’s highlights. However, “Fever” remains trapped within the parameters set by the classic Peggy Lee record. This is the type of number that probably works great in a club but doesn’t need to be recorded. “Let Me Off Uptown” could have been a chance to stretch out and try something a little more creative, but Ms. McKinley settles for a bland, straightforward performance of the Anita O’Day/Roy Eldridge Swing Era hit.
Overall, a solid entry from a singer with the talent and the time to make better records.
Easy Street, Save Your Love For Me, Cry Me a River, Fever, You Don
Cassandre McKinley: vocals; Dave Landoni: bass; Herb Pomeroy: trumpet; Bela Sarkozy: guitar; Ben Cook: piano; Mary Richards: drums; and Harvey Brower: percussion.