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This album is notable some good things and some bad. The bad first, it was one of bassist Andy Simpkins' last sessions before he passed in June of 1999. His solo on If I Were a Bell is a fine testimonial to his stature as a bassist going back to the days of those wonderful Blue Note recordings with The Three Sounds. The good news is that Andrea Baker is accompanied by an outstanding group players of who make this album sparkle by providing more than admirable backing for her vocalizing, in ensemble and as soloists. Another happy event is that the arrangements by Baker and Sandy Megas manage to accommodate equally both the needs of the vocalist and the instrumentalist, a difficult task to achieve.
Alternating between a small group and a big band, Baker shows that she can deal with both romantic ballads and up tempo material. With a nasal sound, sometimes resembling Dinah Washington, other times Eartha Kitt (especially on the up tempo numbers) as well as one of her contemporaries, the very good Stacey Kent, Baker brings to good deal to the vocal table. She shows off her considerable scatting skills, creating a rather unique sound with that nasal quality, on "It Don't Mean a Thing (if It Ain't Got That Swing)". But this track is also notable for some excellent piano playing by the inestimable pianist Gerald Wiggins. The drums of veteran Frank Capp are also heard on the Duke Ellington tune. The under recorded guitarist, Barry Zweig, gets the opportunity to play by himself on "Close Enough for Love" and is Baker's major accompaniment on a poignant "The Folks Who Live on the Hill".
Baker's husband Steve Wilkerson does all the sax solos and is especially important to Baker's soulful rendition of "Black Coffee". The big works hits on all cylinders on such cuts as a barn burning "Avalon", with Ella like scatting from Baker as she exchanges ideas with Steve Wilkerson's alto. This is the highlight track on the album for me. The band is also present on an arresting, upbeat, bouncy Baker rendition of "Dream Dancing" where James Gadson's drums get a strenuous workout.
Although the singer occasionally gets overshadowed by the instrumentalists, this CD has a lot to offer and is recommended. Visit Andrea and Steve's web page at http://www.greenheart.com/steveandandrea.
Tracks:Table for One; It Don't Mean a Thing (if It Ain't Got That Swing*); Dream Dancing; Black Coffee; If I Were a Bell* That Old Black Magic; Close Enough for Love; Avalon; The Folks Who Live on the Hill
Personnel: Andrea Baker - Vocals/Arrangements; Sandy Megas -Arranger/Conductor; Steve Wilkerson - Alto/Baritone Sax; Ed Czack, Gerald Wiggins* - Piano; James Gadson - Drums/ Percussion; Jennifer Hall - Baritone Sax/Bass Clarinet; Gary Halopoff - Trumpet; Terry Harrington - Tenor Sax/Clarinet; Jim Quam - Alto Sax/Flute; Ray Reed - Alto Sax/Clarinet/Flute; Andy Simpkins - Bass; Greg Solomon - Trombone; Barry Zweig - Guitar; Frank Capp* - Drums