Much like fellow West Coaster Karrin Allyson, Cheryl Bentyne has shown a certain affection for thematic recordings. Allyson released her superb Coltrane tribute, Ballads: Remembering John Coltrane, in 2001, and Bentyne answered with her own tribute to Anita O'Day, Let Me Off Uptown, in 2005. Bentyne now returns with The Book of Love, a suite of standards based on a literary motif.
The Book of Love is divided into a seven chapters covering longing, flirtation, lust, love, joy, disillusion, and finally loss. Bentyne is clothed in a variety of musical attire for this reading. The opening "You Don't Know Me uses a Ray Charles line of orchestral outerwear to accent a soulful guitar-organ-piano ensemble warmly cushioning Bentyne's firm alto. "Be My Love is more simply clad with Wayne Johnson's classical guitar and bearing the jewel of Armen Ksajikian's cello solo.
"Blue Moon wears the flapper brocade of the 1920s Jazz Age. Bentyne playfully duets with John Pizzarelli while dancing with violinist Charlie Bisharat's best Joe Venuti. "Let's Do It wears the cloth of the guitar-piano quartet, swinging in three time signatures. Bentyne displays her superb lyric control best here.
Having progressed through longing and flirtation, we arrive at lust, represented by the single song "Don't Say a Word, a contemporary piano-orchestra piece written by pianist Bill Cantos. Tenor saxophonist Bob Sheppard plays a Zoot Sims-inspired ballad solo and Bentyne captures the ember of the piece gracefully. Love (containing the original title track) and joy reveal a gem in a regimented "You go to My Head, adorned with full orchestra and a languid guitar/piano/bass/drums rhythm section. Bentyne sings straight, employing a linear melody method not characteristically used on this song. Trumpeter Chris Tedesco blows a bright two-chorus solo that is a highlight.
But it is not longing, flirtation, lust or love that make the best songs; it is disillusion and loss. "Cry Me A River is formally dressed with stings and presented by Bentyne in a sardonically prideful manner. The true grief and anger are reserved for "I'm a Fool to Want You, where Bentyne's vocal sweetness is tainted by saline tears and bitterness. She sings in the context of her guitar-piano quartet accented again by Charlie Bisharat's violin.
The disc closes with a smoky, Latinesque "Goodbye before signing off with a reprise of the original title track. Bentyne continues to deliver measured, intelligently defined recordings that brighten the jazz vocal landscape.
Cheryl Bentyne, Zoe Allen, John Pizzarelli, Mark Kibble, Alvin Chea: vocals; Grant Geissman,
Wayne Johnson: guitar; Charlie Bisharat: violin; Armen Ksajikian: cello; Bob Sheppard:tenor
saxophone; Chris Tedesco: trumpet; Corey Allen: piano, keyboards; Bill Cantos: piano; Kevin
Axt: bass guitar; Dave Tull: drums; Don Alias, Scott Breadman: percussion; The City Of