Cheryl Bentyne's The Gershwin Songbook is among the best vocal albums of 2010. A member of The Manhattan Transfer since 1979, she frequently strikes out on her own to record, and has released eight albums in the past two decades.
Perfecting her talent in vocalese with The Manhattan Transfer, Bentyne performs jazz choruses with a pitch-perfect soprano in the tradition of Annie Ross, by way of Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan. In this set of 15 Gershwin classics, she gets many opportunities to show her vocal dexterity; excelling in all contexts, swinging for sure, and sensitive to every nuance of the lyrics.
Pianist Corey Allen is essential to the album's success. Along with another pianist, Ted Howe, he turns out delightfully creative arrangements that are not "by the book" interpretations.
The guest artists are also big factors in giving the recording its distinctive flavor: impeccable clarinetist Ken Peplowski, who shines throughout; flautist Peter Gordon; and guitarist Larry Koonse, in particular a standout on rhythm guitar.
Appropriate to the Gershwins, things start with Peplowski's clarinet introduction to "Fascinating Rhythm" echoing "Rhapsody in Blue," evolving into a breakneck scat duet with Bentyne before drummer Dave Tull heralds a transition to "I Got Rhythm."After a dazzling cadenza on "Lady Be Good," Peplowski gives a virtuoso display, backed by a romping piano. Bentyne also really shows her straight-ahead jazz chops.
Bentyne is soft and seductive on "I've Got A Crush on You," with Koonse's sensitive solo also prominent. On "Isn't It a Pity," her shimmering voice is counterpoint to the piano and Tull's background vocal, while "Summertime" is a standout arrangement, with its Gil Evans-like background, Bentyne's vocalese merging with Gordon's flute. A surprising version of "The Man I Love," with rhythm guitar and clarinet that could have come from Django Reinhardt's Hot Club de France, is an upbeat joy. Overall, every track on The Gershwin Songbook is a happy discovery.
Fascinating Rhythm/I Got Rhythm; Love Is Here to Stay; Isn't It A Pity; Summertime; A Foggy Day; Lady Be Good; Someone To Watch Over Me; How Long Has This Been Going On; The Man I Love; I've Got A Crush On You; But Not For Me; Let's Call the Whole Thing Off; Nice Work If You Can Get It; S'Wonderful.
Cheryl Bentyne: vocals; Corey Allen: piano; Ted Howe: piano; Kevin Axt: bass; Larry Koonse: guitar: Dave Tull: drums, background vocal; Ken Peplowski: clarinet; Peter Gordon: flute; Mark Winkler: vocalist.
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