Nancy Harrow has been on the jazz scene for more than 30 years as a vocalist earning the devotion of a dedicated following of fans and enormous respect among jazz musicians. But she is also a talented composer and librettist having created song cycles from such classics as Willa Cather's Lost Lady and Waldemar Bronsels' The Adventures of Maya the Bee. Here she wields her magic pen creating a musical passion play from Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Marble Faun. Hawthorne's tale is one of murder and its effect on its three major characters. This is a Greek tragedy put to music.
Harrow composed the words and music. But the arrangements of Sir Roland Hanna are critical the charm of this album. The respect Harrow holds among jazz players is evident here as top musicians have joined her in this project. These fine instrumentalists are completely attuned to the thrust of the story and each tune (chapter) which comprises it. "What the Romans Do" spoofs certain habits of the privileged citizens of the Roman Empire. Here the quartet of singers is backed by the strutting Dave Bargeron tuba. The story also has application to today's war between the sexes. "Strong Women", sung by Harrow to the melancholy sax of Frank Wess, is a warning of what has happened since Biblical times to women who exert themselves and refuse to take the "traditional" weak, subservient role men would like them to assume. Wess, now on flute, creates the necessary solemn mood for Anton Krukowski's (in the role of Kenyon) plea to Donatello to abandon his life of solitude in his tower and return to the world.
But it is the quartet of singers which must carry the load. In addition to Harrow, there's the wonderful Grady Tate (listen to him on "I Am the Power"), Amy London and Anton Krukowski who play the vocal roles to a "T". They come together beautifully when singing as a quartet as on Carnival and their solos represent excellent vocal work. Marble Faun recalls A Little Night Music. Not that the latter had anything to do with murder. But the music reflects that cynical, worldly and brooding aura which dominates Stephen Sondheim's libretto. The similarity between the two shouldn't be surprising as the latter was also based on the work of another explorer of the dark corners of the human mind, Ingmar Bergman. Nancy Harrow's album is innovative and entertaining and is recommended.
Track Listing: Prologue; What the Romans Do; Dear Miriam; Marble Faun; Hilda; Me & Serenity; How Can This Be Love?; Strong Women; Chere Amie; Come Down from the Tower; Little Girl in a Big World; Carnival; I Am the Power; What the Romans Do (Reprise)
Personnel: Nancy Harrow, Grady Tate, Amy London, Anton Krukowski - Vocals; Sir Roland Hanna - Piano/Arranger; Paul West - Bass; Akira Tana - Drums; Frank Wess - Flutes/Saxophones; John Mosca - Trombone; Jack Wilkins - Guitar; John Clark - French Horn; Dave Bargeron - Tuba; Sanford Allen, Dale Stuckenbruck - Violin; Richard Brice - Viola; Frederick Zlotkin - Cello; George Caldwell - Synthesizer