It would be a mistake to dismiss vocalist Tianna Hall's fifth album Two For The Road as another collection of reinterpreted familiar workhorses. While it's true that the record consists exclusively of standards Hall's nuanced approach to them, and the inclusion of a couple of lesser-known songs, makes for a unique listening experience.
The two highlights on this otherwise almost uniformly superior album are the sparse reading of Radiohead's "Creep" and Cole Porter's "So In Love" transformed into a tango. On the former her sensuous singing unfolds over bass and trap drums' rumbling vamps. Simultaneously fragile and resilient her voice imbues the tune with subtle intrigue and aching beauty. On the latter her melancholic and intimate delivery causes goose bumps as her lilt rises and fall with the melody.
The Mexico City Jazz Trio, sometimes augmented with cellist Lisa Vosdoganes' refined bowing, provide effective support in enhancing the passionate and mysterious ambience. Tasteful, albeit brief, solos showcase each musician individually as well. Pianist Miguel Villicana's lush cascade of notes mirrors Hall's naturally flowing conversational vocals on "When October Goes." Bassist Agustin Bernal's lyrical strings serenade Hall on "I've Never Been in Love Before." Her honeyed intonations are like fine whiskey, smooth and leaving behind a delightful afterglow. Elsewhere drummer Gabriel Puentes' polyrhythms add a stimulating angularity to the whimsical and playful "I Am Not in Love." The band peppers the tightly swinging piece with quotes from trumpeter Miles Davis' iconic "So What."
Guest guitarist Mike Wheeler's complex acoustic strums con arco contribution from Vosdoganes' cello bring an exquisite romanticism to the title track, Hall's evocative and wistful articulation spices up this Latin tinged tune.
Momentum, however, slacks on composer and pianist Duke Ellington's "They Can't Take That Away from Me." The duet with singer and saxophonist David Caceres is distracting and sounds a bit like an overdubbed echo while his brief saxophone and Wheeler's guitar interludes feel redundant.
Granted nothing too innovative or ground-breaking happens on this record but despite this and its one weak spot it remains a highly enjoyable and mature work. Hall is certainly immensely talented and her ability to navigate various styles with ease and grace makes this disc absorbing and alluring even after multiple spins.
Til There Was You; What Is This Thing Called Love?; When October Goes;
They Can't Take That Away from Me; Creep; You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To; Black Hole Sun; I've Never Been in Love Before; Good Morning
Heartache; I'm Not in Love; I'm Gonna Sit Right Down & Write Myself a
Letter; So in Love; Moon River.
Tianna Hall: vocals; Miguel Villicana: piano; Agustin Bernal: bass;
Gabriel Puentes: drums; David Caceres: vocals and saxophone (4); Mike
Wheeler: guitar (4, 14); Lisa Vosdoganes: cello.
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