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Melissa Morgan: Until I Met You

Woodrow Wilkins By

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Many young jazz vocalists reach into the book of standards for their first recording. Melissa Morgan follows the tradition, but in a way that works to her advantage.

Morgan, 29, grew up on Teaneck, N.J. She became a jazz fan upon hearing her grandmother's old records—the music of such inspirational vocalists as Nancy Wilson, Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughan. A 2004 semi-finalist in the Thelonius Monk International Jazz Competition, Morgan performed before a panel of judges that included Quincy Jones, Al Jarreau, Kurt Elling, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Flora Purim. For her debut, Until I Met You, Morgan is accompanied by the quartet of Gerald Clayton on piano, Randy Napoleon on guitar, Joe Sanders on bass and Kevin Kannar on drums.

A slightly slower-than-usual pace is heard in the arrangement of "Save Your Love for Me." Morgan's voice at first is flutelike, but as the song warms up, so does her emphasis. The core quartet is complemented nicely by trumpeter Christian Scott, whose middle solo is crisp, clean, and comfortably loud without being overpowering.

Sassy is the theme for "Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby." Morgan begins with a finger-snapping count as the backing quartet adds to the feel, particularly Sanders and Clayton. During the piano solo, Kannar mixes it up on the drums and cymbals, punching here and subtly striking there. As Clayton builds, the other musicians also crank it up before backing off when Morgan reenters.

Scott and tenor saxophonist Ben Wendel help on "Cool Cool Daddy" as Morgan delivers like a classic blues singer. The sass is in high gear and evident in the play of all musicians. Wendel and Scott add to the enjoyment of this piece with solos, as well as their answers to Morgan's calls. Already a lively piece, the energy picks up even more to set up the songs emphatic ending.

"Yes, I Know When I've Had It" has a Latin vibe. Scott and Wendel are joined by alto saxophonist Tim Green and trombonist Francisco Torres. The horn section brilliantly supports Morgan and the rhythm quartet. During the middle break, the horns play as a group before ceding the lead to Green. Throughout, Kannar kicks in some action on the toms.

The tendency of new recording artists to cover standards can work against them as they're not giving the audience anything they haven't heard. However, Morgan succeeds with the combination of her vocal style and free-spirited arrangements. Until I Met You, named for the Donald Wolf and Freddie Green classic, is an excellent introduction to Morgan.

Track Listing: Save Your Love for Me; Is You Is or Is You Ain

Personnel: Melissa Morgan: vocals; Gerald Clayton: piano; Randy Napoleon: guitar (1-4, 9); Joe Sanders: bass; Kevin Kannar: drums; Christian Scott: trumpet (1, 3, 6, 8); Tim Green: alto saxophone (3, 5, 8); Ben Wendel: tenor saxophone (3, 6, 8); Francisco Torres: trombone (3, 8).

Title: Until I Met You | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Telarc Records

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