Ms. Marie serves up a release even more satisfying than her delectable debut How Can I Keep From Singing .
Laverne Butler, Carla Cook, and now René Marie have all released their second recordings for the MaxJazz Vocal Series. Ms. Marie is following up her 2000 release How Can I Keep From Singing (MaxJazz 109) with Vertigo, another collection of provocatively chosen standards and originals. Outstanding from her debut on MaxJazz was her steamy, sexually charged delivery of Santamaria's "Afro Blue." Added to that reading was the cusp cover of "Tennessee Waltz," delivered in a lip-smacking multicultural, multi- genre style made famous by Miles Davis, Cassandra Wilson, and now perfected by MaxJazz. On Vertigo, this cusp cover is the Beatles's "Blackbird," which Ms. Marie expels slowly and effortlessly as if in a single breath. Joined again by pianist Mulgrew Miller with bassist Robert Hurst and Drummer Jeff Watts along for the ride this time, Ms. Marie further out on the limb of artistic risk taking, largely with positive results.
René Marie displays her torch singing stripes on several pieces, beginning with the disc opener, "Them there Eyes," which she scats through in a scorching manner and "I'd Rather Talk About You." R & H's "Surrey With The Fringe On Top" is delivered in a folksy down-home manner. "I Only Have Eyes for You" is given a slight Bossa treatment by guitarist John Hart and Chris Potter provides brilliant minimalism to the minimalist "It's Alright With Me." The title piece, a Marie original, is an angular, off center quest for love. Chris Potter's tenor makes this piece even more dizzying.
The composition and delivery are polyrhythmic to the extreme and capable of inducing vertigo. The disc centerpiece is without question the pairing of "Dixie" with "Strange Fruit." Some critics have considered this coupling controversial. There is nothing controversial about it. It is a brilliant irony, juxtaposition, transmogrification, or whatever 25-cent word one wants to apply. Ms. Marie opens the medley with an unaccompanied rendering of "Dixie" that she pulls through the Blues, Spirituals and Gospel traditions with a lighted torch. "Strange Fruit" is taken as a slow New Orleans March, a "St. Vincent's Infirmary" as a drum march. Jeremy Pelt's trumpet echoes Satchmo and King Oliver, screaming with Marie as she sings of the "smell of burning flesh." Beautifully done and worth the purchase price of the whole disc if for nothing else. This disc is a worthy follow-up to her debut and proves Ms. Marie one of the great high-wire acts in jazz today.