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Vocalists 2004

C. Michael Bailey By

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Carol Mennie
I'm Not a Sometime Thing
CDM 1004

Long closely associated with guitarist composer Dom Minasi, jazz vocalist Carol Mennie steps out as leader and hits one out of the park. Ms. Mennie revealed her deep alto on the recent Dom Minasi release, Time Will Tell, fashioning Monk's "'Round Midnight" into a darkly-colored ballad. Here, she steers through a collection of originals and standards, all framed by Minasi's keen freedom principle, but kept between the ditches by Ms. Mennie's firm vocal command. The best pieces on the disc are the originals. Minasi's waltz, "Jazz, Jazz, Jazz" has Broadway written all over it. "Brown Eyes" allows the vocalist to explore the troubling dissonance of life, accentuated by the arco bass plaing that introduces the piece. Of the standards, "Willow Weep For Me" is transformed from quasi blues to a well-lite deconstruction. Another Sinatra staple, "In the Wee Small Hours" is again liberated from the saloon and cast in an incredibly fresh setting. Ms. Mennie, where have you been hiding?

Ann Austin
Lost in Your Eyes
Whaling City Sound 024

Ann Austin possesses a straightforward, muscular vocal style that would have been as at home in the rock arena as it is in the jazz. Back by a standard piano-guitar quartet, Ms. Austin's powerful vocals steer pianist John Harrison's arrangements through an earthy collection of jazz and blues. Austin blows off the slate with her composition "Tell Me Not To Love You" which features some nifty post-bop drumming by Rusty Russo. The blues "Ain't No Use" is given a humid, austere reading, reaching into the song's blues roots. "Black Coffee" and "Ballad of the Sad Young Men" reach backwards into the songbooks of Peggy Lee and Anita O'Day, repositioning the tunes perfectly for reconsideration. Ms. Austin's vocals are so strong and so potent that it took as bright a band as she has to pull off this recording. Paul Good provides the piquant guitar that spices this recording.

Sally Stark
Sally Stark Sings Maxine Sullivan
Self Produced

Maxine Sullivan (1911-1987) had a long and productive career. Discovered by bandleader Claude Thornhill in the late-1930s, Ms. Sullivan was noted for a casual, comfortable delivery that always flattered the lyrics she sang. Enter Sally Stark paying hommage to Ms. Sullivan. Sally Stark shares with her protagonist an easy delivery. Effortless Swing is how I would characterize it. The music is vintage from the 1920s and '30s, Fats Waller and Johnny Mercer. The Waller pieces, "I'm Crazy 'bout my Baby" and "Keepin' Out of Trouble" are vintage. Ms. Stark has brought along some heavyweights to help her. On for the ride are the impeccable trumpeter Warren Vache and the pristine and crystalline guitarist James Chirillo. They combine for a period performance right out of the Twenty-First Century.

Shawnn Monteiro
One Special Night
Whaling City Sound 002

Shawann Monteiro is joined by Clark Terry for One Special Night, recorded live at Scullers. This is vocal jazz of rarified swing. Supported by her father, bassist Jimmy Woods, trumpeter Clark Terry, pianist John Harrison, III, and drummer Jimmy Cobb, Ms. Monteiro whips through the familiar and unfamiliar. The disc opens with a scorching "The Lamp is Low". The sprite "Blues Medley" is conversational with an appearance of Mumbles Man. This is the high-class blues of the supper club. This is contrasted against the next blues, "Having Chit'lins on the Champs Elysees, Paris," which is a bit more greasy in nature. Monteiro's Godfather, Clark Terry adds his conversation and trumpet to me mix, making for a great deal of entertainment. Thelonious Monk's "Let's Cool One" is a very cool one, indeed, as is the story told before the song. This disc deserves better exposure that it has received, either by me of other writers.

Nicole Henry
The Nearness of You
Banister Records, 2798

Jazz vocals back by a standard piano trio—this is the format mainstream jazz vocals was built on. It remains a durable and enduring format as well. Pennsylvania / South Florida-native Nicole Henry and her capable trio produce a gale-force swingfest. "Summertime" is upbeat as is "Can't Help Lovin' that man of Mine." Pianist Mike Orta drives the rhythm section (at least when bassist Paul Shewchuk is not). Ms. Henry is a no-nonsense vocalist not subject to scat whims or flights of fancy. She is very much a meat and potatoes vocalist who presents the music as written. Good show—here beautiful alto colors these time-honored standards with a stained-glass radiance. Ms. Henry kills on the Harold Arlen chestnut, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" as she does on all of the ballad herein contained.


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