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Darden Purcell: Where the Blue Begins

C. Michael Bailey By

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Dr. Darden Purcell waited eight years to record Where the Blue Begins as a follow up to her debut recording Easy Living (Armored Records, 2009). The Dr. part? Yes, well Dr. Darden is the Director of Jazz Studies, Jazz Voice at George Mason University, and holds a doctorate of Musical Arts in Jazz. Her bona fides aside, Darden, is as much a vocalist as an educator and each role feeds the other in a most convenient relationship. Easy Living is a collection of mostly well-known standards from Cole Porter's "Love for Sale" (1930) to Gerry Goffin and Carol King's "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" (1960) with the surprises of "Your Red Wagon" and "Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead."

Darden largely does the same with the present Where the Blue Begins save for her much sharper programming focus, including songs with a nocturnal focus, crepuscular, if you will, twilight. Her voice is well suited for the material, sonically well balanced and precise. Compare the punchy humor of "Destination Moon" with the almost sardonic bluesy-churchy delivery of "This Bitter Earth," and one can hear a great deal of ground covered. Purcell's control of her instrument is in the same neighborhood as that of Roseanna Vitro, who I consider a gold standard. Purcell has fun with "Old Devil Moon," intricately arranged by guitarist (and husband) Shawn Purcell, playfully tickling those old lyrics in the same way pianist Todd Simon does the keys during his taut and angular solo. Purcell and the band do qualitatively the same with "Darn That Dream," introduced by guitarist Purcell's drowsy, Les Paul-influenced lead in. Vocalist Purcell takes full advantage of her well-studied and expressive voice of hers.

As Easy Living had surprise, so too Where the Blue Begins. "The Nearness of You" is given an almost early 1970s rock rave up and before smoothing into one of the most accessible and pleasant performances recently heard. Shawn Purcell's guitar in the introduction of the Hoagy Carmichael classic strangely recalls Caleb Quaye's playing in Elton John's "My Father's Gun" (from Tumbleweed Connection (Universal, 1970). Shawn Purcell's ability to effortlessly slip this aural idée fixe into this otherwise well-worn standard provides the piece with an entirely new perspective.

For her part, Darden Purcell is a singer who will express exactly the intention of the composers, meeting that very necessary need in jazz for newer listeners to understand what the melody was to begin with to the American Songbook before jazz works its magic. Shawn Purcell's understated, round-toned guitar playing provides the perfect foil to his wife's precision vocals. The piece closes with the same figure used in the introduction, making for a tightly constructed performance that makes perfect sense. Not a dropped note within earshot. Darden Purcell need not wait another eight years for her next release. She has all of the talent, her own and in her support, to follow this fine recording with something even more special.

Track Listing: Destination Moon; Moon and Sand; Lullaby of the Leaves; You Stepped Out of a Dream; This Bitter Earth; Old Devil Moon; Darn that Dream; No Moon at All; The Nearness of You; Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams; Weaver of Dreams; Stairway to the Stars.

Personnel: Darden Purcell: vocals; Shawn Purcell: guitars; Todd Simon: keyboards; Paul Henry bass; Stockton Helbing: drums: Ken Rittenhouse: trumpet & flugelhorn; Regino Madrid: violin I; Armine Graham: violin II Sara Hart: viola; Charlie Flowers: cello.

Title: Where the Blue Begins | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Armored Records

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