Sylvia Bennett, Aniya, Lauren White, Perez: A Quartet of Standards
Standards are still the bread and butter of jazz. Whether from Tin Pan Alley's American songbook or specifically composed as jazz and assimilated into the jazz repertoire, the standard offers musicians a proven, tried and true vehicle with which to ply their artistic trade. This is never more the case than in the realm of jazz vocals.
With jazz vocals the listener generally has exposure to what is closest to the original intentions of the composers regarding melody. Presented here are four exceptional releases by women who approach their craft from vastly differing angles.
Songs from the Heart
Out of Sight Music
Sylvia Bennett was featured on Lionel Hampton's final recording, There Will Never Be Another You (Out of Sight Music, 2006). In that big band setting, Bennett was impressive. She returns here with a small combo recording that features "the three tenors," Boots Randolph, Ed Calle, and Kirk Whalum: Songs From The Heart.
On its face, Songs From The Heart appears as merely one more standards recording to be added to the bazillion already clotting the market. However, Bennett's vocal grace makes this disc an exceptional standards recording. The value of a good standards collection is that the jazz fan gets a chance to hear what the composer intended with his or her melody before a jazz instrumentalist improvises upon it.
Bennett goes heavy on the Gershwin. All of the usual suspects are here: "Embraceable You," "They Can't Take That Away From Me," "Someone To Watch Over Me," and "How Long Has This Been Going On" are all here, performed with a perhaps too-perfect aplomb, but one that makes them very listenable. Bennett is flirty on "Ain't Misbehavin'" and prim on "My Funny Valentine." Her crack rhythm section rounded out by guitarist (and producer) Hal Batt gives the singer a little big band.
The three tenors? They do themselves proud with the edge going to Ed Calle, who seems to be everywhere at once. Songs from the Heart is a canned affair, but it is a very fine one.
In Other Words
Shirley Horn is the first person who comes to mind when listening the Aniya's In Other Words. Not because Aniya has a deep smoky voice that can precisely dissect any ballad, but because the young vocalist has, like the late Horn, an impeccable momentum at extremely slow tempi. This is a verrry slooow "Fly Me To The Moon" (alternate title: "In Other Words"). Sinatra would have never thought this Bart Howard tune a thoughtful ballad.
Re-enforcing the ballad tone of this recording is the presence of pianist Alan Broadbent. Broadbent's distinctive pianism infuses the music with a taut body directed by his acute sense of nuance: a blue note here, an Art Tatum flourish there. Broadbent singlehandedly propels the Burt Bacharach/Hal David "The Look Of Love" into a standards contender. For her part, Aniya summons the potent spirit of Dusty Springfield, who debuted the song in the 1967 James Bond movie spoof, Casino Royale.
Aniya sums her fine disc up with the closing tow songs, "Every Time We Say Goodbye" and "Never Let Me Go." The singer elevates these ballads to a poetic level rarely achieved. With the support of her hyper-talented band, Aniya establishes herself as a talent warranting greater critical attention in the future.
Lauren White is a young jazz vocalist from deep in the heart of Texas, Dallas to be exact. Her debut release, At Last, is an auspicious if not ambitious recording of standards seasoned with three original compositions by White. White splits her standards between traditional Tin Pan Alley ("My One And Only," "Love For Sale," My Funny Valentine") and a more modern fare ("Blue Bayou," "Superstar," "At Last").
White employs an impressive band that includes Bill Cunliffe and Brian Piper on piano, Joe Baggs on Hammond B-3 organ, and Ricky Woodard on tenor saxophone. With the contribution of the rhythm section of bassist Chuck Bergeron and drummer Frank Derrick, White's band provides a hip cutting edge in support of her contemporary vocal delivery. She shines most brightly on her original compositions. "All I Do Is Cry" is a modern ballad with a Dan Fogelberg-like arrangement. White throws off her jazz togs for this Topanga County throwback.
"Do You Remember" is much more in the strolling jazz vein, with a smoky single-malt scotch chord progression evoking an after-hours feel. "Brand New Love" is a jaunty, blues-hewn affair spiced with Ricky Woodard's broad tenor. White sensuously slurs her way through the verses into the rollicking bridge. Smart lyrics and intelligent soloing make these compositions fresh.