Shirley Crabbe: Home (2011)
In 2006, jazz singer Shirley Crabbe suffered from a vocal cord injury, not knowing if she would ever be able to sing again. Home is her long-awaited debut, documenting a successful return appropriately acknowledged in the opening Leonard Bernstein piece "Lucky To Be Me." Her remarkable performance gives no clue to the nature of her prior condition, revealing instead a voice that caresses lyrics of ballads with emotion and projects swinging tunes with power. Inspired by the singing of the great Ella Fitzgerald and mentored by Etta Jones, her stylish vocals are more reminiscent of Sarah Vaughan. In fact, the inclusion here of Sir Roland Hanna's "Seasons," originally written for Vaughan, may be an indirect reference to this comparison.
With a warm approach to the music, her smooth vocals seem a perfect fit for voicing soft ballads as she does here. The first track opens the door for much of the set's laidback, light material, capturing her plush lyrical tone on the title song, "Seasons" and the majority of the nine-piece repertoire. Trombonist Matt Haviland provides the arrangements on "Home" and "Strong Man," where saxophonist Houston Person makes a guest appearance, as he does on the opener.
Crabbe sings with heartfelt emotion on the last two ballads, "Not While I'm Around" and Carole King's pop classic, "So Far Away." McCoy Tyner's "You Taught My Heart To Sing" makes the first break with the album's balladic theme, ushering in a brisk melody featuring Nicaraguan-born/Los Angeles-raised pianist Donald Vega, who also plays an influential part as the album's producer. The singer has no trouble with "Detour Ahead," the second non-ballad piece of the set, with well-placed instrumentals by Vega and alto saxophonist Dave Glasser.
Offering a glimpse of the singer's talents as an arranger, "Summertime" is the set's finale and final non-ballad, given an interestingly new read by Crabbe, where the band claims a good portion of the song, including a few bars of Latin rhythms for a truly original interpretation of this Dorothy Heyward and Gershwin brothers jazz standard.
Armed with classical training from the prestigious Manhattan School of Music, a passion for jazz and a second chance, Shirley Crabbe is the newest songbird to arrive on the jazz scene, coming Home with a well-conceived and highly-engaging debut sure to propel this gifted artist to a new level of attention.
Track Listing: Luck To Be Me; You Taught My Heart To Sing; Home; Seasons; Detour Ahead; Strong Man; Not While I'm Around; So Far Away; Summertime.
Personnel: Shirley Crabbe: vocals; Jim West: piano; Donald Vega: piano (2, 3, 9); Jon Burr: bass; Alvester Garnett: drums; Brandon Lee: trumpet (7); Dave Glasser: alto saxophone, flute; Matt Haviland: trombone.
Record Label: Self Produced