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Shirley Horn, vocals – Live at the 4 Queens – Resonance

Shirley Horn – a unique vocal talent…

Shirley Horn – Live at the 4 Queens – Resonance HCD-2015 (1988), 52:43 ***1/2:

(Shirley Horn – piano and vocals; Charles Ables – bass; Steve Williams – drums)

For far too long Shirley Horn’s fame was confined to the greater Washington, D.C, area, where she resided and raised her daughter. That changed, however, in the mid 1980s, when she began recording for the Verve label. At that time, Verve was a major player on the jazz scene, and Shirley’s unique talents were shown off to a much larger audience. She was a favorite of Miles Davis, and her 1997 album, I Remember Miles, earned her a Grammy for Best Vocal jazz album. Horn recorded nearly 30 albums (mostly for Verve), but it has been almost a decade since new material has been issued.

Coming to the rescue, once again, is Zev Feldman, of  Resonance Records, super sleuth in discovering live unreleased gems largely from radio sources. As part of a syndicated weekly broadcast at station KNPR (Las Vegas), Shirley was recorded on May 2, 1988 at the 4 Queens club in Vegas. The sound restoration by George Klabin and Fran Gala, is exceptional, and the trio is presented in studio quality acoustics, both bright and vibrant.

Shirley Horn’s vocal talents are recognized as different from most singers. Her vocal range does not stand out, it is her use of space and the lyric presentation that brought her acclaim. She sings in a conversational manner, as a story teller would do. Her enunciation is precise and warm. On ballads, you hear every word and have time to appreciate the mood she sets. There is a smoky quality in the way she massages the lyric. It is not glitz and glamour, but deep appreciation for the spoken word, especially on well-known standards, which she can make her own. It is easy to see why she was a favorite vocalist of jazz musicians, who recognized a kindred spirit, that shared her love for jazz in a understated but reverent presentation.

The fifty-two minute set, just released this month, is made up primarily of standards with two bossa nova tracks, written by Jobim. Randy Weston’s “Hi-Fly” opens the CD and is a highly melodic instrumental. Cole Porter’s standard, “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To” follows and is taken at a stroll. The rhythm section of Charles Ables and Steve Williams had been with Shirley for years and ably comp behind Horn’s blues lines.

The next two tracks are from Jobim, “Meditation” and “The Boy from Ipanema” and here Horn is firmly in control with breathy vocals that clearly have inspired a latter generation of vocalists including Diana Krall. Shirley’s piano chops are on full display on a sprightly version of the Rodgers and Hart classic, “Isn’t It Romantic.” A pensive “Lover Man” has Shirley dissecting its well known lyrics with urgency but in a late night confessional manner. “Blues for Big Scotia” from Oscar Peterson closes out the set with a bluesy flourish.

Resonance Records has included (as usual with their archival recordings) a lavish 56 page booklet with rare photos and essays by jazz historians, vocalist Sheila Jordan, and session drummer, Steve Williams. Shirley Horn fans will dig this release.

TrackList:  Hi-Fly, You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To, Meditation (Meditacao), The Boy from Ipanema, Isn’t It Romantic, Lover Man (O Where Can You Be?), Something Happens to Me, Just for a Thrill, Blues for Big Scotia

—Jeff Krow

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