Catherine Russell – Strictly Romancin’ – World Village 468101, 49:11 (Distr. by Harmonia mundi) [2/14/2012] ***½:
(Catherine Russell – vocals, arranger; Matt Munisteri – guitar, banjo, vocals; Mark Shane – piano; Lee Hudson – bass; Mark McLean – drums; Andy Farber – tenor saxophone, arranger; Jon-Erik Kellso – trumpet, horn arrangement; Dan Block – alto saxophone, clarinet; John Allred – trombone; Joe Barbato – accordion; Aaron Weinstein – violin; Carline Ray – vocals)
The history of jazz has a strong connection to instrumentalists. But there have been many vocalists who brought this spontaneous genre to a wider audience. Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Billy Eckstine, Peggy Lee and Sarah Vaughan introduced the voice as a separate musical entity. Storytelling personalized the various narratives of this idiom.
It seemed natural that Catherine Russell would embrace jazz vocals. Her father Luis Russell was a pioneering pianist/bandleader and long time musical director for Louis Armstrong. Her mother, Carline Ray is a highly-regarded bassist and vocalist. Prior to recording, Russell enjoyed success as a backup vocalist, working with Carrie Smith, Steely Dan, David Bowie, Cyndi Lauper, Paul Simon, Jackson Browne, Michael Feinstein and Rosanne Cash. Her true talents would emerge as a solo artist. Her debut album Cats introduced a gifted singer with an acute ear for interpreting standards and lesser known gems. The ability to deliver subtlety in a variety of hybrid jazz formats is impressive. Subsequent releases, Sentimental Streak and Inside This Heart Of Mine, created an international buzz.
Strictly Romancin’, her fourth release, is a delightful mixed bag of jazz and blues numbers. With the help of musical director/guitarist/banjoist/arranger, Matt Munisteri, Russell breathes new life into some classic and rare compositions. Backed by a quartet (Munisteri, Mark Shane/piano, Lee Hudson/bass and Mark McLean/drums), the music is expanded to include additional instrumental accompaniment. The opening track, “Under The Spell Of The Blues” (from the Chick Webb/Ella Fitzgerald repertoire) is a low-key, rhythmic take on melancholy. A textured horn chorus adds some big band elan to the piece. Russell invokes more organic blues on “Don’t Leave Me” (first performed by the legendary Ivory Joe Hunter). Her singing is soulful and Shane delivers a nimble solo on piano.
Paying homage to swing, Russell and guest trombonist John Allred exchange playfully on the Ellington/Strayhorn jaunt, “I’m Checkin’ Out – Goom’bye”. With a relaxed touch, Hoagy Carmichael’s “Ev’ntide” showcases solos by Allred, Andy Farber (tenor saxophone), Dan Block (clarinet) and Jon-Erik Kellso (trumpet). The selection of material is refreshing in its eclecticism. “Everybody Loves My Baby” and “Whatcha Gonna Do When There Ain’t No Swing?” have a “juke joint” up tempo feel, while “Everything’s Been Done Before” is gypsy-tinged with tasteful accordion runs (Joe Barbato) and violin (Aaron Weinstein)/acoustic guitar (Munisteri) accents.
Russell’s clear emotive voice anchors the different arrangements. Her timing and pristine voice are impeccable. Café elegance inhabits the classic, “I’m In The Mood For Love”. Her range and depth is fierce on Sister Rosetta Harp’s gospel opus, “He’s All I Need”. Sung in duet with her eighty-six year old mother, the spiritual ambiance is exultant.
Catherine Russell has continued the tradition of inspired jazz singing with Strictly Romancin’.
TrackList: Under The Spell Of The Blues; I’m In The Mood For Love; Wake Up And Live; Ev’ntide; Romance In The Dark; I’m Checkin’ Out – Goom’bye; No More; Satchel Mouth Baby; Everything’s Been Done Before; Don’t Leave Me; I Haven’t Changed A Thing; Everybody Loves My Baby; He’s All I Need; Whatcha Gonna Do When There Ain’t No Swing?
A posthumous release of late career Bill Evans in SACD format adds to the formidable legacy.