After auditioning part of several female vocalist new releases in a row, I had to utter a sigh of relief to hear the opening tune on Gladys Knight’s new album. Now here’s a singer worth listening to for a change! Produced by Phil Ramone and Tommy LiPuma, the dozen tracks all have had a great deal of attention and craftsmanship put into them. They alternate, with every other track one of the two instrumental setups backing Knight: One produced by LiPuma which features the Clayton/Hamilton band on four of the cuts, plus others such as guitarist Anthony Wlson, percussionist Joe Porcaro and Roy Hargrove in Flugelhorn. The other produced by Ramone and including 11 top jazz men led by pianist-conductor-arranger Billy Childs, plus a string section.
The album’s theme, as suggested by its title – is the great female voices in jazz that came before her. This is another of those dual-but-separate disc packages in which the DVD is a sort of promotional “Making Of…” video for the CD. But in this case it’s only 11 minutes long and quite informative. Gladys is shown performing at the recording session, but also recounting to LiPuma and others in the studio some of early meetings with Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, Lena Horne, Nina Simone and others. The only singer inspiring this album who she is sorry she didn’t get to meet is Billie Holiday. LP cover art – which some of us will remember and may still have in our collections – for the various singers is shown as she talks about each one. Some of her history as a soul music star is also presented. It’s a video worth watching but you’ll probably never watch it again.
The song selection is superb; how can you go wrong with three Ellingtons and three Gershwins? The variety in the arrangements keeps the album on a high plane of interest, and Knight proves a pro in not imitating any of her forebears but giving us her own take on each tune without ever going over the top. Hers is a versatile voice which is a real pleasure to hear.
Tracks: Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me, The Man I Love, Good Morning Heartache, Since I Fell for You, God Bless the Child, This Bitter Earth, I Got It Bad, Someone to Watch Over Me, But Not for Me, I’ll Be Seeing You, Stormy Weather, Come Sunday.
– John Henry