(Shirley Horn, piano, vocals; Charles Ables, bass; Steve Williams, drums)
Pianist/singer Shirley Horn only played the Monterey Jazz Festival once, and made the most of her performance. Although Horn began her career in the mid-‘50s, her breakthrough didn’t occur until the late ‘80s when she signed a multi-record deal with Verve. By the time Horn brought her trio (including Charles Ables on bass and Steve Williams on drums) to the venerated Monterey Jazz Festival, Horn had released seven albums via Verve and her critical and commercial popularity was higher than at any point in her history.
Horn was best known for slow-tempo ballads, which could have registered rather low with the boisterous MJF crowd, who were notorious at the time for drowning out the music on stage. But Horn enraptures the assembled fans, the audience remaining respectful and attentive throughout. Horn starts her set with a mid-tempo, feisty version of pop standard “Foolin’ Myself,” which sets up listeners for an exquisite reading of Bacharach/David’s oft-done “The Look of Love,” where Horn uses pauses and silence to expertly sustain and highlight the ballad’s intrinsically romantic quality. This tune also showcases Horn’s subtly emotional and sensual singing: Horn never traded in scat or other vocal tricks when she worked the microphone.
Horn’s irresistible talent comes through in her cover of composer Larry Marks’ “L.A. Breakdown (And Take Me In),” a beautiful number unfamiliar to most in attendance. Horn commences the reflective narrative as a solo piano/vocal, her disheartened articulation and gorgeous piano deepening the lyrical tale of being down and out in the City of Angels. Horn’s command of ballads is also displayed on an eloquent take of Leon Russell’s “A Song for You,” which Horn had been playing since the early ‘70s. With Horn’s ringing keyboard lines taking the lead, the piece firmly demonstrates Horn’s distinctive style that evoked Hank Jones and made her a favorite of Miles Davis and Quincy Jones.
Horn ends with two cuts associated with other pianists, a rousing rendition of “Hard-Hearted Hannah,” issued on Horn’s 1993 Ray Charles tribute, Light Out of Darkness, and a swinging execution of Oscar Peterson’s “Blues for Big Scotia,” the set’s only instrumental.
Unlike some of the other recent Monterey Jazz Festival live CDs, the sound on Live at the 1994 Monterey Jazz Festival is excellent. Horn’s piano and vocals are recorded clean and full of clarity, and the bass and drums lose none of their nuances. Eight of the 10 tracks on this album were previously heard on NPR’s “Jazz Set” radio program. But the material was remastered for this release, bringing out Ables’ understated bass (though he is sometimes slightly over-modulated), Horn’s whispered vocal intonation, and Williams’ refined cymbal work.
2 Foolin’ Myself
3 The Look Of Love
4 How Am I To Know
5 L.A. Breakdown (And Take Me In)
6 Nice ‘N’ Easy
7 A Song For You
8 I’ve Got The World On A String
9 Here’s To Life
10 Hard Hearted Hannah
11 Blues For Big Scotia
— Doug Simpson