If you're like most of us, you're starting to get extremely tired of winter, and if you're located somewhere in the snow belt you might even be suffering from a touch of cabin fever and could use a liberal application of something warm and soothing. How about some mellow vocals from a singer at the top of her game?
Following up on her successful debut album, 2006's Pretty Blues, jazz vocalist Antoinette Montague is offering up her latest, Behind The Smile, now out on the Allegro label. The East Coast jazz veteran is once again backed by a quartet that includes Bill Easley on reeds, pianist Mulgrew Miller, drummer Kenny Washington, and Peter Washington on bass. All are solid pros who contribute some nice solos in addition to their support of the singing star, and the result is a nice collection of smoothly performed pieces.
One of the best of them is the title song itself, which was written by Montague and is the only original on the album. It's the perfect choice for an opening track because it sets the mood for the album, but it also shows a playful side to the singer. She's normally a straight-ahead vocalist — not that there's anything wrong with that — but it's obvious that she's enjoying herself with this one.
The balance of the tracks on the album are a variety of well-established, mostly jazz tunes. Among them are a couple by Ellington, including "Lost In Meditation," given a Latin beat and strong support from pianist Miller, and "23rd Psalm," which features some nice flute work by Bill Easley in addition to Montague's reverent vocal. Other jazz composers are well-represented, including some that you might not expect on a vocalist's album, such as Brubeck's "Summer Song," well-performed if a little unusual to hear.
Some of my favorites included established standards like "The Song Is You," and "Somewhere In The Night," but I also found a lot to like with Montague's soulful rendition of Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On." Hands down, the best of all had to be her delightful vamping on Big Bill Broonzy's "Give Your Mama One Smile." (Clips available here.)
An outstanding follow-up for Antoinette Montague, one that will have a lot of appeal for listeners — and just might thaw them out a little too.