After the recent excellent duo albums of jazz chanteuses Madeline Eastman, Maucha Adnet, and Heather Masse, each marking out a distinctive place for itself and the talented singers, one could be forgiven for thinking it time to give the duo genre a rest. After all, there is such a thing as the law of diminishing returns, and flooding the market does no one any good. Then along comes The Art of the Duo, the fourth album from Maria Jacobs and it is very clear that no matter how crowded, there is always room for a sensitive singer in sync with a fine accompanist, or in this case four different fine accompanists playing three different instruments.
Duo jazz demands two musicians who can rely on each other. As Bobby Jackson, the host of The Jazz Mind, puts it in the liner notes: “The solo artist has no safety net, relying completely on their skill as a communicator. There is however another kind of tightrope walk for musicians who perform in duo fashion; it involves a ‘trust’ born of mutual respect that relies [on] their acumen to have each other’s back.” The paired musicians must know each other well. They must know where they each are going, and they must help each other get there. If you can find one musician that fills the bill you’re lucky, four is nothing short of a miracle. Jacobs has found four.
On the first three songs on the album she works with guitarist Bob Fraser. They open with “Alone Together,” the Dietz and Schwartz tune from the 1932 musical Flying Colors, which has become something of a jazz standard recorded by a host of jazz greats, and Jacobs sexy breathy vocal takes a back seat to no one. She does some nice subdued scat singing as well. Bob Dorough’s “Small Day Tomorrow” is a song that doesn’t get the kind of recognition it deserves. Fraser’s guitar provides fine support for Jacobs’ sultry vocal. “Too Close For Comfort” provides an up-tempo change of pace. Fraser has a nice solo stint.
Guitarist Steve Cipriano takes over for the next four tunes. His chemistry with Jacobs is apparent from their dynamic take on the standard “It Could Happen to You” as well as a fascinatingly phrased version of the Gershwin’s “Summertime.” It has an ending that is simply delicious. After another standard, “The Nearness of You,” they tackle the first of two unexpected pieces on the album, Phoebe Snow’s “Poetry Man.” If Snow’s work isn’t the usual material for a jazz vocalist, Jacobs and Cipriano make you wonder why.
The same can be said for a really brilliant version of Lennon and McCartney’s “I Will.” Here she is joined by bassist Tony Dumas. The album closes with “Yeh Yeh,” a tune originally recorded as a Latin soul instrumental back in the sixties. Lyrics were later added by Jon Hendricks. The performance here is less Latin and more soul. Dan Maier handles the keyboard and Jacobs I presume joins herself with some background vocals.
Jacobs and the other ladies may not have the name recognition that some others have, they may not have the fame. And that’s a shame. Listen to their music, these are singers who deserve to be heard.