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Music Reviews: Samantha Carlson – Day In-Day Out and Marlene VerPlanck – Ballads…mostly

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With all the female jazz vocalists working clubs all over the country, albums from singers looking for wider recognition (even those who have been around awhile) often get lost in the crowd of new releases. It is one thing if the name on the album is Esperanza Spalding. On the other hand, if the name is completely unfamiliar, it is often easier to ignore it than to pay it any attention. After all, for every gem you’re likely to come across, you’re likely to have to slog through a morass of duds, not a particularly appetizing thought, at best. But, and there is a but,  ignore the new or lesser known voices, and you’re going to miss that gem, you’re not going to hear some too long neglected talent.

And although neither of the new albums from Samantha Carlson and Marlene VerPlanck is likely to have jazz fans’ mouths watering with anticipation, both women are talented singers who have put together collections of tunes that deserve some attention. These are ladies with fine voices who know their way around a lyric. Interestingly their approaches to their material is quite different. Carlson is closer to the cabaret tradition. Her readings of the songs are fairly conventional interpretations. VerPlanck is much more inventive, much closer to the creative phrasing of the classic jazz divas. Carlson interprets; VerPlanck innovates. If you like your music closer to the way it was written, Samantha Carlson’s Day In–Day Out is an album you’ll want to hear. If you like creative vocal phrasing, Marlene VerPlanck’s Ballads…mostly is the album for you.

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Carlson has chosen a set of nine songs, eight of which are familiar pieces. They are, for the most part, songs she says she particularly likes singing. Her feeling for the music comes clear in the heart and soul of her performance. She manages to breathe new life into the likes of “Misty,” “A Foggy Day,” “The Man I Love,” and George Shearing’s “Lullaby of Birdland.” These are great songs and she treats them with the respect they deserve. In a song like that old warhorse, “Embraceable You,” her version embraces a darkness while still remaining true to the original. There is some fine solo work on saxophone from William Brian Hogg and Phillip Burkhead on piano.

By the way, the one outlier on the album, the unfamiliar piece, is “Song of Raintree County.” Carlson explains that she came across the ballad while listening to a Nat “King” Cole album. It is featured as an instrumental in the Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift film Raintree County and played here as a simple duet with the piano. It is the kind of treatment that makes the listener wonder why Carlson didn’t include a few more lesser known pieces on the album.

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VerPlanck’s album is much less dependent on old chestnuts for its repertoire. She does include a few hoary pieces like “I Only Have Eyes For You” and “Witchcraft,” but most of the songs on the album, although venerable in many cases, are not always that well known. In many cases it will be VerPlanck’s version that will reintroduce these classic pieces to many in the modern audience. These are songs that are worth resurrecting. Cy Coleman classics like “It Amazes Me,” “Baby Dream Your Dream,” and “I Walk a Little Faster” are too good to be lost. VerPlanck’s intelligent treatment is reinvigorating to say the least. VerPlanck is no novice. This is her 22nd album. She has been around and her brave creativity is apparent.

The singer is joined by some excellent jazz soloists: saxophonist Houston Person (who does some exciting work on “My Dream is Yours”), trumpeter Claudio Roditi (with a solo on “Love Dance”) and pianists Tedd Firth and Mike Renzi. This is a real jazz album, with 15 tracks running about an hour’s worth of wonderful music, much of which you are not likely to have heard over and over again. It is an album to savor.

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About Jack Goodstein