When so much music today is overwhelmed by elaborate production values, putting out an album with a singer and a solo piano takes a vocalist with both real talent and real guts. If Madeline Eastman’s latest album, A Quiet Thing, is any indication, she is a songstress with plenty of both.
Working with pianist Randy Porter, she weaves her magic through 14 ballads in a convincing demonstration not only of the truth of the cliché less is plenty, but perhaps even more importantly that what you really need most to make great music is a great voice. That should come as no surprise: no Johnny come lately, Eastman has been busy making herself a staple on the San Francisco jazz scene for more than 20 years.
Besides, this is not her first go at a duo album. Back in 2001, she teamed up with pianist Tom Garvin in another album of ballads, Bare. Not only can she sing, she knows a thing or two about picking the right person to work with. Garvin has worked with the likes of Eastman inspiration Carmen McRae, as well as Peggy Lee and Lou Rawls, and Porter, who she met years back at the Reno Jazz Festival is every bit his equal. They had, as Eastman puts it, “an instant chemistry.”
A Quiet Thing pulls together an eclectic mix of songs from Sondheim to Brian Wilson, from Chick Corea to Laura Nyro, and from Randy Newman to Jerome Kern. Eastman is comfortable with them all. She takes a song and makes it her own. There is a purity to her voice that is nothing less than bewitching. At her best in a tune like Newman’s “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today,” she is stunning; short of her best—check that there isn’t a track on the album where she isn’t her best, where she isn’t stunning. She takes Wilson’s “God Only Knows” to another level. She brings new life to an old standard like Kern’s “Pick Yourself Up.”
The album opens powerfully with a sweet take on the Bacharach/David hit tune, “Alfie,” as she makes clear from the beginning that she is putting old wine in new bottles. This is, after all, what jazz vocals are all about—creativity. Whether it’s Kander and Ebb’s “It’s A Quiet Thing,” Williams and Ascher’s “With One More Look at You,” or Sondheim’s somewhat lesser known “I Remember,” she has her way with them, tasteful performances that penetrate to the very soul of the music.
Other tracks (and since I’ve run out of superlatives I’ll just tell you what they are) include: “Sea Journey,” “Spring Can Really Hang You Up,” “A Face Like Yours,” “The Bad and the Beautiful,” “All of Us in It,” “I Never Meant to Hurt You,” “You Are All I Need,” and “With One More Look at You.” As you can see from the titles, there are songs that are very well known mixed together with some you may never have heard before. Either way, they are songs you will want to hear, especially as sung by Madeline Eastman.
Check her out at her website.