At the age of 84 vibraphonist Peter Appleyard is still going strong. Earlier this year he released The Lost 1974 Sessions recorded with an all-star ensemble under the name of The Giants of Jazz. This septet—Hank Jones, Slam Stewart, Mel Lewis, Zoot Sims, Bobby Hackett, Urbie Green, and Appleyard—had gotten together for a concert in Toronto, found an open recording studio, and took the opportunity to record one fine jazz album. Now he is back with a new studio album, Sophisticated Ladies, a collection of 10 classic songs each featuring a different Canadian sophisticated lady vocalist. Over the many years of his long career, Appleyard has worked with some of the biggest names in jazz, and here he has gathered together a cast of stellar songstresses that would be the envy of any leader. Together they have produced an album filled with a vivid variety of vocal colors and tones. It is straight ahead classical jazz at its best, an album sure to leave old school jazz lovers smiling.
The disc opens with a bang with a swinging version of “After You’ve Gone” featuring Emilie-Claire Barlow. Elizabeth Shepherd follows with “It’s Only a Paper Moon” and some nice scatting alongside Appleyard’s solo. Jill Barber adds a sexy “Love for Sale” that channels the spirit of Eartha Kitt against some nice work from pianist John Sherwood and guitarist Reg Schwager. The ensemble sets up a bluesy prelude for the musky voiced Jackie Richardson. It is one rousing performance. “If You Could See Me Now” features Sophie Milman in a contrasting cooler mode. Her phrasing is sweet and her tone mellow.
Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady” gets the sultry treatment from Molly Johnson. She has the kind of voice that reeks of a smoke filled club. Two other Ellington compositions on the album are Carol McCartney’s dynamic “Mood Indigo” and Barbara Lica’s coquettish “Satin Doll.” The old standard “Night and Day” has some powerful work from the ensemble and a matching vocal from Carol Welsman. The album concludes with Diana Panton’s pared down plaintive version of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile.”
It’s hard to single out any particular track in an album of highlights. These are all ladies who know what to do with a song. For those of us previously unfamiliar with their work, this is an introduction well overdue. These are ladies you’ll want to hear more from, and if Appleyard and his quintet, Sherwood, Schwager, bassist Neil Swainson, and drummer Terry Clarke are around to add to the mix, that’s just so much gravy.
There’s 10 great songs, and 10 great performances. What more could you ask.