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Three new albums feature fine songstresses with eclectic repertoires.

Music Reviews: The Ladies Sing Jazz: Joanna Pascale, Michelle Lordi, Rachel Caswell

Wildflower, the latest from vocalist Joanna Pascale, features a roster of songs you wouldn’t be likely to find in a jazz singer’s usual repertoire. And the way she sells them makes you wonder why. Working with some fine instrumentalists, songs like Carole King and Gerry Goffin’s “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” and Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed” get a smoking treatment from the singer. Gregoire Maret guests on harmonica on both, and Cyrus Chestnut fills in on the Hammond B3 on the first cut.

Henry Glover’s rocking hit for Ray Charles, Pascale“Drown in My Own Tears,” puts the emphasis on the blues. Christian McBride has some bass solo work on “Forget Me,” the album’s opening number. Pascale does manage to include a classic or two: “I Wanna Be Loved” and “I’m Confessin’ (That I Love You),” as well as a sexy “Do It Again” with McBride working the bass.

Other musicians on various tracks include guitarists Kurt Rosenwinkel and Tim Motzer, Obed Calvaire and Donald Edwards on drums, and Vicente Archer and Luques Curtis are on bass. Orrin Evans produced the album and handles the piano on 10 of its 11 tunes.

Evans, a busy man, also produced singer Michelle Lordi’s Drive. While most of the piano work is handled by Tom Lawton, Evans plays on three of the tracks. Like Pascale, Lordi’s set is eclectic, featuring some standards and a number of tunes not the usual fare for a jazz singer. Instead of “Over the Rainbow” from the Wizard of Oz, she opts for the lion’s “If I Only Had a Heart” and turns it into something all her own. With an assist from Evans on piano, Lordi tweaks the classic “My Ship,” transforming it into a plaintive plea that absolutely makes the most of the lyrics.

LordiOther highlights include her haunting take on The Cars’ “Drive” which ends the set, the Bing Crosby hit from High Society, “True Love,” and the standard “Ghost of a Chance.” Musical support also includes Larry McKenna on tenor sax, Madison Rast on bass, and Dan Monaghan on drums.

caswellIf you’re looking for something even more adventurous, check out Rachel Caswell’s April release All I Know, a set of duets—six with guitarist Dave Stryker and six with bassist Jeremy Allen. She, like the others, has chosen an eclectic combination of standards, pop tunes, and less well-known pieces. Caswell takes them, and using her voice as her instrument in much the same way as Stryker and Allen use theirs, transforms them. Her vocals are both harmonically and rhythmically inventive.

Caswell sees the improvisatory potential in pop tunes like the Jimmy Webb song that gives the album its title and Paul Simon’s “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy),” and develops that potential brilliantly. She puts new life into old warhorses like “Sometimes I’m Happy,” which opens the album with a bang and “One for My Baby,” which closes it. In between she scats her way through “De-Dah” and adds a Latin touch with “Agua de Beber.”

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