Washington jazz singer-pianist Shirley Horn's third Steeplechase album is two sides of introspective ballads caught between confusion and confession.
For the most part it's a sensual, pensive album of classic popular songs. Like Billie Holiday, Horn can turn a standard into an intense statement, through a maddeningly honest delivery that makes you almost feel guilty for overhearing. Horn can invest a weeper like "Lover Man" or "My Man," with all the tear-spun hurt of hands-on experience; on the latter, she seems to purr the lyrics, stopping every once in a measure to catch her breath and collect her thoughts.
On "Gee Baby, Ain't I Good to You," Horn's cool, husky voice emulates a gently curling saxophone line; she's slightly sassy, twisting the lyrics with a come-hither bent over sharply composed piano lines (bassist Charles Ables and drummer Billy Hart always working in her elusive shadow). Horn can play the viper, but she's more believable as the hurt innocent, as in the title song and "Our Love Is Here to Stay," where her voice takes on a softer, warmer hue.
The only drag on this fine album is a rambling "Georgia on My Mind," a cautionary, weary blues that's drawn out past the point of interest. But the second side of the album, which starts with the upbeat title song and moves gracefully through "Baby Won't You Please Come Home," "My Man" and the grand "He Needs Me," is Horn at her best. Recorded live at the 1981 Northsea Jazz Fest in Holland, "Violets" captures the clean, crisp pianistic embroidery that often camps softly behind the superb vocal lines. ON RECORD, ON STAGE THE ALBUM Shirley Horn, "Violets For Your Furs" (Steeplechase SCS1164). THE SHOW Friday and Saturday at 10 and midnight at the One Step Down.