Numerous recordings by jazz or jazz-related singers have been released in the past year. Some demand repeat listenings, most do not. Carla Cook's "It's All About Love" (MaxJazz) easily ranks among the best of the current crop.
Detroit-born and Manhattan-based, Cook is a versatile singer with eclectic tastes. She's blessed with a strong and supple alto, somewhat reminiscent of Dianne Reeves's voice, and her affection for inspirational lyrics and contemporary pop tunes underscores her stylistic ties to both Reeves and Cassandra Wilson.
Accompanied on the album by a fine cast of jazz musicians, including pianists Cyrus Chestnut and Andy Milne and violinist Regina Carter, Cook interprets a wide range of material, moving nimbly and soulfully from jazz and pop to rock and soul. Some of her choices may seem dubious at first--Neil Young's "Heart of Gold," for one--but Cook is such an appealing and resourceful vocalist that she can turn even harmonically simple material into something interesting and sometimes compelling. Her interpretative gifts and sure-footed scatting are evident throughout the album, infusing the performances with a potent mixture of emotion and energy.
At this stage in her budding career, however, Cook should leave composing to someone else. After all, her two contributions to the album, which include the forgettable title track, seem awfully slight sitting alongside Rodgers and Hart's "Where or When," Maxwell Anderson and Kurt Weill's "September Song," and Dorothy Fields and Jerome Kern's "The Way You Look Tonight." Cook performs at Blues Alley on Monday.
The release of Teri Thornton's "I'll Be Easy to Find" (Verve) caps one of the great comeback stories in jazz. Last year Thornton won the Thelonious Monk Institute's Jazz Vocal Competition with a show-stopping performance at the Smithsonian's Baird Auditorium. The veteran singer, who recorded for the Riverside label more than 40 years ago, had overcome a bout with cancer to win not only the Monk Institute award but, as it turned out, a major label recording contract as well.
In the liner notes to her new release, Thornton writes, "I feel like a jack in the box, as someone turns the crank to release it from its dusty attic resting place after a very long time--inside the box, still in working order, but in need of a little polish and oil."
There are moments on "I'll Be Easy to Find" when Thornton still sounds a little rusty, especially on the vocally challenging arrangement of "Nature Boy." Yet anyone who witnessed Thornton's winning performance last year knows that she can delight an audience on the strength of personality alone.
Not surprisingly, the most enjoyable performances on Thornton's comeback album frequently find her in brash form, whether swinging and scatting her way through "It Ain't Necessarily So" or taking inventory of her woes on two original blues: "Knee Deep in the Blues" and "Salty Mama." The last of these songs was recorded live and quickly reveals the kind of power and charisma Thornton is still capable of generating on stage.
Though not a jazz performer by training or trade, local singer and pianist Joe Morra briefly embraces the music on his new album, "Conversation With the Prophet" (Whizz Kid). With the help of reedman Tim Eyermann, Morra turns "I Dare Ya" into a sax-laced, noirish vignette.
Most of the album, though, is devoted to sentimental or brooding pop ballads, New Agey piano recitals, and a rather tepid rock track inspired by the Rolling Stones ("Conversation With the Prophet, Part 2"). Guitarist John Jennings and other notable musicians from the Washington area lend a hand, but in the end the album's lulls outnumber its pleasures. Morra performs at Blues Alley on Sunday.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8153.)
CAPTION: Carla Cook brings versatile talents to "It's All About Love."
CAPTION: Teri Thornton's comeback album is "I'll Be Easy to Find"; Joe Morra, below, has released "Conversation With the Prophet."