Midway through "Lazy Afternoon," singer Regina Belle huddles with the Perry Sisters and keyboardist-producer George Duke. "I know this is a jazz album and all," Belle says, "but . . . we need to have some fun up in here." Next thing you know, Belle and company are reviving a couple of R&B hits -- Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes' "The Love I Lost" and the Isley Brothers' "For the Love of You," outfitting them with churchy harmonies and vintage electric piano tones. Later, Belle takes another soul detour, tipping her hat to Otis Redding with an updated (and first-person) rendition of "Try a Little Tenderness."
Entertaining diversions? Sure, but listeners benefit more when Belle sticks to the jazz agenda, whether quietly revealing ties to Billie Holiday and Nancy Wilson on the CD's title track, singing against a punchy brass and blues backdrop on "What Are You Afraid Of," or belting out the Jon Hendricks-penned lyric to the Bobby Timmons classic "Moanin'." The best illustration of Belle's vocal power and finesse, however, is her stirring interpretation of "If I Should Lose You," which is pared down just to voice and piano.
As for the contemporary jazz arrangements of "If I Ruled the World," "Fly Me to the Moon" and "The Man I Love," they're not as refreshing as the album's highlights, but they often reveal just how supple and soulful Belle's voice can be.
-- Mike Joyce
Appearing Saturday at Carter Barron. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Regina Belle, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8122. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)