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Barbara Hendricks Duke Ellington – Gershwin
CD 1
Duke ELLINGTON (1899–1974)
1. Duke’s Place (Roberts/Katz/Thiele) [5:51]
2. I let a song go out of my heart (Mills/Nemo/Redmond) [3:21]
3. Don’t get around much anymore (Russell) [2:54]
4. Prelude to a Kiss (Gordon/Mills) [3:46]
5. Love you madly (Ellington) [2:31]
6. I got it bad (Webster) [5:34]
7. Brown Skin Gal in the Calico Gown (Webster) [5:04]
8. Mood Indigo (Mills/Bigard) [4:11]
9. What am I here for (Ellington) [4:14]
10. In a Sentimental Mood (Mills/Kurtz) [3:42]
11. Squeeze Me (Gaines) [5:58]
12. Sophisticated Lady (Mills/Parish) [4:05]
13. Take the ‘A’ Train (Strayhorn) [3:37]
14. Solitude (Mills/de Lange) [3:37]
15. Come Sunday (from ‘Black, Brown & Beige’) [4:06]
16. Caravan (Mills/Tizol) [4:18]
17. The Creole Love Call (Ellington) [4:24]
18. It don’t mean a thing (Mills) [4:52]
CD 2
George GERSHWIN (1898–1937)
1. ’s Wonderful (Ira Gershwin) [3:28]
2. Embraceable You (I Gershwin) [5:26]
3. Oh, lady be good (I Gershwin) [3:23]
4. How long has this been going on (I Gershwin) [5:17]
5. Somebody loves me (Ballard MacDonald & B G de Sylva) [3:31]
6. The man I love (I Gershwin) [4:45]
7. Love walked in – Our love is here to stay (I Gershwin) [5:56]
8. Fascinating Rhythm (I Gershwin) [3:08]
9. I’ve got a crush on you (I Gershwin) [5:02]
10. I got rhythm (I Gershwin) [2:49]
Porgy and Bess medley (DuBose Hayward/I Gershwin)
11. Overture [1:06]
12. Summertime [3:03]
13. My man’s gone now [4:45]
14. There’s a boat that’s leaving soon for New York [4:03]
15. Porgy, I’s your woman now [4:58]
16. It ain’t necessarily so [3:08]
17. I loves you, Porgy [2:45]
18. I got plenty o’ nuttin’ [4:10]
19. Oh Lawd, I’m on my way [2:03]
Barbara Hendricks (soprano)
Monty Alexander Trio (Monty Alexander, piano; Ira Coleman, bass; Ed Thigpen, drums)(CD 1); Guildhall Strings/Paul Bateman), Geoffrey Keezer, piano; Ira Coleman, bass; Ed Thigpen, drums (CD 2)
rec. 17 and 18 July 1994, live in the Montreux Café at the Montreux Jazz Festival; 15-18 May 2000, Studio No. 1, Abbey Road Studios, London
EMI CLASSICS 5046802 [76:05 + 72:48]

 


Barbara Hendricks first walked into the spotlight – at least as far as the record-buying public is concerned – back in the late 1970s. It was when she sang Clara on Lorin Maazel’s superb Grammy-awarded Porgy and Bess. Her first solo album was also a Gershwin programme, published by Philips in 1981, where she was joined by the stunning Labecque sisters. I bought the LP and liked it a lot, appreciating both the hefty piano playing and the youthful freshness and warmth of Ms Hendricks’ singing. She reminded me a little of Leontyne Price. Though Ms Price had a larger voice the basic qualities were not dissimilar.

Several of the songs she returned to almost twenty years later, when CD 2 of the present double CD was set down. By a mishap – the two discs have the labels mixed up on my review copy – I played CD 2 first and many of Ms Hendricks’ qualities are still there: her characteristic vibrato, her warmth and sincerity but also a certain sameness, which I have pointed out before. There is too little variety of tone and hearing her through a well-filled CD can be too much of a good thing.

Generally speaking it is the up-tempo numbers that come off best – surprising perhaps when a classically schooled singer lets her hair down. But for Barbara Hendricks rhythm is a natural element and these titles also give three good jazz musicians scope for some swinging solos. Fascinating Rhythm and I got rhythm are my favourites.

The second half of the disc is devoted to an extended medley from Porgy and Bess. Those who know the original music – as recorded by Maazel (Decca) and Simon Rattle (EMI) may feel disorientated. However this is music that has been performed, ever since the 1930s, by all manner of musicians in all kinds of styles, so one shouldn’t be surprised. This disc is not for the die-hard opera freak. It should appeal to the many listeners who like a classy voice with a jazzy backing. The individual numbers are linked by more or less elaborated interludes by the trio. They also offer some purely instrumental numbers, those sung by male characters in the opera. Porgy’s I got plenty o’ nuttin’ is one of the highlights of the disc, which is perhaps rather unfair towards Barbara Hendricks. There is however an earthiness about their playing that feels so right. There’s a boat that’s leaving soon for New York, Sporting Life’s song in the last act when he entices Bess to follow him to the Big Apple, is also a trio number. Hendricks sings his other song It ain’t necessarily so with a certain blues feeling but I still miss the original Sporting Life, John W Bubbles, who recorded it memorably on Skitch Henderson’s award-winning highlights disc with Leontyne Price and William Warfield. In a couple of songs an un-credited tenor sax is heard and the Guildhall Strings lend further atmosphere to the medley. In fact there is plethora of fine musicianship on display from all hands.

Barbara Hendricks surely feels more at home in Ellington. It may be an illusion but she sounds more relaxed and also slightly fresher of voice. I also think that she is inspired by the presence of the café guests and their response. Monty Alexander is at the piano but there’s the same rhythm section. It’s a well conceived programme with a lot of nice surprises. Alexander has a long piano solo in Brown Skin Gal in the Calico Gown. Sophisticated Lady is beautifully sung. In Take the ‘A’ Train we are treated to some scat singing. Come Sunday opens with Ira Coleman’s double bass played con arco and Caravan has a fascinating oriental atmosphere. Hendricks also gives us a beautiful rendering of the eternal favourites Creole Love Call. For me been Ellington’s own first recording with Adelaide Hall takes pride of place ever since I heard it while listening to Voice of America’s Jazz Hour on shortwave in my youth. Ms Hall’s instrumental growling singing is unique and Ms Hendricks wisely refrains from imitation, taking it in her own way.

With 2˝ hours of jazz standards and evergreens well performed, this double CD will offer many listening pleasures if you accept Hendricks’ somewhat monochrome tone. Don’t expect transcendental interpretations ŕ la Billie Holiday or virtuoso improvisations of the Ella Fitzgerald kind. On the other hand you can’t have Dom Perignon 1996 every time you hanker for something sparkling.

Göran Forsling

 

 


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