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Born in Canada, Living in Jazzland
Two Female Vocalists and Their bands

Here we have two female vocalists with their second solo discs, although they have been performing for a fair number of years. Gloria Reuben and Carol McCartney are immersed in jazz sensibilities with accomplished jazz musicians in their small bands (six players total in both cases) sharing the spotlight, getting generous instrumental breaks on tracks that are mostly over four minutes in length, occasionally getting to five minutes and beyond. Both women hail from Toronto, Canada. The first, though, relocated to the USA.


Manchester Craftsmen's Guild (MCG Jazz)

I agree that it seems self-contradictory to describe Perchance to Dream as both subtle and funky. That is to say that it revels in its freewheeling grooves while Gloria Reuben's small-scale intimate singing can feel like revealing secrets previously confessed in the scribbling in a personal diary. The juxtaposition works rather well, largely because this is not a vocalist always front and center with mere background accompaniment. It's a team effort, with the singer and musicians—the small band very prominent and more assertive—taking plenty of time to set the moods and tempo at track beginnings as well as long instrumental sections that muscularly command attention. Songbird holds back, by and large, and the band really takes flight. When rhythm dominates, Gloria lets her phrasing be clipped, keeping emotions close to the vest—but with more than a hint that that what's stated in the lyrics is indeed being felt and understood. And when she does indulge in more of her silky sounds and looser expressions of yearning or hurt, the rationed drama is impactful.

The Shakespeare-familiar album title comes from a lyric line in "When I Close My Eyes" (written for her by K. Lawrence Dunham and harpist Carol Robbins), and that romantic number is a cozy highlight. My personal favorite though is the opener, Irving Berlin's "Change Partners," featuring a strikingly relaxed and spare first half, with much freedom for the singer to dominate and make time stand still and take the loneliness and frustration more seriously than in many versions of this classic. Let's appreciate the fact that this Fred Astaire-introduced evergreen is literally about dancing, but the treatment doesn't take the easy route and imitate a dance tempo right off, waiting instead until there's hope that the partners will really switch. Then, the musical change comes as a reinforcement of the partner change and thus the protagonist's happy mood change. Indeed, what's especially noticeable with the more heavily covered material on the album (this, "Save Your Love for Me," and that sweet ...Chocolate Factory-concocted delight, "Pure Imagination") is the different approach to arrangements and tempi. These often showcase and benefit the band more than the full potential of either lyric or singer; nine of the ten are done by three of the CD's six very deft musicians: pianist Alton Merrill, trombonist Jay Ashby, and guitarist-producer Marty Ashby.

An actress on many fronts (TV's "ER," Spielberg's film Lincoln, and Lortel-nominated for David Hare's Stuff Happens), characterization figures into much that we sense here. While it's most in evidence with the setting of the late Maya Angelou's poem "Poor Girl," with music composed and arranged by Jay Ashby, attitude and stance are generally clear and consistent within each piece. She's delightfully playful in a Broadway item: "You'd Better Love Me" from High Spirits (Hugh Martin/ Timothy Gray). While she impishly makes it her own, it's always interesting to reflect on how this lyric manages to work as specific to the story of a ghost's visit, but with language general enough to be interpreted and sung in a more earthly flirtation ("I have been known to disappear" and "Don't let this miracle melt away").

While there are only ten titles on the disc, the tracks are long, with only one shorter than four minutes. That one is the lovely ballad that begins "You and I, an unmatched pair / Took the time to touch, to share / Worlds apart the night we met," titled "Close Enough for Love" (music by Johnny Mandel and that lyric by Paul Williams, but in the credits wrongly attributed to rock musician Jack Bruce, who wrote a song by the same title). Hard-won wisdom and reflection are nicely shaded on "Here's to Life," which ends the recital. Interestingly, while some interpreters—whether they double as actresses or not—tend to talk some of its lines, Gloria takes the refreshingly more legato approach. This item is most closely associated with the very laidback vocal approach of Shirley Horn (who also recorded "Close Enough for Love" as an album title song and "How Am I to Know"—sung herein as well—with words by Dorothy Parker, melody by Jack King). Reuben did a nightclub act three years ago saluting the late Ms. Horn, so there may well be some long-gestating influence.

The decidedly jazz world draping Perchance to Dream is first and foremost what it's all about here. I found the electric guitar and piano work terrific and it kept my interest as the powerful (and occasionally gentle) playing assuredly navigated and expanded and stretched melodic lines. It's brought to us by Pittsburgh's high-class operation nurturing jazz education and preservation on disc, the arts center Manchester Craftsmen's Guild's MCG Jazz record label, of which Marty Ashby is longtime executive producer, putting on concerts and putting out recordings. Perchance he'll dream up another vibrant vocal outing very soon.


Moxy Productions

Practicing what she preaches with the album's title song "Be Cool," Carol McCartney is indeed chill in the best jazzy sense. What a pro! Opening with an in-command treatment of that number by fellow Canadian musician Joni Mitchell, it's immediately clear that we're safely in the hands of a confident real-deal jazz singer and solid musicians. They swing. No fluff here. Hooray for that. Rest assured that the singer is self-assured with good reason.

While the cool Carol can smoothly sail through melodies with élan, she can convincingly envelop herself in a luxurious ballad and create a lush mood. The classic "More Than You Know" is one of the more conservative items, showing she can play it fairly "straight" if she wants, singing with simple passion, not breaking new ground, but letting the song speak for itself, yet shying away from seriously considering the mentioned possibility of "if you grew tired and said goodbye" and the indications of an unequally-committed relationship. Her take on "For Heaven's Sake" is truly rhapsodic and shows her sensitive side. This interpretation of the snuggly invitation to "fall in love," written by Sherman Edwards (1776), Elise Bretton, and Donald Mayer mines all its romantic atmosphere without the slightest whiff of schmaltz. It's genuine. And, likewise, a latter-day love song, "Solitary Moon" (Johnny Mandel with the Mr. and Mrs. of love lyrics, the team of Alan and Marilyn Bergman) also evokes unabashed affection with articulate images drenched in atmosphere that never seems too facile or gooey.

But the album favors a breezy manner, with the goings feeling hip at a quick clip. And with a singer so very able to zip through material with seeming ease, it's a pleasure to experience the flights. She seems at home on each selection. Her voice is pleasingly clear and elastic, as she bends notes at will, scat-sings with great aplomb, and cheers the air. Her dipping her toe into the blues waters, if you can consider it that, "West Coast Blues," is more of a romp and a wink. Shades of blue don't seem to fit, so it's good that this one with its slangy references to one's "baby" (as in lover) and a "gig" is inherently light, rather than desolate.

With the period of 1930s and a bit beyond well represented, along with more recent items, many of the titles are established standards; still it's no reason to leave out the songwriters' names. (There isn't much in the way of text, but her website offers the equivalent of detailed liner notes and background.)

Produced by the singer, the CD features a top-notch band; most arrangements are by pianist Brian Dickinson. The other players are: Lorne Lofsky (guitar), Kieran Overs (bass), Terry Clarke (drums), Chris Robinson (sax), and Mike Malone (flugelhorn). Their work is a major reason the doings cook so well; while their impressive longish solos are solid and creative, they never outshine the vocalist. Indeed, when she joins them with her scat work, putting the icing on a rich cake, it's the topper. But listening to the guys work stuff out and let loose is very rewarding. While many liberties are taken in the jazz tradition, things don't get wild or too many miles away from the musical architectures, tweaked though they may be. The adventures are accessible and just unpredictable enough to keep things interesting. Notably, with a simple melody like "Just You, Just Me," they get more inventive on spotlight solos.

Jerome Kern's melodies are not allowed to be stuffy or sentimental. They're gleefully taken hostage to new speedy heights and reveal new charms. While his "Yesterdays," whose lyric includes such a formal line as "Joyous, free and flaming life, forsooth, was mine" (Otto Harbach's Roberta lyric), might go kicking and screaming into jazzy fleetness with its poetic stiffness awkwardly showing through, it's a welcome revitalization. And another Kern, 1942's "I'm Old Fashioned," is about as old-fashioned as last week. Similarly set to be downed as a high-energy drink of speedy spunk, it also more than just survives. The new-fashioned version still brings out Johnny Mercer's sentiments somehow. I think it's because the parties here retain affection for the material and can, with serenity rather than gimmickry, prove it can be embraced in new clothing.

Although the Gershwins' "'S Wonderful" lands solidly in a rich comfort zone, I wish Carol had stuck to its cute conceit of lyricist Ira having all the many statements match the title instead of changing some to "It's" rather than "'S" ("It is marvelous ... Why, it's paradise"). Although other jazz singers seem fond of increasing the pace on this one as the team does with the Kern numbers, it doesn't get that treatment here. And so we can relish the statements of drinking in that lucky "four-leaf clover time" of requited love, as the chosen tempo is more like sinking into a bubble bath than a race. Joy can be settled into and works as effectively as spiffy spurts of jubilation. But an actual race with time, about trying to reach a destination before the clock strikes 12, is just a little happy throwaway for a pick-me-up, I suppose. And is it just me that notices that this number called "Almost Twelve" and is placed as song #11? (singer Cassandra Wilson and jazz guitarist Fabrizio Sotti co-wrote this one.)

The Be Cool team, with their crisp and clean sound and panache, have clearly earned their degrees with apparent ease as graduates of the Cool School.

- Rob Lester

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