How does one improve on the already wonderful? That was the question I posed to myself upon receipt of Groove Notes newest original hybrid SACD, Jacintha Is Her Name -- A Tribute to Julie London. I asked myself that because, based on all the musical and sonic enjoyment Id received from Jacinthas previous efforts -- Heres To Ben, Autumn Leaves, and Lush Life -- might this latest effort turn out to be something of a let down? After all, how many times can an artist continue to improve, as Jacintha has done? I mean, sooner or later shell have to come up short of the abnormally high standards shes set for herself, right?
With Jacintha Is Her Name, she has not only hit the target again, shes scored another bulls-eye in the process, with each succeeding album coming closer and closer to dead center. And if she werent so darned talented, it could almost become monotonous. But when you combine Groove Note Records superb sonics with Jacinthas ability to deliver a song in a manner that suggests each number was written just for her, the listener is held spellbound by the total beauty of the result.
Jacintha Is Her Name takes Jacintha a step beyond her other albums due to the expansion of her repertoire beyond the songs of the Great American Songbook that have been the building blocks of those earlier records. The songbook is still well represented here, but to it Jacintha adds the unexpected -- The Doors "Light My Fire" -- as well as jazz vocal standards, such as the Billie Holiday staple "God Bless the Child," and the Thelonious Monk classic "Round Midnight." These songs in particular allow us a better insight into just how good a singer Jacintha has become. They also let us see how much of a debt she owes both to Julie London, in whose honor the album is dedicated, and to Ella Fitzgerald, in the manner she delivers these songs (said debts are more than repaid here). With backing from Bill Cunliffe on piano, Harry Allen on tenor sax (he replaces the late Red Holloway in Groove Notes house band), Ron Eschete on seven-string guitar, Larry Bunker on vibes and congas, Holly Hoffman on flute, Darek Oleskiewicz on bass and Larance Marable on drums, the total-enjoyment factor gets ratcheted up a few more notches.
As is the custom with a Groove Note production, the sound is excellent. Producer Joe Harley, engineer Michael C. Ross, and mastering maven Bernie Grundman use all their considerable experience and talent to nail the sound just about perfectly. Instead of using all the musicians on each number, Harley uses them in varied combinations of three, thereby allowing Jacinthas voice room to really shine. The CD layer offers everything that that medium is capable of -- if youre buying this disc for that layer alone, you will find nothing to be disappointed about. The stereo SACD layer takes the already excellent Redbook sound and bumps it up considerably higher -- fleshing out both the vocals and instrumental tones, and also adding to the sense of recording acoustic that youll notice is lacking in the CD layer (especially once youve heard that its there). The multichannel mix is done with both taste and restraint. The rear channels are used simply for acoustic enhancement. Theres no center-of-the-band sensation here. The result, on whatever level you chose to listen, is a sonic pacesetter.
Just as does a bottle of fine Bordeaux wine, Jacintha continues to improve with the passage of time. Each succeeding album surpasses the standards set by its predecessor. On Jacintha Is Her Name, Jacintha adds to her repertoire and, by taking advantage of the minimal musical backing, demonstrates the full range of her considerable abilities. Combine these facets with the superb sonics, and this album becomes a tasty musical treat, one that will you will be savoring over and over again. About the only negative I can think of in regard to this album, even as I sit entranced by this latest effort, is that Im already looking forward to the next recording, to see if Jacintha can continue to surpass herself yet again. What a delicious dilemma.
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