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Freelon isn't much of a lyricist (a typically stiff couplet is "We have come to find/ Intimate connection of heart and mind"), but she has a sure instinct for the way melody flows. Her soprano isn't overpowering, but it is extremely graceful and thus perfectly fits the easy-going songs she writes and chooses. Her road band of pianist/arranger Bill Anschell, bassist John Brown and drummer Woody Williams are also well attuned to this approach; after two-plus years together, the four musicians seem to glide as one. The album does include standards by Harold Arlen, Jimmy Van Heusen and the like, but the highlights are a leisurely treatment of Dizzy Gillespie's "Birk's Works" and a dreamy version of the old folk tune "Black Is the Color of My True Love's Hair." --Geoffrey Himes
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If your looking for some kind of in your face experience, this is not it. I don't think you can get that unless the original recording was for surround. Consider this an improved reinterpretation of the original presented to you in 5.1.
What happened here is the piano is now behind me to the left. How Bill Anschell get there? Am I supposed to be on stage with these people? If so then why is the drummer still in front of me? There is no sense of sound stage or realism to this mix at all and it feels so fake it that for me, I cannot listen to it. What I'm forced to do is go into the setup menu for my player and force the machine to down convert this mix to two channel so it has some sense of realism. At least this way it becomes listenable. I should not have to do this but when the mix is so bad, there is no other choice.
The music itself is great. As a two channel recording it is well done. If I had bought the two channel CD, I would give this four stars. The two star rating is strictly for the SACD mix.
On this set, she swings like mad. I don't think I've ever heard "Nature Boy" swung as hard as she swings it here. And "Out of This World" starts as a modal-sounding, 5/4 romp (Reminiscent of "All Blues". Johnny Mercer meets Miles Davis!), before settling into a hard-boppin' four. Dizzy's "Birks Works", done in all scat, likewise will have your hands and feet pounding to the beat. Ditto the old folk song, "Black (Is the Color of my True Love's hair)", with an Egyptian-type of groove. Even "I Thought About You", begun as a free a capella vocalization, settles into a "hard four."
That's not to say that Ms. Freelon can't balladize. She most certainly can, as witnessed by "My Shining Hour", and a wonderful set-ender, "Blue Daughter". I particularly enjoyed her take on Duke's "What Am I Here For", with quotes from "Mood Indigo" and "In My Solitude" thrown in for good measure.
But cooking uptunes is what she does best, and with her sure sense of rhythm, she does such songs sensationally. Highly recommended. RC
Perhaps I'm in the minority, but I find Nnenna's energetic, enthusiastic, unself-conscious approach to the music to be a refreshing alternative to the theatrical style, cultivated persona, calculated programming of Cassandra Wilson, jazz' current, much-hyped diva. Jazz is as much a tradition as a style, and any singer who doesn't significantly reflect the legacy of Billie, Ella and Sarah represents more a departure than an innovation in the music's development.