IT’S ALWAYS YOU
Harlemwood Records, 253 W 138th Street, New York, NY 10030.
It’s Always You; Too Close For Comfort; The Very Thought of You;
I Will Wait For You; Tuesdays in Chinatown; Answer Me; Waiter Make Mine Blues; When A Woman Loves A Man; I Want To Talk About You; Take Me
In Your Arms; Meet Me Where They Play The Blues; After You.
PERSONNEL: Lainie Cooke, vocals; Cameron
Brown, bass; Roland Barber, trombone; Tedd Firth,
piano; Marvin Horne, guitar; Joel Frahm, sax; Matt
By Bob Gish
Here’s a delightful assembly of musicians holding forth on a cool dozen ditties new and old. It’s a winning CD all around: Lainie Cooke’s vocals are smooth and comforting, filled with that old heartache blues feeling (e.g., check out “When A Woman Loves a Man” as a kind of epitome of how to sing a torch song). This is so whether she sings a ballad or swings out on tunes like “It’s Always You.” Cameron Brown supplies just the right pulse and phrasing for the first introductory phrases. After a chorus, Tedd Firth takes over establishing the fulsome jazz credentials of the group with Matt Wilson’s cymbals ringing out we’re here to play. Brown ends things appropriately enough with a few measures of goodbye.
Take “I Will Wait for You”–there’s plenty of sadness and longing in each and every word, enunciated and held in just the right way to wring out every metaphorical tear. Even, or especially, Cooke’s intermittent scatting is just right, so natural so fitting, so beautiful. Every vocalist should be so lucky to have sidemen like Brown, Firth, and Wilson. Not everyone knows the ins and outs of accompaniment, and vocalists oft en pay the price–or at times deserve a kind of carelessness from the backup personnel. Here, however, there’s more than enough mutual respect to go around and you can hear it.
Then there’s a companion “You” lyric, the familiar but always special “The Very Thought of You,” demonstrating the almost universal versatility and appeal of Noble’s perfect lyrics. Cooke’s voice here is so tender, so touching, so heartfelt that you’re convinced she truly knows the meaning of the words she so mellifluously delivers. Those words are echoed by the loving, longing lines of Joel Frahm on alto sax.
“Too Close For Comfort” has all the right punctuation and lyricism, again with the bass, drums, piano trio backing up Cooke as she struts her stuff , never missing a beat, always hitting her mark, ever strong, typically enunciating each and every word as if some kind of advocate for actually pronouncing words. She scats just enough to avoid crossing over into another mood.
“Tuesdays in Chinatown” begins with the exotic strains of Frahm’s soprano sax and sets the mood, a la a latter day Grover Washington, for the plangent narrative Cooke tells about Sammy and Billy and their train ride rendezvous in a dead end but ecstatic escape each Tuesday in China Town. It’s a variant of tunes like “Frankie and Johnny” or “Me and Mrs. Jones,” age old archetypes of illicit love. In the story, the couple engages in a slow dance away from external responsibilities in a drawn out weekly moment. Frahm and Cooke do their own kind of slow dance–with Cooke’s forceful, full-ranged vocal lament, answered by Frahm’s obbligato lines, each note resonating more fully with the sadness of the lyric.
More musical dancing occurs with Firth’s piano accompaniment to Cooke’s slow and strong singing of “Answer Me,” a tune so worthy of the magical talents of this duet (as is the concluding tune, “After You”). Firth’s solo is simple and beautiful, just the right touch and sensibility for the lyric and for Cooke’s compelling plea. Who couldn’t answer this kind of sweet-sorrow?
And…if you want some swingin’, funky trombone playin’ just order up some Roland Barber when you say “Waiter Make Mine Blues,” a kind of great foot-tappin’, happily melancholy tune that with lesser talent might go unnoticed. Here, it’s appetizer, entre, and dessert all in one. The aforementioned “When a Woman Loves A Man” is a superb confluence of lyric, vocalist, and musicianship–with Frahm’s alto sax ringing forth again, matching the downright strength of Cooke’s voice, and the mindful feeling of her singing. Eckstine’s “I Want to Talk about You” is another fine bluesy ballad, here again with Roland Barber’s trombone winning the day with purity and grace. His solo here is simply flawless: sustained beyond belief amidst sophisticated tempo changes.
As for the Latin aspect of a love song . . . “Take Me In Your Arms” is so wonderfully alluring that the listener merges completely with the music, and is more or less left breathless from the strategic sighs and rhythmic syncopations, all matching a lover’s flirtations and hesitations. The final goodbye of the lyric and long held breath of Cooke is downright erotic!
Marvin Horne’s guitar and Barber’s trombone take to the fore in “Meet Me Where They Play the Blues”–just as it should be. There’s some New Orleans here with Wilson’s strong back beat and Cooke’s wailing. This lady can sing the blues. And ballads, and . . . well just about anything. So here’s to Lainie Cooke! For this reviewer “It’s always you, gal, always you!
Jazz Improv Magazine, June 2008