Antoinette Montague

Behind the Smile

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Antoinette Montague's second album, Behind the Smile, takes a similar approach to her first, Pretty Blues. She has reassembled the same small jazz group, consisting of Mulgrew Miller on piano, Bill Easley on reeds, Kenny Washington on drums, and Peter Washington on bass, and they once again accompany her on arrangements that sound like they could have been played in the late '50s rather than late in the first decade of the 21st century. As usual, Montague is the least jazzy thing about the disc; she tends to stick to the melodies of the songs, with only the occasional expressive flourish, then get out of the way so that Miller and Easley especially can take solos, before coming back for a final chorus. (Peter Washington gets his bass showcase on "Ever Since the One I Love's Been Gone.") The selections are a mixture of jazz and blues standards along with a couple of rearranged Motown tunes. It is those surprising choices -- versions of Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" and the old Temptations hit "Get Ready," written by Smokey Robinson -- that are among the most impressive performances on the disc, in part because they are so unexpected. Songs like "I Hadn't Anyone Till You" and "The Song Is You" have been recorded so many times that it's hard for any singer and group to put a special stamp on them. But when Montague tears into "Get Ready" (sounding more involved than elsewhere on the disc) or presents a rare vocal version of Dave Brubeck's "Summer Song," she has the chance to distinguish herself. Like its predecessor, Behind the Smile is both professionally done as a disc and, in essence, a calling card for Montague's live show, which it serves to promote effectively.

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