Little Jimmy Scott

But Beautiful

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There's something in the languid soprano of Jimmy Scott's voice that communicates heartache in a way few other vocalists can touch; even when he's singing a relatively upbeat number, the nooks and crannies of Scott's stretched-out phrasing and subtle vibrato conjure vivid images of late nights and lost loves, while managing to make romantic melancholy sound almost luxurious in its beauty. But Beautiful, Scott's third album for Milestone (and seventh since his comeback in the early '90s -- not bad for a man who once went 15 years between sessions), is cut from the same cloth as his previous sets for the label, Mood Indigo and Over the Rainbow. Producer Todd Barkan has once again set Scott up with a small combo of superb jazz players (including Joe Beck on guitar and guest shots from Wynton Marsalis and Freddy Cole) and subtle but compelling arrangements (mostly by pianist Renee Rosnes) of ten classic standards; if But Beautiful is less ambitious than Scott's "comeback" albums for Warner Bros., there's no arguing that it plays to his strengths and captures Scott in marvelous form. At the age of 76, Scott's voice is losing just a bit of its elasticity, but for the most part his instrument is in surprisingly good shape, and his sense of phrasing remains impeccable; plenty of Oscar-winning actors could not express longing and loss as eloquently as Scott does on "Darn That Dream" and "Please Send Me Someone to Love," and the agonizing clarity of his hope on "When You Wish Upon a Star" is enough to move the hardest heart. Jimmy Scott's recent work gives the lie to F. Scott Fitzgerald's famous remark that there are no second acts in American lives, and if But Beautiful doesn't capture him at the absolute peak of his form, plenty of singers half his age would be grateful to make an album that commanded a fraction of this set's power to move the heart and soul.

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