Bill Henderson has been one of the great unsung heroes of jazz vocals for 50-plus years. His silky, polished voice and unforced phrasing has graced hundreds of American popular songs and standards with little mass audience fanfare, even though he has a loyal following who appreciates great singing with no frills or histrionics. This live recording at The Vic in Santa Monica, CA celebrates Henderson's 81st birthday, but listening to him, you'd think he wasn't a day over 35. All of the great mid-range intonation, careful spacing between notes, and boyish charm remains with this seasoned veteran, and frankly, he sounds just as good as he ever has. What Henderson offers in the main is that he sings directly from the heart with no phony affectations, a lost art among contemporary singers of all stripes. Kicking off the program with the well worn "All the Things You Are," Henderson enlivens it with his young voice and a funky soul-jazz groove parallel to "Killer Joe." Continuing on that theme for "Never Make Your Move Too Soon," he and his band define true smooth and cool within this doubting Thomas lyric. He enjoys playing with stretched phrasing, elongating vowels during "Royal Garden Blues," but is keen on precision as well, demonstrated perfectly for the upbeat and enthusiastic, ultimately cool take of "The Song Is You." The backing trio, with pianist Tateng Katindig, bassist Chris Conner and the great veteran drummer Roy McCurdy, is as impressive as Henderson in many ways. Katindig is very talented, unafraid to dive into these tunes while also giving the singer ultimate respect. McCurdy just rolls along, providing a varied palate of rhythms from swing to soul to Latin. On "The Moon Was Yellow," they seamlessly move from montuno modal to warm samba to spirited bop and back with a mercurial effect. You also get several great ballads, the best being the bluesy and melancholy "Living Without You," as preludes on these slow tunes from the pianist and vocalist transcend the songs themselves. A finale, "Tulip or Turnip?," is an all-time exercise in fun and flippant discourse, not to mention curiosity in how his partner really feels, though Henderson's love is always true. Those not hip to Bill Henderson should jump on the bandwagon, albeit late. All of his recordings are worthwhile (his compilations for the Vee Jay label are essential and highly recommended,) and this one simply cements his reputation as one of a handful of truly great male jazz singers whose ability is unquestioned.
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AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos