Helen Merrill

Casa Forte

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Helen Merrill is in top form throughout this 1980 session, backed by pianist Torrie Zito's thoughtful arrangements. Merrill, who improvises like a member of the band, always knows the possibilities within each song she performs and finds a way to make it her own. A good part of the LP includes bossa nova tunes, highlighted by her deliberate lyrical treatment of "Wave," in which Zito is her sole accompanist. Her silken voice is wrapped in strings for the lush takes of "So Many Stars" and "Like a Lover," with Bucky Pizzarelli providing the perfect touch on guitar. "Natural Sounds" is an unjust obscurity, a touching ballad sung by Barbra Streisand in the mid-'60s on a live album, though Merrill handles it with far more finesse. There are also enjoyable renditions of standards like "Too Marvelous for Words" and "Close Enough for Love." Recommended.

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