Nikki Iles / Tina May

Change of Sky

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Joined by pianist Nikki Iles, top of the line British vocalist Tina May has produced another engrossing and challenging album for U.K.'s 33Jazz label. A mixture of standards, "off-beat" tunes, and jazz standards to which lyrics have been added, May again demonstrates why she is recognized as one of the leading vocal virtuosos on the early 2000 jazz scene. No matter what the tempo or genre, May's powerful, mellifluous, and clear voice conveys a sense of deep passion with every line she sings. On "Black Coffee," May joins a group of esteemed singers who have vocally examined the nuances of this ode to the curative values of caffeine and nicotine in easing the pain of a love affair gone bad. Like everything she sings, May adds her special, piquant vocal sauce to this tune, which has been graced by visits from several more expressive singers like Peggy Lee, Carmen McRae, Sarah Vaughan, and Chris Connor. The usual upbeat "Come Rain or Come Shine" opens with a delicate, harpsichord-like Iles piano, with May entering and gradually increasing the tempo as the tune progresses, turning vampish at the conclusion. "You Must Believe in Spring," also benefiting from an extended opening piano from Iles, gets a tender, poignant rendering from May. On the nonstandard side of the ledger, "A Timeless Place," a Jimmy Rowles' tune with lyrics added by British diva Norma Winstone, is one of the few tracks where May gets into wordless vocalizing. Assuming a shaded soprano sound, May shows her wistful side on "For Jan," another tune by a contemporary musician -- this time it's avant garde trumpet player Kenny Wheeler, Also, Winstone has added lyrics to this song. Thelonious Monk's "Ugly Beauty" becomes "Still We Dream" when lyrics are added. Iles' piano meshes well with May's voice, matching whatever mood the vocalist is conveying as well as the variety of improvisational paths May treads throughout this album. Iles is a recognized jazz performer in her own right, having appeared at many jazz venues in the U.K., as well as appearing with such prominent musicians as Anthony Braxton. Change of Sky is further aural evidence of why May occupies an auspicious spot among the distinguished exponents of the jazz vocal art.

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