On Cup of Joe, No Bull, Katie Bull does something that many jazz singers would be afraid to do: she performs with nothing but acoustic bass as accompaniment. No piano, no drums, no guitar, no horns -- just Bull's vocals and the upright bass of fellow New York City resident Joe Fonda. The vocals/acoustic bass format is a risky proposition because it leaves a singer very exposed -- not quite as exposed as going a cappella, but bloody close. It's a format that offers a singer little room to hide, and jazz vocalists who still need a lot of time in the shed would do well to avoid that type of minimalism. On the other hand, it's a format that can serve a vocalist well if he or she has a lot to offer -- and Bull certainly rises to the occasion on Cup of Joe, No Bull. Enjoying a strong rapport with Fonda, Bull soars on a CD that ranges from original material to well-known standards like Buddy Johnson's "Since I Fell for You," Lionel Hampton's "Midnight Sun," and Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Corcovado." Cup of Joe, No Bull has its share of warhorses -- overdone songs that have been beaten to death over the years -- and for improvisers who aren't as intriguing as Bull, an abundance of warhorses can result in a very pedestrian, forgettable album. But Bull offers a lot of intrigue. She's someone who can be bluesy, romantic, or somewhat sentimental but doesn't shy away from the cerebral or the abstract, and the New Yorker balances all of those things nicely on this release. The vocals/acoustic bass format is definitely advantageous for Bull and Fonda on this memorable CD.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson