Jackie Ryan

For Heavens Sake

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The jazz world is full of clone singers who are content to emulate their idols and make no attempt at originality; if they aren't emulating Sarah Vaughan, they're going out of their way to sound like Ella Fitzgerald or Billie Holiday. Thankfully, Bay Area native Jackie Ryan isn't one of the clones; on For Heaven's Sake, the singer comes across as an interesting and fairly original combination of Betty Carter, Sarah Vaughan, and Carmen McRae. Those are some of her main influences, but she isn't actually emulating any of them -- Ryan, in fact, never fails to sound like her own person on this live CD, which documents a July 1999 appearance at the Lime Leaf in La Jolla, CA (a San Diego suburb). Although Ryan's phrasing shows Carter to be among her main influences, she isn't nearly as abstract. For Heaven's Sake, unlike a lot of Carter's work, isn't avant-garde and isn't very left of center -- one could find Carter to be far to the left musically but find Ryan to be quite accessible on swinging interpretations of overdone standards like "Black Coffee," "What a Little Moonlight Can Do," "Nice Work If You Can Get It," and "Comes Love." If anything, Ryan tends to play it too safe on this CD. Instead of inundating us with standards that have been done to death over the years, Ryan should spend more time embracing lesser known gems and set out to record definitive versions. Nonetheless, it's obvious that the big-voiced Californian has a lot going for her. Ryan is soulful and expressive, and she's capable of singing in five different languages -- For Heaven's Sake includes some performances in Portuguese ("Samba de Rei" and Jobim's "Caminhos Cruzados") as well as a half-English, half-Spanish version of "What a Difference a Day Makes." This is a solid, enjoyable release, but one gets the impression that Ryan is capable of taking a lot more chances.

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