Lemuel West

In Good Company

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San Francisco jazz singer West cut these sessons in NYC for his debut recording, with ex-Jazz Messengers James Williams on piano and Bill Pierce on tenor sax. Also on board are guitarist Chris Biesterfeldt, drummer Ron Savage, and bassist Tom Elliot providing rhythmic backup. West has a deep baritone that is maturing, but not there yet. He doesn't attempt to scat or use vocalese, and employs a considerably affected, more operatic vibrato at the end of most phrases.

During two of the 11 cuts, the singer proves he is not yet up to the task of interpretation, lacking the dynamic presence to attempt an improvised go on the second refrain of "Falling in Love With Love," though he tries to extrapolate a bit on the light swinger "But Not for Me." West is most comfortable singing straight-lined ballads such as "Ain't Misbehavin'" with guitar, "Blame It on My Youth" and "Over the Rainbow" in tandem with Williams, and the Sesame Street number "Bein' Green." A tick-tock rhythm and modal piano block chording sustains "Nature Boy" with some neat doo doo vocal-guitar unison รก la George Benson, while a lengthy tenor solo from the soulful Pierce informs the well-swung "When You Wish Upon a Star." For contrast, Williams plays organ on the 12-bar shuffle "After the Lights Go Down Low." Yet, the keyboard wizard proves himself the true star of this date, as a "Maiden Voyage"-type modal motif buoys the tick-tock rhythm for "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?." Pierce swings the bridge on this interesting arrangement marred by West's off-kilter, off-key concept. The pianist provides the best moments of the project on the intro to the light Brazilian take of "When I Fall in Love," and inspires West to his most heartfelt, enjoyable expressionism. Overall, West is a bit stiff and needs to work on his phrasing, but his intonation is not bad, and he has fine pipes.

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