Most jazz aficionados will rank Anita O'Day as one the very best vocalists that the genre had to offer in the 1940s and 1950s. Her satiny tone, natural sense of rhythm, and improvisational skills placed her alongside the elite voices of the day. Manhattan Transfer's Cheryl Bentyne recognizes O'Day's vocal contributions by paying tribute to the singer on her second Telarc Jazz release, Let Me Off Uptown. For those familiar with both O'Day and Bentyne, the pairing of the vocalists is practically ideal as Bentyne's technical skills, phrasing, and tone are often reminiscent of O'Day's in her earlier and best works. This is most apparent with Bentyne's version of "Pick Yourself Up." The ease with which she playfully recites the lyrics is haunted by O'Day's delivery, but it is not imitation. Bentyne simply, yet skillfully, sings the song unadorned by any vocal acrobatics and the result is a tasteful performance that allows a listener to not only relax and enjoy the vocalist, but also appreciate the melody of this Jerome Kern/Dorothy Fields classic. That natural gift is what O'Day gave to a great song, and Bentyne has acquired the same ability. If there is a difference, it is that Bentyne has a gentler approach to a melody, especially on ballads like "Skylark" or the gorgeous "Man With a Horn." Perhaps her vocalizing as part of a group in Manhattan Transfer helped lead to this softness, but it is nonetheless delightful and effective. O'Day's more energetic spirit shines brilliantly as her already fast paced "Tea for Two" is revved up even further providing a real challenge for Bentyne, yet she takes it head-on and makes the complex lyrical and improvisational passages seem effortless. Of course a part of this disc's success is owed to the musicians who accompany Bentyne. Drummer David Tull and bassist Kevin Axt impeccably keep the rhythm while trumpeter Jack Sheldon provides quality solo work and even duets with Bentyne on the humorous O'Day/Roy Eldridge hit "Let Me Off Uptown." As with O'Day, what is anticipated from Bentyne is a performance that is pure, comfortable and sophisticated. With this collection she has met those expectations while capturing the spirit of O'Day, and those who listen to Cheryl Bentyne's Let Me Off Uptown will have the benefit of discovering two great artists.
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AllMusic Review by Aaron Latham
feat: Jack Sheldon