Melissa Walker

Moment of Truth

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On her third album overall but first to be widely available in the U.S., Melissa Walker confirms earlier impressions that she is a promising contender in the competition to replace the royalty of female jazz singers who left the scene in the 1980s and '90s. The album is a showcase for her range of talents, from the surprising opener, Janis Ian's "At Seventeen," to standards like "Yesterdays," the vocalese number "Come On Home," and "Upside Down" by Brazilian pop star Djavan. At the center is a four-song tribute to John Coltrane that includes a seven-minute version of "Invitation" with generous solo time for tenor saxophonist Craig Handy, the original "Portrait Of Equinox" (music by drummer Clarence Penn, lyrics by Walker) with soprano saxophone solos by Steve Wilson, and Coltrane's own "Naima" with French lyrics by Mimi Perrin. Unlike some of her competitors, Walker never oversings, preferring to place her effects carefully and always working well with her band. But it is her conscious control over her singing that marks her as a still-developing singer, more student than performer. In a field so steeped in tradition, that's perhaps inevitable for any young artist. You simply can't sing "Yesterdays" without evoking Billie Holiday, for example, but Walker gives the song her own interpretation without ever risking a note out of place. Moment Of Truth is an early indication of a studied talent that has places to go.

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