Sathima Bea Benjamin

Musical Echoes

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Nearly four decades after her debut recording, South African singer Sathima Bea Benjamin is still in top form on these 2002 studio sessions. Her voice has deepened over time, but it is more like a fine wine aging well, as her intonation and diction are flawless. Accompanied by pianist Stephen Scott, bassist Basil Moses, and drummer Lulu Gontsana, Benjamin wrote all of the arrangements, including a number of infrequently performed gems and fresh approaches to standards. Note in particular the prominent African rhythm in her scoring of "Falling in Love with Love" (backed by Moses' dancing bass and Gontsana's lively brushwork) and the invigorating, very refreshing take of "Star Eyes" (featuring the full trio). Because Duke Ellington was instrumental in recording Benjamin's first album (though the tapes were lost and it wasn't issued until 34 years later), it should be no surprise that she includes several selections from his vast repertoire. The brisk rhythm underneath her effective vocal of "All Too Soon" adds a playful touch that is not usually present. "Caravan" is often played at a ridiculously fast tempo, but she reverts to its exotic roots with a languid interpretation that is easy to savor. The less familiar songs include valuable renditions of the wistful "I'll Follow My Secret Heart" and the bittersweet "They Say It's Wonderful." Benjamin and Scott jointly composed the reflective ballad "Musical Echoes." There is an air of informality throughout the CD as countdowns, brief discussions, and announcements of takes are left in place prior to the start of each selection. Warmly recommended.

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