Tessa Souter

Nights of Key Largo

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Since arriving in New York City, Tessa Souter has built a dedicated following. She was a relative latecomer to jazz, taking time out to raise a family at a young age and work as a journalist before studying at the Manhattan School of music and privately with vocal great Mark Murphy, though she has developed into a formidable singer in a relatively short time. Souter's gorgeous, natural vocals never show pretension or gimmickry, while her taste in songs is amazingly wide-ranging and occasionally risk-taking. For these 2008 sessions, her accompanists include the brilliant pianist Kenny Werner (who works especially well with vocalists), saxophonist Joel Frahm, Brazilian guitarist Romero Lubambo, veteran first-call bassist Jay Leonhart, and the in-demand drummer Billy Drummond. Souter's lush treatment of "Close Enough for Love" captures the essence of this beautiful standard (a favorite of the late Shirley Horn and many others). The haunting setting of "Morning of the Carnaval" opens with Werner's elegant piano and Leonhart's mournful arco bass, while Souter's spacious, lovely performance is also complemented by Frahm's moving soprano sax. The vocalist uncovered a gem in Benny Carter's neglected "Key Largo," which she casts in a setting that suggests a midnight stroll along the beach with her lover. But Souter is at her most stunning when she tackles songs that one doesn't normally hear in a jazz setting. Her infectious, slinky take of Van Morrison's "Moondance" opens with her sexy vocals over Leonhart's walking bass, with judicious use of reverb that is never overdone. John Lennon's "Imagine" has long been a pop standard, though jazz arrangements have been few and mostly disappointing, but Souter is buoyed by her imaginative rhythm section, though she takes few liberties with it until she is well into the song. Tessa Souter will win you over, as well, if you give her the opportunity.

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