Lenora Zenzalai Helm

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Precipice Review

by Paula Edelstein

Lenora Zenzalai Helm, the 1998-1999 U.S. jazz ambassador, is the consummate blend of ethereal charm and vocal virtuosity on Precipice. Accompanied by the highly skilled Tarus Mateen on acoustic bass, the dynamic Nasheet Waits on drums, Stanley Cowell on piano, and Duane Eubanks on trumpet, the lyricist, composer, teaching artist, and jazz educator brings you the sweet jazz standard from Cole Porter and the heart-melting sincerity of the ballad "Just Go" that is as wonderful as it is pensive. Helm is, in the best sense, a vocalist who drives everything -- the listener, the song forms, her collaborators, herself most of all -- to go further than they have gone before. Twelve songs have the benefit of her musical skills, but it is her head-turning performance on the title track -- presented here as a medley with John Coltrane's "Wise One" -- that makes this CD a standout. Helm's sultry soprano is not only compulsive and creative, but guides her presence through the time-tested jazz standards and provides a totally new expansion of the vocal jazz genre. Best bets are Chick Corea's "Highwire," Branford Marsalis' "Autumns," and Andrew Hill's "Out of the Ashes," with the latter two songs on the receiving end of her new thought-provoking lyrics.

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