Susan Chastain

Steady Gig

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Ann Arbor, MI's Susan Chastain admits she grew up with no particular fondness for jazz. Upon bartending at a night club, sitting in at jam sessions, winning the prestigious Heritage Jazz Competition in Ypsilanti, MI, then managing and owning that night club, she has become a quite able singer of standards. Using a controlled range and singing lyrics straight with no scat or much affectation, Chastain's upbeat personality and likable voice have won her a cadre of local fans. Backed by the Paul Keller Sextet, Chastain acts as a voice embedded within the group, as the horns consistently fill the cracks between her lyric content. Bassist/arranger Keller, pianist Ellen Rowe, and the extraordinary young drummer Sean Dobbins shine as the world-class players in the ensemble, while the horn section of trombonist Chris Smith, trumpeter Paul Finkbeiner, and saxophonist Keith Kaminski fill the holes with delight, wisdom, and charm. The arrangements are relatively stock on the straight, bluesy "I'm Just a Lucky So & So" and "Willow Weep for Me," which reflects "I Just Come Back to Joe's." But the band spices up the samba flavored "What a Difference a Day Makes," the light Latin ballad treatment of "Everything I Have Is Yours," and especially the hot Afro-Cuban "Comes Love," with Rowe's montuno leading the dance. The best track, "Devil May Care," is a good swinger with the somewhat angular lyric, and Kaminski's fine alto sax solo echoing Benny Carter. Chastain sings behind the beat on "Perdido," and is more integrated with the band on a delightful "Day In, Day Out," with a potent chart loaded with accents in controlled dynamic range, and a fine solo from Finkbeiner. A credible first effort for Chastain with a first-rate band, jazz vocal lovers should easily enjoy this, with hope for more stretching and exploration in her repertoire.

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