Alternately breathy and atmospheric or bright and dynamic, Helen Merrill often reaches a bit too far on The Nearness of You, though her distinct style and strong personality may be refreshing to vocal fans tired of the standard versions of standards. Leading two separate sextets -- the rather more famous one, with Bill Evans, Bobby Jaspar, Oscar Pettiford, and Jo Jones, appears on only four tracks -- Merrill breezes over a raft of mid-tempo standards, with several detours through high-drama territory. Her powerful voice occasionally gets her into trouble, breaking from breathy to brash and often occupying a rather awkward middle ground. Still, her ebullient tone and playful way with "Bye, Bye Blackbird," "Let Me Love You," and "All of You" is a treat to hear, and flutist Mike Simpson cuts it up behind her as well. Merrill really shines on the darker material, with just a plucked bass to accompany her on "Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise," and a similarly spare accompaniment on a long, drawn-out tribute to "Summertime" and "I See Your Face Before Me."
The Nearness of You Review
by John Bush