Universal Language

Kevyn Lettau

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Universal Language Review

by Alex Henderson

Most of the jazz critics who reviewed Kevyn Lettau's albums in the '90s had few kind words for the L.A. based singer, whose JVC releases ended up in the jazz bins but were essentially pop/R&B efforts with jazz overtones. Many jazz critics are jazz snobs who hate any music that isn't straight-ahead, and Lettau is far from a hard bopper. But it's silly to hate the singer because she isn't Betty Carter or Sheila Jordan when she never claimed to be. It's best to judge Universal Language from a pop/R&B standpoint, and as far as pop/R&B goes, the CD is generally pleasant, if uneven and less than essential. Blessed with an impressive range, Lettau brings a somewhat Anita Baker-ish quality to her work -- Baker by way of Angela Bofill and Jean Carn, one might say. This isn't to say that Universal Language is as strong or as interesting as those singers' best work, but it has its moments. The album's more memorable moments come when Lettau provides lyrics for Pat Metheny's "So May It Secretly Begin" and Billy Childs' "Gentle Flower" and turns her attention to the Brazilian song "Beatriz," although she's unconvincing on Benny Carter's "Only Trust Your Heart." Universal Language isn't a bad album -- in fact, it's probably the best album Lettau recorded in the '90s -- but she is capable of a lot more. [A Chinese edition of the CD was also released.]

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