Jessie Wills

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On this, her first album, vocalist Jessie Wills is joined by a stellar group of music makers as they attack a play list of classic tunes and jazz standards, to which Wills has added lyrics, plus two Wills originals. The arrangements for all cuts are the work of pianist P.J. Oh and the result is not quite 45 minutes of music varied in both idiom and delivery. Wills' lyrics fit very nicely with Mal Waldron's haunting composition, "Soul Eyes," while Frank Rosolino's "Blue Daniel" is done in 3/4 time, again with Wills' lyrics providing the poetry to match the music. Listeners will find that there are different interpretations for some of this music then they are used to hearing. Thus, the album's opener, "The Night Has a Thousand Eyes," is done at a faster pace than normal. But the kicker on this track is the mellifluous tuba playing of Jim Self. In contrast to the very early days of jazz when this large instrument was limited to the unimaginative, stolid role of rhythm keeping until the 1920s when it was replaced by the more flexible double bass, in the hands of Jim Self it becomes a melodic instrumental in its own right. Self joins Wills on two other tracks. On "My Romance," they turn the Lorenz Hart/Richard Rodgers chestnut into a gay waltz, ably aided and abetted by a sparkling Oh piano. Everything just glistens on this performance, which is one of the highlights of the album. Then Wills and Self do some close harmony on "Caravan." Veteran guitar player, Larry Koonse, is featured with the vocalist on Danny Zeitlin's "Quiet Now," with lyrics by Wills and a bossa nova arrangement by Oh. Present on all but three tracks, former Bill Evans Trio drummer Joe LaBarbera lays down a solid foundation for the proceedings. He makes his presence felt without being intrusive and, along with the bass of Joe Plutschow, creates the rhythmic patterns necessary to sustain the diversity of style and mood that hallmark this album.

Wills has excellent diction, and, although somewhat limited in range, her phrasing and understanding of and obvious affection for what she is singing make for an entertaining musical excursion, albeit a relatively short one. This album is recommended.

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