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The Boston Phoenix
Every so often the market floods with jazz tribute albums. Yet Boston-based vocalist Dominique Eade's ravishing major-label debut, When the Wind Was Cool (RCA), redeems the genre. Dedicated to "the songs of Chris Connor and June Christy," it gives off not a whiff of nostalgia or imitation. Eade, who celebrates the disc's release with a show this Monday at Scullers, brings wit, charm, and intelligence to bear on a great body of songs and makes them her own. She doesn't try to recreate a style; instead, she draws on the different sensibilities of these two icons of ‘50s jazz-pop singing—the cool, refined Connor and the wholesome, sensuous Christy—for her own expressive purposes. Striking a neat balance between sincere respect and gentle irony, she transcends the tribute concept to showcase an original talent. Which proves her to be among the best jazz singers to emerge this decade.
"Limiting the album to numbers associated with these two Stan Kenton band singers created just enough of a frame," Eade says over the phone from her Newton home. "It didn't confine me too much, and it provided me with a deep reservoir of tunes to dip into. I was attracted to the emotional contradictions in Christy and Connor. Christy has an optimism that also is oddly fatalistic. Connor could face trouble and take it by the scruff of the neck, yet she too winds up with a certain kind of optimism. And there's this reserve that yields a very subdued drama. I think it's part of the character of the time—of the women of the time—in which small gestures speak volumes. All these things interested me as a singer."
She takes a direct approach to songs like "Moonray" and "Ridin' High," using little vibrato and limiting her embellishments to occasional grace notes. Her phrasing on "Something Cool" and her breezy, relaxed "I'll Take Romance" is naturally conversational and lets the lyrics carry their share of the emotional weight. Both Christy and Connor often hewed closer to a pop sensibility; on "Lullaby of Birdland" Eade displays the true jazz singer's knack for stretching a melody without distorting it. She's also a nimble and witty scat singer, and she solos with brio on "Lullaby of Birdland" and an absurdly fast duet with bassist James Genus on "Tea for Two."
Eade's variegated alto is warm, dark, and translucent in its mid-range, with a brighter, nearly girlish upper register. It's a voice full of knowingness and compassion, from which optimism and joy haven't been extinguished. And there's a touch of mischief. Her light touch can make painful, unflinching songs like "Something Cool" and "When the Wind Was Green" (a devastating duet with pianist Fred Hersch) easier to bear. And her playful intelligence deflates self-important melodrama.
Eade, who's two previous Accurate CDs showed her to be a fine composer in her own right, contributes five arrangements that give the album her distinctive stamp. "I was listening to Pete Rugalo's arrangements for Chris Connor and was really struck by them. I thought I would do something similar—use succinct arrangements and interesting orchestrations to make the album my own. I liked the idea of doing "Poor Little Rich Girl" with percussion instead of a drum set, I thought it had just the right sense of joie de vivre. And I liked the colors of flute and bass clarinet on "Moonray.""
Additional settings were penned by her saxophonist (and husband) Allan Chase and Phillip Johnston. And the album's revolving cast, including tenor saxophone legend Benny Golson, pianist Hersch, drummer Matt Wilson, bass clarinetist Bruce Williamson, and guitarist Peter Leitch, keep the proceedings varied.
"I wanted an album that worked on a couple of levels—as straight interpretation of the material, but also with interesting arrangements and enough improvising to make it appealing to a more informed jazz listener. It was a challenge to put myself on the line with these songs. I had to know when to get out of the way and let the song tell its story, and not to dress them up too much, but let their poignancy come through. I had to let the songs guide me."
Dominique Eade performs at Scullers this Monday, October 20, with pianist Fred Hersch, bassist James Genus, drummer Matt Wilson, and bass clarinetist Bruce Williamson.
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