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Boston Sunday Globe
Contracts with major record labels tend to bring out the more traditional sides of jazz musicians. On the surface, this is the path Dominique Eade has followed in making her RCA Victor debut "When the Wind Was Cool," a paean to the postwar work of June Christy and Chris Connor.
Yet neither the excellent CD nor Eade's album-release performance at Scullers on Monday indicates any real compromise in her risky yet haunting approach. This is one tribute project that brings the tribute-payer's strengths into clearer focus.
There has always been an aura surrounding Eade's singing that recalls the true father of cool, tenor sax immortal Lester Young. Like Young, Eade approaches a melody obliquely, floating around it and wandering off on harmonic tangents while still managing to swing. There is nothing wispy or ethereal about such an exploratory approach, which sets warm-and-fuzzy standards like "I'll Take Romance" on edge and goes straight to the core of the meatier items like "The Wind."
Eade is a vocal improviser who applies scat with greater variety than most singers. Her wordless interludes often set up free-wheeling reprises of a lyric, as was the case on a rambunctiously dissonant "Poor Little Rich Girl," while the scatting on "The Wind" was less a solo than one strand in a collectively improvised tapestry. More assertive songs like "Ridin' High" and "Moonray" found her creating lines with the power of a horn player.
At the same time, Eade never disrespects a good lyric. Her reading of "When the Wind Was Green" with Fred Hersch's piano as her only support was exceptional, a procession of ever-greater melodic liberties that mirrored the song's sense of loss, while a similarly dramatic reading of the original "Velvet" was marred only by the rhythm section's hesitance with the unfamiliar materal. When the variations were most abstract, as on "Rich Girl" and "Moonray," Eade's liberties remained within the emotional boundaries of the material.
Four musicians from among the shifting cast heard on Eade's album provided support that goaded and complimented the vocalist. Hersch, one of the most expert accompanists, turned in several agile piano solos where rich voicings in the left hand occasionally subsumed the brighter right-hand lines. Bassist James Genus and drummer Matt Wilson gave each piece a distinctive foundation, with Genus showing his more impressionistic side during a strong "Velvet" solo. The less familiar Bruce Williamson proved to be a valuable utility player. His alto sax displayed weight as well as liquidity, his flute conveyed strength while Hersch rambled underneath on "Moonray," and Williamson's bass clarinet went from autumnal glow to contained fury on "Warm and Lovely Sunrise."
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