Friday, July 14, 2017
Michelle Bradley's Body and Soul on CD
The week of "female vocals" continues since I have plenty of these in The Pile. But you know me. I get bored if I listen to the same type of music over and over. I like to mix it up. I like to stay engaged.
Michelle Bradley's Body and Soul is about as far from Kathy Sanborn as it gets, at least as far as contemporary female jazz singers and their recordings go. Sanborn's album was slick, polished, progressive and different, but it was also wrapped in a gauze that made it a little difficult to crawl around and explore. It sounded soft and indistinct. It was also intriguing, but I felt that the beautiful melodies could have been energized by a few more musical risks here and there. Ms. Bradley's new collection of jazz standards, Body and Soul, is razor-sharp, simple and straightforward. These are classic songs performed by a supremely gifted vocalist--and that's sort of the point. Listen to this voice everyone!
Once you learn who Michelle Bradley is, the point of this album becomes obvious. She's actually a soprano with the Metropolitan Opera Company, trained by the legendary Marilyn Horne. She spent many years singing with the renown Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church in Houston. This resume suggests she has a big voice with plenty of range, and she can absolutely own a song like "Misty" or "Moonlight in Vermont" or "Key Largo." I suppose you can imagine the production meeting--hey, we have an singer from the Met and she's into jazz and she wants to record ten tracks from the Great American Songbook. It sounds a little perfunctory, and maybe a little too perfect, but most people would say yeah, sure, let's do this.
The actual story is more interesting and has more to do with long relationships and past projects and a general love and respect for Bradley's wonderful and refined voice. So when someone popped with the idea of a Michelle Bradley jazz album, it was borne from a group of people who has been wanting to make this album for years. Her voice is effortless and dynamic, but the precision creates its own style. There might have been some trepidation in the studio, concerns that she wouldn't loosen up to project a true jazz attitude, but all of that must have vanished in a sea of wide, knowing grins once she started in with these tunes. Body and Soul, in all its simplicity, is a great idea executed well, something that might seem odd in the world of jazz.
(I do want to say something about her band. Art Fristoe serves as the pianist and co-producer. I have his new CD in for review, and it's fantastic. With bassist Tim Ruiz, drummers Jerre Jackson and Richard Cholakian and a host of guest musicians, Fristoe is one of those lyrical yet economical pianists who thrills using the space between the notes. The balance between Bradley and Fristoe, the give and take, the generosity of their partnership, is quite stunning.)