Thursday, May 10, 2018

Rondi Marsh's The Pink Room

I often approach new albums from female jazz singers with some caution. I've been burned many times, you see, with chanteuses who are more concerned with vocal "stylings" than real singing. Ah, you've heard me start off like this before. It usually leads to me talking about a female vocal album that has surprised me in some way. You're so on to me.

I've never heard of Rondi Marsh before, even though she released a couple of albums more than a decade ago. It took me some time to slap this CD into my machine because, well, you know, female jazz singer. But once I did, I felt happy. Rondi's a lovely singer with a rich and sultry delivery that has something I really like...gravitas. I usually hate that word, nearly as much as I hate the word stylings. But when it comes to female singers, I enjoy a little bit of extra weight. So many of these new jazz singers, both male and female, want to be so light on their toes that they feel like they're rushing through the song. They avoid holding notes for too long--they don't want to be caught not living up to that note's potential.

Rondi Marsh is different. She's relaxed. She's not trying too hard to impress you with her interpretations of old standards such as "Misty," "Boy on a Dolphin", "Angel Eyes" and even "Mambo Italiano." She knows she's good, she know she's an able singer. She's not trying to knock you off your feet--she just wants to have a good time. If you're in the same room at the same time and you're having fun, then win-win, baby.

Rondi's almost opulent delivery only gets me half of the way there. The other half is supplied, of course, by a group of musicians who know how to accompany her and align with her strengths. There's nothing minimalist about these arrangements which often include accordions, strings, guitars, mandolins and plenty of horns. This is the kind of jazz singer albums they used to make back in the '50s and '60s, where a versatile and professional band might be given a seemingly impossible task and the only reply is "What key?" That observation makes me realize why I like this album so much--it is decidedly old-fashioned, and in the best possible ways.

Then there's a touch of the modern. Rondi is hip enough to mash-up Meaghan Trainor's "All About the Bass" with Ira Gershwin's "Slap That Bass," and it's respectful toward both worlds. She's also generous with David Lange's accordion, which suggests that she's right on top of the current hot Parisian jazz trends. (She calls it "gypsy jazz," a term I haven't heard in a while.) The sound quality is also modern--it's clean and clear with minimal reverb. You need that transparent sound in order to explore the hills and valleys of that lovely voice. Highly recommended.

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