Manhattan Transfer alto Janis Siegel’s first solo album in seven years is a valentine to interpretive artistry built around love songs old and new. Originally intended as a duets project with pianist John di Martino, NightSongs ultimately grew to include more than a dozen musicians—Christian McBride, Martin Wind, Joel Frahm, Dominick Farinacci and the New York Voices’ Peter Eldridge among them—in various trio, quartet, quintet and sextet combinations.
Igniting the eclectic playlist is “Love Saves,” a heady adaptation of Uruguayan songwriter Jorge Drexler’s “Salvapantallas” featuring Siegel’s English lyric. From there she travels in various romantic directions, uniting with Eldridge on Jobim’s “If You Never Come to Me,” one of the most beautiful evocations of unfulfilled desire ever fashioned, gently dusting Randy Newman’s “Marie” with melancholy, simmering “Lover” over a soft bossa beat, and transforming Strayhorn’s delicate “A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing” into a celebration of unbridled passion. “Midnight Sun,” softly propelled by drummer Joel Rosenblatt’s brushes, becomes seven minutes of postcoital bliss, while “You’re Mine, You” emerges as a dazzling showcase for Frahm.
The intermingling of rain with romance is a repeated theme, first with Brenda Russell’s “Love and Paris Rain,” then with the hushed “Sweet September Rain,” shaped by Siegel and her paramour, Rabbi Harry Levin, around a Bob Belden film composition.
Siegel closes with Janelle Monáe’s joyously expansive “Say You’ll Go,” aptly paired with a snippet from “Claire de Lune.” After all, true love demands a little moonlight.