Some people don't consider Jimmy Scott a jazz singer. But then again, some people don't believe in evolution, either. Go figure. The thing is, Scott is a singer who improvises. Like Andy Bey and Cassandra Wilson, he has an instantly recognizable voice and the ability to phrase and swing in unconventional ways. He also never stops taking chances, either in his choice of notes or the way he delivers a lyric. It's no wonder so many jazz musicians admire him; they recognize in him one of their own.
Scott's jazz chops are on display on his latest CD, which finds his haunting tenor singing familiar standards in the company of Hank Crawford, Cyrus Chestnut, George Mraz, Grady Tate and the harmonica ace Gregoire Maret. On pieces like "Imagination" and "Day by Day," Scott demonstrates his penchant for phrasing behind-and sometimes way behind-the beat. His ability to stretch phrases like taffy creates a delicious tension and evokes memories of Betty Carter at her most daring. Scott is also capable of breaking up a melodic line, as on Charlie Chaplin's "Smile," where he explores the space between notes, a skill that often eludes younger singers.
The two most impressive pieces here are sung with Joe Beck accompanying on alto guitar. Their version of "There Will Never Be Another You" finds Scott dropping Monk-like accents in unexpected places, and the closing "Mood Indigo" is so charming and relaxed, it's as if they're getting together after hours just for kicks.
Inexplicably, Jimmy Scott is not found in the New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, nor in the All Music Guide to Jazz. He should be.