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03/25/14

Catherine Russell
Bring It Back
Jazz Village

Many children of musicians follow in their parents’ footsteps, but few as closely as Catherine Russell. Since the start of her recording career, now spanning five albums, Russell has focused almost exclusively on the musical era of her father, bandleader Luis Russell, who served for nearly a decade as Louis Armstrong’s music director, and mother, the late big-band and choral singer Carline Ray. Bring It Back takes Russell a little further afield than previously: Her vibrant playlist extends from 1917, with a high-steppin’ “The Darktown Strutters’ Ball,” to the 1950s, for bluesy readings of the Wynonie Harris-associated title track, the sassy gold-digger anthem “Aged and Mellow” and the Al Hibbler signature “After the Lights Go Down Low.”

Still, material from the 1930s and early ’40s remains her sweet spot. Backed by a brassy ensemble anchored by pianist Mark Shane and bassist Lee Hudson, Russell, a potent blend of Aretha Franklin, Dinah Washington and Pearl Bailey, travels from the rug-cuttin’ sizzle of Ida Cox’s “You Got to Swing and Sway” to the lilting heartache of Ellington’s “I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart.”

Three of the tracks have particularly strong family ties. “Lucille” was written by Luis as a tribute to Satchmo’s wife but never recorded by Armstrong. Harold Arlen’s playful “Public Melody Number One” was a hit for Armstrong’s Luis-led band in 1937, as was their 1941 teaming on “I Cover the Waterfront,” its befogged yearning gorgeously navigated by the younger Russell.

Originally published in March 2014
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