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04/08/14

Janis Mann & Kenny Werner
Celestial Anomaly
Pancake

Five years ago, L.A.-based vocalist Janis Mann paid exquisite tribute to timekeepers, alternating among a quartet of preeminent drummers on A Perfect Time. Now, two albums later, two of the four—Roy McCurdy and Joe LaBarbera—return for the equally sublime Celestial Anomaly. This time, though, co-billing is ascribed to pianist Kenny Werner. Bassist Hamilton Price, as impressive as his better-known bandmates, completes the rhythm section.

Astronomically speaking, the title refers to an apsis, the farthest point between two bodies in elliptical orbit, which seems an odd insinuation. If the two bodies are Mann and Werner, then their union couldn’t be closer—a masterful fusion of musical minds. And though Werner’s playing is expectedly brilliant, the entire ensemble, whether anchored by McCurdy or LaBarbera, is tight and interdependent.

Mann is often likened to Sarah Vaughan, and certainly shares Sassy’s dark, rich texture and her versatility. But Mann adds an enticing air of mystery, a dusky hint of veiled possibilities. She is not only one of the most skilled vocalists around, but one of the most alluring as well. Her excellent taste in standards here extends from a smoky “So in Love” and an intriguingly propulsive “Early Autumn” to an entrancing “Wild Is the Wind” and spellbinding “Throw It Away.” More contemporary material is as shrewdly interpreted, including gorgeous readings of Elton John’s “Come Down in Time” and Sting’s “Fragile.”

Originally published in March 2014
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