Speaking of Love
If there's a vocal equivalent to warmly satisfying comfort food, Marlene VerPlanck is it. On Speaking of Love (Audiophile), the ever-dependable pro teams with conductor-arranger-producer-husband Billy to serve up another smorgasbord of familiar standards and enticing surprises.
Working with British bassist and leader Roy Babbington, ver Plank shifts between the intimacy of Babbington's trio and the tempered velocity of his 17-member big band. Apart from a somewhat clumsy "Romance" medley, the results, much aided by VerPlank's clarion authority and autumn-crisp enunciation, are consistently sparkling. Particularly noteworthy are a trio of too-seldom-heard Johnny Mandel tunes. In addition to Mandel's sweetly mellow "A Christmas Love Song" and his breezy "Unless It's You," there's "Make Some Magic," a bouncy Blossom Dearie collaboration of fairly recent vintage that, like fine wine and VerPlanck's voice, just gets better with age. The album's most precious jewel is, however, an end-of-disc visit by Tommy Flanagan, backing VerPlanck on a misty rendition of his and Jay Leonhart's "My Bluebird" that, recorded just weeks before his death, would prove to be his final studio performance.