Unless you’re cutting demos, it’s hard to figure why one singer, especially one with a perfectly decent voice of her own, would want to spend an entire album trying to ape others. Hero worship, I suppose; and Stephanie Nakasian isn’t short of heroes. Saluting 20 of the past century’s greatest female vocalists, Nakasian subtitles her disc, “a study of the great ladies of jazz.” Indeed, Nakasian bravely, if perhaps foolishly, attempts to imitate such inimitable singers as Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Carmen McRae, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan. In theory, as demonstrated throughout Nakasian’s impressively sage liner notes, she understands every nuance of these giants. But theory and practice are entirely different matters.
We get such unfortunate near-misses as a “What Is This Thing Called Love” that captures Anita O’Day’s staccato but none of her fizz, a “Peel Me a Grape” that echoes Blossom Dearie solely in the sense that it sounds slightly girlish, and a “Moments Like This” that’s closer to Marilyn Monroe than Peggy Lee. During the rare intervals when you’re able to hear Nakasian simply being Nakasian, you’ll discover a rich mature voice that suggests Lee Wiley sweetened with a little Connee Boswell. Both Wiley and Boswell number among Nakasian’s honorees, and—surprise, surprise—her corresponding versions of “A Hundred Years From Today” and “Lullaby of the Leaves” are the album’s best tracks.