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January/February 2008

Cynthia Sayer
Attractions
Plunk

The label says it all: Sayer is a jazz banjoist. She can pick with the confidence of a bluegrass veteran or chomp as cleanly as Freddie Green. If those “attractions” aren’t enough to raise some eyebrows, she boasts a fine, alto-range voice, she played with Woody Allen’s New Orleans Jazz Band for 10 years, and this is her eighth album, the third with Bucky Pizzarelli. Her musical curiosity is sufficiently healthy to allow her to venture into straightahead swing, but her roots tell her to stick with her first love: traditional/Dixieland. That’s the happy sound that dominates most of the 13 tracks informed by Sayer’s arrangements plus outstanding solo work and ensemble support from Pizzarelli. The frontline is strong: trumpeter Randy Sandke, trombonist Jim Fryer and reed player (everything but alto) Scott Robinson. Their finest moments can be heard on “Dark Eyes,” a driving tempo that allows them to build intensity on the out chorus. Violinist Sara Caswell contributes some memorable solos on Django Reinhardt’s “Swing de Paris” and “Half as Much,” particularly her obligato on the latter behind Sayer’ vocal. Even though it’s lachrymose, it fits the overall mood relayed by Hank Williams. Nice soprano sax solo by Robinson on “Viper Mad.” Again, no surprise since the song was written by Sidney Bechet. Same track: excellent chordal conversation between Sayer and Pizzarelli. Regarding Sayer’s vocalizing, she avoids using her voice as an instrument. Words are her forte; honest interpretation her goal. Her most successful tracks are the plaintive “Over the Rainbow,” “You Are My Sunshine” and the flapper-syncopated Irving Berlin classic, “Shakin’ the Blues Away.” Her arranging style is effective, but raises questions: Why the occasional unmotivated ritardandos? Why discourage instrumentalists from stretching out? And do you really need the male “choir” on Tiny Grimes’ swinger, “Romance Without Finance”?

Originally published in January/February 2008
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