Earlier this year, Kendra Shank took listeners deep into the Abbey Lincoln songbook with her exquisite A Spirit Free. Now, Judi Silvano, who ranks alongside Shank among the too-many superior female vocalists long-deserving of wider recognition, has expanded on the idea, spreading her net wider to salute the songwriting skills of eight great female jazz singers and players, including herself. And, further emphasizing yin over yang, she’s done so with an all-female trio comprised of pianist Janice Friedman, bassist Jennifer Vincent and drummer Allison Miller. The idea began when Silvano was invited to perform in Rome by the Donne in Musica Foundation, gained momentum at Lincoln Center’s Women in Jazz Festival, and finally came to full fruition in March 2006, with this live recording at Manhattan’s Sweet Rhythm Jazz Club.
Silvano and company are in fine form, obviously having a ball as they run the gamut from the familiar (Mary Lou Williams’ “What’s Your Story Morning Glory?,” Bessie Smith’s “Backwater Blues”) to the comparatively obscure (Meredith D’Ambrosio’s achingly beautiful “Why Do I Still Dream of You?”), and from the softly introspective (Blossom Dearie’s “Inside a Silent Tear”) to the joyfully buoyant (Silvano’s own “Easy to Love,” co-written with Friedman, and a splendid showcase for Friedman’s keyboard skills, and Carla Bley’s delightfully saucy “Can’t Get My Motor to Start”). It does, though, seem odd that Silvano would choose to include Sheila Jordan’s “Ballad for Miles” on so valuably pro-female an initiative; not that it’s not a fine composition, but because it eulogizes (albeit purely from a musical perspective) a figure whose inexcusable mistreatment of women was legendary.