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11/29/09

Denise Perrier
The Second Time Around
Chez Perrier Records

This album is well-named; it marks Denise Perrier's fourth CD and the second time around with tenorist Houston Person. Ms Perrier is also well-named. Her singing style is bubbly and her personality always sparkles. (I must thank Alisa Clancy, of KCSM, Jazz91, in San Mateo. I embellished on the original metaphor in her liner notes.) Person, who plays on all nine tracks, appeared on Denise's debut album. Their pairing is a study in compatibility: he never steps on her vocal cords; she allows him ample opportunities to fill her gaps. When she itches, he scratches. A match made in jazz heaven -- somewhat reminiscent of the classic rapport between Billie Holiday and tenorist Lester Young.

Ms Perrier boasts a gorgeous instrument; call it a burnished contralto. When she sustains a tone, it remains unswerving. Yet when she decides to go for a high note, as she does on the endings of "'S Wonderful" and "Falling In Love With Love," she can leap an octave with ease and vocal strength. She swings freely, improvising intelligently and showing no need to rely on scat. And bless her, you can understand each syllable of the lyrics. When she tackles a dramatic ballad, as with "This Bitter Earth" and the bossa nova "Dindi," she interprets lyrics without resorting to melodramatics. Perhaps they should be considered "mellow" dramatics. Knowing Denise's background, that should come as no surprise -- she's an actress and cabaret singer.

Because of those credentials, her defining quality can be described as "conversational." She has the ability and quickness of mind to alter lyrics and melodies without losing the momentum. If anything, her technique adds to that flow. It happens on up-tempo numbers, such as "'S Wonderful," "Here's That Rainy Day," and the title track, and even on the slow, torch-like ballad "Don't Touch Me," a neglected gem by L.A. tenorist Teddy Edwards.

Perrier is backed by a first-rate rhythm section: pianist Tammy Hall; bassist Buca Necak; drummer Kent Bryson; and on "Dindi,"percussionist Michaelle Goerlitz. They are extremely supportive, never overpowering Denise. Ms Hall's comping, like her intros, is tastefully economical. Her best solo comes on "Rainy Day." Check bassist Necak's opening chorus on "You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To." It's the only rhythmic and harmonic foundation for Ms Perrier and a testament to the intonation of each. (But don't stop there; Nacek's best solo work comes later in that track.)

Virtually everything Person plays -- filling gaps or taking solos -- is carefully crafted. Even when he plays a ballad like "Bitter Earth," a moderate swinger like "Falling Love," or even the Latin-flavored title tune, Person is apt to explode into bop flurries. The whole album is filled with swinging surprises from the veteran tenorist, as well as from the San Francisco jazz stylist, Denise Perrier. She's very generous with credits throughout the entire live session, but the tribute to Houston at the very end of "Second
Time Around" is especially poignant.

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