Cat Tales is at once an overdue welcome and a sad farewell. Cat Conner, a multidisciplinary performer whose talents include not just jazz singing but also performance art, body art and mediumship, has been a mainstay on the L.A. scene for more than three decades, yet she only recently made her recording debut. To shape Cat Tales, the caramel-voiced Conner called upon George Mesterhazy. His dual role as co-producer and pianist—abetted on several tracks by two of L.A.’s finest session players, reedman Gene Cipriano and bassist Jim Hughart—turned out to be one of his final studio gigs, completed not long before his premature demise, at age 59, in April.
Among vocal accompanists, Mesterhazy rivaled the great Mike Renzi. His work with Rebecca Parris and Paula West, among many others, stands as sterling testament to his skills, as does this elegant session with Conner. She is, much like Parris, a prima balladeer, as demonstrated across seven of the album’s nine tracks. Reaching back more than a century, she opens with a molasses-slow “Hello Ma Baby.” Her splendidly unhurried pace, shaping a pearl of each word, continues through buttery readings of “I Want to Talk About You,” “If You Could See Me Now,” “Embraceable You,” “I Hear a Rhapsody” and a heartbreakingly tender “Some Other Time.” But Cat Tales’ tour de force (and its lone track without Mesterhazy) is a dark, sultry “Caravan” defined by swirling Arabian breezes courtesy of Cipriano’s clarinet.