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05/22/13

Jan Shapiro
Piano Bar After Hours
Singing Empress

Hundreds of aspiring jazz singers, Tierney Sutton and Luciana Souza among them, have benefitted from Jan Shapiro’s Berklee classes. But Shapiro doesn’t just talk the talk. Before she began teaching full-time, the Missouri native established a solid career, primarily in piano bars throughout the Midwest and Northeast. She’s since kept her hand in, releasing three previous albums.

Settling into a distinctly Blossom Dearie-esque groove, Shapiro here opts for just voice and piano across 10 of 11 tracks, alternating among five partners: Tim Ray, who accompanied her on 2006’s Back to Basics; John Harrison III, from her 1999 release, Not Commercial!; Bob Winter; Russell Hoffman; and Daniela Schächter. Each ably captures the relaxed, predominantly reflective after-hours mood, particularly Ray, with his elegant embroidery of Irving Berlin’s sweetly aching “They Say It’s Wonderful” and Rickie Lee Jones’ gorgeously bruised “Company.”

Her interpretive instincts as sharp as ever, Shapiro augments clever takes on standards, like her meandering “Who Cares” and pensive “On a Slow Boat to China,” with intriguing song choices, including Kenny Rankin’s headily romantic “Lost Up in Loving You” and a welcome revisit of Mark Winkler’s masterful “I Keep on Loving You.” But the most delectable treat is the one track that veers off pattern: a percolating “Tell Me” that, aligning keyboardist Adriana Balic with vocal gymnasts Bob Stoloff and Joey Blake, suggests 90-proof Annie Ross with a double-Bobby-McFerrin chaser.

Originally published in May 2013
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