Memoir-- Libby York

Libby York has been compared to so-called Cool School jazz singers such as June Christy, Chris Connor, and Helen Merrill, and also to Diana Krall, but she is perhaps closer in terms of vocal quality and range, precise articulation, and easeful sense of rhythm to Carol Sloane, whose main influence was Ella Fitzgerald. Be that as it may, York's consummate interpretive ability can in part be credited to Abby Lincoln, her mentor and friend in New York in the '80's and early '90's, who she has said "taught me about the truth and soul of a song." For her fourth CD, York has again surrounded herself with some top-notch and most compatible musicians, including cornetist Warren Vache and guitarist Russell Malone--both back from her 2008 Here with You album--and pianist John DiMartino, bassist Martin Wind, and drummer Greg Sergo. York's two playful and spot-on vocal duets with Vache are alone worth the price of admission, but this well-planned program of 11 standards and less familiar tunes (arranged by the singer and DiMartino) holds one's interest from start to finish.

"Give Me the Simple Life" was inspired by a June Christy version that York first heard while in high school. She glides gracefully through the lyrics with true feeling and a subtle rhythmic buoyancy. Vache and DiMartino deliver pungent and dancing solos respectively before engaging cornet and drum exchanges lead to York's affecting reprise. Wind's lucid musings bookend this classy arrangement. "When In Rome" was suggested by Malone, and York gratefully includes the worthwhile verse. Her knowing, deceptively nonchalant reading is enhanced by Vache's perfectly apt obbligatos and Malone's characteristically deep-toned, bluesy and rhythmically infectious guitar solo. The Van Huesen / Burke ditty "Put It There, Pal" is best remembered for the Bing Crosby and Bob Hope give-and-take from their 1946 Road to Utopia movie, and here it's redone as a vocal duet between York and Vache. Their amusing rapport is enjoyable all the way, goosed by DiMartino's pitch perfect accompaniment, and the listener can understand why York considers this performance "the most fun I've ever had in a recording studio."

"Thanks for the Memory" is another nod, of course, to Bob Hope, but sung by York with in a more nuanced and incisive manner. Her resonant timbre is complemented by Vache's dreamy-rich improv, as well as by Malone's sprightly effort, blues-laced as usual. Cole Porter's '30's ode to New York, "Take Me Back to Manhattan," is sung by York with such loving care as to leave no doubt that she also cherishes that "dear old dirty town," while Vache's soaring pronouncement evokes Manhattan's jazz clubs of yore. For Gershwin's "I Was Doing Alright," take York's masterful variations in dynamics and appealing conversational phrasing, the tasteful lyricism of Vache and DiMartino as soloists and their otherwise sympathetic support, plus the lockstep pulsations of Wind and Sergo, and the end result is a flawless gem of a track. "My Little Boat (O Barquinho)" is an alluring bossa nova handled with a natural flair by York both rhythmically and in her phrasing. Vache, DiMartino, and Malone enchant in their turns as well.

"Let's Call the Whole Thing Off" comes complete with York's solo treatment of the verse, but the gist of this rendition is another delightful vocal encounter between her and Vache. This time there's room enough for Vache's glowingly muted cornet elaborations and DiMartino's soulful pianistics. "On a Slow Boat to China" features Vache's biting intro, fills, and solo, all bolstering the effectiveness of York's sensual, throaty, and ever-swinging presentation. DiMartino's spirited exploration is an added bonus. Another Gershwin opus, "How Long Has This Been Going On?," is given a sublime ballad performance, with Vache's tender, muted prelude smoothly setting up York's impeccable and pliant vocalizing that fully draws you into the lyrics' message. Vache's whisper-like improv is equally captivating. The contemporary composer Donald Fagen's "Walk Between the Raindrops" fits the song list well through the excellence of its thematic content and lyrics. DiMartino, Wind, and Sergo swing adamantly and Vache weaves in and out of York's floating exposition with vivacious aplomb.

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Scott Albin