Singer Antoinette Montague takes several ounces of gospel and swing and combines it with Motown soul and rhapsody blues to make a rich amalgam of sonic goodness on her latest CD, Behind The Smile from the Allegro Music label. Displaying a sophisticated sonorous simmering with passion, Montague sings these songs to her audience engaging their attention and caressing their senses. She builds her music from influences that came before her evidenced by the soothing bossa nova beating of “Lost In Meditation” and the R&B/soul styling of “What’s Going On” penned by Marvin Gaye. Her album is a collection of nostalgic jazz and contemporary pop tunes that acquiesce to her ministrations like her squiggling phrasing along Smokey Robinson’s hit song “Get Ready.” Produced by her drummer Kenny Washington and with tracks arranged by Montague and her pianist Mulgrew Miller, Behind The Smile is suited to Montague’s sultry vocalise and brings out her strengths as a penetrative singer.
Dave Brubeck‘s “Summer Song” drips with a torchlight presence, while the jumping piano keys and elevated swing flares along Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s classic gem “The Song Is You” garners a ballroom sunshine webbed around an infectious bounce. The chamber jazz ballad “Somewhere In The Night” written by Billy May and Milton Raskin, is suspended in Miller’s flowery assortment of piano keys, which transforms into a cabaret strut in “Meet Me At No Particular Time” as Bill Easley’s saxophone pierces the rhythmic pattering with lofty spirals bonding close to bassist Peter Washington who keeps a firm and steady groove in the lower register. The soft, feathery ruffles of Easley’s flute in Duke Ellington’s “23rd Psalm” enhances the inspirational tilt in the melody, as Montague creases a burlesque-style stride in the title track which is an original tune by her with musical notations written by Bertha Hope. Montague shows a deep affection for ragtime jazz in Billy Broonzy’s “Give Your Mama One Smile,” and swaddles Buddy Woodrow Johnson’s tune “Ever Since The One I Love’s Been Gone” in a mist of bluesy aerosols.
Antoinette Montague admits proudly on her website that her style of singing has been influenced by several great singers including Carrie Smith whom she says, “inspired me to have a big voice onstage.” Etta Jones whom she proclaims, “could transport the audience.” Della Griffin whom she purports, “showed me laid-back phrasing and how to use the comic side of my personality.” And Myrna Lake whom she tells, “let me sub for her and that’s when I learned to lead a band through three sets a night.“ A piece of all these women can be heard in Montague’s singing as well as Antoinette’s own soul.
Born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, Antoinette grew up listening to Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn, and took out albums at her local library by Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, and Bessie Smith. Other musical influences included artists that spearheaded R&B/soul like The Supremes, Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, the Jackson 5, Jackie Wilson, Stevie Wonder, and Otis Redding, and some in swing like Mel Torme and Nat King Cole. Montague has performed onstage with many top jazz and blues musicians including Red Holloway, Benny Powell, Earl May, Winnard Harper, Wycliff Gordon, Stan Hope, John DiMartino, Bernard Purdy, Victor Jones, Tootsie Bean, Zeek Mullins, Paul Bollenbeck, Frank West, and numerous others. From these experiences, Antoinette Montague honed her talent to sing to her audience. She developed a presence that makes her sound like she is singing live on her studio album, and that makes Behind The Smile jump out at listeners and bring them into the songs.
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