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Rewind-- Elizabeth Shepherd

Vibraphonist Peter Appleyard's 2012 Sophisticated Ladies CD showcased 10 talented Canadian female jazz singers, none of whom are named Diana Krall. One of the best is Elizabeth Shepherd, the two-time JUNO Award nominee who emerged on the Toronto jazz scene in 2005, and has performed internationally in cities ranging from Tokyo to London to New York. Rewind is Shepherd's fourth CD, but the first not to feature any of her own compositions. Due to her pregnancy, Shepherd did not have the time to write enough new songs for the session, and so instead chose to sing some of her favorite tunes by other composers. While Shepherd's own material may be missing here, what remains intact is her idiosyncratic vocals, intriguing arrangements, and polished keyboard work. Credit is due to art director Johan Hultqvist and graphic designer Simon Farla for the clever packaging of this CD, which resembles that of the Atlantic Records jazz albums of the '50's and '60's. Nesuhi Ertegun no doubt would have liked the music contained inside as well.

Shepherd's voice and her arrangement are both fresh and appealing on the opening "Love for Sale," as is her Wurlitzer solo. Colin Kingsmore's refined drumming is a significant asset. The singer's wordless vocalizing to start "Poinciana," as well as the reading of the lyrics, display her airy but also rich intonation and her original rhythmic sense and phraseology. Shepherd's assured scatting interlude and guitarist Rob Schwager's glistening solo and sympathetic accompaniment are key ingredients of this heady brew. Shepherd sings Spanish composer José Luis Perales' "Pourquoi Tu Vis" in French. This song of lost love is delivered with seductive poise, backed at times by her underlying background harmonizing. Shepherd is supported quite effectively by just her own Fender Rhodes and Scott Kemp's bass.

"Lonely House" by Kurt Weill and Langston Hughes, is from the 1947 Broadway musical/opera Street Scene. Ross MacIntyre's sparse bass is in duet with Shepherd's sad, heartbreaking testament to the desolation of loneliness, with in the later stages faint cymbal splashes from Kingsmore. Georges Brassens' "Les Amoureaux des Bancs Publics" is about young lovers on park benches. Shepherd sings it in French in an affecting, matter-of-fact recitative manner. Andrew Downing is credited with the exemplary accompaniment on both cello and double bass. For "Feeling Good," Shepherd's Rhodes, Kemp's bass, and Kingsmore's clattering drums establish a driving rhythmic pulse that lays a fresh foundation to the singer's personalized execution of the lyrics. Shepherd's unorthodox arrangement greatly transforms the well-known Bricusse/Newley opus.

Shepherd, Kemp, and Kingsmore handle the classic "Midnight Sun" in straightforward yet invigorating fashion. The leader's bluesy and rollicking piano solo is a highlight (she has a degree in jazz piano from Montreal's McGill University), as is Kemp's energetic follow-up, but it's Shepherd's hip and deceptively relaxed Bob Dorough-like vocalizing that ultimately carries the day. Shepherd sings Cannonball Adderley's "Sack of Woe" at a slower tempo than usual, and makes it work. Her Wurlitzer and background vocals add texture to this novel treatment, while MacIntyre produces that memorable bass line. The Gershwins' "Buzzard Song" is given a provocatively foreboding prelude, with MacIntyre's arco bass up front, leading to Shepherd's floating and hypnotic vocal. Eerie sounds permeate as well, generated by Shepherd's use of "tuned mixing bowls and muted pestle."

Bobby Hutcherson's ballad "When You Are Near," from his 1967 Happenings album, is enhanced by Shepherd's poetic lyrics, who sings her own words with understated passion. The haunting arrangement is elevated by Kevin Turcotte's warm trumpet solo and Shepherd's chime-like Rhodes. Shepherd's treatment of Mel Tormé's "Born to Be Blue" gives this standard a makeover. Her inventive phrasing, Wurlitzer improv, and beatbox expressions, plus the rhythmic vitality of MacIntyre and drummer Mark Kelso, all help make this one of the CD's most irresistible tracks. One of Duke Ellington's masterpieces, "Prelude to a Kiss," is honored with a sublime duet between Shepherd and the great, if under-appreciated, fellow Canadian singer Denzal Sinclaire, whose impeccable Nat King Cole-influenced style interweaves wonderfully with Shepherd's more supple articulation. They are backed modestly but winningly by just MacIntyre's bass and the trumpet of David Travers-Smith.

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Scott Albin