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Barbara Montgomery: Little Sunflower

Unless you happen to be an habitue of Philadelphia’s jazzier nightspots, I’m willing to bet that Barbara Montgomery remains the finest jazz singer you’ve never heard. Montgomery’s been around a while. She’s paid her dues, both personally and professionally, several times over and has recorded a handful of albums (including Dakini Land, a sublime salute to her longtime pal Chick Corea) as impressive as they are obscure. Though Montgomery bears more than a passing physical resemblance to Nancy Sinatra, any similarity ends there. Unlike Frank’s game but limited daughter, Montgomery’s musical abilities seem almost boundless. Her deep, resonant voice simultaneously suggests the soothing coo of Diana Krall and the seductive growl of Kathleen Turner. Her latest, self-produced release, Little Sunflower (Mr. Bean and Bumpy), demonstrates, too, that she’s a keenly intelligent songwriter. Shaped by Montgomery as a heartfelt response to the events of 9/11, Sunflower is a shrewdly candid exploration of the frailty of the human condition, extending from the saucy disillusion of the simmering “When We First Met” to the naked ache of “As the Sun.” In addition to six original compositions, Montgomery delivers nine minutes of extemporaneous riffing on power, freedom, fear, strength and grace, assembled under the catchall title “Vox Barbara.” Corea is again evident on two tracks. “Armando’s Rhumba” is three and a half minutes of spirited fun that sounds like a cunning send-up of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s overblown ostentation. Conversely, “You’re Always in My Space” is a gorgeous examination of genuine love’s ability to endure even the widest physical and emotional chasms. Both were cowritten by Corea and his longtime musical partner Neville Potter. Both add significantly to Little Sunflower’s fragile majesty. Six words of advice: find it, buy it, treasure it.

Originally Published