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Brenda Russell: Between the Sun and the Moon

It’s sad that the dynamic American original Brenda Russell, one of the finest soul-jazz pioneers of her generation (who recently completed the songs for a musical adaptation of The Color Purple that’s expected to be Broadway-bound next year, and is currently touring with Dave Koz), has to venture to the U.K. to get a record deal. And how clever of London-based Dome to provide Russell top-drawer support (Incognito’s Bluey, Lee Ritenour, the Yellowjackets’ Russell Ferrante and Jimmy Haslip, Tower of Power’s Scott Mayo, Average White Band alum Hamish Stuart, Patti Austin and Fourplay’s Nathan East) and all the elbow room she needs to move in about a dozen musical directions throughout the magnificent Between the Sun and the Moon (licensed in the U.S. by Narada).

Those who know Russell only for such relatively mainstream R&B hits as “Piano in the Dark” and the adorably infectious “Get Here” might want to fasten their seatbelts for this magic carpet ride through jazz, soul, hip-hop, salsa and techno-pop, all energized by the brass ‘n’ satin beauty of Russell’s inimitable voice. Apart from a caramel-smooth cover of Smokey Robinson’s “The Tracks of My Tears” that teams her with Ritenour, everything about this 12-track collection is startlingly original. Particularly stunning are the Afro-tinged title track, coproduced by Stephan Oberhoff (the genius behind her previous studio triumph, Paris Rain), which weaves Russell and Austin together with spine-tingling results, the sizzling, smoky “Too Cool for the Room,” akin to a more romanticized “You’re So Vain” channeled through Dionne Warwick, and the soaring, effervescent “Make You Smile.” Also, it’s tough not to get hooked by Russell’s playful coda, “It’s a Jazz Day,” with its reverential references to everyone from Basie, Ella and Ellington to David Sanborn and Sting. That rarest of accomplishments-an album that makes you sit up and pay attention to every word, every nuance, and then resonates long afterward-Between the Sun and the Moon is an unqualified masterpiece.

Originally Published