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Carla Helmbrecht: Be Cool Be Kind

Seven years between CDs is too long for a talent as imaginative, as poetic and as sophisticated as Carla Helmbrecht’s. She’s hip without being frenetic, laid-back without sounding haphazard and, best of all, the lady swings without sweating.

Of course, such enviable traits could be geographical: Wisconsin-born Helmbrecht studied music at Texas Tech, and then honed her craft in San Francisco. Even in music, nature vs. nurture can be meaningful. But aside from being a natural, Helmbrecht also knows what kind of musical friends to keep.

In this collection, there’s a voice as eloquent as Helmbrecht’s: saxophonist Ernie Watts. Bless him for showing such restraint. These are all good tunes, and Watts has so much to say, yet he limits his outpourings to occasional solos and closing cadenzas. He understands his function here of filling gaps and his tenor sax truly complements Helmbrecht’s gentle jazz chirping. The same could be said of other guests, trumpeter Clay Jenkins and guitarist Larry Koonse.

As for her basic backing, pianist Peter Horvath, bassist Tom Warrington and drummer Joe La Barbera provide a supportive swinging pulse. Helmbrecht has a benignly swinging voice, small of range but big of sentiment. She knows how to tell and sell a story, her voice ranging from whimsy to irony.

With her clarity, she’s the lyric writer’s best friend. Good thing: She writes excellent words herself that hold up well in competition with the Bergmans, Betty Comden, Yip Harburg and Ray Noble. Her writing is like her singing: cool and kind.

Originally Published