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Cheryl Bentyne: Let Me Off Uptown

I make no bones about the fact that I consider Anita O’Day the single greatest female jazz singer ever. There’s never been a single moment when her incomparable jazz instincts haven’t been firing on all cylinders. So, when I hear that another vocalist has decided to shape an homage to O’Day, my critical hackles are immediately raised. Fortunately, the singer in question this time is long-standing Manhattan Transfer-ite Cheryl Bentyne, an impeccably skilled artist who’s been playing in O’Day’s supreme league for more than a quarter-century. At first blush, Bentyne seems perhaps an odd choice for an O’Day tribute. Stylistically they are miles apart. Where Bentyne is warm, buttery cinnamon toast, O’Day is a frozen daiquiri with extra salt and lime. Still, it works.

Drawing primarily on O’Day’s decade-long (1952-62) association with Verve, Bentyne leads with the three-and-a-half-minute Harlem hoedown that is the title tune, with trumpeter Jack Sheldon stepping in for Anita’s original playmate, Roy Eldridge. Then she travels a serpentine path through bop, ballads and blues, serving up a varied bag of treats that extends from the gorgeously seductive “Whisper Not” to the bourbon-soaked urbanity of “Waiter, Make Mine Blues.” The sole trouble with Let Me Off Uptown is that it delivers only 13 selections from the vast, and unwaveringly wonderful, O’Day songbook. So, herewith, I formally request that Bentyne follow up Let Me Off Uptown with a second O’Day-themed disc that includes such additional delights as, say, “Peel Me a Grape,” “An Occasional Man,” “Sweet Georgia Brown” and “The Party’s Over.” Anita, and us listeners, deserve it.

Originally Published