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Diane Schuur: Midnight

For as long as she’s been performing and recording, Diane Schuur has remained steadfastly loyal to the “bigger is better” theory of jazz. Kudos, then, to Barry Manilow, her astute musical partner on Midnight (Concord), for enabling us to finally discover the softer side of Schuur. Manilow produced the album, wrote or cowrote all 13 tracks and duets with Deedles on the syrupy “Anytime.” Throughout, he manages to temper Schuur the unbridled belter (though dribbles of her rafter-shaking histrionics do occasionally leak out) in favor of a sleeker, sultrier gal whose better in touch with her inner torch. Schuur opens with the saucy “Meet Me, Midnight,” brimming with playful insouciance, then slides into a gorgeously reflective “When October Goes,” making the most of Johnny Mercer’s wistful lyric. The spicy “Southwind,” another Manilow-Mercer gem, gets a gentle polish, and Schuur remains suitably subdued as she explores the satiny folds of “Our Love Will Always Be There.” Elevated by the swaying suavity of Oscar Castro-Neves’ guitar, she sambas through the breezy “What Is Love?” with admirable elan, and manages a distinctly Nancy Wilson-esque mistiness on the sage “Consider the Point From Both Ends.” Teaming with Brian McKnight (sounding remarkably like Michael McDonald), she injects the lyrically hollow “I’ll Be There” with a murkiness that stops just short of melodrama. Far better, though, is her pairing with label mate Karrin Allyson for four minutes of sassy fun on “Stay Away From Bill.” Gritty, growling and just a little bitchy, it is alone worth the price of admission.

Originally Published