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Fay Claassen: Red, Hot & Blue: The Music of Cole Porter

It is Dutch vocalist Fay Claassen’s name above the title, but credit for this imaginative, oft-twisted sojourn through the Porter songbook must be shared equally among Claassen, arranger Michael Abene and pianist Olaf Polziehn, anchoring a trio that includes bassist Ingmar Heller and drummer Hans Dekker.

With classic tracks from the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Shirley Horn and Mel Tormé as reference points, Abene takes 11 Porter tunes in inventive directions. Playing with tempos and time signatures, he is a master of abstract reharmonization. But Abene’s ingenuity only works because Claassen and her trio-mates so fearlessly embrace it. From a bristly “Anything Goes” refitted in 7/4 time and a dissonant “Ridin’ High” that shifts from stormy to dreamy to a free-form “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To” and hard-swinging “Too Darn Hot,” Claassen and company take every inspired thing Abene can throw at them in skillful stride, often upping the ante with Fitzgerald- and Tormé-worthy scat passages and blazing solos.

As a bonus, the album’s closer finds Claassen accompanied by Abene at the piano and Paul Heller on tenor sax as she spends eight minutes gradually raising “So in Love” from demurely warm to rapaciously hot.

Originally Published