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Helen Merrill: The Helen Merrill-Dick Katz Sessions

Helen Merrill is the Frank Stella of jazz singing. But, as with Stella, minimalism should not be equated with nihility. Merrill’s cool, parched style is often wrongly dismissed as gray and vacant. But beneath that densely fogged patina lays a rainbow of expression and a jazz acumen as acute as Carmen McRae’s or Kurt Elling’s.

Unfortunately, though Merrill surely ranks among the finest and most perceptive American vocalists of the past half-century, with nearly 50 albums to her credit, she has fared dismally in terms of domestic reissues. Yes, Mercury Records admirably assembled her entire EmArcy output from the mid- and late-’50s-five albums that placed her in the company of Clifford Brown, Gil Evans, Milt Hinton, Kenny Dorham and Jimmy Jones-in a four-disc box, but that set is now out of print. And yes, several of the superb discs she released on various labels throughout the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s have surfaced in Japan and Europe, but most are now either unavailable or restrictively expensive.

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