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Janis Mann: A Perfect Time: Drummers and Other Friends

Perhaps you know Janis Mann for her decade-long prominence among Seattle’s many great female jazz singers, or for the four collections of standards she released between 1997 and 2003. If not, then A Perfect Time: Drummers and Other Friends is, indeed, a perfect time to acquaint yourself with a truly splendid, if vastly underappreciated, vocalist. Mann, who originally hails from Brooklyn and has now settled in L.A, is owner and operator of a splendid instrument that owes as much to June Christy as it does to Sarah Vaughan. She possesses the unique ability to be simultaneously cool and sultry, to seem as crystalline as Baccarat’s finest yet smoky as a Dietrich film festival, and to suggest that she’s just stepped out of the 1950s while sounding utterly contemporary.

As the album’s title hints, Mann’s intent is to celebrate her admiration for first-class drummers by dividing the 15 tracks among four of the very best, with Peter Erskine, Joe La Barbera and Roy McCurdy each sitting in for four tracks and Paul Kreibich stick-handling the remaining three. The four lads’ contributions are expectedly superb. But, being the pros they are, all are far more interested in keeping their brilliance in the background, pushing Mann’s magnificent voice fully in the spotlight. (Oh, and while we’re on the subject of superlative accompaniment, it is imperative to add that bassists Chuck Berghofer and John Clayton deserve high praise for their equally subdued, equally gorgeous work.) The exquisite way in which Mann, with considerable assistance from arranger, producer and pianist Tamir Hendelman, finesses the likes of “Love Walked In,” “Just in Time,” “Once in a While” and “Watch What Happens” is beyond compare.

But what makes A Perfect Time most pleasurable is Mann’s ability to dig up less-familiar chestnuts-Harry Warren’s softly wistful “Summer Night,” Johnny Mandel’s heartbreakingly wishful “Quietly There,” Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn’s joyously optimistic “All My Tomorrows” and the cautionary West Side Story anthem “Cool” (performed with such keenly intelligent precision that it sounds more choreographed than arranged)-and transform them into the luminous gems they deserve to be.

Originally Published