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Janis Siegel: Friday Night Special

Friday Night Special (Telarc), the latest from Manhattan Transferite Janis Siegel, is an intriguing experiment gone terribly right. Shopping around for an idea and inspired by a cheesy TV performance of “Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life,” Siegel decided it was time to polish the tarnished reputation of organ jazz. Working with producer Joel Dorn, she got Joey DeFrancesco to fire up the B3, coaxed Houston Person to join the party and rounded out her sizzling sextet with drummer Buddy Williams and guitarists Peter Bernstein and Russell Malone. The result is a disc filled with dynamic surprises. Backed by the bubbly Siegelettes (the four Sylvias-Weinberg, Weinstein, Weinglass and Weintraub-who are, I suspect, really Siegel overdubbing herself into a Patti Page frenzy)-she kicks things off with a blistering reinterpretation of Bill Withers’ “The Same Love That Made Me Laugh, Made Me Cry.” Downshifting into the downy “My How the Time Goes By,” she serves up a singularly sensational version of Coleman and Leigh’s mellow masterpiece then wallows in silken regret and satin tears for a distinctly Nancy Wilson-esque “I Just Stopped By to Say Hello.” A gutsy, gusty “Ill Wind” barely harnesses Siegel’s immense vocal power, while “There’s a Small Hotel” reminds us what a truly marvelous swinger she is. Closing with a deliciously upbeat “Misty,” Siegel communicates the lyric’s inherent joy so much more effectively than in all the dewy-eyed readings that have preceded it. As Dorn explains so succinctly in the liner notes, “She sings her ass off.”

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