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Janis Siegel: I Wish You Love

You’ve got to admire Janis Siegel. As a founding member of the Manhattan Transfer, she’s spent three decades in the international spotlight, earned tremendous respect in both jazz and pop circles, excelled as an arranger, scored nine Grammys and built a sterling reputation as a solo artist. Most impressive of all is her steadfast refusal to compromise. The integrity that has been a Transfer hallmark since its inception-none of its albums cuts corners or pays anything less than full respect to the musical depths they mine-remains equally evident in Siegel’s solo initiatives. Her latest, I Wish You Love, is no exception.

The loosely conceptualized album is, in part, a salute to Carole King, Gerry Goffin, Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil and other heroes of the Brill Building’s heyday. Bolstered by the tremendous company she keeps-pianist Cedar Walton, bassist David Williams, drummer Winard Harper, vibraphonist Bill Ware-Siegel sails through Mann and Weil’s “Just a Little Lovin'” with a breezy self-assurance that energizes the easygoing lyric. Conversely, Goffin and King’s “Go Away Little Boy,” with tenor saxophonist David “Fathead” Newman in for Ware, is transformed from puerile bopperism to a very grownup exercise in halfhearted sexual resistance. “Mr. Sandman,” the peppy Chordettes anthem, becomes similarly charged with silky desire and, as arranged by Roger Treece, blends beautifully with “Dream a Little Dream of Me.”

The balance of the album pays homage to various torch singers and jazz divas who, like Siegel, have enjoyed occasional forays onto the pop charts. Nancy Wilson is twice honored, with elegant readings of “(I’m Afraid) The Masquerade Is Over” and “Guess Who I Saw Today?”

The really special treats are, however, Siegel’s singular interpretations of three less familiar treasures. Preserving all the fiery passion of “The Big Hurt,” she revitalizes Toni Fisher’s signature tune with a sizzling Afro-Cuban beat. “The Late Late Show” bounces with the same sensuous playfulness that Dakota Staton brought to it nearly a half-century ago. Then there’s Siegel’s tender, touching “Don’t Go to Strangers”-a superb, and clearly heartfelt, tribute to the late, great Etta Jones.

Originally Published